Many companies sell two day, one night tours to Sipi Falls from Kampala for about $100. The trip can easily be done independently for less than half of that price including food, accommodation, and transportation. This guide explains how to visit Sipi Falls from Kampala. It outlines minibus transportation, where to stay, and how to view the falls independently and on a budget without hiring a guide.
A Bit of Info About Sipi Falls
Sipi Falls is a series of three waterfalls located in eastern Uganda near the town of Mbale. The highest waterfall is about 100 meters. The surrounding area is full of lush, green hills which are great for hiking and birdwatching. The whole area is really picturesque.
The town of Sipi is located within walking distance of the falls. It is a small, one-street town with several restaurants, hotels, and campsites. The falls are located up in the hills where the weather is nice and cool. The whole surrounding area is absolutely beautiful and definitely worth a visit if you are traveling in Uganda.
The Best Time of Year to Visit Sipi Falls
You can visit Sipi Falls at any time of the year. Due to the close proximity to the equator and the altitude (1775 meters or 5823 feet), the weather at Sipi Falls is pleasant year-round. Having said that, June-August and December-March are the best times of year to visit. These are the region’s dry seasons. Hiking trails will be in better condition and you won’t have to put up with the rain.
Costs to Visit Sipi Falls
This trip can be made independently for about $30-$40 round trip from Kampala. Less if you are frugal. This includes transportation, accommodation, and food.
One thing that really annoys me about traveling in Africa is that people are always trying to sell an organized tour or guide service. Most of the time this is completely unnecessary. I, personally, much prefer to travel independently. Costs for the trip to Sipi Falls from Kampala include:
- Round trip minibus transportation from Kampala to Sipi and back- This will cost about $20. Less if you are a good negotiator.
- Accommodation in Sipi- You can find a bed in a dorm for about $12. If you are traveling with a tent, you can find camping for a bit less.
- Food- Most hotels include a basic breakfast in the price of a room. A decent dinner costs just a few dollars at one of the restaurants in town. Most hotels serve dinner as well. For lunch and snacks while in transit, you may want to stock up at the supermarket either in Kampala before you leave or in Jinja or Mbale during the trip.
- Entrance to the falls- You must pass through a lodge in order to get to the top of the falls. They charge a small entry fee to pass through the gate. I don’t remember exactly how much the charge is but I think it’s around $1.
How to get to Sipi Falls from Kampala by Bus
If you are traveling from Kampala, the easiest way to get to Sipi Falls is on a series of minibusses. The journey there will take most of a day so you’ll want to allow at least two days and one night for this trip.
If you are in a hurry, you can leave one morning, view the falls, and return the following evening. The area is quite nice so you may want to allow an extra day or two to hike around a bit and just relax if you have time. From Kampala, you will need to take three minibusses to get to Sipi Falls
1. Kampala to Jinja by minibus
First head to Jinja Road in Kampala. From there, you will catch a minibus to Jinja. The easiest way to find the right bus is to just ask around. Someone will be able to point you in the right direction.
Buses travel back and forth on this route all day, every day so you shouldn’t have to wait for more than 15 minutes to find a bus. I recommend you leave early in the day as it takes quite a bit of time to get out of Kampala. Depending on traffic this ride to Jinja should take between 2 and 3 hours.
2. Jinja to Mbale by minibus
When you reach Jinja, you need to switch buses. Tell the driver that you want to go to Mbale and he will drop you off at the minibus station. Many buses make this trip every day so you shouldn’t have to wait for more than an hour for a bus. The ride from Jinja to Mbale will take about 2-3 hours.
3. Mbale to Sipi taxi or minibus
Once you reach Mbale, you are almost there. Tell the driver that you want to go to Sipi and he will drop you off at the minibus station. Mbale and Sipi are both small towns so buses leave less frequently. You may have to wait an hour or two for the minibus to fill up.
If you arrive too late in the day, or you just don’t want to wait, you can hire a taxi or motorcycle to take you up to Sipi. It is about an hour’s drive from Mbale to Sipi and the road is quite mountainous.
If all goes well, you should arrive in Sipi about 8-10 hours after you leave Kampala. One piece of advice I can give is to watch your pockets on the minibusses. My phone was pickpocketed on a minibus in Tanzania but luckily I got it back!
Arriving in Sipi, Uganda
There is no need to make hotel reservations before you arrive. All of the hotels were nearly empty when I was there. Several budget hotels can be found in town and camping is available.
