East Africa has many mountains worth hiking. These hikes typically take a minimum of 3-5 days. Since most people don’t have lightweight gear (which can be very expensive) and lots of camping experience (particularly figuring out how to carry all your food and cook), they opt to have a guide, porters and a cook come along.
With park fees, camping fees, guide fees, food costs, cook fees and porter fees (along with any equipment you need to rent), the costs add up.
What's Covered in this Post
Nanyuki to Mt Elgon
The Mt. Elgon trip was organised by one of Carson’s friends and the decision was made to have a guide, porters and a cook. We were 5 people in total and it cost around $300 pp. While the money goes to supporting the park and the guides, porters and cooks who do a great job getting people up these mountains, I still prefer hiking and camping for less money. In any case, I shaved off my Mr Money Mustache this one time and decided to join the adventure.
Mt. Elgon is the second tallest mountain in Kenya at 4,222 meters (Point Lenana on Mt Kenya is 4,985 meters). It stands on the border between Kenya and Uganda. From the few blog posts about Mt Elgon online, it seems most people hike it from the Uganda side.
The drive from Nanyuki to the Park Entrance took around 11 hours. We spent the night in the bandas near the park entrance. The next morning, we hiked around 6 km to explore Kitum cave. The cave is unique because elephants visit every night to scrape off the salt deposits. These are the only elephants in the world known to go deep into caves to mine salt. Humans also lived in the cave as early as 60 years ago.
After visiting the cave, we set our sights on Mt. Elgon’s peak. The distance between the park entrance to the top of Mt. Elgon is around 40 km. There were three options to achieve this:
Option 1: 4-Day Hike
- Day 1: Hike from the gate to camp 1 (16 km)
- Day 2: Hike from camp 1 to camp 2 (16 km)
- Day 3: Hike to the top of Mt. Elgon and back to camp 2 (16 km)
- Day 4: Hike back to the gate (32 km).
Option 2: 2-3 Day Hike
- Day 1: Get dropped off at camp 1 and hike up to camp 2 (16 km)
- Day 2: Hike to the top of Mt. Elgon and back to camp 2(16 km)
- Day 3: Hike back to camp 1 and get a ride to the park entrance (16 km).
Option 3: 3-Day Hike
- Get dropped off at camp 1 and hike up to camp 2 (16 km)
- Day 2: Hike to the top of Mt. Elgon and back to camp 2(16 km), get picked up and shuttled down to the park entrance to have a proper Christmas party
- Day 3: explore another cave and leave early for Kisumu.
We started with Option 2, and then shifted to Option 3 on Day 2 as we descended from the peak.
Recommendation for budget travels hiking from the Kenya side: The park entrance to Camp 1 is not worth hiking. You walk on a hard dirt path for cars for 16 km. That same path goes straight up to camp 2, 8 km from the top of Mt. Elgon. The trail from camp 2 to the top of Mt Elgon is well-worn, so a guide is not required.
Night 1: camp near the park entrance or stay in the banda; if you want to avoid the Park fee for that night and the relatively high camping fee, you could stay in a budget place in Kitale, about an hour away from the park.
Day 1: Explore Kitum cave in the morning. Asking a park ranger to show you Kitum cave would be worth it (though I’m not sure how much they would charge). The explanations of how elephants mine the salt were interesting. Plus we went deep into the cave and wouldn’t have done that on our own. After brunch or early lunch, drive up to camp 2 and hike to the top of Mt. Elgon. Walk back down and enjoy the sunset from camp 2. Camp at camp 2.
Day 2: Drive down to the park entrance and explore additional caves or hit the road.
If you stay in Kitale on night 1, you only have to pay 1 night of park fees and camping fees. This would reduce costs significantly.
If you don’t have a car, I imagine you could rent a taxi in Kitale and ask him or her to drive you up to camp 2. We saw a group of Kenyans who took a minibus up to camp 2 just to hike to the top and then leave the park, all on the same day.
This would be the most affordable way to hike Mt Elgon, but I think it’s worth two days to explore the caves and to camp at camp 2. The sunrise was beautiful. You could also ask the rangers if they could organise a vehicle for you.
