Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located in south-western Uganda on the east side of the western African rift valley. It lies along Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and borders the DRC’s Virunga National Park, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for 50 km. It is situated in the Bundibugyo, Kabarole, and Kasese districts 25 km from the small town of Kasese.

The park covers an area of 966 square kilometers, 70 percent of which exceeds an altitude of 2,500 metres. The park is 120 kilometres long and 48 kilometres wide.

The park includes most of the centre and eastern half of the Rwenzori Mountains, a mountain range rising above dry plains located just north of the equator. Those mountains are higher than the Alps and are ice-capped. Mount Stanley is located in the park. Margherita Peak, one of Mount Stanley’s twin summits, is Africa’s third highest peak with a height of 5,109 metres. Africa’s fourth and fifth highest peaks (Mount Speke and Mount Baker) are also located in the park. The park has glaciers, snowfields, waterfalls, and lakes and is one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain areas.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park was established in 1991. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 because of its outstanding natural beauty. Rebel militias occupied the Rwenzori Mountains from 1997 to June 2001 (this made the park so insecure that time but with the current government, it is so safe). The park was inscribed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage in Danger between 1999 and 2004 because of insecurity and a lack of resources in the park.

Vegetation: 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.

Biodiversity
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.

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, Greenbuls, Apalises, Crimsonwings, IIladopsis, and Flycatchers.

THINGS TO DO

MOUNTAIN CLIMBING
Mountain climbing is the major activity in the park. The park is a home to various mountains; Mount Stanley (5,109 metres), Mount Speke (4,890 metres), Mount Baker (4,843 metres), Mount Emin (4,798 metres), Mount Gessi (4,715 metres) and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4,627 metres). All these mountains are open for hiking.

To hike these mountains, there are 2 major trails that can lead you to any of them. The trails pass through glacial lakes, gorgeous viewpoints, dramatic mountain passes and lush valleys as well as different vegetation zones.

The Central Circuit Trail: this trail is managed by Rwenzori mountaineering services which is a community based project. This trail 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: this trail is managed by Rwenzori trekking services, it 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.

NATURE WALKS
There are various trails around and within the park where nature walks can be done. The park provides opportunity for nature walks within the central circuit zone. There is the Mahoma trail which takes you up to Lake Mahoma and Buraro chimp forest. This trail takes 3 days and you will expect to spot various mammal species that live in the forest like elephants, as well as different bird species and plants.

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. As you walk, you will expect to spot; chameleons, squirrels, vervet monkeys and many birds that live around the region.

BIRDING
With over 150 bird species living in these mountains, Rwenzori is a great birding region. One and 2 days trek will take you through the tropical and montane forest zones of the mountain and you will expect to spot the birds that live in this region. 3-4 days trek takes you up to the heather zone where you will see the Rwenzori Turaco, Rwenzori nighjar, Rwenzori Double Collared Sunbird, Archer’s Robinchat, Mountain Black Boubou, Mountain Illadopsis, Rwenzori Batis, Mountain Masked Aplis, among many more. To see the Scarlet Tufted Malachite Sunbird you will need to climb up to Mutinda Peaks which is a 5-6 day trek depending whether you pass across to Kiharo Camp where many Rwenzori Batis and other birds live since the environment is slightly different.

GETTING THERE
Getting to mount Rwenzori national park takes about 7 hours from Kampala by road.

If travelling public, you will preferably use a bus. Most bus parks can be found in and around Kampala like Link Buses or Kalita bus which take that route. It could take you about that same time if you are travelling privately in your own car though a four wheel drive vehicle is advisable since western Uganda is mountainous. Your first stop will be Fort Portal from where you will travel south to Kasese.

From Mubuku, it is 15 minutes in the north of Kasese; you can organize transport means after passing the Bugoye power plant to the gate. Porters, guides and other people to help you will be easily availed to you.

By air, it will only take an hour and a half. You may contact your travel agency or tour operators to book a flight to Kasese.