Introduction

Shared by Uganda and Kenya, Mount Elgon National Park welcomes you to discover a region filled with diverse wildlife. It features the ancient, eroded Mount Elgon volcano, with one of the world’s largest calderas. Popular among hiking and mountaineering enthusiasts, the park offers trails that wind through breathtaking landscapes, showcasing waterfalls, hot springs, caves, gorges, and the wide caldera.

This park is a sanctuary for wildlife, home to a variety of species, including elephants, buffalo, and numerous birds. Its unique ecosystem, boasting caves shaped by elephants and lush Afro-montane forests, makes it a hidden gem to trekkers and nature lovers. The park not only serves as a vibrant ecotourism spot but also plays a crucial role in regional climate regulation and water provision. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast or an explorer, this park surely has something to captivate you.

Picture of the waterfall from down, a big rock is down the left and the rest is vegetation surrounding the waterfall.

What are the Pros and Cons of visiting Mount Elgon National Park?

Unlike more popular parks, the less-traveled Mount Elgon National Park offers a more peaceful, undisturbed escape into nature.

The park features a variety of hiking trails, offering opportunities for both casual walkers and experienced hikers.

You can witness a diverse ecosystem supporting big and small creatures – from large mammals like elephants and buffalos to smaller species such as monkeys and hyrax.

You don’t need a guide to accompany you.

You can explore the park on foot for close-up wildlife sightings or by car for a more distant experience.

Reaching the park can be a long journey depending on your starting location. If you’re starting from Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, the trip involves approximately 470 kilometers of road travel, which could take several hours.

Like any outdoor excursion, the prevailing weather can heavily influence your visit.

Due to its remote location, the park offers basic facilities with limited luxury amenities and services.

Elephants climbing up the mountain. You can see one that is crossing the red dirt road to climb like the others.

Brief Summary about Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon is an extinct shield volcano located on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Its highest peak, Wagagai, is located in Uganda and reaches an elevation of 4,321 meters (14,177 feet), making it the eighth-highest mountain in Africa.

Elgon is known for being home to one of the largest intact calderas in the world, a spectacular geological feature formed by the collapse of the volcano’s center. The slopes of Mount Elgon are fertile, supporting farmland and a variety of flora and fauna.

It also serves as a major water catchment area, with numerous rivers originating from the mountain, thus playing a crucial role in the regional water supply.

The area is home to Mount Elgon National Park, a shared conservation area between Uganda and Kenya. Two different national authorities run it, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Slight differences might exist regarding specific areas of interest, accessibility, infrastructure, visitor facilities, and regulations.

Despite its beauty and accessibility, Mount Elgon is less frequented than Africa’s higher peaks, making it a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts.

Entrance of mount Elgon, children at the side of the road, a truck entering the gate an a man walking to the gate. You can see a small cottage with green roof and green bricks. On the left you can see a lot of green trees and on the right a big palm tree.

What is the difference between visiting Mount Elgon on the Kenyan side and the Ugandan side?

Visiting Mount Elgon National Park from either the Kenyan or Ugandan side offers an experience full of natural beauty and diverse wildlife. While both sides share similar features, there are key differences.

Kenya

The Kenyan side is well-known for its famous “elephant caves” like Kitum and Makingeni, where elephants venture deep into mine salt deposits.

Uganda

On the Ugandan side, you can hike up to Wagagai, the highest peak of Mount Elgon, a unique experience unavailable on the Kenyan side.

Also, as we mentioned before, there could be differences in the services and facilities offered, given different national authorities manage them. Regardless of which side you choose, visiting this lesser-known gem guarantees an adventurous nature exploration.

What can I do in Mount Elgon National Park?

The park opens from 6 am to 6 pm. Although different activities depend on which side you visit, we will focus on the ones you can do on the Kenyan side.

Hiking and Climbing: You can embark on multi-day treks or short hikes around the park, with trails varying in difficulty. 

Wildlife Viewing: The park hosts a variety of wildlife, including elephants, buffaloes, antelopes, and over 300 bird species. Game drives or guided walks offer opportunities to observe these animals in their natural habitat.

Cave Exploration: Notable for its cave systems, the park provides a unique chance to explore these geological formations. The famous Kitum Cave, visited by elephants for its salt deposits, is a particular highlight on the Kenyan side.

Bird Watching: The park is a paradise for bird watchers with hundreds of bird species, including several endemic ones.

Cultural Experiences: Engage with the local Sabaot community living around the park to learn about their traditions and way of life.

