Tucked away behind Mt. Elgon, on the far east side of Uganda, sits Sipi Falls. It’s actually a series of three waterfalls which appear rather small from the drive up the mountain – an illusion of distance.
Sipi is a nature lover’s paradise. There’s something for the active, the adrenaline junkies, animal photographers, and those who want to sit and take in a quiet sunrise. Here’s how I recommend you spend 3 days in Sipi Falls, the minimum I’d suggest for a visit.
Before day 1:
If possible, give yourself three full days in Sipi without travel. Depending on where you’re coming from (Kenya, Kampala, Jinja, Murchison) you might be looking at a drive of anywhere from 2 to 7 hours.
It’s best to arrive before the sun sets. This way you can enjoy the views as you climb the winding roads up Mount Elgon. It will also help you avoid the struggle of finding your accommodation and navigating the roads in the dark – a bit of a challenge in this area as there aren’t street lights and the dirt roads can be less-than-smooth.
Day 1 – Hiking in Sipi Falls
You’ll want a full breakfast before setting off on a hike around Sipi. It’s quite steep and the paths can be very muddy after lots of rain. It can also be pretty humid and sunny. All of which lead to tired, hungry hikers!
I highly recommend hiring a local guide. We paid about $15 a person for our guide, Milton, who was fabulous. Though there are decently clear paths around, I didn’t see a lot of signage indicating which way to go to get to the different falls and it would be hard to navigate alone.
More importantly, the paths led us through the backyards of many locals’ properties. You run the risk of trespassing and upsetting the people who live there by going alone. Honestly, it’s just rude, not to mention damaging to the local communities who have little means of stopping the flow tourists who come to Sipi Falls.
Milton explained that tourism has done a lot to help the local area, and some of the funds from general tourist activities help provide a sort of social welfare for residents who fall on hard times. Hiring a local guide directly impacts the community in a positive way then, providing jobs and income that they lose out on when you trample through their back yards alone. Plus, you get a lot more information about the area and will definitely get where you’re going a lot quicker with local knowledge.
Where can I find a guide to show me around Sipi Falls?
Your accommodation will likely have guides they can arrange for you. It’s also easy to find tourism info throughout Sipi Falls as it’s small tight knit community, with many locals who know the area extremely well offering their services.
Hiking around Sipi Falls will take about a half day, but if you bring some snacks and a swim suit you could certainly spend a while longer enjoying the waterfalls and viewpoints.
Coffee is a major crop grown on Mount Elgon and it’s pretty delicious. Make sure you visit one of the local coffee shops. There will be small signs, likely handwritten, outside homes where coffee is sold. There might also be some visible plastic chairs around a table, indicating they’re selling.
We found a woman who had drip, espresso, aeropress, French press, and a few other varieties of coffee for offer plus bags of coffee beans to take home!
Watch the sun set over the valley
We weren’t able to do this because of the weather but on one side of the mountain is a wonderful spot for sunset and sunrise. The sun sets around 6-7pm so this is a great post-hike way to relax. Again, a guide can show you the spot quickly and can share some history about the area along the way.
Day 2: Learn about life on Mount Elgon
Now that you’ve tasted the local coffee it’s time to learn how it’s made! We spent a lovely evening with Milton and a local family who took us through the whole coffee making process. From picking a coffee berry and uncovering the bean, to planting a sprout, to grinding the dried beans to remove the shells, roasting the beans, grinding the beans, and finally making the coffee – we got to see the entire process.
It takes about 6 years for a planted coffee bean to start producing its own coffee beans. We gained such an appreciation for how much work goes into the coffee making process and I now look at my morning cup a little more gratefully.
We also got to talk with the husband and wife duo who share a bit about their daily lives as we chatted over a cup of coffee we madetried our hand and making from scratch! If you can consider the dried beans they’d already grown and harvested as “from scratch”.
