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Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Rwenzori Mountains National Park

‘The beginning of hikes to Rwenzoris’ snow-capped peaks’

Mountain Rwenzori National Park

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is located in the majestic Rwenzori Mountain ranges in south western Uganda. It covers a total area of about 1,000 square kilometers of the rough rocky terrain of Kasese coupled with undulating fields of layered vegetation. The park spans a whole three districts; Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibugyo districts in the Albertine rift valley.

Established in 1991 and later on declared a UNESCO world heritage in 1994, Mountain Rwenzori National Park is one of Uganda’s newest Parks. It has become famous because of the spectacular Rwenzori Mountain ranges. Mount Rwenzori, from which the park gets its name, is the highest mountain in Uganda. It stands at an impressive height of over 5,109m with its highest peaks mainly snow capped.

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is home to part of the eastern and almost the entire central part of Mt Rwenzori. This means that most of the features of the mountain can be found in the park. These include the highest snow capped points of the ranges; Mount Stanley standing at 5,109m, Mount Speke standing at 4,890m and Mt Baker at 4,843m.

The snow capped Margherita peak, is the third highest peak in Africa. It stands at an altitude of 5,109m above sea level atop Mt Stanley. This has spread the fame of the park even wider and has boosted tourism in Mountain Rwenzori National Park. The valleys within and around the mountains are lined with glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls and lakes which even makes the scenery in the park even the more breathtaking.

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is known for its bold display of unique vegetation. The vegetation is distributed in layers depending on altitude in that as you go higher, the vegetation also changes. The floral layers range from tropical rain forest, tree heathers, montane forest, Afro Alpine to bamboo. This unique altitudinal vegetation is lined with giant groundsel and lobelia which is unique to only the highest mountains in East Africa.

There are about 217 bird species in Mountain Rwenzori National Park. 17 species are endemic to the park while others are endemic to the Albertine rift and others rarer. Some of these birds include; the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori Batis, Archers’ Robin chat, Montane sooty Boubou, Handsome Francolin, Cinammon  chested Bee eater, Slender billed Starling, Strange weaver, Blue headed Sunbird, Long eared Owl and Golden winged Sunbird among other birds.

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is a wildlife haven to over 70 mammal species, about 4 species being endemic to the park and about 6 species being endemic to the Albertine rift. Some animals that you may see include Elephants, Leopard, Rwenzori Otter, bushbucks and giant forest hog among other animals. Primates like Chimpanzees, blue monkeys, black and white colobus, hyrax and L’Hoest’s monkeys among others.

Apart from viewing wildlife and birds, there are plenty of activities that you can do at Mountain Rwenzori National Park. These include hiking and nature walks to find features like lakes, volcano climbing and cultural encounters which basically involve meeting the local people living around Mt Rwenzori. All these activities will give you a memorable experience and make your safari to Mountain Rwenzori National Park worthwhile. 

Location and how to get there:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is located in south western Uganda covering an area of 1,000 square kilometers in three districts; Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibugyo. The park is located on the east side of the western rift valley in the Albertine rift bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west and Virunga National Park.

Mountain Rwenzori National Park can be accessed by road from Kampala using the Mubende to Fort Portal road. This usually takes about 4 hours covering 300km. Alternatively; you can opt for the route from Kampala through Masaka, Mbarara, Bushenyi to Kasese. This route is the longest as it goes through Lake Mburo National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. The journey on this road takes about 6 hours covering 350km.

If you opt to use air transport, you can charter an aircraft to Kasese airstrip from where you can embark on a short journey to the park. The flight usually takes about 30 minutes. If you are flying into Uganda, it is always advised to book with your travel agency so that they are waiting when you arrive at Entebbe International airport. 

Attractions in Mount Rwenzori National Park:

  • Equatorial snow peaks:

Mountain Rwenzori is made up of a network of six spectacular mountains. Being the highest mountain range in Uganda, three of these mountains have permanent snow and glaciers despite lying just miles north of the Equator.