Camping is possible within Mount Elgon National Park, providing a unique opportunity to connect with nature. The park has designated camping sites where visitors can set up their tents. Also, lodges and guest houses are available around the park. 

If you want to see the park in one day we recommend you ask for William as a guide, take the trip walking (although if you are not used to walking a lot, then you should come in a car) and visit the following: 

  1. Kitum Cave: This cave, made famous by the elephants that visit it for its salt deposits, is accessible via a short hike. You could also learn about the people who lived in it. It’s one of a kind experience. 
  2. Elephant Bluff: A slightly longer hike can take you to this viewpoint for a panoramic view of the park. You could also get the chance to encounter some elephants and leopards during the late afternoon. 
  3. Nature walks in the park: Park authorities often have designated walking trails that allow you to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems in a few hours.
Big impala laying down and staring at the camera. At the back lost of green vegetation and a baboon walking.

Can I hike Mount Elgon on the Kenyan side?

As we mentioned before, the highest peak of Mount Elgon is located in Uganda. On the Kenyan side, you could do the long popular hike to Koitobos Peak (4,222 meters), typically taking about three days.

Or shorter trails that offer a chance to explore the park’s diverse landscapes and wildlife without committing to a multi-day trek. These short treks include walks to viewpoints, cave systems, and waterfalls within the park.

How much does Mount Elgon National Park cost?

As in other guides, we will list the prices per person, dividing them into fixed and variable.

Fixed

Park entry fee per day

  • 26 USD for non-resident
    2 USD for residents or citizens

Variable

Guide

  • 15 USD for a hike lasting less than four hours
  • 22 USD if your hike exceeds four hours (or per day for a multiple day hike)

Porter (which you need if you hike up to the summit)

  • 15 USD per day

You also need to pay the 2 USD entry fee (per day) for both your guide and porter in case you use their service.

Transportation to the park

  • Your accommodation can hire you a taxi to the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park for about 30 USD from Kitale (including return trip)
  • If you want to cut costs, you can take a Boda-Boda (motorbike taxi) from Kitale to Mount Elgon National Park for about 10-15 USD (including return trip)
  • If you would like to hire a 4by4 car, you can get it for around 60-70 USD if you rent it outside the park. Renting it from the park is pricier. 

Accommodation

Activities

  • There is no extra fee, regardless of which activity you do. But remember, you have to pay every day for the entrance fee, guides, porter, camping etc. so the longer your activity takes the more expensive it gets.
inside the cave, two different landscapes one is just rocks and the other one is green, with plants and water, both in the same entrance of the cave, it has a pile of rocks.

Is it worth visiting Kitum Cave?

Kitum Cave is situated within the national park’s boundaries, on the eastern side of Mount Elgon. It’s the most popular attraction at the park. The cave extends deep into the volcanic Mount Elgon, reaching a length of approximately 200 meters. It is a dark and mysterious place with a unique atmosphere worth the visit.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kitum Cave is the presence of salt deposits on its walls. These deposits have been formed over centuries due to the constant seepage of mineral-rich water through volcanic rocks.

Kitum Cave is well-known for attracting various animal species. Elephants, in particular, are drawn to the cave due to the salt content in the walls. They visit the cave to scrape the salt off the cave walls using their tusks, resulting in distinct scratch marks on the surfaces.

Kitum Cave holds cultural significance for the local communities, including the Elgeyo and Sabaot tribes. They consider the cave sacred because their ancestors used to live there, and now they often conduct rituals and ceremonies there.

We recommend you go with a guide who can provide information about the cave’s history, wildlife, and for safety precautions.

When is the best time to visit Mount Elgon National Park?

The most popular time to visit is during the dry seasons (June to August and December to March) because the trails are typically more accessible, and wildlife viewing is often better because animals gather around water sources.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in bird-watching, the wet seasons (April to May and September to November) can be attractive as migratory birds are present. Remember that trails can be muddy and more challenging to navigate during these periods.

What animals can I see when visiting Mount Elgon National Park?

One thing that makes Mount Elgon National Park so unique is that you can encounter wildlife very closely while hiking through the park. As you begin your hike, you will see zebras, baboons, and antelopes close up in a big field behind the entrance.

You will likely spot black-and-white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys inside the park. With a bit of luck, you might even see forest elephants. Although leopards are present in the park, sightings are rare due to their extreme shyness. In fact, our guide, who has been working in the park for 20 years, has only spotted a leopard once.

Mount Elgon National Park is also a paradise for bird lovers, with over 300 bird species. You might also encounter buffaloes, among other wildlife.

Note: Especially if you are visiting the park without a guide, you should be careful when encountering wildlife. Never approach wild animals closely, as they can become aggressive. Forest elephants, in particular, can be highly dangerous, so it’s essential always to maintain a safe distance. 

Impalas and zebras etino. One impala with big horns is looking at us.

Should I take a guide when visiting Mount Elgon National Park?

While visiting Mount Elgon National Park, taking a guide is not mandatory as it is in most other national parks in Kenya. However, there are several factors to consider when deciding whether to explore the park with or without a guide:

  1. Safety: Opting for a guide enhances your safety during wildlife encounters. Guides are experienced in navigating the park and know animal behavior, minimizing the risk of potential incidents. Without a guide, there is a higher chance of getting lost or encountering dangerous situations.
  2. Knowledge and Learning: Guides provide valuable insights about the park’s nature, animals, and vegetation. They share their expertise, offering a deeper understanding of the park’s ecosystem and inhabitants. Their knowledge enhances the overall experience, allowing you to appreciate the park’s wonders more profoundly.
  3. Cost and Affordability: Hiring a guide at Mount Elgon National Park is reasonably priced, typically around $21 USD daily (excluding the tip). Considering the benefits they bring regarding safety and knowledge, the cost is relatively affordable and offers good value for the experience.
  4. Enhanced Experience: Having a guide by your side enriches your visit, enabling you to spot and observe more wildlife. Guides are skilled at locating animals, recognizing their tracks and signs, and knowing the best spots for sightings. Without a guide, your chances of seeing and experiencing the full diversity of wildlife may be reduced. Without our guide, we wouldn’t have seen the forest elephants on our hike as he spotted and followed their fresh tracks.

In summary, while taking a guide at Mount Elgon National Park is not mandatory, we highly recommend it. With their expertise, guides enhance your safety, provide valuable knowledge, and contribute to an enriched experience overall. Considering the affordable cost, having a guide by your side ensures a more fulfilling and enjoyable visit to this remarkable national park. We usually try to keep the costs as low as possible, but we were very happy that we chose to hike with a guide after the trip.

Where can I hire a guide for Mount Elgon National Park?

Official guides from Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are available at the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park. You don’t need to book them in advance. You can hire one when paying for access to the park. Remember that you must also pay the entrance fee for your guide (about 2 USD).

Inside of the forest, trees covering and tons of trees and different plants behind, everything looks green.

How to get to Mount Elgon National Park?

Getting to Mount Elgon National Park on the Kenyan side involves a combination of air and road travel.
You can fly into Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
From Nairobi, there are two different destinations you could go (by land or by air):

1. Kitale
It’s the closest town to Mount Elgon National Park (approximately 35 km from the park).

2. Eldoret
It’s the nearest major city to Mount Elgon National Park (approx. 150km from the park).

We recommend staying in Kitale since it is very convenient and close to the park.

How to get from Nairobi to Mount Elgon National Park by land? 

Option 1

Step one: How to get to Kitale from Nairobi?

If you prefer to travel by road, you can take a Matatu (shared Minivan) or a bus from Nairobi to Kitale. The journey is approximately 380 km and can take around 8-10 hours, depending on the traffic and how often you stop on the road.

Several bus companies operate daily services between Nairobi and Kitale, like Modern Coast, Easy Coach, and Guardian Angel Bus.

If you want to go by bus it’s usually best to book your tickets in advance, especially during peak travel periods. You can do this online (at the bus company’s website) or at their booking office.

The pick-up point in Nairobi is usually located in the city center. For instance, Easy Coach buses depart from Easy Coach Bus Station along Haile Selassie Avenue.

The tickets cost around 12 USD per person (Easy Coach). The drop-off point is usually at the bus company’s station in Kitale.

If you choose to travel by Matatu (a shared minivan), there’s no need to purchase your ticket ahead of time. Matatus operate on a first-come-first-served basis and depart once all seats are filled. Most of the Matatus are leaving from the Tom Mboya Street in Nairobi.

Given the length of the journey, we suggest breaking it into several days. The route passes through both Naivasha and Nakuru, where we recommend stopping to explore the stunning national parks. Frequent transportation options between these locations make it easy to continue your journey to Kitale whenever you’re ready. 

Two animals (like deers) looking at us. They are at the other side of the path. Its surrounded by trees and plants. One is smaller than the other one, the big one has also big horns. They are different species.

Step two: How to get to Mount Elgon National Park from Kitale?

