The Kapchorwa region is one of the most beautiful areas in Uganda. With a mountainous landscape that is located in the Rift Valley and at the foot of Mount Elgon, this area is home to different coffee and banana plantations, undulating roads in the middle of valleys, rivers of water that flow into impressive waterfalls and, also, Uganda’s leading long-distance athletes.
If you like athletics, you cannot miss a visit to Kapchorwa, the birthplace of many Ugandan athletes like Cheptegei, world record 5,000 and 10,000 meters distance. There, you can put on your shoes and keep up with the rhythm (if you can) of the new generation of athletes who are sure to make the news at the following athletics-related sporting events. We were able to speak with Olympic athletes and with their manager. If you want to know how the conversation was, you can click here.
If you like nature, you cannot miss the Sipi waterfalls, which are 3 waterfalls that cross the entire town. This area is very rural and therefore you will find many local farmers who will be happy to talk to you, say hello and smile.
Sipi and Kapchorwa is a destination that you cannot miss to get to know some of Uganda’s treasures first-hand, such as its people, its coffee (if you want to know the whole coffee process, you can click here) and its nature.
How to get there?
To get to Sipi and Kapchorwa, the best option is to go through the town of Mbale. We came with our car from the border point of Busia, and after going up to Tororo by a path that went directly north, we hooked up the road that went from Tororo to Mbale. If you come from the north, you can get to Mbale from Soroti.
After Mbale, you must turn towards the Moroto road and after 30 kilometers, upon reaching Muyembe, leave the road and turn right onto a route that will begin to climb up the mountain. In any case, the road is paved and in very good condition. After 15 kilometers you will be in the town of Sipi, and 15 kilometers later you will find the town of Kapchorwa where during the tour you will find several people who will be running along the shoulder of the asphalt.
What to do in Sipi and Kapchorwa?
We spent five days in this area where you can enjoy many activities. Some of the most important are:
– Take a tour of the three waterfalls of Sipi Falls
In Sipi we find 3 waterfalls that cross this town. If you come from Mbale, the first waterfall you will come across is the longest of all at about 100 meters high. To get there, you must walk from the Rafiki Lodge or Twalight Family Guest House area for about 20 minutes, passing through small coffee and banana plantations, and enjoying spectacular views of the entire valley. Once you have reached the first waterfall, you will have a general perspective of it, although also (for the most daring) you can go down to the water where you will be soaked. You can see this first waterfall from the road and there are local tourism agencies that also organize rappel descents.
The second waterfall (and which is the one that is more prepared to receive tourists with a souvenir shop next to it) is about 75 meters high and can be reached by parking or leaving the Sipi River Lodge or Noah’s Ark Resort. This waterfall has a small cave that allows you to enter just below the waterfall and see the force of the water in all its splendor. It is located about 5 minutes from the main road, from where it is hardly visible because it is hidden among the vegetation.
And, finally, the third waterfall measures about 85 meters and is the one that is located further north. You will also see it from the road and it is the one that is furthest if you want to access it on foot from Sipi. When we were driving, we were able to go to the foot of the waterfall. You can ask the way to Sipi that they will surely tell it to you.
As for the price of the waterfalls, only in the second one we found a sign that said 5,000 UGX per person. In the first and third waterfalls we found lockers at the entrance but they were closed. We do not know if they were closed due to the Covid issue or it is that at that time there was no one. So surely in each waterfall, well, you will have to pay 5,000 UGX per person.
We visited the Sipi Falls with Paul, a very friendly person from Sipi who accompanied us throughout the tour for a very reasonable price and which already included all the tickets. If you want, you can contact him to take a tour of the waterfalls at +256772647564. In Sipi, you will also find local agencies with guides that will accompany you to explain the curiosities of the Sipi Falls, an obligatory stop if you visit this area.
– Learn about the coffee process by visiting a plantation
Due to the altitude of Sipi and Kapchorwa, this site is ideal for growing Arabica coffee, one of the highest quality coffee you can find. Uganda is one of the main coffee exporters, both Arabica and Robusta coffee, and in the area of Sipi, Kapchorwa and Mount Elgon you will find many plantations of this fruit that is then processed until there is the coffee powder that we all know.
When we stayed at Sipi Coffee Lodge, we were lucky to be surrounded by coffee and Kalifani (director of Sebei Coffee) and Paul were able to explain the whole process to us, from planting to packaging. If you are curious to know how all this elaboration is, you can click on the following link.
