Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda
Rwenzori Mountain National Park
Also known as the fabled Mountains of the Moon. Rwenzori Mountains lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo and rich, moist montane forest. Huge tree-heathers and colorful mosses are draped across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers”, creating an enchanting, fairytale scene. The national park hosts 70 mammals and 217 bird species including 19 Albertine Rift endemics, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.
The park was gazetted in 1991 and was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1994 and Ramsar site in 2008. It’s highest point is 5,109m above sea level on Mt Stanley’s Margherita Peak. Mt. Stanley is bisected by the border with the DR Congo.
The Rwenzori is not volcanic like East Africa’s other major mountains but is a block of rock up faulted through the floor of the Western Rift Valley. The Rwenzoris were christened the “Mountains of the Moon” by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in AD 150.
The explorer Henry Stanley placed the Rwenzori on the map on 24th May 1888. He labeled it ‘Ruwenzori’, a local name which he recorded as meaning “Rain-Maker” or “Cloud-King.”
Mountain Rwenzori National Park protects the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range. The Rwenzoris are the world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine – to twelve-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita, the highest peak.
For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine. Enquire with Wild Discoveries Safaris’ team of tour experts about a Rwenzori Mountain Safari and how best to organise for you the best itinerary that fits your style and Budget.
The park is home to 70 species of mammal, including six Albertine Rift endemics; 12 are endemic to the park and three are rare species. Other mammals include the elephant, chimpanzee, Rwenzori otter and leopard. Though wildlife is difficult to spot in the dense forest, do look out for primates such as colobus (Angola and black-and-white varieties are both present) and blue monkeys; small antelope such as bushbucks; and unusual reptiles such as the three-horned chameleon.
Tourism and Activities in the Park
The park is owned by the Ugandan government through Uganda National Parks. It is protected, although extraction may be sanctioned by a board of trustees. Kasese, 437 km west of Uganda’s capital Kampala, is the gateway to the park. The town has hotels and lodges, while the park has camping, a good trail network and huts for hikers. The park has excellent trekking and climbing opportunities with spectacular views and unusual scenery. The major tourist activity here is mountain climbing.
Equatorial snow peaks
Rwenzori Mountains comprise six distinct mountains located miles north of the equator, the highest of these – Mounts Stanley (5,109m), Speke (4,890m) and Baker (4,843m) all bearing permanent snow and glaciers. The snow peaks can be reached by hiking the Central Circuit and Kilembe Trails.
Land of the Triffids
The misty, boggy, glacier-carved valleys of the high Rwenzori form a strange botanical world inhabited by triffid-sized forms of lobelia, heather and groundsel, crisp “everlasting flowers,” garishly coloured mosses and gnarled trees draped with curtains of lichen. The result is an otherworldly setting which, over the years, has been compared to the forests of the Jabberwock, the Seven Dwarves and, inevitably, Tolkein’s Middle Earth. These strange plants rank among the world’s botanical treasures, being found only on the highest mountains of East Africa.
There are over 20 lakes in Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The lowest and most accessible is Lake Mahoma (2,651m) in the bird-rich forest of the Central Circuit. The beautiful Lake Bujuku lies at the head of the deep, glacier carved Bujuku valley in the shadow of Mounts Stanley, Baker and Speke. In the Nyamwamba Valley, ascended by the Kilembe Trail, dams created by glacial moraine have created a string of eight delightful lakes. Several rivers and streams orginate from the mountain, forming lifelines for the flora and flora in the flood plains and supporting local communities.
Found at the southeastern foot of the Rwenzori Mountains is the trailhead for the seven-day Central Circuit to the high peaks. It is also the starting point for hill walks, bird watching and nature treks and walks through the traditional homesteads of the local Bakonzo community.
The remains of Rwenzururu’s first King, Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga, who is believed to have saved the Bakonzo tribe from the Batooro oppression are found in the Bulembe houses. Each year on 2nd September, every Mukonzo attends the pilgrimage to this sacred site to make sacrifices
Rwenzori Turaco View Camp Site
The tiny village of Mihunga faces the craggy, snow-capped peaks of Rwenzori Mountains. The Bakonzo tribe has lived here for over 300 years with no electricity or running water, and this community has adapted its way of life to the climate and steep green hillsides of the Rwenzori foothills. Mihunga‘s community tourism group, Turaco View, takes visitors on a cultural tour of the village. This includes a demonstration by a traditional healer, whose herb-based concoctions are believed to cure many ailments.
Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail
Through the fascinating six to seven hour trail through the holy valley and other sites of great cultural significance to the Bakonzo tribe. A community guide will introduce you to the traditional healer, explaining his powers, known as muhima; and to the local blacksmith, who will reveal the spiritual significance of the traditional Bakonzo stool. The trail then takes you across the Kamusonge River whose waters are believed to be sweet and quick to quench the thirst. There is a break in a hut to enjoy the glorious mountain views and shelter from the equatorial sun.
The recently reopened Kilembe Trail ascends the southern slopes of the Rwenzori from a trailhead at Kilembe near the town of Kasese. The route along the lovely Nyamwamba Valley passes glacial lakes and some stunning viewpoints before joining the Central Circuit at Lake Kitandara. The standard route scales Mount Baker though the scenery makes shorter treks rewarding enough.
The montane forest has the greatest birding opportunities; understandably, few species choose to make their home in the inhospitable world of the high Rwenzori. Bee-eaters, Robins, Sunbirds, Barbets, Rwenzori Turaco and Long-eared Owl; while higher up on the slopes, Bearded Vultures, Swifts and Black Eagles may be seen circling for prey.