The drive to Mount Elgon National Park from Kitale generally takes about an hour. You can use a taxi, private car, or local transportation such as a minibus (matatu) or motorbike (boda boda).

You can take a matatu, boda boda or taxi from Kitale to Endebess (Google Maps Link) and then take a boda boda from Endebess to the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park.

Due to poor road conditions on the final stretch between Endebess and the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park, it’s necessary to travel by a 4by4 vehicle or motorbike. Once at Endebess, we asked for a boda boda (Motorbike Taxi) to take us to Mount Elgon and wait for us to take us back to our place at Kitale. In total, we paid 2 USD for two people.

Note: If you opt for traveling by boda-boda you should know that you’ll usually travel without essential protection (like helmets).

We are used to riding one motorbike for both of us (plus the driver) in East Africa, and we felt comfortable doing it this way. If you don’t feel comfortable, please choose two boda bodas or another type of transportation.

Tree with tick branches on the left and on the back of the picture lots of different green trees. Big clouds and blue sky almost covered by them.
Option 2

Step one: How to get to Eldoret from Nairobi?

You can take a bus or matatu to get to Eldoret. The journey takes about 5-6 hours. Modern Coast, Easy Coach, Guardian Angel Bus, Mash East Africa, and North Rift Shuttle Service are bus companies that can take you to Eldoret. We recommend you use Easy Coach, the ticket is about 10 USD, and they depart from the same station mentioned before.

Step two: How to get to Mount Elgon National Park from Eldoret?

Once you get to Eldoret, you still need to travel about 150km by road to reach the park. You can either get a taxi, rent a car, or use matatus. This drive usually takes about 3 to 4 hours, but remember that it can change depending on traffic and the condition of the roads. On the way, you can see incredible rural and harvest landscapes. But this is a more complicated way to reach Mount Elgon National Park than from Kitale.

Tons of different trees and down a river with some rocks, the river looks brown.
How to get from Nairobi to Mount Elgon National Park by plane?

There is no airport directly in Mount Elgon National Park. To reach the park, your first step will be flying from Nairobi to Kitale or Eldoret. If you’re targeting Kitale, the fastest way is by air. Daily flights from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport head to Kitale’s airstrip, taking about an hour.

If you choose Eldoret as your destination, you can catch a daily domestic flight directly from Wilson Airport in Nairobi or Eldoret International Airport. These flights to Eldoret also take roughly an hour.

Remember, after you land in Kitale or Eldoret, you still need to arrange transportation (either private or public) to reach Mount Elgon National park. Follow the steps here to get to the entrance of the park from Kitale.

How to get from Uganda to Mount Elgon National Park by land?

While traveling through Uganda, we couldn’t visit Mount Elgon National Park on the country’s side. Balancing our work commitments with our travel explorations meant we had to strategize, taking several days to settle and work before venturing out for a day of discovery. Our journey was carefully planned, with Mount Elgon National Park ultimately featured as one of our destinations. Here’s how we navigated our adventure.

Note: While a more direct route to Kitale from Kampala exists via the Malaba border crossing, we’re sharing our journey to provide an option that includes a stop in Kisumu (Google Maps Link) at Lake Victoria en route to Kitale.

Step one: How to get to Kenya from Kampala, Uganda by land?

Take a Bus from Kampala (Uganda) to the border crossing in Busia (Google Maps Link). We took a “taxi” (= a shared minivan) from the Old Taxi park in Kampala (Uganda’s capital). Usually, you can see signs with written destinations above the taxis. The ticket was around 5 USD per person. The trip takes about 5-7 hours. Remember, it can take more depending on the traffic and the stops on the road.

Note: The taxis go when full, so try to have time to spare the day you decide to go.
Tip: avoid going during busy hours; Kampala is well known for its insane traffic (don’t underestimate it). The most comfortable places in the taxi are the first row or next to the driver.

Once you reach the drop-off point at Busia, you must walk from the bus station to the border (it takes around 15 min) and cross to Kenya.

Tip: You can change the currency before arriving or at the border. We managed to secure a reasonable exchange rate with a trader near the border. However, please exercise caution, as this area is known for scams. Only exchange a small amount to pay for your onward transportation (there are also ATMs at the border).

Then you’ll need to take a bus or a matatu (shared minivan) from the border to Kisumu. In general, the border crossing is safe, but avoid traveling when it’s dark.

Impala staring at the camera and the baboon walking back, they are both in a green field.

Step two: How to get from Busia to Kisumu?