Mount Stanley stands at an altitude of 5,109m above sea level, Mount Speke at 4,890m and Mount Baker at 4,843m. These equatorial peaks are accessed by hiking through the central circuit and Kilembe trails from Mt Elgon National Park.

  • Land of the Triffids:

The rocky valleys of Mt Rwenzori are a serene abode to a botanical paradise of triffid sized forms of rare lobelia varieties including the heather and groundsel, crisp, colorful mosses and gnarled trees highlighted with curtains of lichen.

The beauty of these triffid valleys has been compared to the forests of the seven dwarves, the Jabberwock and the famous Middle Earth Tolkien’s. The triffids are quite rare and rank among the world’s botanical riches that are only found on the highest mountains in East Africa.

  • Wildlife:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is rich in wildlife with over 70 mammal species; about 6 species being endemic to the Albertine Rift, 4 species endemic to the park and three species are quite rare. Animals can be spotted while hiking, taking nature walks or while on game drives in the park.

Reptiles such as the three horned chameleon can also be spotted.

These animals include; Elephant, Rwenzori otter, Leopard, bushbucks, Chimpanzees, L’Hoest’s monkeys, duikers, giant forest hog, black and white Colobus and Blue monkeys around other animals.

  • Ruboni Ruboni:

The Ruboni Ruboni trailhead lies at the base of Mountain Rwenzori in the Southeast. It is a major trail head used by adventurous hikers to the central circuit on a seven day trip. This trailhead is an important feature of tourism in Mt. Rwenzori National Park since most activities like hiking, nature walks and birding treks start here.

The Ruboni Ruboni is not only a significant hiking site but it is also the start of cultural encounter walks through the traditional community of the Bakonzo as well. Moreover a wide range of budget accommodations are offered at this fascinating site with endless views of Mt. Rwenzori and the Mubuku valley.

  • Lakes:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is famous for its gallant display of natural scenery extending from the majestic mountain ranges to its endless lakes. There are about 20 lakes present in the park with Lake Mahoma being the most accessible. It lies at an altitude of 2,651m above sea level in the central circuit dense forest. While visiting this lake, you will enjoy seeing birds like White starred Robin, Rwenzori Turaco and Blue headed Sunbird among other birds.

In the deep, glacier lined Bujuku valley of Mt. Rwenzori National Park, lies the Bujuku Lake. This lake is nestled within the majestic ranges overlooking Mount Stanley, Mount Baker and Mount Speke.

The eight lakes springing from the Nyamwamba valley were formed as a result of glacial moraine deposit ascending through the Kilembe tail and creating a dam from which the Lakes flow. There are some rivers as well, that flow from the mountain into the flood plains supporting wildlife and native communities.

  • Bulemba Bulemba Houses:

The Bulemba Bulemba houses are of great cultural significance to the local community. The Bakonzo people pay annual pilgrimage to this sacred site to pay tribute to their fallen ancient kings. On the 2nd of September every year, this local community comes together to make sacrifices and perform rituals to commemorate their ancestors. 

Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga who is remembered to have fought for the freedom of the Bakoonzo from Batooro oppression is one of the Kings celebrated on this cultural day. The Bulembe Bulembe houses of Mountain Rwenzori National Park are not only used for rituals purposes but they are where the historical remains of the first King of the Rwenzururu kingdom are found as well. 

  • Birding:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is home to about 217 bird species, some species endemic to the Albertine rift and 17 species endemic to the park. This is proof that the park is a top destination site in Africa for any bird lover. The dense forests spreading off from the mountain are rich in a diversity of birdlife. At higher altitudes, you may spot birds of prey like the Bearded Vultures and Black Eagles.

Birds that you are most likely to spot while at Mountain Rwenzori National Park include; Rwenzori Turaco, Handsome Francolin, Barred Long tailed cuckoo, Blue headed Sunbird, Long eared Owl, Cinnamon chested Bee eater, Rwenzori Batis, Archers’ Robin chat, White starred Robin . Some rare species include; Montane Sooty Boubou, Greenbuls, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Slender billed Starling, Strange weaver and Golden winged Sunbird among other birds.    

