Like it would be a joy re-watching your favourite movie, such has been the joy of climbing to the top of popular Wanale hill over 10 times.
I was born close to the base of this bustling hill, on the outskirts of Mbale town. Yet it wasn’t until 20 years later that I first decided to climb it. I then understood better how rural to urban migration sometimes makes us miss out on basic nice things in our backyards, before we shall have to pay for them.
Remarkably, over the years, climbing to the top of this waking rock is gaining fast popularity among local tourists. With that much attention to this attraction, it should be obvious how much of a joy it is to reach the top.
Ten times climbing and a little hundred pictures on my phone was enough to mark me with the ‘tour guidey’ kind of title. Faithfully so, I have guided more than five big groups to the top, and through these events, I have been able to collect ideas of what you should expect here.
Wanale isn’t Mountain Elgon
One common misconception I often heard from the groups I guided was; “we’ve climbed Mount Elgon.” Hello guys, you climbed baby Elgon… It is easy for any one who has read books and on that basis is visiting Mbale for the first time, to think that the Wanale hill is Mount Elgon. However, Mount Elgon is a broad table covering a stretch of about 80 kilometers through eight districts. And even among the ranks of its highest peaks, Wanale hill is no feat. In fact, when you reach the top of Wanale, you see other higher hills that you’d only save your energy for a whole other tour. Regardless, the orgasmic views from various altitudes, to the ridge at the top, are something you’ll sure keep on the best pages of your tour diary.
Boda Boda or Car?
How you decide to get to the foot of the hill is always up to the tourist. There are two dirt roads leading to a trading center called Muyanda at the base of the hill. The trading center is accessible by both car and boda boda. I have used both means and it has always been a comfortable ride. For a car, there are no designated parking areas but I always park at a local’s compound and pay a small fee for the favour. I make sure to know who the real owner of the compound is, so I don’t spin my head when more than one person demands for the parking fee on return.
For the times I used a boda boda, which you can pick from different points around Mbale town, especially at the central market, I was charged 4,000 shillings ($1 some cents) up to the Muyanda water tank. Both are reliable modes of getting to the base, and the decision on which one to use boils down to personal convenience.
Local Tour Guides at The Base
Wanale hill as a tour site is still under what I would call ‘seasoning.’ The first time I went there with a friend, a teenage boy at the base asked to guide us to the top. We did not know the way so he surely was going to earn some money from his guidance. Like him, there are many young men at different spots in the trading center with the desire to guide in return for a dime. For the many climbs I have made, the pay has always been up to me, most times basing on impression during the tour.
But lately, due to the seasoning, something you would expect with any growing attraction, the locals have made a collective effort to build a tourist center at the base to offer ‘some’ information and issue guidance to visitors. The recent times while visiting with groups, we were charged 25,000 shillings ($7) as the entrance fee. We then had to choose a guide of our liking to take us, and as I am a guide myself, I always led my groups. What I have never known is how the money is used in regard to improving the tourism aspect of the area. I am confident however, that in a few years to come, this could become a well organized point of attraction in the region.
Every place in the world has its defining stories. Some are truths, some myths, others pure legend. Different locals I have interacted with have given different accounts of what they know about the Wanale hill. Most notable for me on many visits, was the threat that when you attempt to climb there without the guidance of a local, spirits were bound to ambush you. Many times alone, I have never faced off with any spirits, but maybe that’s because I can pass as a local. Huh! The legend of spirits is probably more of a marketing ploy to ensure that you use a local guide. Apart from that, I haven’t heard any other stories that were worth taking…
It Takes About Two Hours
At the base, a small footpath leads you into homes surrounded by small coffee gardens and tall eucalyptus forests, until a certain point where you choose to go either left or right. On my first climb, I chose the right. I have since never deferred from that decision, notwithstanding that it is the longer route.
It has the better views, small lone rocks to catch a breath and take some ‘hug-the-sky’ shots, and my favourite; the traditionally stacked wooden ladders. You wouldn’t find the same on the alternative route, which is always the one we use on our way back down.
The most I have ever taken to reach the top, and that was with a really lazy group (haha), was four hours. Averagely though, hiking to the top takes between one and half, to two hours, naturally with some little breaks in-between. You may want to prepare some cool playlists for the course.
Never Plan on it Not Raining
If I had the authority, I would name Wanale the ‘hill of rains.’ Out of the about twenty or so times I have hiked here, it has rained or drizzled on at least ten of them. Even when it didn’t rain, it somehow threatened to. Owing to my experience, I would advise that you never count on it not raining.
On days when it poured, we always had laughing parties on account of someone falling flat on their bottoms. And trust me, as long as it didn’t involve death or a serious injury, which has been the case on all of my trips, then the fall was funny and worth laughing at, however funny we would have liked for it not to look. I would strongly recommend you wear shoes with good treads and also carry a rain jacket.
Carry a Swimming Costume
If it wasn’t for the white splash of water falling from the Wanale ridge, I do not think it would have been as beautiful, or as much of an attraction. Infact, it is the water fall that has drawn many people to fancy going up there. There are small pools for you to dip and cool, and have fun playing water games if you wish. Never worry if you aren’t a good swimmer – they are too shallow for a ten year old to drown, yet not any less of a fun activity for the water lovers. Just don’t dip on a rainy day, you may reach the base earlier than you’d wish.
Carry Your Own Food
One element that is lacking from this trail is a convenient food spot. There are a few retail shops at the base selling snacks, but even these aren’t of the quality nor variety you would fancy eating. I have always packed some small snacks and a bottle of water from town each time I visited there. I would advise that if you want to have a smooth ascent up the steep elevation of the hill, do not eat immediately prior to the hike, and only eat after reaching the top. Fruits are absolutely necessary.
You Can Camp There
I have never camped at the Wanale ridge. In December 2019, with a group, we had a big show at the top. We however left in the early hours of the night, which was enough to give me an idea of how it would feel spending the entire night camped there. I would expect more epic sundowners (like one we enjoyed that evening), waking up from above the early morning cloud, but also enjoying the white sound of the water falls. That sound would be a sure therapy for any sleeping disorders. If you can hire tents, the right DJ, but also book the space for the night with the area LC1 chairperson, you’d have the perfect tent party at the top. Only remember to load some extras to accommodate a few resident guests.
This is more of a complimentary tour. The Elgon region is popular for growing some of the best Arabica coffee on the African continent. It makes for a great opportunity to experience the coffee making process from plant to the cup. I made a video on my Facebook page about a popular coffee guy living at the base of Wanale hill. While there, a mention of the name ‘Magorofa’ will sure get you to his home. His coffee game is as fine as his personality, and he hosts tourists at his home to dip into this experience. You may want to buy a few packs from him after the routine.
- The base of Wanale hill at Muyanda water tank is about 6.5 kilometers from Mbale City Center.
- The ridge at the top of Wanale makes for an elevation of between 400 meters to half a kilometer above base level (that’s according to my estimate from google maps)
The first few times climbing Wanale hill felt like a play in the backyard. But years apart, it’s beginning to have the touristy touch. And with this presents massive opportunities for the tourism community.
By the way, that lazy group wasn’t actually lazy. It was two grandmas, two grandpas, their grandson and a driver. Their energy and determination were unbelievable… You can go for anything as long as you put your mind and heart to it.
Dan Around is travel enthusiast and video content creator. He has for over one year produced short video content for his online channel, companies and organizations. His videos cover a wide range of topics from travel to humanities. His mission is to show off his country Uganda to the rest of the world through publishing advisory travel blogs and videos.