In this area there are many small coffee producers who will be happy to give you a tour of the plantations and an explanation of the process in exchange for a tip. Apart from the people from Sipi Coffee Lodge, you can also contact Thomas at +256756171253, a coffee producer in Sipi, who for 10 USD per person will give you a tour of the plantations and explain the whole process.
Knowing a country is not only visiting the main tourist spots, but also learning about what they have… And in Uganda, coffee is one of the most important products. Therefore, visiting a producer and knowing the production process is an activity that you cannot miss when you visit Sipi and Kapchorwa.
– Watch the athletes train (and if you dare run with them) in the Kapchorwa area
Do the names Cheptegei, Kiplimo, Moses or Kiprotich sound familiar to you? They are not singers or soccer players… They are some of Uganda’s leading athletes competing to be the fastest in the world over long distances. For example, Joshua Cheptegei holds the world record with the distances of 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters, although perhaps soon, Jacob Kiplimo (who was born in 2020) will surpass it. They all come from the same area, which is Kapchorwa and its surroundings.
If you go first thing in the morning to Kapchorwa, you will find a running track that is neither paved nor marked (a ground they call it) with many runners training. There they train from the youngest who want to be the new generation of athletes in the country, to those who are preparing for national and international competitions. It is incredible to see the boom that has awakened with athletics in recent years in Uganda, where many children get up every day to go running imitating their references.
We were lucky to meet Peter Chelagat, manager of some of the main athletes in the country; and talking to some Olympians who were in Kapchorwa. If you would like to know how was the conversation with them and why this site is a favorite place for these fast sprinters, you can click on the following link.
It is very entertaining to see how the athletes train doing different series at a constant pace, to confirm that some of the children you will see running will be the Olympic champions of the future, to follow some of them on the road when they train long distances and to be in contact with the main ones long distance sprinters of the planet.
And if you like running, they will invite you to join their workouts and follow their rhythm if you can. Apart from getting a good workout, you are sure to improve your time!
In Uganda, it has not yet begun to develop sustainable sports tourism to get to know the country first-hand through sports, but the Kapchorwa area has all the elements to become an ideal destination for amateur and professional runners. So if you want to go to Uganda and you are one of those who go for a run a couple or three times a week, grab your shoes and go for a morning outing around Kapchorwa.
– Visit the Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon is the oldest and largest volcano in East Africa with an area of approximately 3,500 km2. Located right on the border with Uganda and Kenya, you can get there by diverting from the road that goes from Mbale to Kapchorwa to reach the different access points.
This mountain was, millions of years ago, considered the highest in Africa until different erosions and eruptions have reduced its highest point to 4,321 meters, being the eighth highest mountain on the African continent. We did not go, but we saw the perspective of its peaks from the upper area of Kapchorwa.
In Mount Elgon you can perform very diverse activities such as the ascent to the peak from different routes that range from 4 to 7 days (Sasa, Sipi or Piswa Trail); visit the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Center located 13 kilometers from Sipi and where you can visit different caves and viewpoints; take a guided excursion to see different species of birds; and enjoy a spectacular setting.
Where to sleep?
– Sipi Coffee Lodge: This Kalifani managed accommodation is situated in an idyllic location with stunning views over the valley. It is located between Sipi and Kapchorwa, and is surrounded by coffee plantations. An ideal place to disconnect and rest. We stayed 3 nights in a cabin that had an interior toilet. It is one of the best places to stay in this area, with a fantastic value for money. If you wish, you can contact Kalifani via WhatsApp at +256772647564.
– Sebei Coffee House: This accommodation is ideal for those who want to stay with the athletes of Kapchorwa. It is located in the center of the town, from where you can access different services and you can walk to the ground where all athletes train. It has a restaurant and rooms with an interior toilet. For more information, you can contact Kalifani at +256772647564.
– Twalight Family Guest House: This accommodation is located in the town of Sipi, from where you can explore the falls on foot. It is an accommodation with views of one of the falls and offers different types of accommodation.
DAY 1: After crossing the border the day before, today was the first day we woke up in Sipi. With a green landscape and stunning views, it was a pleasure to get up like this. Our first day in Uganda we took the opportunity to finish writing different articles about Kenya, cleaning and planning the next weeks in this new country that we would soon discover.
