Bungoma County

Discover Bungoma County

Wide-shot view of the seldom toured Malikisi Falls.  Photo Courtesy of Victor Matara
View of the Malikisi Falls. Image Courtesy of Victor Matara

Brief Overview of Bungoma County

From Eldoret, it is a relatively quick 71 kms drive through Turbo and Kipkarren to Webuye, on the eastern corner of Bungoma. Alternatively, from Kitale, it is a 64 kms jaunt south to Webuye through Kiminini and Misikhu. A further route of 96 kms travelling northerly from Kisumu to Webuye through Kakamega and Malava gives it its unofficial title as the communication hub of Western Kenya. Webuye is the second largest town in Bungoma County situated 30 kms east of its largest located in the mid south. The growth of Bungoma Town, its largest, begun as a result of a play of many forces, but largely as a small railway halting-station with open air commercial activities following the arrival of the Nairobi-Kampala railway line in 1925. Uniquely, this has two town centers, Kanduyi (old town) and Bungoma (new) separated from each other by the Bungoma Airstrip.

The rise of Bungoma was also influenced by the A104 international trunk road connecting Eldoret, Webuye, Bungoma and Malaba.  Bungoma County, initially part of Nyanza Elgon District, later renamed North Nzoia District (area north of the Nzoia River) remains one of the major hubs in the region. Of all the fetching views to be seen along Bungoma’s good network of roads, it is the series of hills and outcrops that leave the most memorable ones, especially from the summits. Of these, the most impressive is, ​of course, the imperial Mount Elgon.  At 4,321 ms the extinct volcano of Mount Elgon is Kenya’s second-highest mountain. Its imposing dome rises abruptly in the northern area of Bungoma, from where the land descends south is dotted by unique outcrops and numerous roof pendants.

The southern parts of Bungoma County, around Bungoma and Mumias towns, are typified by rock formations, most notably of Sang’alo Rocks. These lower-lying region ​lies within the Lake Victoria Basin. The land rises from 1,200 ms in this lowland to over 4,000 ms at Mount Elgon.  Farming dominates Bungoma County with good and well-developed soils in Webuye and Kimilili. Bungoma is a prolific cotton and tobacco growing area.  Maize, coffee, pyrethrum, sunflower and sugarcane are also farmed. Bukusu Community occupy much of Bungoma.

 Salient Features of Bungoma County

  • County Number 39
  • Area – 3032 km2
  • Altitude – 5036 ft
  • Major Towns – Bungoma, Kimilili, Webuye
  • Borders – Trans Nzoia, Kakamega, Busia

Brief History of Bungoma County

Bungoma Town was one of the substantial “beneficiaries” of the Kenya-Uganda Railway line. Before the arrival of the rail nothing in the form of a settlement existed.  Bungoma Town was founded around 1925 with the arrival of the rail, which provided a new phase for the area.  Very soon afterwards, this became a camping ground for railway workers who mainly consisted of Asians and a few Europeans. This early communication advantage provided it impetus for the growth of its commerce and drastically hastened settlement. Prior to this, “the town was a meeting place by the Bukusu elders who used drums (engoma) to summon people to meet. It was, therefore, referred to as the place of drums by the Bukusu and Tachoni Tribes, hence the name Bungoma” – Standard Media.

View of the Sanga'lo Rocks.  Photo Courtesy of Nation MG
View of the Sanga’lo Rocks. Image Courtesy of Nation Media Group

Places of Interest in Bungoma County

1. Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park is comprised of a 682 km2 Forest Reserve and a 50 km2 Park.  This inter-territorial extinct volcano along the border with Uganda is Kenya’s second highest mountain at 4,321 ms. Mount Elgon National Park is designated as a UNESCO Man-Biosphere Reserve and an Important Bird Area (IBA).  Although there are exceptional views of Mount Elgon across Bungoma, most of the park sits in the neighbouring Trans Nzoia County. And although it contains plenty of wildlife, and elephants in particular, Mount Elgon National Park is essentially a scenic park and its relatively gentle gradient presents little challenge for anyone who is fit. Chorlim Gate is located 91 kms from Bungoma. In comparison to other big mountains in Kenya and East Africa, Mount Elgon presents relatively fewer challenges to potter its main peak. The most popular route up the mountain is through the Chorlim Gate, near Kitale in Trans Nzoia, because it is the shortest to Koitoboss Peak. At 3,852 ms it is the highest on the Kenyan side and can be climbed in a long weekend adventure. The three-days mountain walk to the main peaks of Mount Elgon is one of beauty and interest. A visit to Mount Elgon National Park should be planned in good weather – that is not in April, May, August, and September which are terribly misty and roiled.