If you want to take your learning even further, book a culture tour and get an inside look at other aspects of how the locals live. I think you can get a good sense of daily life by walking through the town but a proper tour can prevent you from observing people who didn’t signed up to share their day to day.
Milton told us that we could possibly witness a circumcision ceremony, which is performed on the boys as they near adulthood. It sounded reminiscent of a quincinera or a bat mitzvah in a way (with the addition of an intimate physical ritual) whereby the circumcisions mark the transition of a boy to a man. Friends and family come to take part in the ceremony, bringing gifts of livestock, money, food, drinks, and even cars. BUT the young men only get to keep the gifts if they make it through the circumcision without screaming.
We also learned about FGM (female genital mutilation) which is now outlawed and not practiced by the majority of Sipi residents. However, the ban is fairly recent; our female host explained she was the last person in her social group to have undergone the procedure, and she was in her mid-forties at the time.
The ceremony sounded extremely personal and I didn’t feel comfortable participating as an outside witness, so we decided not to book the tour.
That said, if you want to do the cultural tour but don’t want to participate in the circumcision ceremony, just tell your guide or accommodation and they can arrange for you to experience the other parts of daily life.
Day 3: Enjoy the great outdoors
If you’re not exhausted yet from all the activities, wake up early and catch the sun rise over the valley. I’m not much of an early bird and I did not catch the worm on this one, but the views are breathtaking everywhere and I regret not rising soon enough to meet the sun.
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Not for the faint of heart, you can abseil (rappel) down the waterfall and take in the views from the top (and middle and bottom). I tried this and had an absolute, scary, blast!
Warning – it’s a chilly splash zone at the bottom and you will get soaked. Dress accordingly and make sure to waterproof any of your photo gear you dare to bring with you. It’s around $50 per person and in my opinion, highly worth the adrenaline rush.
Almost any age an participate, but it requires a steep hike up the mountain afterward so it’s not an activity for those who can’t make the climb back up.
After a day of excitement, give yourself a rest and enjoy the views from the top of your accommodation with a nice beer. You’ve earned it. Keep an eye out for birds and monkeys! They seemed to be most active – or at least visible – during mid-morning and early evening hours.
Where to stay in Sipi Falls
We stayed at Lacam Lodge which I truly believe was the coolest place on Sipi Falls after seeing where the other hotels were located. You pretty much can’t get closer to the falls! (In the photo above, the white rock face in the middle of the photo is where the waterfall is, which provides a soothing white noise at night).
Lacam Lodge offers some incredible views of the valley and the rooms are gorgeous with thatched roofs, bamboo and wood everything else, and super comfy beds equipped with sturdy mosquito nets.
The food at Lacam Lodge was some of the best local food we ate in our three months in Uganda. They will customize meals for vegetarians too. Just explain your dietary restrictions to staff the night before.
The Sipi Falls Lodge (where our friends stayed and gave a positive report) is another popular stay.
What to know before visiting Sipi Falls
- FOOD: The area is fairly remote and there aren’t a ton of dining options, but you can explore the main road and find a local spot to grab a bite. Otherwise bring snacks or make plans with your accommodation for meals so you don’t find yourself hungry after a long day.
- CASH: There aren’t any ATMs in town and most places require cash. Take enough for your accommodation, meals, and activities. If you need extra cash, there are ATMS in the nearby towns 20-30 minutes’ drive away, one way.
- MOBILITY: Travel around Sipi Falls includes lots of walking, even to get to tours. It’s a difficult place for people with mobility issues. Make sure to inquire with your accommodation what is handicap accessible.
Don’t get caught unprepared: Uganda Packing List – Essentials You Can’t Forget
Thanks for reading 3 Days in Sipi Falls!
Head to the Uganda global directory for more posts and resources on travel in Uganda. The Pearl of Africa, as Uganda is known, is truly a gem and full of breathtaking adventures. I truly hope you add it to your bucket list and make the trip some day!