Mt Elgon to Kisumu
I shuttled everyone 3 hours south to Kisumu so they could catch a flight to the coast the next day. Kisumu is the third-largest city in Kenya and one of the best places for grilled Tilapia.
Reflecting on what to do next, I considered spending a night or two on Mfangano or Takawiri islands since I was nearby but ultimately decided to save that for another time.
Kisumu to Lake Nakuru National Park
The chance to see flamingoes steered me toward Lake Nakuru National Park. The drive from Kisumu to Lake Nakuru lasted around 5 hours. I made the mistake of going to the main gate. Because of flooding, the path from the main gate to the public camping site near Makalia falls is still blocked. I drove around to Lanet gate to enter. The total cost was 1,350 – 800 ksh for the park entrance, 250 for camping and 300 for the car.
The park was full of wildlife. I saw lions, rhinos, giraffes, zebra, hippos, and hyenas, plus a wide variety of birds. The flamingoes were not as numerous as I expected and they are very skittish, so getting a good photo with a 135 mm lens wasn’t possible. If you want good wildlife photos in Kenya, I recommend bringing a 300 mm lens.
I pulled into the public campsite near Makalia falls after sunset and started boiling water for Indomie. I was the only one there, so I decided to sleep in the car again. The Xtrail has plenty of space to lie flat when the back seats are folded forward and was quite comfortable with a sleeping mat.
The next morning, I drove up to baboon cliff. The view was spectacular and the cool breeze made it a great place to relax. If you are planning a picnic, this is the best spot.
Nakuru National Park to Naivasha & Elephant Hill
I exited the park at Nderit gate and headed south to Naivasha. The trip took about 1.5 hours. I found a budget-friendly Airbnb for 2 nights ($30 total) in Naivasha. After arriving at the Airbnb, I relaxed for the afternoon and ate a tasty pizza at Mattheo’s Italian Restaurant and Bar.
The next morning, I woke up early to hike Elephant Hill. The drive to the park entrance lasted around an hour. Close to the park, I saw a place called Elephant Hill Resort. It looked nice and the sign indicated you could camp there. They also have a restaurant that a few google reviewers gave high ratings. If it’s not raining, this would be a good place to camp if you are planning to do Elephant Hill.
The park entrance was 250 ksh. I decided to hike without a guide, but I would recommend a guide if you don’t have a great sense of direction. I went the wrong way twice. Early on, there is a fork. The right path leads you up a hill and has a striped plastic chord dangling from a tree. This is the correct way.
The left path leads you somewhere else. I took the left path, not knowing the dangling striped plastic indicated the correct path. Luckily, I ran into two young guys 15 minutes down the wrong path and they indicated that I needed to turn back.
The second time I wandered from the path was right after leaving the peak. A thick fog rolled in and I veered left instead of following the path to the right. There was still a path, but the bush was thicker and it wasn’t the same path as before. When the first thunder roared and rain started to fall, I was a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find the correct path but rejoined it 20 minutes later around The Tail.
Elephant Hill was much more challenging than Mt. Ololokwe and Mt. Elgon. It took me around 3.5 hours to get to the top. The views are fantastic. On the way down, a thunderstorm rolled in and I was drenched by the time I got back to the car. Bring a rain jacket and an extra pair of clothes if there is any chance of rain.
Amarachi covers hiking Elephant Hill in much more detail here.
Highly Recommended Stops & Activities:
- Mt. Ololokwe in Samburu
- Camping in Ol Pejeta. I passed by Ol Lerai camp. I would recommend this over Mbogo. Reserve in advance.
- Camping at Lake Nakuru National Park
- Elephant Hill
End Notes from Amarachi: The first part of this post is available here and don’t forget to leave a comment if you’ve enjoyed reading this series. Also, if you have any questions about taking a road trip or hiking trip within Kenya or elsewhere (Mark has hiked the Appalachian Trail in its entirety), please leave them below and we’ll be sure to respond to them!