Major activities in Rwenzori Mountains National Park Uganda

February 26, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Mountain Rwenzori National Park consists of the magnificent Mount Rwenzori which is the third-highest mountain on the African continent after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. The mountain also is the highest block mountain in Africa with its highest peak Margherita at 5109 meters above sea level. The Ruwenzori comprises six-block Mountains: Speke, Stanley, Baker, Emin, Gessi, and Savoia. Mountain Rwenzori National Park was gazette in 1991 and by 1994, the park was recognized as World Heritage Site.

Back in AD 150, the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in his writings talked about a snow-capped mountain range in the heart of Africa. He further claimed that it represented the source of the Nile and he concluded by naming the mountain “Montes Lunae” which in English means Mountains of the Moon. Eighteen centuries later, Henry Stanley located the Montes Lunae in western Uganda and also talked about Lake Victoria as the source of the great river Nile. He further on the 24th of May 1888 placed the Rwenzori on the map of the world when he named it the Ruwenzori a local name meaning the “rainmaker” or “King cloud”.

Mount Rwenzori National Park is located on the Uganda -Congo border on the Albertine Rift Valley edge it is 50 km wide and 110 km long and offers one of the best Mountain climbing and hiking experiences along its strenuous trails that start from either Kilembe, Katebwa, and Mihunga. Some of the other major trails in Mount Rwenzori National Park are the Kazingo Trail, Kilembe Trail, Lake Mahoma Trail, and the central circuit.

Given the park’s location, a climate that is wet and extremely cold, vegetation, relief, and altitude, it is a habitat for numerous wildlife species including a few unique species. This includes eighteen mammal species, 9 reptile species such as the rare Jackson’s Chameleon, 6 amphibians, and 217 different bird species. Some of the different mammal species regularly seen in Rwenzori Mountains National Park include;  the shy Giant Forest hogs, Elephants, Bushbucks, L’hoest’s monkeys, Ruwenzori Duicker, the highly social Chimpanzees, and Buffaloes. The forest zone of the park also has different monkey species such as the endemic Rwenzori colobus and blue monkeys.

Jackson’s Chameleon

Standing at over 5000 meters high, the park is a habitat for unique vegetation species and other different wildlife species that are peculiar to East Africa’s highest mountains. The different vegetation types are one of the major attractions in Mount Rwenzori National Park and these vary depending on the altitude of a given area. At the lowest zone which is at 2500 meters is the montane forest, from 2500-3000 meters, the forest gives way to bamboo which is followed by giant heathers, a grove of Rapenea, epiphytes, lianas, lichens, and mosses at 3000-4000 meters high. Beyond 4000 meters, the park is generally characterized by moorland and species of the endemic giant lobelia.

The different vegetation types exist alongside numerous bird species in the park. Mount Rwenzori National Park is home to 217 bird species most of which inhabit the montane forest zone towards the park boundary. Some of the different bird species one should be sure to include on their checklist while in the park include; the shy and active Rwenzori Batis, the beautiful and multi-colored Rwenzori Turaco, the Handsome Spurfowl, the collared Sunbird, the Rwenzori Nightjar, the Strange Weaver, Archer’s Robin-chat, and Red-throated Alothe. As you climb higher, watch out for the Scarlet-Tufted Malachite Sunbird usually feeding on Lobella flowers, and the Lammergeier which is listed among the endangered species.

Mount Rwenzori National Park is surrounded by the Bakonzo which is a local tribe in western Uganda living on the slopes of Mount Rwenzori. The mountain is believed to be of significant importance to the culture and traditions of the Bakonzo people. They survive by cultivating the mountain slopes, and hunting. Furthermore, the mountain has eighteen different sites which are worshiping areas. These sites were mapped out, and are now being protected. Locals believe that the peaks of the Rwenzori are the home of Kitasamba their principal god.

