If you would like to unwind your weekend with an exclusive adventure in the quiet environs of eastern Uganda, it would be a mistake for you to skip Sipi falls and its adjacent environs. Since childhood, I have always heard beautiful stories about this majestic waterfall. So one day I made up my mind to visit these falls everyone was talking about! Armed with a camera and a notebook, here’s how my unforgettable adventure unfolded…
Before leaving, I read from a reputable source that Sipi falls is a string of three mega waterfalls in Sipi village, Kapchorwa district. They lie on the north-western edge of Mt. Elgon National Park. The water springs from Mount. Elgon to form the three Sipi falls and from there they converge into Sipi River which then flows northwards into Lake Bisina.
It was a beautiful Saturday morning when I boarded a 14-seater taxi to Kapchorwa from the main taxi park in Mbale town and this journey took me through the districts of Sironko, Bulambuli and then finally to Kapchorwa. That is just one and a half hours drive by road. When we reached the Moroto (another famous town in the far east) junction, we then branched off eastwards to Kapchorwa. This is when I noticed the rolling green hills of the district. Once we entered Kapchorwa, the great scenic beauty of this land revealed itself before my eyes as we drove along the hilltops and this gave me the best views of the far away Karamoja plains, Lake Kyoga, Lake Bisina and the whole Central plateau which are hundreds of miles away! The intimate climate too promised me that this was gonna be a memorable day! So I calmed down.
As we approached Sipi village, I could hear the crashing sounds of the waterfalls. My anxiety increased as I detected the misty smoke from the falls, several miles away. I became unsettled. As I disembarked at Sipi trading center, I paid Ush 10,000 (USD 3) for transport fee to the taxi driver. Part one of the adventure was already awesome. How would the second part feel like? Read on…
Before I made a step, screaming tour guides surrounded me with their ‘mouthwatering’ offers! Unable to control the ensuing commotion, I humbly declined and walked into Sipi Falls Tour Guides Association office which is just across the road on your left. A young tour guide Cheptoek Willex welcomed me.
He explained their pricing system. “You’ll need to be accompanied by an experienced tour guide to take you around each of the three waterfalls, the caves, going for community walks and the coffee tour hikes which will cost you between Ush 25,000 – 30,000 (USD 6 – 8) depending on the number of falls you want to visit.” The startling prices prompted me to activate my bargaining skills and at the end, he agreed that I pay Ush 15,000 (USD 4). After the transaction, we set off to explore!
The area around the falls is rich in fertile soils which are suitable for the growth of the world-famous Bugisu Arabica coffee. The main waterfall is about 100 meters and the other two are less than 80 meters. All of them are within a short distance from each other. Descending to the bottom of the main waterfall is a very challenging feat and not for the faint-hearted. Any visitor to the falls should expect a complicated descending of a very steep valley on shaky wooden ladders.
After 30 minutes, we reached the base of the waterfalls. I was exhausted but this was the beginning. So Cheptoek briefed me about his work, the Sipi falls and its environment: “We receive around 50 local and 100 foreign tourists per day. Besides the falls, other tourist attractions in the area are the ancient caves, the Arabica coffee tour hikes, cultural and nature walks.” He continued: “Thousands of years ago, the area around Sipi falls was initially a flat area but due to volcanic activity and forces, it faulted and then formed a V-shaped valley just beneath the Sipi falls.”
He went on to narrate: “According to legends, long time ago Sebei (the area’s indigenous ethnic tribe) chiefs used to live in the caves besides the falls. One major cave is called Sipi Mise cave which is now a tourist attraction site. We mine crystal stones from this and other nearby caves.”
I was very impressed and I needed to know more. So he explained: “Crystal stones are sparkling orange in color. The mineral is extracted during the dry season because in the rainy season they tend to melt at its liquefying point. We use these gems to make ornaments such as rings, armbands, and necklaces which the Sebei people sell as souvenirs to tourists for a fee.”
As I adventured, I noticed that with a cooler climate than most of the country, Sipi falls can give you a very pleasant atmosphere to unwind and chill out away from the hustles of city life. The area’s inhabitants belong to the Sebei tribe and they speak Sebei language. Cheptoek revealed to me the meaning of the name Sipi. He said that the falls are named after the ‘Sep’, a plant indigenous to the banks of Sipi River. It resembles a type of wild banana plant. To the Sebei, it is a medicinal plant whose light green secretion is used for treating measles and fever.
On learning that most easterners ignore visiting Sipi, I kept imagining how many of them do really miss this enchanted treasure that’s amidst them! But the truth is that this place offers countless fun-filled adventures that need to be enjoyed with your whole family. Tourists can also do parasailing alongside the falls while others just enjoy rock climbing to the top of the gigantic caves. Bird watching, overnight camping, and hiking, are other rewarding activities you can indulge yourself in. If you have a perfect DSLR camera, you’ll be able to take great memorable photos of the charming landscapes. The most rewarding part of your adventure will be learning about the little-known Sebei person and their unique way of living.
The best time to visit the falls is on a dry sunny day otherwise, you will find the area too slippery and muddy on wet days. I also recommend that you visit in the morning or evening to avoid the mid-day blazing sun which can make things worse as you try to scale the area’s steep valleys. Light water-proof clothing is highly suggested to give you ease as you trek about. Surely a visit to Sipi falls and its adjacent surroundings will be worth the time and money spent. The friendly locals, the falls and all the sorrounding greenery will surely inspire you to adventure more! I promise this will be an extraordinary experience of a lifetime. I hope you will be there in the meantime.