2. Elephants Maternity Ward

Of the four accessible caves inside Mount Elgon National Park, best explored on foot, Kitum Cave stand out as a favoured touring destination. Kitum is perhaps best-known for its other visitants, herds of Elephants, as well as, more wildlife that come to lick and scratch mineral rich rocks for salt. In pitch darkness these animals descend into the bowels of the mountain to get the mineral-bearing soil they crave. Kitum Cave, unofficially known as the “Elephants Maternity Ward” is of particular interesting because of the unique phenomena demonstrated by the female elephants that frequent the famous cave to calf-down, some coming from as far as Elgeyo Marakwet County. Callers to Kitum Cave should also aim to visit the nearby Making’eny Cave, which is located about 1.5 kms up the road.

Topography and spatial location of Mount Elgon.
Topography and spatial location of Mount Elgon.

3. Chepkitale Forest

Peculiar about Chepkitale Forest are its inhabitants, the Ogiek – a hunter and gatherer tribe who have subsisted inside it for decades.  They live in a 178 km2 forest section in the upper reaches of Mount Elgon Forest Reserve in Bungoma County. Despite many lost efforts by both the National and Local Government bureaus to evict the Ogiek from the Chepkitale Forest, they continue to thrive here in what they strongly regard as their ancestral land. The Ogiek Community have since developed customary rights to manage the forest ecosystem and, by the same token, developed ways of life and traditional mastery of the forest. In January 2011, the Ogiek Tribe of Mount Elgon requested urgent help from the Forest Peoples Programme to combat future evictions from their ancestral land.

Customary Bylaws of Ogiek of Mount Elgon. Published by Forest People Org

4. Maeni Shrine

Bungoma is also a county of socio-cultural diversity which embodies a bonzer concentration of fascinating customs; not least, the rites of passage among the Bukusu boys performed every even year in a season of pageantry as troupes of locals march in all directions to and from these ceremonies. A further socio-cultural interest, the Maeni Shrine, is found in Kimilili, that is 49 kms south of Kitale and 31 kms north of Bungoma Town. Maeni Shrine is a mausoleum in honour of Elijah Masinde Wanameme – the great Bukusu activist, oracle and self-proclaimed hero founder of Dini ya Msambwa Sect (a familial religion of the spirits). Initially founded as an anti-colonialist movement, it evolved into a populous community and one of the most popular neo-traditional religions in Western Kenya.  Located just outside the Maeni Shrine is a bunker which Elijah Masinde hid in the early 1940’s to avoid arrest by the government for almost 3 years. There is also a detailed history of his detainment, for over 15 years, that’s passionately narrated by its curators. Maeni Shrine is situated in Maeni Village.

After independence, he was detained by Jomo Kenyatta’s government for 15 years – accused of fomenting religious hatred. He was released by the government of Daniel arap Moi in 1978, however, Moi also arrested him following his clashes with traffic policemen in Webuye and Kitale. Elijah Masinde remained defiant and continually questioned the government, especially on the issue of land and rights. He died in 1987, memorialized as a neglected freedom fighter.

5. Kabuchai Hills

About 20 kms from Kimilili on the way to Bungoma sits one of Bungoma’s most impressive hillocks at the Kabuchai Hills located near Nalondo Primary School and Kisiwa Technical Training Institute. This is a very attractive landscape with woodland, large open vistas and is famous, in particular, for its multiplicity of indigenous trees. At the eastern slopes of the Kabuchai Hills there is a surge of development, covering an area which carries many building of a modern design. Although the summit commands a superb view, inviting for hiking adventures, it remains underdeveloped, and serves only as a memorable roadside attraction.

Spatial Location of Kabuchai Hills in Bungoma County
Spatial Location of Kabuchai Hills in Bungoma County

6. Teremi Falls

The Kimilili-Bokori-Bungoma Road through Nalondo is a widely-popular route. Many prefer it as it is shorter, and the drive through the country past Kabuchai Hills is beautiful. The alternative route via Kimilili-Teremi-Chwele-Bungoma is almost twice as long but is much more fascinating. Teremi area, which lies on the southern slopes of Mount Elgon, has scenic steep abrupt cliffs. Teremi Falls, where River Kyuwa – originating near the top of Mount Elgon – cascades over one of the cliffs is well worth the detour. It begins as a narrowed cascade over a steep cliff abruptly rushing down to 1100 ms to the confluence of River Kuywa and River Nzoia where it swells up to almost three times it size. At the base of the falls, the rivers gradually level out on the gently undulating land to a slow-flowing meandering channel.  There are some walking trails near Teremi Falls. In 1981, consulting engineers conducted the feasibility study for Teremi hydro- power project. The results of the study showed that Teremi project was feasible.