We arrived at night, so we went with the first guy that approached us and told us about a bus we could take to Kisumu.
They charged us around 7 USD per person (overpriced, you can definitely find cheaper options) to drop us in Kisumu. We waited around 3 hours till the bus was full and left.

You can find better options if you walk just straight or ask around. Matatus (just walking a little bit farther) are faster and cheaper, and you do not have to wait too long to go. Since we were quite late, there weren’t any matatus leaving anymore that day.

Our advice here would be to stay calm (several people will approach you) and don’t take the first option. Look after your belongings (we emphasize traveling light) and try to find the best option.

What to do in Kisumu?

Once we arrived at Kisumu, we stayed for around three days. Brief summary: Kisumu is a town on Lake Victoria’s shore. The people living in Kisumu are primarily from the Luo ethnic group, the dominant community in the region (Obama’s heritage).

We recommend visiting the Kisumu Museum, taking a boat ride in the lake ( walk 200m from the Hippo point towards the dock, and you’ll find people who can take you for around 20 USD – 25 USD for two people, one hour), and visiting the Impala Sanctuary (22 USD per person for non-residents).

How is the internet connection and signal in Kisumu?

Typically, accommodations in Kisumu offer fast and stable Wi-Fi, making it an ideal base for digital nomads to work for a few days. However, like any other place, Kisumu is also subject to power cuts and not all accommodations provide reliable, high-speed Wi-Fi. Therefore, it’s advisable not to solely rely on this; a better alternative is to use a Safaricom SIM card, which offers fast and reliable 4G+ internet throughout Kisumu.

Picture of a landscape green and with a red dirt road, it has some rocks on the side and you can see a lot of trees behind, also bigger volcanic rocks at the back.

Step three: How to get from Kisumu to Kitale?

We took a matatu from Kisumu’s Bus park Station to Kitale. The journey usually takes 3 to 4 hours, depending on the number of stops and traffic conditions. The ticket is around 5 USD per person.
At Kitale, we recommend you to stay at Africana Yard Cottages. They have a restaurant inside as well.

Once in Kitale, you can follow the steps mentioned before.

Two zebras eating in the green field.

What to do in Kitale?

Kitale is a small town, and the main attractions are going to Mount Elgon National Park, Saiwa Swamp National Park, Kitale Museum, and exploring the Tea and Agricultural Farms nearby. There is nothing to see or do in the town of Kitale itself.

How is the internet connection and signal in Kitale?

Fortunately, we didn’t have to work from our accommodation Kitale. Africana Yard Cottages (located outside the town) has a nice space to work from their cottages; the downside is that the internet and signal were not good at all. We just had decent internet and signal at their restaurant. Kitale’s internet connection and signal can vary depending on the location and service provider. The internet connection within the town is good. If you want to work while visiting Mount Elgon Nation Park, choose and accommodation located inside the town Kitale.

Is Kitale safe to visit?

Kitale is generally considered safe for visitors. However, staying informed about the local situation is essential, as conditions can shift rapidly. We experienced some discomfort at the bus/matatu stop in Kitale where individuals approached us aggressively, asking for money and offering to load our bags into the Matatu or taxi upon arrival and departure. We advise against arriving at or leaving the bus/matatu stop at night and recommend closely watching your belongings.

Picture of the entrance of the cave from the distance. You can see the big rock at the entrance and some other rocks. Its surrounded by lots of vegetation and big trees. At the right of the picture there's a big stone and at the top left a branch.

Is it safe to visit Mount Elgon National Park?

Mount Elgon National Park is generally considered safe to visit. The Kenyan and Ugandan authorities maintain and manage the park, providing security measures and guides to ensure a safe experience for visitors.

As with any wilderness area, there can be risks associated with wildlife encounters or challenging terrains, so it’s important to follow all park rules and guidelines and consider getting a guide (the park is enormous, and you might get lost).

How is the internet connection and signal in Mount Elgon?

There is no Wifi within the park, and the cellular reception is in most of the paths either not existing or very poor. You can use Kitale as a base to work remotely while visiting Mount Elgon National Park.

Picture of a high view you can see a clip and then some crops and mountains at the back. Everything is green.

Is it worth going to Mount Elgon National Park?

Absolutely! The park is more than just a scenic spot — it offers an extraordinary journey that is a cut above your typical outing. Indeed, Mount Elgon National Park remains an undiscovered jewel in Africa.

Are you also planning to visit Diani Beach in Kenya and maybe even work remotely from there? If yes, then we strongly recommend you to read here our full Digital Nomads Guide to Diani Beach.