I’m not a caveman, neither am I a fan of dark, enclosed spaces. But on this particular day, I decided to sample one of the famous caves in Kenya, the Kitum Cave. To say the cave exploration was a smooth one would be an overstatement. When feelings transition from curiosity, apprehension, vivid fear, strange surges of courage and triumph upon completion, I can best term my experience as INTENSE FUN.
This is how it went down…
It was a lovely Saturday morning, sunny and vibrant. Somehow, I knew it would be a nice break from a rough work schedule. The drive to Endebess Town was uneventful. Maize plantations swung by, reiterating the county’s significance as Kenya’s food basket. Endebess Town lies at the foot of Mount Elgon. The flat landscape makes it ideal for maize plantations. The large-scale farmers of Trans-Nzoia and seed companies maximize on the terrain around Endebess.
Endebess Town is accessible 19 kilometers from Kitale Town via the Kitale-Suam Road. The Mount Elgon National Park is situated 11.7 kilometers from Endebess Town via the Turbo-Endebess Road.
Mount Elgon National Park
At the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park, we were warmly received by the staff manning the gate. We were advised to hire a personal tour guide for the day. Since the park was a free-range animal reserve, we were likely to come face to face with buffaloes or elephants. The idea of a tour guide never sounded more comforting than then. So we paid the entrance fee inclusive of the car fees and tour guide’s fees. Note that the prices vary based on the number of people in the car, the sitting capacity of the vehicle and the tour guide selected.
Mount Elgon National Park is a vast reserve with an abundance of wildlife. You’ll notice dense forests and shrubs. The park is known for having indigenous hardwood tree species. Attractive lush green clearings are found in several spots within the park. What’s interesting is that you get to have a picnic in a cool environment within a bush. Not to mention the possibility of you seeing a dik-dik or a colobus monkey swishing by! Yes, it’s that thrilling. As you move through the park, you’ll notice milestones marked clearly to advise tourists on the directions to take. The marked trails are important as they safeguard patrons from getting lost in the thickets.
Picnic Spots in Mount Elgon National Park
Whether you are driving or walking in the park, you are bound to spot several reserved locations for picnics. The shaded areas have comfortable benches that you can relax and devour you’re snacks and drinks. If you’re moving as a group, these spots are great for having private group discussions.
Those who fancy open grounds can use the green clearing located further into the park. The most alluring clearing in the park is at the bottom of a cliff. So green is the grass that you may never want to leave the place. A cool breeze caresses your cheeks and the fresh air rejuvenates your lungs.
If you are daring enough and love hiking, you can go up the cliff. The top of the cliff is conducive for a lovely afternoon picnic. Not only is it private but thrilling enough to give you the optimal travel experience.
The Kitum Cave- Salt-licking Spot
It is said that elephants come to the Kitum Cave to lick salt. The mountain elephants use their strong tusks to break pieces of rock from the cave walls. These rocks are rich in sodium and other minerals. Other animals like buffaloes, antelopes, dik-dik and hyenas come to lick the salt that falls off the ground after the elephants leave the cave.
The cave was our first venture in the park. It is closer to the entrance so it didn’t take as much time to spot it.
A waterfall in front of a cave was the last thing I expected to see. But my oh my! The small waterfall was blissful. Every spot the waters touched life grew. The lush green grass, algae and shrubs give the entrance of the Kitum cave an attractive look. You cannot resist taking multiple photos at this spot.
Tall trees hover over the cave entrance. However, streaks of sunlight still manage to warm the ground and to give the photos you snap a sun-kissed look.
As you enter the cave, you can see the signage detailing the history of the cave. It is alleged that Sabaot warriors used the cave as a hiding place in ancient times.
Out of the comfort zone
It’s quite easy to maneuver the front section of the cave. It is wide and illuminated. However, as you delve deeper into the cave, darkness creeps in. We had to use flashlights to illuminate our way through. Then the engulfing darkness slowly yields into the nest of dangling fruit bats.
With one sweep of a flashlight, the eerie sound of flying bats is enough to make you curl into a ball! Well, that’s the most unnerving feeling you can get if you don’t find the bigger animals licking salt.
The trek deeper into the cave is a test to the feet. There are some shallow and deep holes on the cave’s floor. Some baby elephants get their feet stuck in the holes. As a result, the elephants only venture up to a certain point in the cave. You can see the elephant excreta on the cave floor.
It reaches a certain point in the cave where the guide asked us to decide whether to turn back or to take the cave expedition to the next level. Having covered the better part of the cave, it didn’t seem like it would be a great deal. So we forged on. A few meters deeper, the space between the roof and the floor of the cave thinned. The stench of the bats’ excreta, commonly known as guano, became stronger.
With determined minds and aggressive feet, we marched on, eager to complete the exploration. The terrain inside the cave was a combination of plains, hills, valleys and ruts. The darkness seemed to swallow the light from our phones’ flashlights.
Light at the end of the tunnel
After a pretty rugged climb, we saw a light, rays of sunlight streaming through the cave. A rush of adrenaline and excitement washed over us. Within a few minutes, we were on level ground, back to fresh air.
Having been inside a cave, the idea of hiking seemed like a walkover. With the help of our tour guide, we sifted through the thickets, on a roughly visible track. It was a steep hike in a free-range park. The idea of an animal showing up in our tracks only turbo-boosted my steps. At the top of the cliff, there is minimal vegetation on fairly even terrain. The view at the top was unmatched. Seeing the whole park plus its environs was simply amazing. The sunset was the icing on the cake. We had our snacks on the bench at the top and took breathtaking photos of the scenery. As we waved the sun goodbye, we planned our descent to the ground below. With wobbly feet and satisfied egos, we went back to even ground and drove towards the park’s entrance.
Facts to know about Mount Elgon National Park
Location and accessibility: Approximately 30 kilometers from Kitale Town via the Kitale-Suam Road and Mt. Elgon Park Road. The drive takes about 75 minutes from Kitale’s Central Business District. The park is accessible all year round with the driest months being December and January.
Park type and size: A national park covering 169 square kilometers
Park management: Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)
Wildlife: elephants, monkeys, buffaloes, hyenas, dik-diks, Red Duiker, bushbucks, Grey Duiker, fruit bats, zebras and birds
Vegetation: Montane forest, podocapus zone, bamboo forest, heath and moorland
Caves: Kitum Cave and Makingeny Cave (both have waterfalls at their entrances)
Park entrance fees: Residents- adults Ksh.250, children Ksh.200. Non-residents- adults USD 20, children USD 15.
Vehicle fees per day: Ksh.300 for less than 6 seats, Ksh.1,030 for 6-12 seats, Ksh.2,585 for 13-24 seats, Ksh.4,050 for 25-44 seats, Ksh.5,000 for 45 or more seats
Tour guide fees apply (it is highly recommended to hire a tour guide for the day)
Park visiting hours: 6 am to 6 pm
Items to carry: snacks, drinks, hats, hiking boots, flashlights, warm clothing, sunscreen, insect repellant, cameras and binoculars
Accommodation: cottages within the Mount Elgon National Park, Mount Elgon Lodge Limited in Endebess Town, One Tanna Residency in Kitale Town and Aturkan Hotel in Kitale Town.
An Expedition Worth Having
The exhilarating feeling you get when you get out of your comfort zone and explore nature is unmatched. You would want to link up with the best tour companies in the country. Cheetah Safaris and Zunguka Safaris offer the most affordable and comfortable safaris. Enjoy the pleasures of untamed wilderness beauty at the Mount Elgon National Park.