The Rwenzoris – the fabulous Mountains of the Moon – 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 covered in moorland, bamboo and rich, moist montane forest. Huge tree-heathers and colorful mosses are decorated across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers”, creating a captivating, fairytale scene.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park guards the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range. The national park hosts 70 mammals and 217bird species including 19 Albertine Rift endemics, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.
The Rwenzoris are a world-class climbing and mountaineering destination. A nine- to twelve-day trek will get skillful climbers to the summit of Margherita – the top most peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.
For those who fancy something a little less tiring, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and lodging, including home-cooked local food.
The areas of interest include;
Equatorial snow peaks
The high Rwenzori consists of six different mountains. Although positioned just miles north of the equator, the top most of these – Mounts Stanley (5,109m), Speke (4,890m) and Baker (4,843m) – all bear stable snow and glaciers. The snow peaks can be gotten to by hiking the Central Circuit and Kilembe path.
Land of the Triffids
The misty, boggy, glacier-carved valleys of the high Rwenzori form an odd botanical world occupied by triffid-sized forms of lobelia, heather and groundsel, crisp “everlasting flowers,” garishly colored 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 Jabberwocky, the Seven Dwarves and, unavoidably, Tolkein’s Middle Earth. These unusual 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 nearby is Lake Mahoma (2,651m) in the bird-rich forest of the Central Circuit. The lovely 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 formed by glacial moraine have created a string of eight wonderful lakes. A number of rivers and streams start from the mountain, forming lifelines for the flore and flora in the flood plains and sustaining local communities.
Ruboni, 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 first point for hill walks, bird and nature treks and walks through the traditional homesteads of the local Bakonzo community. Housing catering for a range of budgets offers beautiful mountain views up the Mubuku valley.
Visitor Information Centre
Until the new Visitor Information Center is comprehensive, all information regarding park activities will be available at Rwankingi Park Headquarters (close to Ruboni Community Camp), at the trailheads and the offices of the Rwenzori tour operators. Guides and porters, along with hiking equipment, can be requested for by visitors at these scenes.
Bulemba houses the remains of Rwenzururu’s first King, Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga, who is alleged to have saved the Bakonzo tribe from the Batooro oppression. Each year on 2nd September, every Mukonzo attends the pilgrimage to this consecrated site to make sacrifices.
Activities in Rwenzori National Park
Birding chances are best availed in the montane forest; justifiably, few species decide to make their habitat in the unfriendly 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 look 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.
Stroll with Bakonzo villagers through their homesteads in the foothills of the Rwenzoris as they exhibit their daily activities, from nurturing to their animals and crops, to organize meals with the freshest ingredients. See cultural dances, traditional costumes and hear their fascinating folklore.
Hiking and Nature Walks
Chase the trails up to Lake Mahooma and Buraro chimp forest; through the communities of Kichamba to the Karangura ridge; and to Bundibugo area through Bwamba pass. The communities of Ruboni and Turaco View also offer guided forest walks of numerous lengths just outside the park.
Enthusiastic climbers can opt for two scenic routes to the top of the Rwenzoris – Africa’s third highest peak! The paths pass glacial lakes, beautiful viewpoints, impressive mountain passes and lush valleys.
The Central Circuit Trail:
This taxing, seven-day climb offers 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 cross the Scott Elliot and Freshfield passes to descend through the Mubuku Valley. Climbers can scale the snow peaks though many consider the outstanding scenery plentiful reward for their energy.
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 attractive Nyamwamba Valley passes glacial lakes and some spectacular viewpoints before joining the Central Circuit at Lake Kitandara. The standard route scales Mount Baker though the scenery makes shorter treks pleasing enough.