Rwenzori Mountain National Park

Mountain Rwenzori a UNESCO world heritage site is located in the southwestern region of Uganda; the park covers an area of 996 square kilometers stretching in the districts of Kabarole, kasese and Bundibugyo. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park provides stunning views of glacier and snow-capped mountains just kilometres from the equator, where it is contiguous with the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Nick named as the Mountains of the Moon by Claudius Ptolemy, an Alexandrian geographer, the mountain is the third highest in Africa rising up more than 16,700 feet above sea level and its highest peaks rise above the clouds and are permanently snow-capped. The Rwenzori range has 6 major beautiful peaks which are good for mountain climbing and these include Mt Stanley at 5109m, Mt Speke at 4890m, Mt Baker at 4843m, Mt Emin at 4798m, Mt Gessi at 4715m and Mt Luigi di Savoia at 4627m. The highest peak is Mt Stanley complex, it is also called Margherita peak (5109) and it is this peak, which makes the Rwenzori Mountain the 3rd highest range in Africa. Rwenzori Mountains are not volcanic but predominantly old quartzite unlike the two highest Mountains in Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya).

The vegetation of Rwenzori Mountain consists of several altitude zones each with its own unique microclimate and wildlife species. The Afro-montane forest zone with the most varied fauna is found at the start at 1,800m. Closed canopy forest starts to give way to dense bamboo stands at above 2,500m. Between 3,000m to 4,500m, you find the open vegetation of the heather and Alpine zones with forests of giant heather trees throughout, the giant groundsel and the striking 10m high lobelia are also found in this region.

The Park’s diverse fauna includes over 70 mammal and 177 bird species. Most of these bird species are found in the Albertine Rift. Rwenzori Mountains National Park is the only Park in Uganda where the Angola colobus has been recorded through the identification this localized monkey requires a careful search and should not be mistaken to be the similar and more widespread black-and-white colobus that is also present on the mountain. Other mammal species include; elephant, buffalo, golden cat, servaline genet, chimpanzee, the blue monkey, yellow-backed duiker, and the giant forest hog.

Bird species in the forest zone of the park include; Rwenzori turaco, barrel-long-tailed cuckoo, long-eared owl, handsome francolin, cinnamon-chested bee-eater, archer’s ground robin, white-stared forest robin, Rwenzori batis, montane sooty boubou, Largen’s bush shrike, slender-billed starling, blue-headed sun bird, golden-winged sunbird, strange weaver, varieties of barbet, greenbuls, apalis, illadopsis, flycatcher and crimson wing. Lammergeyer (bearded vulture), black eagle soaring overhead as well as alpine and scarce swifts and the stunning scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird which be found at higher altitudes.

Rwenzori mountain national park contains over 20 beautiful scenic lakes, which can be seen while on a hike on the mountain such as Lake Bujuku, Lake Mahoma and Kitandara lakes. Lake Bujuku lies at the apex of the deep, glacier-carved Bujuku valley in the shadow of three summits of Mt Baker, Mt Speke and Mt Stanley. Lake Mahoma is the most accessible lake out of the 20 situated at the altitude of 2651 meters; this lake can be reached on by using the central circuit.

The Rwenzori’s are an excellent hiking and mountaineering destination. The hike takes you through all the vegetation zones and finally ends on the glacial peaks. Shorter hikes can also be arranged though they usually take seven days.

What to do in Rwenzori Mountain National Park

Mountain Hiking and Mountaineering

Trekking the mystic Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda is a truly fantastic and unique experience, the wonder of the high glaciers, the beauty of the valley of nine lakes, the bearded lichen hanging from giant heathers with a backdrop of rocky cliffs, crags and snow-capped peaks. The wide variety of flora and fauna with several biospheres as you ascend through different vegetation zones creates the ultimate experience for trekking. The plant life varies from heavy tropical rain forests, bamboo forests, montane cloud forests, to alpine vegetation.

The upper slopes have a rare Afro-Alpine habitat with heath land, glacial valleys and some unusually large plant life. Keep an eye out for scurrying rodents, rock and of course, a plethora of rare bird species. It owes its popularity to the steady rate of ascent and the quick descent. While it does not cover all the features of this beautiful mountain, the route itself is very scenic. You will have a chance to see nature at its best.

Rwenzori mountain national park has two trails tourists can take for hiking; central circuit trail and Kilembe trail. The central circuit trail is the most popular hiking trail, managed by Rwenzori mountaineering services, the trail offers scenic encounters that is why it is most loved by many hikers. The circuit runs through various vegetation zones of mountain Rwenzori, tropical valleys of 1000meters, gorges and super valleys as it leads to the rocky top of Mt Stanley. The trail also crosses through the lower and upper bigo bog which consists of walking boards to make crossing over easier, hiking mountain Rwenzori takes approximately 7-8 days and like other trails, it consists of 6 huts where one can either have lunch or dinner with sleepover. The huts on the central circuit trail include; guy yeoman hut and john matte hut at an elevation of 3505 meters, Nyabitaba hut at an elevation of 2651 meters, Bujuku hut at an elevation of 3962 meters, Elena hut at an elevation of 4541 meters, Kitandara hut at an elevation of 4023 meters.

The Kilembe trail was opened in 2009 and is operated by Rwenzori Trekking Services as an alternative route to be used by Rwenzori Mountains Climbers that wished to explore the snow-capped mountains. The trail is well known for the nice vegetation cover compared to the Rwenzori central circuit.

Kilembe Rwenzori Trail is considered among the top challenge enjoyed by travelers that wish to view nature with fantastic views, stunning valleys, and a wide variety of plants and trees unlike Nyiragongo Volcano and Mount Kahuzi which are Standalone Mountains and are relatively short and direct in climbing.

The huts at the Rwenzori Kilembe trail hike include; Sine hut (2596m), Mutinda camp (3582m) Bugata camp (4100m), Margherita camp (4485m), Hunwicks camp (3874m), Kiharo camp (3430m).

 

Nature Walks

This is an exciting activity where visitors walk to the forest foothills under the guidance of an armed ranger. This amazing activity is mainly done within the central circuit as you discover the hidden treasures of the park. These include trails up to Lake Muhooma and Buraro chimp forest; walks through the communities of Kichwamba to reach the Karangura ridge; and hiking to Bundibugyo area through Bwamba pass.

The communities of Ruboni and Turaco View also offer guided forest walks of various lengths just outside the park. Visitors can follow River Mubuku, and enjoy views of Baker and Portal Peaks as they hike up to 2,300m above sea level. On a clear day, it is even possible to view the snow-capped Margherita Peak – a truly spectacular sight. Along the way, keep an eye out for chameleons, squirrels, vervet monkeys, elephants and many birds like long eared owl, Cinnamon chested bee-eater, Archers’ Robin caht, Rwenzori Batis among others.

 

Cultural Encounters

This activity rewards visitors with an opportunity to interact with the local communities around the park. Mountain Rwenzori National Park is a home to many local ethnic tribes on the outskirts of the park with tribes such as Bakonzo and Mamba. Cultural encounters in Rwenzori national park can be done in:

Rwenzori Turaco View campsite, a small village of Mihunga overlooking the craggy snow-capped summits of Rwenzori Mountains. The Bakonzo who are the dominate tribe around the Rwenzori Mountains have had their residence here for the last 300 years without running water and electricity. This tour involves a visit to the traditional healer who uses concoctions made of local plant herbs to treat and heal several ailments; you will also visit the Village school, attend some of the craft making demonstrations and enjoy an exhilarating traditional dance performance and can even join them. On a clear day, you will see the spectacular snow-capped summits of Margherita.

The Ruboni Community Camp. This is the most interesting cultural encounter within the Rwenzori Mountains. There is nothing as fascinating as exploring the serene farming Village of Ruboni, a haven to over 2,000 Bakonzo who live in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. While in this Village, you will enjoy a village walk with some of the villagers as they demonstrate some of their daily activities that include tending to their crops and animals, preparing some of the traditional dishes with the freshest and most delicious ingredients. Visit the traditional healer of the Village who uses different plants to treat common ailments, not forgetting a visit the blacksmith who moulds metals into different tools such as knives, visit the women basket weavers. Listen to elderly storytellers as they narrate some of the ancient ways, how life has changed from the past and enjoy a traditional dance accompanied by energetic drumming.

Not only that, the guide can also take you through the rocky Mubuku River, and it is from the waters of this River that the name Ruboni was derived from. As the trails seconds, the guide will point out some of the native bird species such as the handsome francolin and the Rwenzori Turaco, Cinnamon-chested bee-eaters, small sunbirds and reptiles like the three-horned chameleon. You will also encounter some squirrels and primates like the Blank and white colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys and Red-tailed monkeys.

Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail. Going through this spectacular 6-7 hour trail through the valley and stunning sites offers great cultural significance to the Bakonzo tribe within the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains.  The local guide will lead you to the traditional healer to illustrate some of the “Muhima” powers then to the local blacksmith who uses open fire to mould iron into several tools. Basket weaving demonstration is also part of your activities to enjoy within this cultural encounter.

 

Birding

Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the fabled “Mountains of the Moon”  in Western Uganda on the Congo border with snow covered, equatorial peaks rising to a height of 5110m and lower slopes blanketed in moorland and rich montane forest.

Birding opportunities are greatest in the montane forest; understandably, few species choose to make their home in the inhospitable world of the high Rwenzori. Bee-eaters, Robins, Sunbirds and Barbets are some of the 217 species found in Rwenzori Mountains national park. Other species to watch out for include the Rwenzori Turaco and Long-eared Owl; while higher up on the slopes, Bearded Vultures, Swifts and Black Eagles may be seen circling for prey. The park contains 18 restricted range species Albertine endemics, the second highest in Uganda to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which has 24 restricted range species. In addition, the park has 60 of 86 afro tropical highland biome species, the second highest of these after Bwindi Impenetrable. There are also 17 species of the Guinea-Congo Forest Biome but all are well represented in other sites.

Birding in Rwenzori national park majorly starts in the morning at Ruboni to the montane forest done through the guidance of an expert guide who helps in finding and identifying the different bird species such as golden winged sunbird, cinnamon chested bee-eater, strange weaver, western green tinker bird and long rad owl among others.

WhEN TO VISIT Rwenzori Mountain National Park

It is generally possible to hike the Rwenzori Mountains throughout the year, although there are some months that are generally characterized by colder weather with more rains, lots of glaciers and snow at the summit.

The best time to climb Rwenzori Mountains in Rwenzori Mountains National Park is during the driest and warmest months of July, August, September, December, January and February; hence, they are also regarded as the busiest months. The rainy Months include March, April. May June, October and December.

 

Rwenzori Mountains National Park weather

The weather in Rwenzori mountains National Park is generally wet, with peaks covered with mists most of the time. This makes wild rime formations on the higher summits and glaciers.

During January and February, June and July are drier. These are the preferred months to visit the range. However, travelers who book their trips in July and May encounter rain or thunder while trekking on the mountains. Although, the rains and snow during these times are not heavy or long lasting, most of the days are fine for backpacking and wandering among the peaks.

If you are planning for a peak ascent, it is best to do so, early enough in the morning. Generally, the best weather to climb is between the hours of 2:00 AM and about 8:00 AM, where mists and clouds often veil the peaks.

 

Best time to visit Rwenzori Mountains National Park

January through March is a good time to climb Rwenzori Mountains from either Uganda or Congo. The weather is pretty stable and there isn’t much rain. It is however colder during this period. Snowfall at or near the summit is likely to occur.

April and May are the rainy season, it is not a great time to trek Rwenzori Mountains. Expect heavy rainfall on the lower slopes of the mountain, which is common. Cloud cover and poor visibility is also significant during this period.

June through October is the busiest season on the mountains as it coincides with summer holiday period in Europe. It’s the month when Uganda is having massive tourism in Gorilla Watching , Wildlife hence it’s difficult to experience massive tourism in Rwenzori mountains national park as there are always few Rwenzori trekkers .

November is a light rainy season and trekking can be recommended without massive tourism like the case in December.

December is fast becoming a popular season, despite being very cold on the summit.

HOW TO GET To Rwenzori Mountain National Park

Mt. Rwenzori National Park is suitably located in the South Western part of Uganda and can be accessed through any neighbouring country to Uganda but Rwanda and Uganda are the most appropriate.

Travelers can transfer from Kigali International Airport then into Uganda’s Kisoro then proceed to Mt. Rwenzori National Park.

However, one can also opt to transfer from Uganda’s Entebbe international Airport to the South Western Part of Uganda to hike the majestic Mountain.

Domestic flights can also be arranged from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi to Kasese Airport. Charter flights include Aerolink, Fly Uganda and Eagle Air.

 

By Road

The park has serval routes to get the park though the easiest one is at Ruboni, which can be accessed from Kampala via Fortportal taking 375 kilometers to reach.

Kampala via Masaka, Mbarara, Bushenyi to kasese, which is about 350 kilometers, this can take 5 to 6 hours.

There is also the route from Kampala passing through Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth national park. It is the most interesting and rewarding route taking a distance of about 450 kilometers. The route is long but with very many magnificent sightseeing of wild animals at Queen Elizabeth national park such as seeing a herd of elephant crossing the route, a herd of Uganda kob among others.