Welcome to the Guide to Rwenzori Mountains National Park. The Rwenzori mountains have two hiking experiences: the low altitude and the High altitude. The low altitude treks won’t take you beyond 4,000 metres and typically last 2-4 days. High altitude treks take you to the peaks above 4,000 metres, and usually lasts between 4-12 days. The Rwenzoris can be visited as a standalone adventure, but they’re often combined with other destinations along Uganda’s south-west circuit like Kibaale forest national park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Most accommodation is under basic wooden hurts which have been constructed alone the hiking trails. Each of the huts have been fitted with bunk beds and a toilet. The Rwenzoris are home to Uganda’s highest point: Margherita Peak (5,109m) on Mount Stanley. If you want to summit Margherita Peak, you will need to spend a minimum of 7 days in the mountains. This is one of the most interesting mountain hikes you will ever do. It has its challenges but its part of what makes it interesting. 996 square kilometres of fantastical vegetation, lakes, rocky outcrops, cliffs, high glaciers and snow-capped peaks exist as a unique and mystical world into which you can escape.
The height of the peaks may not match taller mountains elsewhere in the world, the highest point – Mount Stanley’s Margherita Peak – is 5,109 metres (although this is still the 4th highest peak in Africa!). But their remote location, fluctuating weather conditions, startlingly diverse vegetation, remoteness, viewpoints and low visitor numbers combine to thrill adventurous trekkers looking for a very special experience. The Rwenzori national park where the mountains are found was gazzated as a national park in the year 1991 and then it was declared a world Heritage site in 1994 and then a Ramsar site in 2008. These classifications testify to the mountains’ international scientific importance. The word ‘Rwenzori’ roughly translates as ‘Rainmaker’, which clearly illustrates the importance of the mountains to Central Africa.
The Rwenzori mountains receive about 3meters of rainfall a year which makes it a really wet atmosphere. This makes the lower slopes lush with vegetation and the higher reaches covered in snow and ice. Although the glaciers have retreated massively over the last hundred years due to climate change, climbers in the wet season months will still have to navigate ice walls and significant snowfall to reach the peaks.
Your fitness levels should well be above average as the Rwenzori mountains have to be explored on foot and it can be draining most times. Margherita Peak has recently been reclassified as a technical climb and although you don’t need to be an expert climber in winter conditions, some experience is recommended. A good variety of treks, from one to twelve days, are available to suit different interests from ‘peak baggers’ to birders keen to trace the region’s endemic species. Routes can also be extended where necessary for private groups to provide more opportunity to acclimatise to the altitude or to simply enjoy the peace, seclusion and beauty of the mountains.
There are two routes that can lead you to the summit of the Rwenzori Mountains: the Central Circuit out of Nyakalengija and the Southern Circuit out of Kilembe. While the Southern Circuit was the route first followed (largely) by Professor Scott Elliott in 1895, it is the central circuit, pioneered by Luigi di Savoia in 1906, that for many years provided the only access to the mountains. Most of the tour companies including us prefer to do the southern Circuit. This is because it provides the most intense and impressive experience of almost unbelievable landscapes. The southern circuit also has some longer routes that benefit acclimatisation (and the overall experience).
Like other popular hiking destinations in the world and Africa specifically, the Rwenzoris are a mountain range, which means there are a number of different routes to choose from. One of the benefits of trekking in the Rwenzoris is that the routes are typically longer than many other high-altitude treks like Kilimanjaro – this means you have longer to acclimatize and the risk of altitude sickness is reduced. Trekking the Rwenzoris usually takes between 2 to 12 days. Contact us to find a favorable trekking program for your Uganda Adventure.
The guide to Rwenzori Mountains National Park are closely monitored on how to manage mountaineering programs and are trained about how to effectively hike iced mountains. They are trained in mountain first aid and so are able to spot and respond to the first signs of altitude sickness. Rescue procedures are practised and reviewed regularly. Equipment is well-maintained and frequently checked.
