A Little Bit About Rwenzori Mountains
Situated just 33km north of the equator, the snow-capped “Mountains of the Moon” in Rwenzori Mountains National Park create a breathtaking landscape. Rising majestically along the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, these legendary mountains induce a sense of wonder and intrigue to all who visit –offering an African adventure safari like no other.
Tulambule is always looking for the most special and undiscovered places in Africa. Rwenzori in Uganda is absolutely on this list. It is Africa’s largest mountain range and have also been declared a World Heritage by UNESCO. The 120-kilometer long block mountain has special alpine vegetation such as Giant Lobelias, Giant Groundsels and beautiful everlasting flowers.
There are thundering rivers, cascading waterfalls, mountains lakes, rugged peaks and deep valleys. There are beautiful viewpoints over the valleys and you can even see the Congo in the distance. Rwenzori features 6 six peaks and its 3 highest peaks are all above 5000 m!
These peaks are adorned with a crown of ever-present snow and ice, defying their equatorial location and creating a unique alpine environment. Mount Stanley (also known as Mount Ngaliema) is the highest mountain of Rwenzoris and this is also where the highest peak (Margherita peak at 5109m) is located. Margherita is Africa’s 3rd highest point after Uhuru Peak (5,895m) on Kilimanjaro and Batian peak (5,199 m) on Mt Kenya – but is perhaps the most difficult to summit because of the very rugged nature of the terrain there.
Trips To Rwenzri Mountains National Park
History Of Rwenzori
Rwenzori Mountains was gazetted a national park in 1991 due to its unique biodiversity and the value of water flowing from its mountainsides. In 1994, UNESCO recognized the unique natural beauty and biodiversity of Rwenzori Mountain National Park and declared it a l World Heritage Site.
In 2008, Rwenzori was also named a Ramsar site of International Importance for its value in the protection of wetlands. The park currently conserves nearly 1,000km² of this unique and vulnerable region with its 5 unique vegetation zones and unparalleled levels of endemic species.
The Rwenzori Mountains area has been home to many diverse people and societies for millennia. All recorgnized the value of the water flowing from the peaks and held them sacred. The Bakonzo people even named the mountains “rainmaker”, a fitting name for what is one of Africa’s most essential water sources.
Ptolemy, the Greek-Egyptian geographer, astronomer, and mathematician, incorrectly identified the Rwenzoris as the source of River Nile, giving the range its charming nickname “Montes Lunae” or the “Mountains of the Moon”. Not until much later was the true source discovered at Lake Victoria in Uganda. Since becoming known outside of Africa, Rwenzori Mountains region has captivated the imaginations of adventurers, explorers and scientists globally, sparking expeditions to try and unravel the mysteries and secrets of this primeval wonder.
Activities To Do In Rwenzori Mountains Mountains National Park
Rwenzori offers many attractions catering to nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers, making for a truly unique African safari experience. Day trips and multi-day hikes, ranging from moderate to strenuous, allow visitors to immerse themselves in the grandeur of the mountains. The most popular trekking route is the Kilembe Trail, which allows adventurers to explore the mountains’ lower slopes and witness breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape without the exhilarating challenge of tackling the higher peaks.
1. Weismann Peak Ascent
To conquer Rwenzori’s Margherita peak, technical mountaineering experience is required. Weismann peak climbing is therefore a good alternative if you who want to discover the beautiful landscapes of the mountain range but do not want to do too difficult a trek to the top.
Weismann Peak is therefore the most popular option. It is a 5-day trek with 4 overnight stays in simple mountain camps or huts. There is professional guidance from guides, porters and the cook who prepares delicious and nutritious meals. With an acclimatization day, this trek has a good chance of reaching the top of Weismann’s peak, at an altitude of 4620 m. It is an adventurous experience you will never forget and completely off the beaten track
2. Margherita Peak Ascent
Braving the Rwenzori Mountains and reaching the highest peak, Margherita peak is possibly the most challenging and technical climb you can undertake in Africa.
This is also the highest point in Uganda at 5109 meters above sea level and the third highest point in Africa. It is usually an 8-day trek to the top with 7 nights on the mountain in simple mountain huts. There is professional guidance from certified mountain guides and you use complete climbing equipment.
We recommend the acclimatization to Mutinda lookout point so that you can better acclimatize to brave the high altitudes of the Mountains of the Moon. Afterwards you can proudly say that you have climbed Africa’s tallest mountain range and few other people can say that!
3. Day Trip in Rwenzori Mountains
If time is a challenge, a day trip with a trained and knowledgeable guide will take you along trails offering insights into the region’s unique ecology, while pointing out endemic plant species, identifying bird calls and revealing the cultural charm of the area. The hikes can take about six hours and a tasty lunch will be provided along the way.
4. Birding In Rwenzori Mountains
Rwenzori Mountains National Park montane forest zone boasts 17 of the 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species, but they will take hard work and possibly a little luck to find. Keep an eye out for the handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, strange weaver, Rwenzori nightjar, barred long-tailed cuckoo, Cassin’s hawk eagle, Shelley’s crimsonwing and purple-breasted sunbird, blue-headed sunbird and Rwenzori double-collared sunbird.
