The area around Sipi in eastern Uganda isn’t only home to a series of impressive waterfalls, but also to a network of hiking trails winding through the dense forests, gentle hills, and cute villages of the region.
Hiking in this area is a fantastic way to explore both the natural beauty of this part of the country and to see a slice of the traditional life in the small villages dotting the landscape. The countryside is incredibly scenic and there are several viewpoints offering amazing panoramas of the surrounding Karamoja Plains.
All of this combined to make Sipi one of my favourite places in the country, and I highly recommend making the area a stop on your travel itinerary of Uganda. Read on for my suggestions of what to do in this incredible part of the country.
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What to see and do in the Sipi Falls Area
Visit the main Sipi Falls (aka. Lower Falls)
The most popular hiking trail in the Sipi Falls area is the one leading to the main waterfall, with a spectacular drop of 99m or 325ft. You can glimpse the falls from several points along the road, but to get up close, you’ll have to follow a small path to the foot of the falls.
The trail starts in the small Sipi Trading Centre, where you’ll find the highest concentration of shops, bars and Restaurants. It takes about 15 minutes to reach the falls.
There’s no official entrance fee, but you may be approached by locals telling you that you can only get there by guide (which is not true). Depending on your preference, you could take them up on their offer or politely decline – It’s pretty impossible to get lost on your way to the falls.
Once you’ve had enough of the spectacle of the falls, you can either return the way you came or continue north past the falls through banana plantations and slowly climb to the top of the ridge. I recommend that option, as the views back to the falls are amazing. You’ll have to be reasonably fit, though, as at one point you’ll have to scale a rickety wooden ladder to reach the cliff.
The cliff-face is also home to a series of small caves, which are fun to explore. A little further on, you’ll reach a road, which you can follow east to the main highway near the Sipi River Lodge.
Hiking to the Middle Sipi Falls
If you’re in the mood for a longer hike, there are some trails leading to several other falls in the area. These might not be as tall as the main falls, but their remoteness and surroundings make them super atmospheric. Apart from that, some great views open up along the way and the trail going there leads through a picturesque area of coffee plantations.
The Middle Sipi Falls can be found pretty close to the highway. You’ll have to pay a small fee at the Sipi River Lodge, and then continue east through their premises, where you’ll cross the river, continue for a bit through some banana plantations and then turn south to cross the river again.
After following the small path for a bit, you’ll reach the Middle Falls or Simba Falls. One of the coolest features here is that you can enter a small cave behind the falls and thereby get super close to the cascade. Afterwards, you’ll have to double back, cross the river again and turn right (east) to follow the path that climbs the cliff.
Continuing to the Upper Sipi Falls and the Top of the Falls
Continue east through a pretty area of banana and coffee plantations until you reach a road running through a small village, and follow it south for about 10 minutes before turning sharply left (East) at an intersection. Follow this road east for another ten minutes, past some small houses and garden plots, before reaching the final set of falls.
The Upper Sipi Falls or Ngasire Falls are pretty powerful, especially during or shortly after the rainy season. If you’re not yet powered out, you can ascend the cliff for fantastic views over the rolling hills below and the Karamoja Plains beyond them.
To do that, return to the road you followed south and continue south for another ten minutes, then turn left (East) at the intersection and wind your way through the houses to the top of the cliff.
Once you’ve had enough of the splendid views, return to the road and follow it to the West. Turn left (South) at the first opportunity (if you’re entering a school compound, you’ve gone too far) and follow this road back to the main highway.
The Sipi River Lodge, where you started your hike, is to the right, the Sipi Trade centre and trailhead to the Lower Falls to the left.
Map of Sipi Falls
The location of the three waterfalls can be found on this map.
Guided tours of the Sipi Falls area
While the Sipi Falls area can be explored independently, the company of a guide might make finding the way to the falls easier and help you learn about the local nature. This guided tour has fantastic ratings. Have a look below for more options.
How to get to Sipi Falls
The falls are located close to the Eastern Ugandan city of Mbale. Without your own transport, you’ll have to head to the main matatu (shared taxi) stand near the big roundabout at the southern and of town and board a matatu going to Sipi (or Kapchorwa). Just ask around and people will show you the right one. The trip should take about an hour and cost around 10,000 Shillings.
Where to stay near Sipi Falls
We stayed at Moses Campsite (Tel. +256 702 374607), where you can camp or sleep in small thatched-roofed bandas in a great location overlooking the Karamoja Plains. Sipi Guest House, is another good budget place, while Sipi Traveller’s Lodge is the best midrange option.
Rafiki Lodge Sipi would be the most luxurious place around – again, with amazing views over the surrounding plains.
Where to go next