Sitting in the foothills of Mt Elgon and overlooking a vast plain is arguably the most beautiful chain of waterfalls in all of Uganda. There are three levels, and though the smaller two are beautiful, it is the 95m main drop that attracts visitors to this area, and most of the lodging looks out over it. It is well worth spending a night or two in this spectacular yet peaceful place whether it is a part of your Uganda tour or in connection with a climb of the nearby volcano.
Sipi Falls is a series of three waterfalls in Eastern Uganda in the district of Kapchorwa, northeast of Sironko and Mbale. The waterfalls lie on the edge of Mount Elgon National Park near the Kenyan border.
The Sipi Falls area is the starting point for many hikes up Mt. Elgon. The most popular route starts in Budadiri and follows the Sasa trail to the summit and then descends down the Sipi trail back into the Sipi Falls. Hikes around the falls offer stunning views of the Karamoja plains, Lake Kyoga, and the slopes of Mt. Elgon.
With a cooler climate than most of the country Sipi Falls is a nice place to unwind, relax and literally chill out away from the hustle and bustle of the towns and cities. Being on the foothills of Mt. Elgon, Sipi offers a number of alternative activities to the mainstream river activities in and around Jinja. Rob’s Rolling Rock, a local outfit trained by Italian climbers offers abseiling along the side of the main 100m Sipi waterfall as well as climbing on 14 bolted sport routes with a range of difficulty. Other activities include hiking around the local area and visiting the local waterfalls.
The Sipi River is named after the ‘Sep’, a plant indigenous to the banks of the River. Resembling a type of wild banana, Sep is a medicinal plant, the translucent green frond with a bolt of crimson rib is used for treating measles and fever.
When to go
As earlier said the weather in the sipi area is cool all year round, so you can travel and visit this place at any time in the year, though during rainy seasons you may get challenges hiking hence advised to move with walking sticks, this is an added experience.
How to get there
A journey on road from Kampala city to Sipi takes you approximately 5 hours about 277km. here you drive to Eastern Uganda on Jinja road passing via the outskirts of Jinja town, then go through Mbale town as you head to Kapchorwa the home to the beautiful sipi falls. Along the way you will be able to see the beautiful green vegetation and rocks along the slopes of Mountain Elgon. Driving to this area also adds to your unforgettable experience before you even reach.
Things to do (Activities)
Since all the waterfalls are located in different areas of Mt. Elgon, it is impossible to see them at the same time but they can be seen in one day. The paths to these falls are approximately 7km to 8km as you walk and it takes around 3 hours to visit all the falls, but it is dependent on individual fitness and pace. As you hike you will need walking sticks to give you support since you go through some steep spots and in case it rains the paths get slippery and muddy.
There are different starting points for the hike depending on which waterfall to visit first. Though if you have lesser time you are advised to start with the main waterfall and continue with others later. But in cases where you have enough time it’s better to first hike to the first and second water fall, take a break may be have lunch or relax as you continue to the last water fall.
Cars cannot reach all these spots because the terrain is steep, this is why you go for a hike, it is an amazing experience, and you will be having local guides who are informed about the historical and geographical back ground of the area.
- Abseiling & Rock climbing
You need to do abseiling in Uganda; sipi is the place to go. This activity is done at the main water fall and is most enjoyed by adventurous travelers. Equipments also known as rappels to be used are 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 on 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 learn also how coffee is harvested, processed, roasted and other things, you will also be able to see how people live in these communities.
- Cultural encounters
Being in Kapchorwa there is a lot to see like the Sabiny who basically stay around sipi. There way of life, dress code, traditional dances that 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, but that of men is an amazing activity to witness especially if you visit thus area during the time circumcisions are done.
- Bird watching
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.
- Mountain Biking
You can opt to travel with your bike if you are to take part in this activity; it is so adventurous and thrilling to ride your bike on the Rocky Mountains, something to remember always.
- Visit the Sipi River
Apart from visiting the 3 waterfalls you could also take a 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 to measles and fevers. Enjoy a walk along this river with its beautiful scenery.
The trails of Sipi water falls
Since these falls are derived from the Sipi River, they fall from different altitudes and are found in different locations, which is why you need to hike looking for the waterfall trails.
As the Sipi River flows from the top, you find the first water fall with a great and roaring splash, as you hike to this fall it is a bit terrifying but it is safe and really an amazing place. This fall is the second highest falling from an altitude of 85metres over a cliff forming a pool below, the paths to this fall are a bit slippery so you need to be conscious of where you step.
After it doesn’t stop there, the river continues to flow through local communities, gardens and over rocks until to meets another cliff of about 65metres high, hence forming the second water fall referred to as a ‘twin fall’ but it is smaller than the other two waterfalls. It has a manmade cave which gives you accessibility to view the falls from behind, also after the long hike you can choose to go under the natural shower formed by this fall for a relief but during the rainy season you are not advised to do so since the amount of water increases and the shower becomes too dangerous. While at these falls take as many photos you want, enjoy the cold atmosphere a time never to forget!
The river still flows through bushes and trees, and meets another cliff about 100metres high; this is the biggest of all the three waterfalls also called the main waterfall, which has made many people think it is the “the Sipi Falls” not considering the other two falls. Just like the other falls this water fall also forms a pool below with beautiful rainbows that is sometimes referred to as “a natural swimming pool”.
Being here actually gives an incredible experience of a life time!
Where to stay (Accommodation)
There are a number of accommodation facilities in sipi region, and there are no worries of where to stay as long as you visit this area. The facilities are Luxurious/Up market, mid range/moderate and those for budget travelers are also available, they include;
- Sipi River lodge
This is an up market lodge found in Sipi falls region, it has a nice view since it is near the water falls, it is safe and secure with comfortable and en suite rooms such as those that have elegant designs, those offering better views of the water falls. There are various cottages and Bandas with various names like the Chepkui cottage, Kapsurur cottage, and the Piswa and Sasa Bandas among others.
There are various facilities provided by this lodge like the stylish bar, nice veranda, a reading longue, a dining room.
- Sipi Falls resort
This is a moderate/midrange resort located in the sipi region. This lodge has 5 comfortable thatched cottages which are equipped with private facilities. It has a very good restaurant that provides local and international cuisine and also a nice bar area where to enjoy your drink from.
Sipi falls resort is just a place to stay on your tour to sipi falls, the rooms are classified as double, single, twin, triple, family occupancy. These rooms also provide a nice view of the green vegetation and the romantic and beautiful waterfalls.
- Lacam Lodge
This is also a midrange lodge; it is an impressive lodge to stay in, it is on a certain cliff which offers you a great view of the Sipi waterfalls. It has wooden Bandas that are made of timber and grass thatched; there are toilets and bathrooms en suite but it has like 3 non-self contained Bandas so these rooms are cheaper than the self contained rooms.
The lodge also has space for camping where clients can pitch their tents.
- Noah’s Ark Hotels
Located on the slopes of mountain Elgon, and favors all kinds of guests such as the luxury, midrange and Budget travelers. So you can book in basing on your room preference rooms.
But in this instance someone visiting sipi falls would be advised to book accommodation in ‘Noah’s Ark Sipi Falls Resort’ especially if he/she is a budget traveler. This accommodation also has tents.
- Crowns Nest Rest Camp
It is a campsite for budget travelers and it overlooks the 3 amazing Sipi waterfalls and other great sceneries like Mount Elgon peaks. The local staff of this place is good and friendly.
While in this campsite you can easily go for some activities such as village walks, coffee plantation tours, hiking to the sipi falls, trekking Mount Elgon and rock climbing.