7. Chwele Market

The 18 kms drive from Kimilili to Chwele, through Teremi, leaves one with an overall wondrous impression of Mount Elgon before arriving at the antithetical and bustling Chwele Market – one of the largest open-air markets in Kenya. “It is the second-largest open-air market in Kenya and is a prolific supplier of food produce within the county and beyond” – Standard Media. Back-dropped by Mount Elgon, the hard at it Chwele Market, originally a once a week market, is well on the wend to become a town, if the necessary infrastructure is developed.

8. Mwibale wa Mwanja

The hulking free-standing granite monolith of the Mwibale wa Mwanja with a circumference of about 3 km2 is found midway along the 43 kms stretch from Bungoma Town to Malaba. It is perhaps the most noticeable roadside attraction there is to be seen in Bungoma County, and there are many. Thought to be the single largest stone monolith in Kenya, Mwibale wa Mwanja or Mwibale Rock is the source of 18 tiny streams that all merge at Mwikhupo Falls, on River Nzoia.  This huge rock outcrop, just a few metres from the Bungoma-Malaba Road, is engulfed by high-yielding vegetation and a fascinating variation of rock adapted plants. There are several step-like foot ways that take to the top of the Mwibale. Within this glorious setting is a wide view of the countryside. From here, to the west, Chemeluk Hills can be sighted. These, of course, are home to the Kakapel Rock National Monument which is situated at Amagoro 29 kms from Bungoma.

9. Namunyu Cave

Reached via C42 Bungoma-Chwele-Namunyu Road or Bungoma-Malaba Road onto Kimaeti-Malakisi-Namunyu Road, the untraversed Namunyu Cave in the farming boondocks (close to Namunyu Primary School) is marred and slopped by myth augmented by the fact that it is the final resting place for many iconic Bukusu orators including: Maina owa Nalukale, Mutonyi owa Nabukelembe, Wakhuluunya and Namunyu Lubunda. This portentous cave, venerated as an important seminal ancestral shrine, holds spellbinding chronicles of ancient “Ancestor Worship”, which in the old-world Bukusu beliefs was an attempt to preserve good spirits.  It is also lauded as a traditional shrine commonly used by Legio Maria Sect. Yet, beneath this veil of foreboding is a great site for a no-frills out of the ordinary discovery trip and a lovely area to enjoy a few hours of walking through the picturesque bucolic setting. From Kimaeti, a murram track road runs up through the farms to the north-eastern edge of Bungoma County, passing Malakisi, where the Daraja la Mungu and the Malakisi Falls are located.

Spatial Location of Namunyu Primary School in Bungoma County
Spatial Location of Namunyu Primary School in Bungoma County

10. Daraja la Mungu

This natural oddity out in the boondocks, yet, only 11 kms from Kimaeti and the Bungoma-Malaba Road on a good murram road offers a place to experience a confounding curiosity. Loosely translating to the “bridge of god”, this ways-out village delight is equal parts thought-provoking and amusing. “From its source, River Malakisi flows on land until it reaches a spot where it disappears into the ground only to emerge about half a kilometre away. The point where the River disappears is a spectacle to behold. It flows menacingly on its course only to vanish between rocks” – Standard Media. It derives its name from the fact that standing on the half kilometre ‘aqueduct’ River Malakisi can be felt and heard forcefully grovelling past extremely close to the surface. It that sense, this area is considered a natural bridge or “daraja la mungu”. River Malakisi originates from the slopes of Mount Elgon and runs through Bungoma Town into Uganda.

11. Malikisi Falls

Not far from where the River Malakisi disappears underground and proximate to another marvel where the footprints on a rock are locally claimed to be those of “Jesus” is the scenically-splendid Malakisi Falls. Found within the wondrous Mount Elgon Biosphere, the 40 ms Malikisi Falls remains little-known partially because this patch of the forest was a battleground for some cut-throat fights between Kenya Army and the Sabaot Land Defence Force – a grim and ruthless local militia which controlled local affairs here. The Malakisi River, from which the falls takes its name, is part of an intricate drainage system rising in Mount Elgon, which also includes River Kyuwa whose confluence with River Malakisi is within sigting distance of the Falls. The well-watered and highland area of the Malakisi Falls is outgrown with a cornucopia of bushes interspersed with rocks. That is to say, it is generally roily and a trip should be planned in good weather.