After you arrive, I recommend you take a short walk through town and get the lay of the land. The whole town is only a couple of blocks. You can check the price of a couple of hotels while you’re wandering around. They all looked more or less the same to me.
I stayed in a dorm at a place called The Crow’s Nest. I believe it was about $12 for the night. The place had a beautiful view of the falls and was within walking distance. It was clean and the staff was friendly. I recommend the place.
Tip: Wherever you plan to stay, negotiate hard for the room. They get quite a few tourists in Sipi and like to overcharge.
Walking to Sipi Falls from Sipi
While you are walking around town, tour guides will approach you trying to sell you a tour of the falls. They will tell you that it is impossible to get to on your own and that you need a guide or else you will get lost. This is a complete lie. The top of the falls is just a 15-minute walk from town.
To get to the falls, just follow the main street in the direction of the falls (you can clearly see the largest of the falls from the main street of Sipi). The path to the falls is clearly marked.
You will enter a lodge and wind your way through the property. Someone at the lodge may try once again to sell you a tour. Just tell them that you’re not interested. There is a small fee to pass through the lodge to the path to the falls. This is not a scam. Again, I believe it was around one dollar.
Once you pass through the gate and into the jungle, just keep following the trail. The falls is just a short walk away, probably less than 10 minutes. You will walk over an old wooden bridge and through a small field before reaching the top of Sipi Falls.
From the top, you will have a nice view of the surrounding hills and the valley below. The view is really better from town where you can actually see the falls but it is worth the effort to actually hike to the top.
How to Hike to the Bottom of Sipi Falls
If you wish to explore the area further, there is a hiking trail leading to the bottom of the falls. The trail will take you through several small villages and gardens where locals grow food.
It may be possible to make the hike on your own but you’ll probably want to hire a guide. The reason is that the trail is unmarked. You could get lost in the jungle if you aren’t experienced. You’ll be passing through people’s private property. If you’re hiking without a guide, they may expect payment.
More Things to do Around Sipi Falls
- Climb Mount Elgon- This large extinct caldera volcano lies on the border between Kenya and Uganda, near Sipi. From Mbale, you can arrange a porter and permits to make the 4-day hike up the mountain. The main trailhead on the Uganda side is Budadiri. For more info, check out this guide to hiking Mount Elgon from Summitpost.org.
- Mountain biking- Rent a bike and cycle the trails near Sipi falls or Mount Elgon. Mountain biking is at its best during the dry season when the trails are in their best condition.
- Birdwatching- Uganda is one of the world’s best birdwatching destinations. An incredible 274 species inhabit the Sipi Falls and Mount Elgon Region.
- Day hiking- There are miles of day hiking trails to explore near Sipi Falls and around Mount Elgon. Hiking is at its best during the dry season when the trails are in their best condition.
- Take a coffee tour- This region produces some excellent African coffee. You can take a tour to see how the beans are grown and processed.
- Visit the local tribes- Experience a new culture by visiting the Bagisu or the Sabiny who live in the Sipi Falls region. The Bagisu are known for their public circumcision ceremonies.
- Repelling and rock climbing- If you have the nerve for it, you can repel down the rock face next to the falls.
- Fishing- Try your luck at catching some mountain trout in the Sipi River. To do this, you’ll need a guide.
- Check out the Nyero Rock Paintings and Caves- These ancient rock paintings date to around the year 1250. They are considered to be the most historically important rock art in Uganda. A trip here makes for an excellent day trip.
Final Thoughts About Visiting Sipi Falls
The area is very picturesque. If you have time, it would be worthwhile to spend another day or two to hike around a bit and just relax. The weather in Sipi is a bit cooler because it is in the mountains. When you decide to head back to Kampala, you may need to take a motorcycle taxi to the junction in order to catch a minibus back to Mbale as minibusses don’t run very often.
Have you visited Sipi Falls? Share your experience in the comments below!
Friday 21st of June 2019
Sipi Falls is a must do destination 1or 2 trip if you are visiting Mbale. The common highlight of the area is visiting the 3 waterfalls but visitors can enjoy an mtb cycling trip around this scenic area, take a coffee tour with a progressional guide. Follow the coffee from farm to cup. If you are fit enough, you can take part in a full day guided hiking trip with a local guide.
Friday 21st of June 2019
Great suggestions! The region has a lot to offer.