Rwenzori Mountains National is located in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border surrounded by Queen Elizabeth, Semliki, and Kibale Forest national parks under the rift valley skies. The park has the highest point in Uganda and the third highest point in Africa with snow despite being equator crossed. The foothills of the mountain are covered with moorland, bamboo, and moist montane forest. The mountains on the Uganda side are under the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site due to its unique wildlife. Unfortunately, due to global warming, the snow has shrunk.
The high Rwenzori comprises several mountains with permanent snow and glaciers despite being a few miles north of the Equator. The highest is Margherita peak on Mounts Stanley (5,109m). Others are Speke (4,890m) and Baker (4,843m).
The park gives protection and conserves the highest point, rare plants and animal life found in the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range which are composed of 70 species of mammals and 217 species of bird that include including 19 Albertine Rift endemics, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.
Mt Rwenzori offers one of the classic mountaineering destinations in Africa and East African region that takes nine- to twelve-day treks to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak. Shorter and non-technical treks are possible to scale other surrounding peaks.
Three routes ascend and descend to the high Rwenzori. The mountaineering services are offered by two companies Rwenzori Trekking services (RTS) and Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS). RTS operates the trail from Kilembe which takes a nine-day trek to Summit Mount Stanley and a shorter six-day option to the more accessible and scenic Mt. Luigi da Savoia. Rwenzori Mountaineering services runs the central circuit from Nyakalengija that summits and descends Mount Stanley in 7 days. Climbing the mountain is best during the drier months of January, June and July. The highest peaks on Rwenzori can all be climbed. Trekkers walk daily to designated camps and resting areas until they summit the 5109m mountain.
The hike through the forest introduces the trekkers to stunning views of lakes and wildlife. The park has a collection of lakes and species of wildlife that survive in high altitudes. Six of the 70 species of mammals here are endemic to the Albertine rift valley region and four are endemic to the park. Elephant, Angola and black-and-white colobus monkey varieties, blue monkeys, chimpanzees, bushbucks and reptiles like the Rwenzori three-horned chameleon. Wildlife is difficult to spot in the dense forest but with the help of rangers and keen search the forests can be rewarding.
Rwenzori is known for its unique flora. Hikers go through a series of altitudinal vegetation zones; Montane forest, bamboo, tree heathers and afro-alpine. Rwenzori has one of the world’s natural botanical areas that is limited to Mountains above 3800m in East Africa. The glacier-carved and mist valleys of the mountain form a beautiful and unique botanical world groundsel, heathers, everlasting flowers, colored mosses and trees draped with lichen.
There are over 20 lakes in Rwenzori Mountains National Park with the most accessible being Mahoma (2,651m) in the bird-rich forest of the Central Circuit. The famous Lake Bujuku is at the start of the glacier carved Bujuku valley in the sides of Mount Stanley, Baker and Speke. The Nyamwamba Valley, which is ascended by the Kilembe Trail, has dams created by glacial moraine creating a string of eight delightful lakes. A number of rivers and streams flow from the mountain, forming lifelines for the Flora and flora in the flood plains and supporting local communities and there is belief that the source of the Nile starts from the Rwenzori’s as the waters flow to Katonga River that pours into Lake Victoria.
Rwenzori hosts 217 bird species with Albertine Rift endemics. 17 species of these are endemic to the Rwenzori making it an important birding area (IBA) in the country. From 1800m birders can encounter a diversity of bird species like the Rwenzori Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, Long-eared Owl, Handsome Francolin, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Archers’ Robin-chat, , Golden-winged Sunbird, Strange Weaver and several varieties of Barbets, Greenbuls, Apalises, Illadopsis, Flycatchers and Crimson wing, Rwenzori Batis, Montane Sooty Boubou, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Slender-billed Starling, White-starred Robin Blue-headed Sunbird, Bee-eaters, robins, and barbets.
People and Culture.
A walk through the communities of Bakonzo villagers in the foothills of the Rwenzori’s takes visitors through the daily activities, as the locals attend to their animals and crops, to prepare meals with local ingredients. Enjoy cultural dances, traditional costumes and fascinating folklore. Bulemba protects the remains of Rwenzururu Kingdom’s first King, Isaiah Mukirania Kibanzanga, who the locals believe to have saved them from the Batooro oppression. Every 2nd September, the Bakonzo attend the pilgrimage to this site to make sacrifices and luck travelers can get to encounter them.
There are various paths of different length that are designated for walks in and around Rwenzori. These are operated by Uganda Wildlife Authority and some by communities like Ruboni. The most scenic trail is on the central circuit that goes above 3000m to Lake Mahooma. While on these walks visitors should keep keen eyes and scan the environment for primates like the Vervet monkeys, the famous Rwenzori three-horned chameleon, squirrels among the small details in the park that are not usually highlighted.
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