Mount Elgon and Saiwa Swamp National Parks
Mount Elgon, whose peaks reach 4,320 m, lies astride the Kenya-Uganda border. Like most of the other great mountains of East Africa, it represents the remains of an immense volcano. There is no permanent snow on the mountain but its bleak and craggy peaks are surrounded with the typical afro-alpine vegetation of the high mountains of the equator. Giant groundsel and lobelia grow over the 3,650 m level and for much of the year everlasting flowers (Helichrysum sp) cover the moorlands as far as the eye can see. At lower levels giant heath, bamboo and montane forest prevail and in these areas there are elephant and plenty of buffalo. Part of the eastern aspect is set aside as the Mount Elgon National Park stretching from the peaks to the boundary of the forest and the heavily cultivated country of the Luhya people. Within the park is a wondrous multitude of wildlife and wildflowers and some exciting oddities, among them the celebrated Kitum and Makingeny caves where elephants probe deep in the dark interiors to sample mineral salts from the cave walls. Mount Elgon has been called Kenya's loneliest park but it is much more than that. It is an eye feast for the visitor with scenic beauty in mind and an unusual experience for the inquisitive traveler.
Saiwa Swamp National Park
Not far from Mount Elgon and only 24 km from Kitale is the tiny (190 ha) Saiwa Swamp National Park. Created primarily for the protection of the rare sitatunga antelope, the park is a perfect example of how a small area can survive as a complete ecological entity. The semi-aquatic sitatunga relying on a swamp habitat has evolved to survive in such conditions and despite the minute size of the park seems certain to continue to thrive there. The sitatunga at Saiwa are sufficiently numerous to ensure seeing them. In addition there are De Brazza, colobus and vervet monkeys and an exciting variety of birdssome 250 species have been noted in this small area. No vehicles are allowed in the park so this is another bonus as it is one of the few parks in which walking is permitted, or in this case mandatory. There are several platforms built into trees overlooking the swamp, provided of course, for sitatunga watchers but also a splendid perch in which to contemplate nature's glory. There is no accommodation at Saiwa, although there is a campsite. There are, however, several delightful homestays in the area.
Special thanks to the Kenya Association of Tour Operators for helping GORP develop Kenya parks information.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication