With a Size of 996km2 Rwenzori Mountains National Park was gazetted in 1991 and was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1994 and Ramsar site in 2008.
The Highest point here 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 Rwenzori’s were christened the "Mountains of the Moon" by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in AD 1500.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 lies 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.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range.
The Rwenzori’s are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine- to twelve-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.
For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonjo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.
The park is home to 70 species of mammal, including six Albertine Rift endemics; four 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.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is known for its distinctive flora rather than its fauna. On the route to the peaks, hikers climb through a series of distinct altitudinal vegetation zones; montane forest, bamboo, tree heathers and afro-alpine. The latter, with its emblematic giant forms of Senecio(groundsel) and lobelia, is one of the world’s rarest botanical communities, being limited to East African mountains above 3800m.
The park is home to 217 bird species including several Albertine Rift endemics. Among these are 17 species that are endemic to the park making Rwenzori an important birding area (IBA). The forest zone at 1800m contains a diversity of birds including the Rwenzori Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Long-eared Owl, Handsome Francolin, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Archers’ Robin-chat, White-starred Robin, Rwenzori Batis, Montane Sooty Boubou, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Slender-billed Starling, Blue-headed Sunbird, Golden-winged Sunbird, Strange Weaver and several varieties of Barbets, Greenbul, Apalis, Illadopsis, Flycatchers and Crimsoning.
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 although you are required to spend an overnight at the base of the mountain or in Kasese town.
MOUNTAIN/VOLCANO CLIMBING IN RWENZORI
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. Clients 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.
Kilembe Trail: 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.
Tours can be booked through Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) and Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) – visit our Tour Operators page to book.
HIKING AND NATURE WALKS IN RWENZORI MOUNTAINS
The park provides opportunity for nature walks within the central circuit zone. These include trails up to Lake Mahoma 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 the River Mubuku, and glimpse 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 snowcapped Margherita Peak - a truly spectacular sight. Along the way, keep an eye out for chameleons, squirrels, vervet monkeys and many birds.
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 Abanya Rwenzori community group leads visitors over the mountain through isolated mountain villages to visit the bamboo forest and enjoy superb rift valley views.
BIRDING IN RWENZORI MOUNTAINS
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.
CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN RWENZORI MOUNTAINS
Ruboni Community Camp
Discover the peaceful farming village of Ruboni, home to around 2,000 Bakonzo, in the foothills of the Rwenzoris. Walk with the villagers as they demonstrate their daily activities, from tending to their animals and crops to preparing meals with the freshest ingredients. Meet the blacksmith, traditional healer, basket weavers and storytellers, and enjoy a vibrant dance performance accompanied by lively drumming.
Alternatively, your guide will lead you along the rocky Mubuku River. Ruboni means clear water in the local language of Lukonzo, and you will follow this crystal-clear stream, passing villagers carrying crops and wood. As the trail winds upwards, your guide will point out many colorful native birds such as the Rwenzori Turaco, tiny sunbirds and Cinnamon-chested Bee-eaters. There are also chameleons, squirrels and vervet monkeys.
Look out for Baker and Portal Peaks rising above the forests. On a clear day the snow capped Margherita Peak is also visible - a truly spectacular sight.
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. There is also a trip to the village school, a crafts demonstration and a lively dance performance.
Visitors can also choose to walk with a local guide through the surrounding forests. They may be lucky enough to spot brightly colored turacos in the forest canopy. The expert guides will be able to point out other species such as bee-eaters, sunbirds and playful black-and-white colobus monkeys.
Bulemba-Ihandiro Cultural Trail
Follow this 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. Basket weaving and firemaking skills are also demonstrated along the route.
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, before embarking on the final hour-long walk to the museum, thatched in the traditional Konzo style. On display are implements used during the Rwenzururu struggle, traditional dress and the other items of historical and cultural importance to the people of the Rwenzoris.
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