The PERFECT itinerary for Sipi Falls Uganda: Coffee, hiking and more

The distance from Kampala to Sipi Falls keeps many backpackers away, but it's worth the journey!

Sipi Falls Uganda may be the country’s prettiest town. It’s in the foothills of spectacular Mount Elgon. The landscape is impossibly green. Micro-scale coffee plantations and banana groves line the main road. And of course, it has the three namesake waterfalls — easily Uganda’s most impressive.

For all its beauty, Sipi Falls sees very few tourists. The handful of travelers who come here tend to be expats or volunteers. Unfortunately the town is a long and uncomfortable journey from the rest of the Ugandan tourist trail. So the hardy backpackers who make their way here will find a friendly and refreshingly relaxed vibe.

Convinced yet? In this post, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to enjoy the perfect weekend in Sipi Falls!

Where is Sipi Falls Uganda? And how do you get there?

The Sipi Falls entrance fee covers the right to cross private landowners' properties.
The Middle and Upper Falls in Sipi Falls Uganda.

If you’re trying to figure out if you can fit Sipi Falls into your Uganda itinerary, the first step is understanding just how remote it is.

The closest major city to Sipi Falls is Mbale. Mbale attracts plenty of expats, but virtually no tourists. It’s biggest claim to fame is proximity to the Kenyan border — but this crossing is mostly used by truckers rather than travelers, and it’s far less busy than Busua to the south.

Even though the distance from Mbale to Sipi Falls is only 50 km, it takes more than 90 minutes to traverse the steep mountain road. And the only transport option that covers this route is occasional share taxis. Due to the very low population in this region, you may have to wait up to an hour for a share taxi to fill. You’ll pay 5,000 shillings.

Alternatively, you can catch a more-frequent share taxi to Namusi, where you’ll surely find a boda driver willing to take you the remaining 45 minutes up the mountain. You’ll pay 3,000 shillings for the taxi and 7,000 for the boda.

But you aren’t likely to pass through Mbale unless you’re specifically heading to Sipi Falls, Uganda. And Mbale is a five-hour bus ride from Kampala — or a 3-hour matatu ride from Jinja.

So all-told, you need 6.5 hours to reach Sipi Falls from Kampala, or 4.5 hours to reach it from Jinja — not including wait time for the shared taxi. In other words, it’s a full travel day in each direction from anywhere else you’re likely to be.

But trust me, it’s worth it.

How to spend the perfect weekend in Sipi Falls

Planting a coffee plant in Sipi Falls Uganda
The bean-to-cup coffee tours on micro-scale plantations allow you to plant a baby coffee tree.

If you live in Kampala or Jinja, the easiest way to visit Sipi Falls is on a quick weekend trip (if you’re a backpacker, substitute “weekend” with “any two days you have to spare”). You’ll need to set out early on Saturday morning and head home after lunch on Sunday.

Arriving in Sipi Falls

If you tell your share taxi driver which lodge you’re staying at, he can drop you right at the entrance. The lodges are quite spread out — get out at the wrong place and you could have a 20-minute walk in store. The town doesn’t have a central taxi park — taxis continue further into the Mount Elgon region and don’t stop in Sipi Falls unless requested.

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Assuming you left at the crack of dawn, you’ll reach Sipi Falls in time for a late lunch. Most people eat at their lodges (be sure to give them a head’s up that you’ll want to eat the day you arrive). Be sure to order a cup of the local coffee after your meal!

By around 2 pm, you’ll be ready to start exploring the many things to do in Sipi Falls.

Afternoon: Hike to the Upper Falls

The hike to the Middle Water Fall starts out easy but gets steep and muddy after about 10 minutes.
The beginning of the beautiful trail through the forest to the Middle Falls.

The famous waterfall in Sipi Falls is actually three different falls — Upper, Middle and Lower. The ones you’ve seen on all the postcards are the Lower Falls. But the other two are just as beautiful.

