Perhaps Elgon’s most captivating attraction is the honeycomb of caves on the lower slopes. Some of these were long inhabited by one of the loosely related Kalenjin groups, the Elkony (whose name, in corrupted form, was given to the mountain), and used both as living quarters and as livestock pens at night. There is evidence that the caves had a ritual function as well – Chepnyalil Cave contains a structure that might have served as an altar or shrine, and its walls are painted with a red-and-white frieze of cattle. The caves are also linked with Luhya circumcision ceremonies, in which boys spent their month-long initiation period covered from head to toe in the white diatomite powder found in the area, before returning home as men. The Elkony were officially evicted from the caves by the colonial government, who insisted that they live in the open “where they could be counted for tax”, but several caves were still occupied by extended families within living memory.

The largest and most spectacular cave is Makingeny Cave, close to the road and marked by a cascade falling over the entrance. It makes a good hike teamed up with its neighbour, Kitum Cave, a twenty-minute hike to the south. Early explorers believed that some of the caves were artificial, one report referring to “thousands of chisel and axe marks on the walls”. In fact, generations of elephants were responsible: the well-signposted Kitum Cave was the mineral fix of local elephants, and on rare occasions they still walk into the cave at night to gouge the salt-flavoured rock from the walls with their tusks. If you’re exceptionally lucky, a night vigil at Kitum Cave may be repaid by a visit from the elephants; but if not, the thousands of bats and the sounds of the forest are good compensation.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Kenya features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Saving the elephants: on the poaching frontline in Kenya

Saving the elephants: on the poaching frontline in Kenya

The African elephant is under constant threat from poachers, and numbers have fallen by one third in seven years. Joe Minihane journeyed to the Samburu reserv…

19 Apr 2017 • Joe Minihane local_activity Special feature
Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Go solo: the 20 best places to travel alone

Solo travel can be one of the most rewarding ways to explore the world. Whether you'd rather spend it on a desert island or in a frenetic new city, here are th…

21 Dec 2016 • Rachel Mills camera_alt Gallery
6 reasons to stay in Nairobi before you head off on safari

6 reasons to stay in Nairobi before you head off on safari

Most people coming into Kenya will arrive in Nairobi, but head straight for the country’s vast national parks and beautiful coastline. Stay a little longer in…

23 Aug 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month