Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori mountain national park is one of the ten Uganda national parks located in the southwest of the country on the east side of the Albertine rift valley. It lies on the borders of Uganda and Dr Congo and spans its territories in the districts of Bundibugyo, Kabarole and Kasese district. The Rwenzori national conservation area was made a national park in 1991 and designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. It has a total surface area of 1,000 sq. km.
The main feature of the park is Mountain Rwenzori, the tallest mountain in Uganda and the third tallest in Africa. Rwenzori popularly known as the mountains of the moon has Africa’s third highest peak and many lakes, glaciers, waterfalls and amazing expanses with different types of plant life, making it one of the most beautiful places to visit on earth.
The park consists of the largest eastern and central part of the Rwenzori ranges, standing above the dry plains north of the equator having snow-capped summits. The Rwenzori ranges are Mount Stanley (with the highest peak, Margherita at 5,109 metres), Mount Speke and Mount Baker. These eye-catching summits are hiked by hundreds of travellers throughout the year and are one of the main attractions to encounter in Mountain Rwenzori national park.
Other than the free-standing ranges of Rwenzori, the national park is home to four primate species, 89 species of birds and 15 butterfly species. some of these living creatures are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Most of the species inhabit the lower sections of the mountain covered by the montane and bamboo forests.
The animals to specifically encounter on a Rwenzori hike include elephants, hyrax, Ruwenzori duiker, Black and White Colobus, L’Hoest’s monkeys, Angolan colobus. Chimpanzees and rare birds like Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori Batis and handsome Francolin.
Accessibility of Mountain Rwenzori National Park
To access Mountain Rwenzori National park from Kampala for the cases of self driving visitors, the capital of Uganda, travellers use either road means or air transport. From Kampala by road means, one could either use the Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara-Kasese route or Kampala-Mityana-Mubende-Fort Portal and then connect to Nyakalegija where the park headquarters are found.
The Kampala-Fort Portal-Rwnezori area route is about 300kms and 6 hours’ drive while the Kampala-Kasese-Rwenzori area one is 350km and 7 hours’ drive, therefore travellers are recommended to use the Kampala-Fort Portal route because it is shorter and less congested with traffic.
Hiking Rwenzori Mountain
Rwenzori is a very challenging range to climb or trek as only hundreds of people climb the mountain to its peak in a year. However, about 7500 travellers dare to hike the ranges but most of them go for short expeditions that do not get to the highest peaks. Mount Rwenzori is the third highest mountain in Africa with its highest peak (Margherita) towering at 5109m above sea level. Hiking the snow-capped Rwenzori ranges is an adventurous and exciting experience.
The hiker gets an opportunity to encounter the eye-catching high glaciers, the heather with its hanging bearded lichens and the valley with numerous lakes settling. More to that are the rocky cliffs and crags to stand on as a traveller gets a wider view of the world.
The countless flora and fauna as a tourist trek through the different vegetation designed on the different elevation stages of the ranges creates an exciting moment for the hike. This is a hike that is out of this world with pristine and perfect ecosystems to encounter.
Three pronounced hiking trails enable the hikers to fully explore and discover the Rwenzori Mountains.
The central circuit trail is the most popular one and this is within the part of Rwenzori which was gazetted as the national park. This route starts from the Nykalengeija 22km away from Kasese off Fort Portal road. As you ascend away from the grounds, you get to Nyabitaba hut and here you meet the cultivation lawns of the local people on the Rwenzori ranges.
When you get further up, you encounter the heather vegetation and Bujuku River through the forests to john matte. On this route, the hikers get to the big bog where they get socked in the mud and also have a breathtaking view setting at Lake Bujuku of mount Speke, Stanley and baker. The highest peak on this trail is the scot Elliot at an altitude of about 4300m. At this peak, you feel you have conquered your fear and the whole world is at your feet. This takes around 7-8 days to complete the hike. This is managed by the Rwenzori mountaineering services (RMS)
The Kilembe is the longest and oldest trail of the three. Its creation dates back to when professor Scott Elliot ascended the Nyamwamba valleys in the 1880s. This offers hiking of the ranges with a combination of trails on Nyamwamba, Kasusoni and Nyamugasani river valleys.
This is the most exciting and adventurous trail of all three because it enables a climber to experience the incredible heather forests and groundsel. The hike on this trail takes around nine to ten days. This route is managed by Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS).
The Lake Mahoma trail is the newest trail which was developed in 2012. This is also an alternative shorter route to the central circuit trail. This kicks off from Nyakalengeija just like the central circuit but it takes a different direction to Lake Mahoma. This route is managed by the Uganda wildlife authority in conjunction with Rwenzori mountaineering services (RMS).
Tips of hiking the Rwenzori Mountains
Best Time to Hike the Rwenzori
The dry months of the year are the best time for hiking Rwenzori in Uganda. Therefore, two peak seasons of trekking the magnificent ranges are naturally designed. These are the June-October months and from December–February, this is when the routes leading to the peak destinations are dry and passible and also when the sun is out perfect to visibly see the different wildlife species and also other physical features like the glaciers and cliffs.