12. Buteyo Miti Park

The 32-acres Buteyo Miti Park, started in 1969 by the Measures for Indigenous Trees Improvement (MITI), is a nature based sanctuary of rolling greens, dandy woodland, flourishing countryside and native traditional rondavels to get out and enjoy the blissful outdoors.  The forest itself is made up of mega indigenous trees, some exceeding 100 years old.  In all, there are over 300 different species of tree growing in the Buteyo Miti Park.  Also found within the park is the Igor’s Corner Arboretum and Lukoba Guest House that’s modeled on old Bukusu Fort villages. Situated nearby this site are the Sangalo Rocks, Kwesule, Mount Elgon National Park and Kakamega Forest Reserve. Buteyo Miti Park is located 8 kms southeast of Bungoma Town via C33 Bungoma-Mumias Road and nearby the Sanga’lo Institute of Science and Technology. It’s open daily from 8 am to 6 pm.

Spatial Location of Buteyo Miti Park in Bungoma County
Spatial Location of Buteyo Miti Park in Bungoma County

13. Sang’alo Rocks

Most travellers to Bungoma take in a tour of the distinguished Sang’alo Rock in combination with Buteyo Miti Park. This offers wonderful scenery and a lovely hiking and walking opportunity. Thought to bear resemblance to a chink or gap in the front teeth, with one peak appearing to clutch a big rock smack of a tooth loose in the socket or one that’s about to fall out, this is one the mysterious rock formations of Bungoma. According to local myth it was formed when two giants got into a rock tossing contest and that these rocks are proof.  Aside from lively mythical intrigues, Sang’alo Rocks not far from Bungoma Town are an easy and achievable hiking challenge which offer stunning vistas of the verdant Bungoma farms.  These are found 8 kms from Bungoma via C33 Bungoma-Mumias Road.

14. Chetambe Fort

Webuye Town sits 30 kms east from Bungoma Town. Chatambe Fort, standing sentinel above the township (east) is the first target of most visitors to the town. It sits saliently at the corner of A1 Kakamega-Kisumu, Webuye-Kitale and A104 Webuye-Eldoret Roads only 2 kms from the town. It is an easy walking journey which can be guided by locals. Dubbed “the Golan Heights of Bungoma” owing to its unique location perched above Webuye Town, “this was the place, in 1895, of a last ditch stand by the Bukusu group of the Luhya tribe against the motley line-up of a British punitive expedition which had enrolled Ugandan, Sudanese, Maasai and even other Luhya troops” – Rough Guides. As it goes, the native Bukusu and Tachoni warriors watched the advancing British Forces from this vantage point. Chetambe’s Fort, contrived by the Tachoni Tribe, is also notable as the sanctum from where they mobilized their legions to resist colonial rule leading up to the 1895 massacre where an estimated 450 Bukusu and Tachoni fighters were felled by the British Colonial Forces.  Standing at the Chetambe’s Fort, it is not hard to imagine the bone-chilling terror felt by the Bukusu and Tachoni Communities who were going to attempt to fend-off the British Forces guns with just pikes and arrows. It was named after their leader Chetambe Ifile.

15. Nabuyole Falls 

7 kms east of Webuye Town is to be found one of the lofty waterfalls in Western Kenya, and one of the most popular destination of Bungoma County. Originally known as Broderick Falls and sometimes known as Webuye Falls – owing of its close proximity to Webuye Town – Nabuyole Falls is “wondrous and beautiful”. Nabuyole Falls, occurring along River Nzoia near the boundary with Kakamega County, liked for its beautiful jungle-like tropical landscape, sheer cliffs, rocky pathway and riverine strips, is best enjoyed along the broad guarded stairway to the bottom of the falls. Large boulders behind the main falls create a series of smaller falls and rapids that add to the beauty of the location. It is reached by turning off at St. Mathew’s ACK Primary School onto a murram road that takes to the falls. It is advisable to use a 4×4 to get here although a saloon car will get you here with generous bouncing and tossing around provided in good weather.