The hike to the Middle Falls starts from behind Sipi River Lodge. You’ll pass through a clearing and cross a small stream before you get an early sighting of the falls.

Personally, this is my favorite waterfall view in all of Uganda. The impressive cascade thunders through the bright-green jungle all around, as African fish eagles soar overhead.

But don’t stop there — instead, follow the path after the footbridge to climb up to the falls. The path starts tame, then gets steeper with a set of stairs, then turns into a sloppy, muddy, slippery mess as you finish the climb to the top of the waterfall. Wear good hiking boots and clothes you don’t mind getting dirty.

You’ll know you’ve arrived when you come to the cave behind the waterfall. The reward is a gorgeous view of the Mount Elgon Region (and a proper drenching — put your camera in your day pack!).

Continue up the trail to reach the Upper Falls. It flattens out considerably and becomes less treacherous. You’ll reach the waterfall after 15-20 minutes.

This waterfall is the least impressive of the three — it’s less of a cascade, more like a river tumbling down over some rocks. It’s still a very pretty spot and you can wade into the water to cool off.

The hike returns the same way you came. All in all, it takes about two hours (the descent is slower because of the mud). You must take a guide for these hikes — but luckily it’s very affordable, at $5 for the group, plus a small tip. If it’s rained recently you may not be able to reach the Upper Falls.

Evening: Dinner and drinks by the fire

Since Sipi Falls is at a high elevation, it gets pretty chilly at night. Luckily most lodges and campgrounds have fires in their dining areas in the evening.

Most travelers eat at their lodges, since Sipi Falls doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants or cafes. Dinner usually starts around 7 pm.

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Spend the rest of the evening relaxing by the fire, reading a good book, and enjoying the starry African night sky.

Morning: Sipi Falls Coffee Tour

A Sipi coffee tour allows you to see the entire process, from seed to cup.
Around Sipi Falls Uganda, they only produce Arabica coffee — and it’s all cultivated by hand.

After a restful night, start the next day with breakfast at your lodge. Then, book a coffee tour on one of the local plantations.

Your guide will pick you up from your lodge and walk with you to the plantation. Most plantations are family-run — so it may just look like a house in the middle of the banana groves, with a few coffee plants surrounding it.

The tour starts with an explanation of the origins of coffee in Uganda — part real, part legend. You’ll learn how monks in Ethiopia discovered the beverage and brought it across the Rift Valley to central Africa. Meanwhile, word spread about the magical drug that could keep people awake and it became a key good on trade caravans through Yemen — and from there to the rest of the world.

Next, you’ll get to try your hand at planting, transplanting, and picking coffee. You’ll see plants at different stages of growth and participate in the farm chores. You’ll learn why the best coffee is shade-grown, and you’ll gain a whole new appreciation for how much work goes into producing those single-origin beans you find in third-wave cafes back home.

After that, you’ll say goodbye to the farmer and walk over to Sipi River Lodge. The lodge has one of the biggest roasting operations in the area. Here you’ll shell, roast, and grind your beans — all by hand in small batches.

Finally, the tour ends with enjoying a pot of the coffee you just roasted. If there’s any left you can take it home as a souvenir.

The Sipi Falls Coffee Tour costs $12 plus a small tip for your guide, and it takes about three hours.

Afternoon: Lower Falls Hike

Views of the waterfall while walking through town
The Lower Falls Hike begins near the center of town.

Grab a quick lunch at your lodge or one of the Rolex stands in town so that you can continue with your Sipi Falls itinerary. Next up is the hike to the lower waterfalls — the most impressive of all.

This hike starts at the top and goes down. You’ll pass a number of viewpoints on the descent before reaching the base of the 100-meter cascade. It’s about a three-hour round-trip journey, including time to stop for photos and breaks.

You are required to take a licensed guide for this hike — which is probably a good thing, because the path isn’t always easy to follow. The guide can also help you with your footing on the steep descent.