  • Hiking and nature walks:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park is one of the best places to go hiking and have a nature walk. There are various trails for nature walks mostly within the central circuit. The Lake Mahooma trail leads through the Buraro chimp forest, Kichamba local community to the Karangura ridge. While on this trail, you will visit the Bundibugo area and the Bwamba pass.

Nature walks are offered by local communities of Ruboni and Turaco view outside Mountain Rwenzori National Park. The trail follows River Mubuku with stunning view of Mount Baker and the Portal peaks winding up with a hike to an impressive altitude of 2,300m. You can even see the snow capped Margherita Peak on a clear day. Wildlife to see on this trail includes; vervet monkeys, squirrels, chameleons and some birds.

The Bwamba pass is a rough 1,500m high trek over the steep northern Rwenzori ridge. It was used by the local people to connect from Fort Portal to Bundibugyo before a road was built to link these two towns. Nature hikes are organized by the local Abanya Rwenzori community along this pass through isolated local communities to the impressive bamboo forest. The Bwamba pass offers great view of the rift valley.

  • Vegetation:

One of the places you will find the most unique vegetation in Uganda is Mountain Rwenzori National park. This is owing to its diverse mountain induced climate and altitude. The vegetation ranges from tropical rain forest to tree heathers to montane forest and finally Afro alpine and bamboo. This uniquely layered vegetation is highlighted with large groundsel and lobelia which is quite unique to East African Mountains above 3800m.

  • Mountain Climbing:

One of the most thrilling activities you can undertake in Mt. Rwenzori National Park is mountain climbing. The adventure follows several trails to tour the range of Mt. Rwenzori. The central circuit trail starts at a trail head at Mihunga and basically explores Mountain Rwenzori in a seven day climb circular trip.

Once you take off from Mihunga, you start to ascend to Bujuku valley via the Nyabitaba for acclimatization then hike on further up to the peaks. Alternatively, you can join the parade at Bujuku valley, transverse the Scott Eliot and fresh field passes before descending through the Mubuku Valley. From here you can head up further to the snow peaks or simply enjoy the view from the valley.

The Kilembe trail starts at the Kilembe trailhead in Kasese and ascends along the southern slopes of Mt Rwenzori. Another route emerges along the Nyamwamba valley, passing by glacial lakes and finally merging with the central circuit at Lake Kitandara. Alternatively, you can opt for the shorter trek route exploring Mount Baker with some spectacular scenery to offer.     

  • Cultural encounter:

While visiting Mt. Rwenzori National Park, you will find meeting the local communities quite fascinating. The Ruboni Community rest camp is one of the cultural sites you will be introduced to. The Ruboni community is mainly made up of about 2,000 Bakonzo who mainly rely on farming for their livelihood. They are nestled at the base of Mt Rwenzori where the soils are fertile and there is enough pasture for their animals.

When visiting Ruboni community, you will be guided by the locals as you explore the workings of their community. You will watch them as they go about their day to day lives like tending their livestock, caring for their crops and preparing local Ugandan dishes.  You can have the opportunity to witness local trades like blacksmith, traditional healers and artifacts making.

Folk tales, local music and traditional dances often await visitors who venture out on a cultural encounter in Mt. Rwenzori National Park. You can also attempt to visit the Mubuku River also known as “the river full of rocks”. This trail follows a stream of clear water called “Ruboni”. It is from this stream that the community derives its name.

The Mubuku river trail provides magnificent view of the vast Rwenzori ranges especially Mount Baker and Portal peaks. You could even spot the Margherita peak on a clear day. Chances of you spotting some birdlife especially the Rwenzori Turaco, Cinnamon chested Bee eaters and tiny sunbirds on this trail are very high.

Rwenzori Turaco View Campsite:

This campsite is found in Mihunga village which has been occupied by the Bakoonzo for over 300 years. The village is located at the base of Mt Rwenzori near its fascinating snow capped peaks. These local people are used to living a traditional simple way of life without electricity or running water.

