Mount Elgon extends to the East behind Sipi Falls, sloping gently towards the sky, hiding caves where elephants mine mineral deposits to augment their diets. The peak rises to 4,321 meters (14,177 feet), serving as a water basin and the source of the Sipi River, which cascades down the basalt rock of this ancient volcano, through gorges and small towns, ending in Lake Kyoga. Time has allowed wind and water to erode and oxidize the basalt into rusted red cliffs, over which countless massive waterfalls pour. The most famous are the series of three falls known as Sipi Falls.
The first waterfall in the Sipi series is called Ngasire, standing 87 meters (285 feet). A muddy trail crawls up the side of the falls, allowing you to venture out onto a ledge behind them, and watch the water rush past your face in slow motion into a pit of rocks far below.
The crashing water creates an aura of spray, which shoots directly back up into the air. It nourishes an oasis of flowers and foliage, and fuels vivid rainbows. Giant vase shaped Angel’s Trumpet flowers, colored Apricot and peach, hang upside down below the falls, harboring strange horned chameleons with bright yellow heads, as if doused in sunlight. Their casqued crowns, spiny beards, and slow thoughtful stride, make them seem like the wise guardians of the falls.
The middle falls at Sipi, called Kapsurur falls (or Simba Falls), flow into a verdant river valley, ending in the idyllic Sipi River Lodge where you can relax at the bar, or have some freshly brewed local coffee by the fireside. The path to the falls crosses the Sipi River on a small wooden bridge, and then dashes through the sep trees up to shallow caves behind the twin falls. Trees grow up the cliff face, and the spray wafts down the valley through the sunlight. It feels peaceful and pensive – the type of place you might choose to write a book.
The lower falls are the most famous, and often just referred to as Sipi Falls. They fall 100 meters (330 feet) from the middle of a crescent gorge, and there are campsites, and little lodges positioned at view points on both sides, so you can watch the sun set down the falls in the evening. The trail to the bottom is muddy and adventurous. The ladder descending the cliff face, feels like a community project that never got funded, crafted of scrap wood and rusted nails, it is secured to the rock with not much more than good intentions.
However, standing at the base of the lower Sipi Falls allows you to feel the power of the falls, and get lost in the rainbows that flutter around its base. So pick a sunny day, when the spray from the waterfalls come alive with color, choose some clothes you do not mind getting muddy, and pitch a tent on the ledge of the lower falls, to watch the sunset over the valleys below. Sipi Falls will wash away your worries, and leave you with the rushing energy of these magnificent falls.
Author’s Note: We stayed at Moses Campsite, which is a decent value, locally-run budget option for pitching a tent, with an amazing view of the falls. The Crow’s Nest has the best look-out for sunset, and if you can splurge, Sipi River Lodge is wonderful.