The park also offers some of the best Eco-friendly and nature-based tourism products and activities. Most of the attractions and activities are strenuous but extremely rewarding and satisfying experiences and these include;

Hiking

Usually, many visitors of the park think that the joy and most satisfying experience on the Rwenzori mountains is reaching the top of the mountain, but this is not so because hiking in Mount Rwenzori National Park is another great opportunity to experience superb mountain scenery, vegetation, and the equatorial snow. Because of these unique aesthetic factors of the park, shorter hikes to close peaks are becoming more popular some of these exciting trails include the Kilembe trail which leads to Mt Luigi da Savoia offers views of the afro-alpine forest, Equatorial snow, and Mount Stanely, Nyakalengila trailhead which is a two-day hike to scenic and magnificent lake Mahoma in the bamboo forest, the Kazingo trail which leads to the Semuliki valley between the Fort portal plateau and the northern Rwenzori ridge in Bundibugyo town for a day. Hiking in Mount Rwenzori National Park is an exciting, adventurous, and unique rewarding experience. Bird watching should be expected such as the Slender-billed Starling.

Slender-billed Starling

Mountain Trekking

Trekking to the top of the Rwenzori Mountains mainly uses three major routes in the park. These trails include the famous Kilembe trail which takes 9 days to reach the summit of Mount Stanley, the trail also leads to Mount Luigi da Savoia which takes 6 days. The central circuit which reaches and returns from Mount Stanley in 7 seven days is managed by the Rwenzori Mountaineering Services in Nyakalengila. The other trail is the Bukurungu trail which starts from Kitumba to Mount Gessi.

Peak climbing which is also part of Mountain Trekking is another exciting experience though it is physically demanding. Interestingly, all the highest peaks on each of the six Rwenzori Mountains can be climbed. Mount Stanley has the highest peak of all the mountains and is called the Margherita Peak which stands at 5109 meters above sea level. This activity requires specialist equipment experienced guides and physical fitness.

Snow-capped peak of Mt Rwenzori

Forest walk and Birding

These activities are usually carried out in the lower contours of the park close to the boundary. This is the part of the park which is occupied by the montane forest. Two trails can lead to the forest zone and these are the Nyakalengija Trail and the Kilembe Trail. The Montane Forest zone is a birder’s haven with numerous bird species and chances of the highly localized Albertine Rift Endemics such as the beautiful multi-colored Ruwenzori Turaco, the shy and active Rwenzori Batis, and the Regal and Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Handsome Spurfowl, Slender-billed Starling, Lagden’s Bush Shrike and the Montane Sooty Boubou among others. Forest wildlife species such as the chimpanzees and the  Jackson’s Three-horned Chameleons are included in your sceneries during the Forest walks in Mount Rwenzori National Park.

Northern Double-collared Sunbird

What are some of the essential requirements during a visit to Mount Rwenzori National Park?

The following are essential for a rewarding tourist experience during a visit to the park; warm clothes, waterproof trousers, head mounted torch, gloves, plastic bags for carrying wet clothes, snacks, sleeping bags, and camping mats among others.

What is the best time to visit Mount Rwenzori National Park?

Given the ever-wet and cold weather in the park, the best time to visit the park is during the drier seasons these are usually January, June, and July. On the other hand, the park can be visited throughout the year though drier seasons offer the best experiences since the trails may be slippery during the wet seasons.

How to get to Mount Rwenzori National Park?

The park is situated along the Uganda-Congo border in the western part of Uganda. The park can be accessed by either road or air means of transportation. By road, the park is 375 km from Kampala the capital city of Uganda and the easiest route to use is the Kampala-Fort portal route via Mbarara the biggest town in western Uganda.

By air, one can board a flight from either Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip which will fly to one of the Kasese airfields.

Where to get accommodation in and around Mount Rwenzori National Park?

Along the trails, Uganda Wildlife Authority’s concessionaire provides basic accommodation along the two routes of Kilembe and the Central circuit. They mainly provide bunks (sleeping platforms). Some other accommodation facilities around the park include Equator Snow Lodge and the near by Kasese ghost town with numerous small to big hotels among others.