The road that runs along the northern foot slopes of Mount Elgon through to Suam on the Kenya border is known to travellers mainly for the famous Sipi Falls, roughly 40km from Mbale. It is, however, possible to continue along this road to Suam and on to Kitale in western Kenya, a little-used but increasingly attractive-looking border crossing now that this formerly relatively hazardous area has been safe for some years. The road to Suan is also of interest for offering only access to the Mount Elgon Forest Exploration Centre and the rest house at Kapkwata, the usual starting point for the Piswa Trail up Mount Elgon. From Mbale, this road will also take you to Nyero rock paintings.
This pretty waterfall lies at an altitude of 1,770m on the foot slopes of Mount Elgon near Sipi trading Centre. The main waterfall is overlooked by several resorts and campsites catering to all budgets. It makes it a pleasant place to spend a few days relaxing and doing gentle day walks in the surrounding hills, which offer spectacular views over the plains around Lake Kyoga and glimpses of the Elgon peaks in clear weather.
A steep walking trail that takes roughly 20 minutes each way leads from near the post office in Sipi trading Centre to the base of the central falls, where you will be asked to pay a small entrance fee. The trail continues from the bottom of the falls to the caves on the opposite side of the river.
It is also possible to do a day hike from the central falls to the three more minor falls that lie above them and to swim in a pool below one of these waterfalls.
Several guides are available in Sipi to take visitors around though it’s perfectly possible to walk to the base of the central falls independently and visit the second set of falls by following the Suam road out of Sipi for about 1km.
Getting there and away
Sipi trading centre lies about 60km from Mbale on Suam road. First, follow the Kumi road out of Mbale town for 6km, then turn right onto the Moroto road. The route to Suam branches right from the Moroto road after roughly 25km, and the waterfalls are signposted just after you pass through the Sipi trading centre.
The sipi falls are comprised of 3 waterfalls, each flowing from a different altitude. The highest fall drops from an altitude of 100m, referred to as the main fall since it is the last fall in the series, this fall is a little bigger than the other two falls, but all give Uganda beautiful scenery.
In fact, most people say that sipi falls are the ‘most romantic falls’ in Uganda which is evidenced by the wonderful falls. This area is majorly where most hikes to Mt. Elgon are started from. Hiking up to these falls gives a beautiful scenic view, like Lake Kyoga, the Karamoja low lands, coffee plantations and other surrounding areas.
The climate in this area is cool since it’s a hilly area, and sometimes as individuals are hiking, there are rains, which makes hiking a bit hard, but it is also an experience of its own. Generally, it is a place available for chilling, loosening up and relaxing from the congestion around cities.
The nearby communities have hospitable people, and majorly, the Sabiny and Bagishu live around this area and do farming such as growing Arabica coffee which is the major cash crop in this land; this coffee is grown at altitudes between 1600metres and 1900metres above sea level. While their individuals can engage in visiting these plantations, these visits can be organized by local guides in the area.
There are no worries about where to stay or how much to pay and all other things because all types of accommodation are available for you while in Sipi such as the luxurious lodges, mid-range hotels and budget hotels and also campsites are available for those interested in camping.
Abseiling & Rock climbing
You need to do abseiling in Uganda; sipi is the place to go. This activity is done at the main waterfall and is most enjoyed by adventurous travellers. The equipment, also known as rappels to be used, is availed, and also, there are skilled guides to guide you through this exciting adventure.
Coffee plantation visit
The coffee plantations are on the lower slopes of Mt. Elgon; while at sipi, add to your experience by visiting these plantations. The coffee is majorly Arabica coffee and grows within altitudes 1600m and 1900m; it is the cash crop to the Bagishu and Sabiny in this area; during this visit, you will also learn how coffee is harvested, processed, roasted and other things, you will also be able to see how people live in these communities.
Being in Kapchorwa, there is a lot to see, like the Sabiny, who basically stay around sipi. Their way of life, dress code, and traditional dances can be organized by the community. Also, this place is known for female and male circumcision, though that of females has reduced over the years since it was found to be unhealthy and risky to women, that of men is an amazing activity to witness, especially if you visit this area during the time circumcisions are done.
If you are a birder, you can miss out on visiting sipi while on a safari in Uganda; in fact, mountain Elgon national park has around 275 bird species, so you will see most of them while in this area, you can also see some birds while seated in the gardens of Sipi River lodge if that is the accommodation you have opted for.
You can opt to travel by your bike if you are to take part in this activity; it is so adventurous and thrilling to ride your bike in the Rocky Mountains, something to remember always.
Visit the Sipi River
Apart from visiting the three waterfalls, you could also take the time and visit the Sipi River, it has nice vegetation, including the ‘sep plant’, which is where the name sipi was derived. This plant is said to be a medicine for measles and fevers. Enjoy a walk along this river with its beautiful scenery.