Sipi Falls

Mt Elgon National Park, Kapchorwa Province, Uganda

About Sipi Falls


Hiking Distance: 6-7km loop
Suggested Time: 3.5 hours

Date first visited: 2008-06-16
Date last visited: 2008-06-16

Waterfall Latitude: 1.33808
Waterfall Longitude: 34.38446

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Sipi Falls was actually a series of three tall waterfalls all plunging along the lower slopes of Mt Elgon (the 4th highest peak in Africa shared between Eastern Uganda and Western Kenya). The name of the falls was often associated with only the main falls in the literature, but I was able to explore the area with a guide and see the other two impressive waterfalls as well.

It turned out that visiting all three waterfalls involved a rather difficult 7km loop hike that was full of steep ascents and descents, flimsy ladders, flimsy catwalks, lots of farms, and lots of mud. This was especially the case since it had rained during the start of my hike.

Although it might have been possible to visit the other two waterfalls through a combination of driving and shorter walks (something I would find out during my long hike), I would imagine just doing the big walk would probably be easier logistically (especially for the vehicle driver as expensive petrol wouldn’t have to be further wasted).

Sipi_Falls_015_06162008 - Looking back at the main Sipi Falls from a small cave
Looking back at the main Sipi Falls from a small cave

Julie and I were able to see the main drop of Sipi Falls (which also happened to be the tallest tier at about 100m) from the eco-lodge called Lacam Lodge, where we stayed. It was visible from numerous positions around an amphitheater with views downhill towards the valley below with Mbale in the distance. There were also a handful of other lodges built around this amphitheater so I’d imagine if you were staying there instead of the one we were at, it would be just as easy to see and photograph the main drop of Sipi Falls.

After coordinating with and paying the local guide at the lodge, I embarked on a hike that he guided. It began by descending through some local farms before descending further towards the base of the main falls. It had rained during this descent so that made it a bit tricky as soon as the steps gave way to the steep, slippery, and muddy dirt trail. It was because of this muddiness that I didn’t go right in front of the base of the waterfall as it didn’t seem to be worth the trouble.

Sipi_Falls_069_06162008 - Contextual look at the second Sipi Falls
Contextual look at the second Sipi Falls

Beyond the base of the falls, the trail then climbed steeply towards a small cave with a view back at the main Sipi Falls. From this unusual vantage point, I was able to get similarly angled views of the falls that I was able to get from the lodge except this was now from the other side.

As we continued the hike, the trail then went through a farm and back onto the tarmac road eventually reaching another property where we followed a trail uphill to a flimsy catwalk leading to views of the second Sipi Falls.

This second waterfall was said to be 75m tall, and it consisted of some upper cascades before making its big plunge. The guide led me around a faint path took us to a tiny cave right behind this middle waterfall.

Sipi_Falls_095_06162008 - Approaching the third Sipi Falls
Approaching the third Sipi Falls

Continuing with the hike, we climbed up some more steep and muddy sections until we made it to the top of this middle waterfall. The view from this vantage point allowed me to appreciate how cultivated the western slopes of Mt Elgon were as undoubtedly its rich volcanic soil must’ve been very fertile land for farming.

Next, we went through some more farms before ascending more slippery tracks. It was a good thing the guide was there to help pull me up on sections where I felt like I would lose traction with each muddy step that I took. In any case, we’d ultimately reach the base of the uppermost of the Sipi Falls.

The walk between the second and third falls seemed like a long way, but seeing that third waterfall made it well worth the effort. Like the other two waterfalls, this 85m falls was tall and columnar. Given its height, we were able to see it from pretty far away as we were making the final approach.

We ended up following a path that took us real close to the falls where we could really appreciate its height as well as the vigor of its flow as it spewed mist all over the place. It was a result of this mist that we did see faint rainbows from the partial sunlight that momentarily broke through the overcast skies.

After experiencing this last of the Sipi Falls, the hike was pretty much all downhill as we would eventually rejoin the tarmac road near the Lacam Lodge, where the hike ended. In total, the overall hike took me about 3 hours and 15 minutes, which might have been a little faster than average. If I were to plan a trip involving this waterfall, I’d count on allocating at least 4 hours to do this hike at a very leisurely pace.

Mbale_002_06162008 - Passing through the town of Mbale right at the base of the western slope of Mt Elgon
Lacam_Lodge_014_06162008 - This was our first look at Sipi Falls when we first checked into the Lacam Lodge
Lacam_Lodge_008_jx_06162008 - The panorama looking downslope of Mt Elgon as seen from the Lacam Lodge
Sipi_Falls_001_06162008 - Descending steps
Sipi_Falls_002_06162008 - Trail and panorama leading to base of the main Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_003_06162008 - Approaching the main Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_005_06162008 - Almost at the base of the main Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_006_06162008 - Near the base of the main Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_014_06162008 - Looking back at the main Sipi Falls after ascending a steep path towards a small ledge and cave
Sipi_Falls_022_06162008 - Little cave after climbing past the base of the first waterfall
Sipi_Falls_032_06162008 - Walking through a farming area
Sipi_Falls_038_06162008 - Descending towards a rickety footbridge
Sipi_Falls_043_06162008 - Approaching the second Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_049_06162008 - Behind the second Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_060_06162008 - Inside the cave behind the second Sipi Falls, which was significantly bigger than the first tiny cave we saw earlier in this hike
Sipi_Falls_063_06162008 - Looking out from behind the second Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_075_06162008 - Looking down at the second Sipi Falls as we were ascending towards its top
Sipi_Falls_085_06162008 - Muddy climb on the way up to the third Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_089_06162008 - Getting closer to the third Sipi Falls
Sipi_Falls_097_06162008 - At the misty base of the third Sipi Falls accompanied by a faint rainbow
Sipi_Falls_102_06162008 - The landscape as we were descending back towards the tarmac road
Sipi_Falls_103_06162008 - Almost back at the main road
Lacam_Lodge_017_jx_06162008 - After such a long hike, it was nice to return to our eco-lodge

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As for specific directions, we were driven here so we can’t really give specifics. However, we can say that it took us about 5 hours to drive east from Kampala to the Lacam Lodge (where we could see the main Sipi Falls). That’s something to consider if you’re incorporating this place into your itinerary.

Right to left sweep starting from the main waterfall and ending towards the setting sun hidden behind the tree in the foreground

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Tagged with: elgon, uganda, kenya, waterfall, africa, kapchorwa, mbale



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