There are travelers who like buses, there are travelers who take buses to save money, and then there’s us. We’d love to save money but after more than a year of traveling, we just don’t have the stamina and patience for long bus rides anymore.
How to get to Sipi Falls
The nice lady at our guesthouse in Entebbe organized a taxi for us to go to Sipi Falls. The only thing was, she didn’t know where Sipi was. Nor did the driver. They only knew it was “near” the town of Mbale (actually it’s 70 km from Mbale). Our driver, who drove an airport taxi, probably had never been too far away from Kampala and had no idea where he was going.
From Kampala, there are two ways to go to Sipi: a long and a short way. Our driver took the long way. He got a speeding ticket and almost drove to the Kenyan border (twice). By 6 pm we arrived at the turnoff to Sipi and it was clearly the driver’s first time driving in the mountains. Despite his frequent complaints (where you’re going is so far away!) he was a very nice guy and we arrived safely in Sipi.
Several lodges in Sipi offer amazing views of at least one of the three waterfalls. Some, like Lacam Lodge, are closer to the falls, some, like the cheaper Crow’s Nest, further away. The first two nights we stayed at Lacam Lodge, after that it was booked out so we moved to Crow’s Nest. Lacam Lodge has big and clean rooms but no electricity (you get oil lamps at night – very romantic), Crow’s Nest has (sometimes) electricity but the rooms are tiny, the bathroom has a pit toilet and it’s obvious that not much money has been spent on interior design.
To get around and to the waterfalls you need a guide. First, because tourists have to pay village fees and it’s easier and probably cheaper if the guide, or the guides’ association, respectively, handles this. Second, because the trails aren’t easy to find and there are no signs or maps anywhere.
Finding a guide is easy, especially in low season, when the guides find you before you even know you need one. Otherwise, you can always ask at your hotel.
Sipi Falls Tourism Guide Association, outside Sipi Falls Resort, offers walks in the area, coffee tours, visits of the waterfalls, but also tour to Nyero rock paintings. Prices are very reasonable and there’s a price list at the association’s office.
We did two hikes; one to the nearby Chebonet Falls and a longer one to all three Sipi Falls. All walks take you through villages and banana plantations and to lookouts with fantastic views of the mountains, the waterfalls and the plains below. Our guide took us to a viewpoint close to the highest of the three Sipi falls. From there, we had the most amazing view; it was one of the most beautiful panoramas I’ve ever enjoyed.
The waterfalls always have water but in dry season obviously not that much as in rainy season. Then, they’re much more spectacular but you can’t get as close to the falls as you can in dry season. All year long it’s possible to swim in the pools at the bottom of the falls but the water is very, very cold.
Our guide Roger took us on a coffee tour. Coffee is Uganda’s top export crop and some of the country’s best coffee grows in the Mt Elgon region, where Sipi is. Roger explained us the whole process of coffee-making from sapling to cup. We roasted the beans and ground them into powder by ourselves and at the end enjoyed a wonderful cup of coffee in the shade of a small hut.
Sipi is a wonderful place to spend a few days. The climate is pleasant; the nights are cool while the days are warm but not too hot. Even though Sipi has several hotels (all of them, even the cheapest ones, with stunning views) and sees quite a lot of tourists on weekends and in high season, it’s not a touristy town. Apart from the hotels/lodges, there is no tourist infrastructure. The few shops are very small, finding a nano-SIM-card is impossible, and power-cuts are very frequent (actually, no power is the norm). There are one or two local restaurants that serve rice, beans, chapati, and matoke and a place that makes good chips daily after 7 pm. To find the restaurants, however, you’ll need a guide (or to ask around). The food is nothing fancy, but cheap and filling.
It’s that lack of tourist-oriented shops and restaurants and the very rural atmosphere that makes Sipi such an interesting and special place. The scenery is amazing, the views breathtaking, and people very nice. It’s a great escape from busy Kampala.
Roger is a great guy and a good guide who knows the area by heart. Here’s his number, he can also arrange accommodation and transport to/from Sipi: +256789245125