It is also possible to trek the Rwenzori in the wet months of November, December, April and May unlike in the past when the hiking amenities on the ranges i.e. the accommodation huts, the trekking paths and hiking equipment were less developed. As of now, the aforementioned have been improved and also well-skilled guides are in place.
However, sometimes the hikers find it a challenge to climb the Rwenzori in the wet season due to the sloppy, slippery and muddy trails when it rains.
What to pack for the hike?
Since hiking Rwenzori Mountain is an extensive activity with the energy being drained and also spending days engaging in the activity, there are specific tools and items a hiker needs to have to enhance him/her to complete the task. Below are some of the things to pack for a Rwenzori hike:
Clothing: a hiker is required to carry both light and heavy layer clothes for the hike because there is always changing climatic condition- the low part of the ranges are hot and the upper part is extremely cold since it is snowcapped. The temperatures can go as low as 0°C. It is advisable to carry waterproof clothes like tracksuits and the jackets should not be forgotten. Gears like beanies, caps and headlamps should also be carried.
Footwear: the shoes should be hiking boots with enough studs on them to give a hiker enough grip of the ground while trekking on the trails.
Foodstuff. Since it takes days to complete the hiking of the Rwenzori and it is energy-draining, you need to carry drinking water, energy drinks, canned and dry foods and also snacks like biscuits to eat to compensate for the burnt calories.
Backpack and sleeping bags: the hiker should have a perfectly sized backpack to carry his/her equipment and also be convenient to carry. The sleeping bags must be at hand and this should be rainproof. A woollen blanket for covering yourself since it is cold at the Rwenzori.
Other accessories: there are some things that a person on an adventurous expedition must possess to make the adventure both convenient and interesting. Things like a camera, insect repellents, sunglasses, a portable music player and a torch.
Is it safe to climb the Rwenzori?
Hiking the Rwenzori ranges is safe. Its records of the past hikers reveal that it is safe since there are fewer cases of people dying or getting ill from climbing it.
The accommodation facilities like the huts and the rock shelters are well set up in that the adverse climate does not affect people while sleeping at night.
The guides are well trained and also have the basic skills and tool for first aid treatment in case a person get a health problem. The guides also offer a briefing to the trekkers on how to hiker the mountains with maximum safety.
The trek trails leading to the ranges are well established with minimum sloppiness and slipperiness.
Trekking Rwenzori has risk expectations so it is so vital that a hiker gets enough insurance that can cover for his/her expenses of the injuries in case of any unforeseen calamities. Bear in mind, most travel insurance policies do not cater for high altitude risks.
Where to stay at the Rwenzori Mountains National Park?
Safari lodges around Mountain Rwenzori ranges from Budget, standard and luxury facilities. The obligation is on the traveller to choose the best lodge to stay.
This is a standard hotel situated at the base of Rwenzori mountains close to Kasese town. It is perfect for travellers who wish to visit both Mountain Rwenzori National park and Queen Elizabeth national park. it has self-contained rooms which offer single, double and twin occupancy. The hotel has an exquisite restaurant with tasty meals and a fully stocked bar. Other facilities to enjoy at the hotel include; the conference hall, children playground, the green gardens and an 18-hole golf course.
Mariana tourist hotel
Mariana Tourists hotel is stationed in between Mountain Rwenzori and Queen Elizabeth national park, at a hill close to lake George. It is a budget accommodation with self-contained double and single rooms. It also offers camping for travellers who wish to have an adventurous night. It has very beautiful scenery, outside it, the residents can sight the snowcapped Mountain Rwenzori, the savannah plains of Queen Elizabeth national park and the still waters of Lake George.
Ruboni community camp
Located at the foothills of Rwenzori, the Ruboni community Camp is an eco safari lodge for middle-class travellers. It has self-contained cabins and bandas and non-self-contained rooms with shared bathrooms and toilets. It has a family self-contained room which can accommodate a maximum of 4 people. Its restaurant offers both local and international cuisines and the bar is also a great place to be. Due to its proximity, it is a perfect place to start your safari activities especially hiking the Rwenzori ranges and visiting the local villages.
Equator snow lodge
This is a luxury lodge situated at the base of the Rwenzori mountains. It is one of the most popular and the best lodges to stay in for high-end travellers. It has all the luxurious facilities and services one would wish for.
Mihunga safari lodge
This is a popular accommodation facility around Mountain Rwenzori owned and managed by Rwenzori Mountaineering services, one of the entities responsible for organising hiking tours around the mountain. The lodge has 5 wooden cottages with en suite bathrooms and flush toilets. Its restaurant provides both Ugandan foods and international dishes. This is the ideal place to start your hiking expedition at mountain Rwenzori because of its proximity.
White house hotel
The white house hotel is a budget accommodation close to the head offices of the Rwenzori Mountains in Kasese Town. The hotel is a large facility with 17 self-contained rooms. It has a great lounge and an internet café. The hotel staff are friendly and work driven.