Hiking and Nature Walks
The park provides opportunity for nature walks within the central circuit zone. These include trails up to Lake Mahooma and Buraro chimp forest; walks through the communities of Kichamba to reach the Karangura ridge; and hiking to Bundibugo area through Bwamba pass. Bwamba Pass,before a road was built in 1938 to link Fort Portal with the remote town of Bundibugyo, local people followed the most direct route between these settlements – a tough, 1,500m high trek over the steep north Rwenzori ridge, known as the Bwamba Pass.
The Central Circuit Trail: This challenging, seven-day climb provides a circular tour of the high Rwenzori. From the trailhead at Mihunga, the route ascends the Bujuku Valley via Nyabitaba for acclimatization before reaching the peaks. Hikers joining the Central Circuit after Bujuku will traverse the Scott Elliot and Freshfield passes to descend through the Mubuku Valley. Climbers can scale the snow peaks though many consider the exceptional scenery ample reward for their exertions.
Accommodation in Rwenzori
Sandton Hotel Kasese (From US$45 B&B Budget)
Sandton Hotel is three-star hotels located 19.1 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The hotel is suitably found in the middle of Kasese Town. It provides the best leisure, finest conferencing facilities for all types of clientele national as well as international, offering a professional yet friendly atmosphere that means “Pleasure & Comfort” while at bedwork. We can book you in for a range of luxury accommodation to accommodate individuals, groups, couples as well as families on long as well as short stay among which are cottages, single bedroom plus double bedroom apartments.It features free WiFi, a barbecue and a terrace. Guests can also enjoy the on-site restaurant.
Uhuru 50 Hotel Kasese (From US$40 B&B Budget)
Uhuru 50 Hotel is located 18.6 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park.It is a medium sized majestic accommodation facility perched in Kasese town, western region just in the foot hills of Mt Rwenzori and is surrounded by scenery with beautiful spacious rooms. This is an exceptionally serene hotel with a cool environment for relaxation and comfortIt boasts a restaurant, bar and free WiFi throughout the property. Every room is equipped with a flat-screen TV.
Springs International (From US$30 B&B Budget)
Springs International is a four-star hotel located 16.8 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The hotel is close to the Kasese Airstrip and also the ideal stop-over to and from the Rwenzori mountains, Bwindi impenetrable forest and Mgahinga gorilla national park.:
Springs International Hotel is situated in western Uganda in the town of Kasese and provides clean and comfortable accommodations surrounded by its own gardens and serene environment offering exceptional relaxation and convenience combined with warmth Ugandan hospitality. The hotel offers pet-friendly accommodation and the guests can enjoy the on-site restaurant. Free WiFi is available with a TV and free private parking is available on site.
Marafiki Safari Lodge (From US$40 B&B Budget)
Marafiki Safari Lodge is situated in Kasese about 7.1 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park. At Marafiki the sun rises from behind the dark silhouette of the Kyambura Gorge resting on the far shores of Lake George. As the Savannah Plains come to life – with Elephants moving silently across the savannah grasslands, birds darting between the trees sounding the morning chorus and hippos yawning lazily in the shimmering waters of Lake George – from the comfort of your luxury safari tent.The park spans the equator and is one of Uganda’s most popular tourist destinations.It offers a garden,free private parking is available on site and guests can enjoy a meal at the on-site restaurant.
Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge (From US$192 B&B Luxury)
Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge is a four-star situated in Kahendero 23.3 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park.The lodge is a perfect location for those who want to experience the tranquility of unspoiled Africa, untouched by mass tourism. Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge’s unique charm is in the atmosphere of intimacy, welcoming ambiance and a splendid customer service that is carefully rendered to our esteemed guests and vistors. The accommodation features a hot tub,Free WiFi is available and all units have a seating area.
Wild Tracks Overland Camp (From US$30 B&B Budget)
Wild Tracks Overland is a camp is set in Kasese located 26.2 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Wild Tracks Overland Camp offers comfortable and affordable accommodation in either our Safari Tents, shared guest Cabins and or a well-established camp site for self-catering campers, camping groups and overland travellers. The camp site set up is created to offer you a true bush experience in one of the most beautiful and most visited Game Parks in Uganda.The hostel has a terrace and views of the mountain, and guests can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or a drink at the bar.
Bethel Hotel (From US$33 B&B Budget)
Bethel Hotel is a two-star hotel set in Kasese at 18.1 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park.The hotel features free WiFi throughout the property, with on-site restaurant and free private parking is available on site.
Tropical Savannah Guesthouse (From US$60 B&B Midrange)
Tropical Savannah Guesthouse is situated 18.8 km from Rwenzori Mountains National Park.It features a restaurant, bar and free WiFi with an on-site restaurant with free private parking is available on site
Quick Rwenzori Facts
Size: 998 square kilometres (385 sq mi)
Location: Kasese District, Western Uganda
Desc: The Rwenzori Mountains National Park covers nearly 100,000 ha in western Uganda and comprises the main part of the Rwenzori mountain chain, which includes Africa’s third highest peak (Mount Margherita: 5,109 m). The region’s glaciers, waterfalls and lakes make it one of Africa’s most beautiful alpine areas. The park has many natural habitats of endangered species and a rich and unusual flora comprising, among other species, the giant heather.
Areas of interest: Equatorial snow peaks including Mounts Stanley (5,109m), Speke (4,890m) and Baker (4,843m), Land of the Triffids, Lake Mahoma (2,651m), Lake Bujuku, Nyamwamba Valley, Ruboni, Visitor Information Centre and Bulemba
When to Visit: Rwenzori National park can be visited all year round and climbing the mountain can be done all year round though the best time to climb Rwenzori is during the dry seasons between June-August and December-March.