DAY 2: The second day we went with Paul to take a tour of the Sipi waterfalls, one of the main activities to do if you are in the area. We visited the first waterfall where we were already well soaked by the force of the water, and then we walked to the second waterfall passing in the middle of coffee and banana plantations, greeting farmers who planted spinach and children who went to fetch water. The second waterfall (which is the first to be seen) was the longest of all, at 100 meters high. An impressive show with wonderful views of the entire valley. Finally, we went to visit the third waterfall that has a cave just below that allows you to see the waterfall from the inside.
After touring these fantastic waterfalls, we went to see Kalifani (the owner of Sipi Coffee Lodge) in Kapchorwa where he invited us to eat and there we met Peter, manager of the leading Ugandan athletes from that region. And it is in this area that the main long-distance athletes in the country live there and they are famous for being the fastest in the world. We met up with Peter early the next day to meet some of the Tokyo Olympians who had to march to Kampala on that day to receive recognition from the country’s president. Excited to be able to speak with some of the athletes that we had seen on television weeks before during the Olympic Games, we went to the accommodation to look for more information on Ugandan athletics and runners while the daily rain that played at that time dumped on Sipi and the Kapchorwa region.
DAY 3: Today we had to get up early to go to the Ground where the athletes train. So at 6 in the morning we were on our feet to go to Kapchorwa and see how they trained. Our surprise when we got there was to see how part of the athletes there were also hundreds of children who ran as a group squeezing all their strength. Boys and girls of all ages, some barefoot, others in skirts, circled the makeshift athletics track while the older ones whistled from time to time to be allowed to pass and thus be able to successfully complete the marked series. It was impressive to see how the children had reference to those athletes and how a new generation was born that will surely bear fruit in a few years to world athletics.
After observing the fast pace of the runners, we went to our date with Peter and the Olympians at Kalifani’s home. There we were able to talk with some of them, comment on the races, learn about their objectives and find out why great long-distance runners come out of that area. Afterwards, we went to visit the athletes’ residence where most of the athletes who come from surrounding villages sleep, including Jacob Kiplimo. There they train, coexist, eat and sleep because they are the best.
At noon, we returned to our accommodation to write everything that had come out in that interview and impromptu visit, and in the afternoon Kalifani took us (with our car but he as driver) to see the high-altitude training camps that are being built in the outskirts of Kapchorwa, high in the mountains. Along the way, we pass some of the houses of renowned athletes such as Joshua Cheptegei, world record of 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. To end that athletic day, we went to a local bar with Kalifani and a friend to enjoy a good coconut wine before going to sleep after an intense day.
DAY 4: Kalifani wanted to show us the bar-restaurant that he wanted to open soon and which was located next to the ground where children and athletes ran. So we went to see his new project. A very beautiful site with stunning views. Since the day before we had stayed at his house in Kapchorwa since that way we were closer to the athletes, where he also has a room for guests.
In the afternoon, we returned to the Sipi Coffee Lodge where Paul showed us the coffee plantation and explained the whole process, from when it is a fruit until it turns into powder. We were able to enjoy the coffee we had pressed while we cooked some popcorn and the rain was once again making an act of presence.
In the evening, being the last of our stay, we invited Kalifani and Paul to a potato omelette while we talked about the potential that athletics can have to develop projects for the local community and we invited them to visit us in Europe to return their hospitality and the great kindness that we had received in those days. We said goodbye to Sipi and Kapchorwa with the feeling that we would return there with our eyes closed.
DAY 5: Today we had agreed that Esteve would go to train with the athletes as much as he could while Laia would follow them by car. It was a long-distance training day, that is, they were not going to train on the track and would go for a run on the road. The problem was that a considerable downpour fell the night before, and at 6 in the morning the rain was still continuing. We think that training would be suspended due to adverse conditions. But around 8 o’clock, when the rain was already less, and we were leaving for the athletes’ residence, we began to see how some of them were returning from training. They had been waiting for us and, even if it rains, snows or rocks, they still go out to train! We picked up some on the way who had already completed their training schedule and were already heading back to Kapchorwa, and we said goodbye to them after a few intense days in the Sipi and Kapchorwa area.
It was time to go back to Tororo, to eat with a friend, Sergi de Assís, a monk from Montserrat who is in Uganda as a missionary.