A word of warning: This path gets extremely muddy and slippery after it rains. If it has been wet while you’re in Sipi Falls, you may be advised not to attempt this trail.

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The hike costs $5, which includes your guide (who will expect a small tip) and the fees for crossing a couple of private landowners’ properties.

Evening: Another night by the fire, or head back to Kampala or Jinja

If you can spare another night in Sipi Falls, spend it just like you did the night before — with tea or a glass of wine, a book and a roaring fire.

Alternatively, head back to Kampala or Jinja. As long as you depart Sipi Falls by 3 pm, you should at least be able to make it to Jinja before dark on public transportation.

You’ll have to change vehicles again in Mbale, which has a few cheap hotels if you get stuck overnight.

The best Sipi Falls accommodation: Sipi River Lodge

The best Sipi Falls resort is Sipi River Lodge.
Sipi River Lodge is the perfect base for your weekend in Sipi Falls.

If you’re going to splurge once during your trip, do it in Sipi Falls by staying at the beautiful Sipi River Lodge.

Sipi River Lodge has bandas and bungalows right below the Middle Falls (so close you can hear the falls from your room). A few of the rooms have waterfall views, while others are in a pretty garden overlooking the river.

The rooms are cozy and comfortable. You get plenty of extra blankets for the chilly nights, and I’ve never seen a room in Africa with so many working outlets. Bathrooms are outside, but shared by only a couple of rooms apiece. They’re very clean and the piping-hot showers have good water pressure.

The main building at the lodge has free, fast WiFi. It also has a library, several fireplaces, some couches, a dining area, and a bar. I could’ve spent a whole day just hanging out in the sitting room.

The food at Sipi River Lodge is truly excellent. They have vegetarian and meat options for every meal. Breakfast is a full breakfast with incredible fresh-baked bread and coffee from the on-site roaster. Lunch is a sandwich with a salad. Dinner is a full three-course meal (soup, main, dessert).

You can book all your Sipi Falls activities directly through the lodge. I used their guides for a few of the hikes and for the coffee tour, and had good experiences all around. They can also book further-afield activities in Karamoja and Mount Elgon National Park.

Even though it’s such a fantastic little lodge, rooms start at just $70 a night including three meals a day. Book your stay at Sipi River Lodge here.

If you can’t shell out for the top Sipi Falls resort, The Crow’s Nest is the best campground in town. Just be prepared for very cold nights.

Overall, two days is the perfect amount of time for a Sipi Falls tour. This cute little mountain town will surely top your list of favorite places in the country. Even though it’s a long trip away from the tourist trail, don’t miss it!

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Add a weekend in Sipi Falls to your Uganda safari! This Sipi Falls itinerary includes the best day hiking in Uganda, a Uganda coffee tour, and a few nights at a beautiful African bush lodge. #uganda #travel

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Josy A
2 years ago

Seriously gorgeous waterfalls! This sounds like such a fun adventure! I am not a big fan of coffee…but maybe this is th place that can get me to like it!? If not, at least my husband ill be happy for the coffee part.

David
1 year ago

Hi Carrie, thank you for this wonderful piece of content about the beautiful Sipi Falls. I agree the destination has a lot of potential but gets very few visitors because of its location. However that is bound to end soon as the east region of Uganda is becoming more popular for safari given the improvement in road infrastructure that has led to the ‘discovery’ of the wonderful sites in the east such as Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, Matheniko & Bokora Wildlife Reserves and even Kidepo Valley National Park which are all accessed via this scenic eastern route. Soon Sipi Falls… Read more »

Meg
Meg
1 year ago

Hi Carrie, my husband is one of the owners of Sipi River Lodge so we are pleased you enjoyed the place so much. Interestingly a good friend, and past manager of the lodge, lives in Asheville. If you bump into a very tall guy named Rick in town you may have an interesting experience in common!

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