Spatial Location of Nabuyole Falls in Bungoma County
Spatial Location of Nabuyole Falls in Bungoma County

16. Kumfunje Bridge

Assembled in 1991, and named after Kafunja – the elderly man who used only traditional knowledge to construct it – Kumfunje Bridge now managed by his family, is a swaying and fear-inducing traditional bridge that is an adventure to cross. This simple and quaint suspension bridge, fabricated with only sticks and ropes and supported entirely from twin-anchors at either end, with no towers or piers, spans about 50 ms over the crocodile infested River Nzoia. The wobbling and creaking notwithstanding, the locals make light work of crossing Kumfunje Bridge, much to the fascination of newcomers. Each one crossing the bridge is required to pay an obligatory Shs. 10 per day and can cross it as many times as possible, till midnight.  Trippers visiting the Kumfunje Bridge are also required to the pay pocket-friendly fee, all in good fun. This old-world bridge located at the Maraka Village nearby Webuye also links Bungoma with Kakamega County.

The alternative to using the footbridge remains swimming across the crocodile-infested Nzoia River. But this is not your ordinary bridge. For starters, it straddles the second biggest river in Kenya after the Tana. Then, it has culture and superstition around it. But it is not easy to cross the shaky footbridge. Many have started to cross and stopped midway, too terrified to continue. Others just broke down and wailed, and got fined for it. – Standard Media Group

Nabuyole Falls, or the Webuye Falls, near Webuye Town.  Photo Courtesy of Nation MG
Nabuyole Falls near Webuye Town. Image Courtesy of Nation MG

Geography of Bungoma County

Generally speaking, Bungoma County is within the Lake Victoria Basin, rising from 1200 metres in the west and southwest to over 4,000 metres to the north near Mount Elgon. Excepting the mountain area, most of Bungoma County is underlain by granite which forms the basement system. Mount Elgon Forest support the life-system through the hydrological cycle and plant production through the pollination process. The forested areas also provide soil nutrients through the decomposition of biomass – which consequently supports farming.

Land Use in Bungoma County

Agriculture in the main economic activity in Bungoma County taking up 2,881 km2 of arable land, mainly for crop farming and livestock production – 70% as subsistence farming and 30% for cash crop cultivation dominated by sugarcane plantations.  Nzoia Sugar Company is the largest handler of sugarcane in the county.  Other main crops produced include maize, beans, finger millet, sweet potatoes, bananas, Irish potatoes and assorted vegetables. Sugar cane, cotton, palm-oil, coffee, sun-flower, and tobacco are grown as cash crops in Bungoma.

Highlights of Bungoma County

The foremost attraction in Bungoma County is the extensive volcanic dome of Mount Elgon, its national park and reserve. Other noteworthy physio-graphic features include its hillocks: Chetambe, Sang’alo and Kabuchai; its rivers and waterfalls such as Nabuyole and Teremi. In addition, the areas around Mount Elgon and Sang’alo hill have developed caves.  Other notable areas of interest in Bungoma County include the Cultural Centre at Sang’alo, Dini ya Msambwa headquarters at Maeni in Kimilili and the Kumfunje Bridge near Webuye Town.

Population of Bungoma County

The projections for 2015 put the population of Bungoma County at 1,655,281 (Male 808,449, Female 846,832) and by 2017 the population was projected to be 1,759,499 (Male 859,350 and Female 900,149).  Most of the population in Bungoma County is concentrated in major towns, urban centers and markets (Bungoma, Kimilili and Webuye) because of better opportunities and amenities.

View from Chetambe's Fort overlooking Webuye.  Photo Courtesy of Nation Media
View from Chetambe Fort overlooking Webuye.  Image Courtesy of NMG

Airports in Bungoma County

Bungoma County has two unused airstrips at Webuye and Bungoma Towns.

Roads in Bungoma County

Bungoma County has 67 kms of class A roads and 154 kms of class C roads. The A1 Eldoret-Webuye-Malaba Road and A104 Webuye-Kiminini-Kitale are the only class A-type roads, which traverse through Bungoma and Webuye Towns.

Climate in Bungoma County

Bungoma County has two rainy seasons, the long-March to July and short rains-August to October. The annual temperature in the County vary between 0°c and 32°c due to different levels of attitude, with the highest peak of Mount Elgon recording slightly less than 0°c. It embodies the typical tropical climate.

Bungoma County Distance Chart
Bungoma County Distance Chart

Kumfunje Bridge in Maraka Village.  Photo Courtesy of Standard Media
Kumfunje Bridge in Maraka Village. Image Courtesy of Standard Media

National Monuments in Bungoma County

  1. Chetambe’s Fort
  2. Muhanda Fort

Bungoma County Map

Bungoma County Map