$5 from the cost of each climb goes towards local development projects, contributing over the years to the construction of community trails outside the national park, spreading the potential benefit of tourism, and constructing school classrooms in multiple locations
The southern circuit which s also known as the Kilembe southern Circuit s accessed through Kasese area. The best place to begin and end a trek is the Rwenzori Trekkers Hostel in Kyanjuki Village, 12km from Kasese. A well renovated former copper mine building, the hostel overlooks the deep Nyamwamba river valley and has amazing views of the Rwenzori Mountains. Situated at 1,450 metre, it also has a lovely climate even in the January and February.
Another popular option before the trek is to stay at Sandton Hotel in Kasese, and then transfer to Kilembe the following morning. Upon arrival, you will have a briefing with your guides before beginning the trek to Sine Camp.
The accommodation is usually the specially constructed wooden huts and this is usually to keep warm during the trail and for storing equipment required on different sections of the trail. The treks are fully catered, using as much fresh produce as possible, whilst also meeting the energy and hydration needs of high-altitude trekking.
Born of tectonic plate movement about three million years ago when ancient gneissic, quartzite and other crystalline rocks were forced up from the base of the Albertine Rift, the Rwenzoris are a 120 kilometre long, 65 kilometre wide mountain range running along the border with the DRC north of Lake Edward. Unlike free-standing volcanoes like Mounts Kilimanjaro and Kenya, the Rwenzoris are formed from uplifted rock squeezed by tectonic plate movement in the late Pliocene era. They are therefore the largest mountain range in Africa.
Mountain Rwenzori ranges are made up of six mountains and despite being located just north of the equator, the three highest – Mount Stanley (5,109m), Mount Speke (4,890m) and Mount Baker (4,843m) all have permanent snow and glaciers. The mountains receive over 3 metres of rainfall a year. This sustains the snow and the mud-bound trails, but it also is responsible for over 20 lakes throughout the national park. In particular, in the Nyamwamba Valley, ascended by the Kilembe Trail, dams created by glacial moraine have created a string of eight truly beautiful lakes. Water also flows from the mountains in a network of rivers and streams, sustaining life across a vast area in the plains below.
Trekking the Rwenzori Maountains will take you to different altitude zones and therefore different types of Vegetation. There are 5 major vegetation belts in the Rwenzoris:
The Afro-montane forest covers the slopes between 1,800m and 2,500m and has the most variety. Large established trees push to establish a canopy, whose breaks are filled by dense thickets. From 2,500m to 3,000m dense forest gives way to bamboo stands, leaves cover the ground in a dense litter and the flowers emerge only once every 30 years.
Above this, until 4,000m, you enter the heather zone. Sphagnum moss and usnea beard lichens pervade and the ground is stabbed with coral pink orchids. Bog-wet valley bottoms are populated by large tussocks. Above 4,000m the alpine zone hosts giant groundsel, Senecio adnivalis and the torch lobelia, Lobelia wollastonii. After 4,300m the vegetation begins to thin out until nothing grows except moss, lichen and a few ‘Everlasting’ plants. The plants found above 3,800m are members of some of the world’s rarest botanical communities.
The easiest you can access the Rwenzori ranges is through the Kasese area. Kasese is easily accessible by air from Entebbe with daily flights taking just over an hour. Alternatively, the road journey from Entebbe/Kampala, via Fort Portal takes 6-8 hours. You can also reach Kasese by flight from Entebbe. The flights depart Entebbe at 7am and 12:30pm daily, and line up well with hike departures. The return flight leaves Kasese at 10:45am and 2:45pm daily. The flight time is about 1 hour.
When you book with us, all transfers can be arranged for you.
Treks in the Rwenzoris begin at Trekkers Hostel. The treks begin with an 8:00am briefing from the guides. The hostel is 12km from Kasese (30-40 minutes by road). If coming up from Queen Elizabeth National Park, the journey takes about an hour. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west corner of Uganda (home to the mountain gorillas) is about a six-hour drive. Guide to Rwenzori Mountains National Park
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