The Mihunga locals organise nature walks and cultural tours for visitors at Mountain Rwenzori National Park who wish to indulge in a cultural encounter with people living around Mt Rwenzori. You will take an enriching tour around the village observing as the traditional healer performs his art; mixing herbs to cure various ailments.

Visitors are also given the opportunity to visit local crafts shops and see how the local people make crafts like baskets and mats using purely natural materials. Alternatively, you can opt to take a nature walk in the surrounding forest to view beautiful wildlife. Traditional dances and songs are always awaiting tourists who venture into this area.

Bulemba Ihandiro Cultural Trail:

Another great cultural encounter can be undertaken on this trail. You will walk in the company of a local guide for almost six – seven hours exploring the local delights of the Bakoonzo including the traditional healer, the blacksmith, fire makers and crafts making like mats and baskets.

Other places to see on this trail include the Kamusonge River whose water is believed to be so sweet that it quenches thirst instantly and the local museum. While at the museum, you will have the opportunity to learn about the history of the Bakoozo, the great Rwenzururu struggle and the importance of their traditional artifacts.

Where to stay while in Mountain Rwenzori National Park:

  • Hotel Margherita:

Hotel Margherita offers comfortable accommodations ranging from standard single, double to executive and family suites. It is located at the base of Mt Rwenzori near Kasese town. There is a full stocked bar and restaurant on the premises plus green gardens that are equipped with play areas for children. A rocky club at the hotel plays good music at night in case you wish to go out and relax after your long day of fun in Mountain Rwenzori National Park.

  • Rwenzori International Hotel:

Mountain Rwenzori National Park offers a range of accommodation from executive self contained rooms to the single non contained rooms. The accommodations are fitted with a satellite Tv, a telephone and mosquito nets. It is located 3km from the Kasese airstrip at the base of Mt Rwenzori. The hotel also offers camping options in case you prefer to experience life in the typical wild. There is a well stocked bar and restaurant, a gym, steam bath and sauna and a spa on the premises.

  • Katara Lodge:

Katara Lodge is an eco friendly lodge located about 16 km from the Kantunguru gate of Queen Elizabeth National Park. You will find that most of the accommodations as well as furniture is made from natural materials like straw and fitted with solar panels. The cottages are grass thatched and hand woven with an impressive view of the Mountain Rwenzori ranges. There is also a swimming pool on the premises fitted with salt water.

  • Equator Snow lodge:

This is an up market lodge located at the base of Mt Rwenzori. Equator Snow Lodge is positioned just above the Mubuku River which is believed to have the sweetest waters. The cottages are self contained with a fire place each and were built with round river rocks and fitted with a balcony from where you can watch the Rwenzori mountain ranges. There is also a well stocked bar and restaurant on the premises.

  • Tropical Savannah Guest House:

Tropical Savannah Guest house is a budget accommodation facility located along the Mbarara Kasese road in Kasese town. They offer comfortable rooms fitted with a satellite TV, a wardrobe, mosquito nets bathrooms, showers and flush toilets. There is a fully stocked bar and restaurant, wifi, laundry services, parking and car hire services on the premises.

Best time to visit Mt. Rwenzori National Park:

Owing to the fact that Uganda has fairly good weather all year round, you can visit Mount Rwenzori National Park anytime. However, the dry season is usually a good time to visit if your intentions are mainly bent toward climbing or trekking on Mt Rwenzori. It is also a good time to visit caves, climb rocks and see wildlife. The animals are usually concentrated along water sources to combat thirst and this makes them easier to track. The dry season is usually in the months of June – August and December to March.

During the wet season of April – October, Mount Rwenzori National Park usually receives heavy rains and this makes most trails muddy and soggy. Climbing Mt Rwenzori can become quite hard since hail storms also appear. Animals usually move to higher ground in search for drier ground and this may make them harder to locate or track.


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