You can hire a good guide to help you spot these species, which can be frustratingly elusive. Carry a pair of binoculars, as the low-light forest viewing conditions can make viewing difficult.
4. Cultural Activities
Rwenzori Mountains offers opportunities for cultural experiences with one of the local tribes living at the foot of the mountains. Visitors can go and visit the Ruboni Village to learn about the daily lifestyle of the Bakonzo People. Here, they can participate in cultural activities, such as traditional dances, storytelling sessions which helps to gain a deeper appreciation for the region’s heritage while contributing to the livelihoods of the people who protect this environment.
Rwenzori Mountains Trekking/Climbing Difficulty Level
Rwenzoris multi-day treks are difficult, typically because the landscape can be very wet and the trails are steep. The Margherita Peak is a very technical climb that requires a lot of experience.
You will be accompanied by English-speaking mountain guides and several porters will accompany you to carry your luggage and other goods. En route, you will sleep in simple mountain huts and tasty hot meals will be served. Anyone who climbs the mountain peaks can suffer from altitude sickness; Top fit or untrained, it is impossible to estimate in advance how the body will react to the altitude.
Every expedition member will feel the altitude in one way or another and the most important way to combat altitude sickness is to acclimatize properly (getting the body used to the altitude). During the Weismann peak climb there is a possibility of an acclimatization day and also during the Margherita climb. Let our Uganda experts advise you to ensure the best chance of success.
Rwenzori's Unique Vegetation Zones Plants and Wildlife Viewing
A visit to Rwenzori Mountains region will richly reward you with sightings and experiences beyond your expectations. Your trek up these “rainmaker mountains” will take you gradually through 5 unique vegetation zones, from grassland to the surreal afro-alpine landscape and on to equatorial glaciers.
This diversity of habitats is rewarding but naturally yields “specials” found nowhere else. Regardless of your passion, you will find yourself marvelling at far more than you thought you might have should you embark on a trip to the Rwenzori Mountains National Park for your next African safari.
1. Early stages - 2,500 meters
The early stages of Rwenzori Mountains trek introduce you to the rural lowland surroundings of vanilla banana and coffee plantations. At around 2,500 meters, these quickly give way to shady and often misty montane rainforests with moss-covered trees, closed canopies, streams and waterfalls.
This is a good place to scan for some of the elusive forest specials Rwenzori Mountains National Park is known for. If you are quiet and fortunate, you may see the Rwenzori red duiker on the forest floor. At the same time, up in the forest canopy, Rwenzori colobus monkeys and blue monkeys and an intriguing diversity of special forest birds await. And keen-eyed can see the prehistoric and somewhat comical-looking Rwenzori three-horned chameleon.
2. At 3,000 meters
At around 3,000 meters, hikers enter a peculiar and dark zone of giant bamboo grasses up to 30m tall, which will obscure the sky as if nature is covering one’s eyes for the surprise to come. Soon, a moor and heather wonderland is exposed as the equatorial peaks appear above.
3. Above 4,000 meters
The real wonders of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park start above 4,000 meters, where botanical wonders, which evolved in isolation over 1,000,000 of years, can be found.
This is the afro-alpine zone – possibly the most bizarre part of this mountain world. Masked in mountain mists and unreachable due to the challenging landscape, the region has been a refuge for plant life undergoing perilous evolutionary journeys. This isolation has enabled plants to evolve uniquely, adapting to the extreme conditions and carving out their niche in this montane ecosystem.
The extraordinary giants of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park are a testament to the power of adaptation and the bizarre wonders nature can create. Enchanting giant lobelias stand tall, like sentinels, along the rugged slopes. These are among the most iconic plant species of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, reaching staggering heights of up to 10m, making them true botanical giants.
Sharing their lofty habitat are giant groundsels, another botanical marvel of the Rwenzori Mountains. With their woody stems and tufts of silver-grey leaves, they seem to belong to a different era altogether. The groundsels bloom with clusters of bright yellow flowers that attract a myriad of insects, adding life to this surreal environment.
4. Moonscape - 5000 meters
This last stretch of your Rwenzori Mountains climb brings you to fields of ice and rock. Climbing over 5000m (16,400ft) you will need to pace yourself as the oxygen deplete.
Where To Stay around Rwenzori Mountains National Park?
Touring Rwenzori Mountains National Park is an exciting adventure with a range of accommodation options to suit your preference, from campsites to comfortable lodges. The nearby Kasese town offers a convenient base for trekkers, offering hotels and guesthouses for those seeking a more urban experience.
Staying in the national park or its vicinity allows visitors to savour the tranquility of the mountains and embrace the soul-stirring beauty of this unique destination. Nyakalengija Park headquarters and campsite is an excellent place to begin your trip. Register at the park office, obtain the necessary permits, and meet your experienced local guides and porters who will accompany you throughout your journey. Kilembe Base Camp also offers accommodations for hikers and provides basic facilities while also being a convenient starting point for that hiking route.