The less known Rwenzori Mountains National Park has the highest mountain ranges in Africa. Its highest point lies at 5109m above sea level on Mt Stanley’s Margherita Peak which is the third highest in Africa. It lies astride the equator with six peaks and three of these i.e. Mt Stanley, Mt Baker and Mount Speke are permanently covered with snow. The park covers an area of 996 km2. . It was recognized as a UNESCO world Heritage site in 1994 and was listed by world geographic among the best hikes in the world. It lies in western Uganda about 6 hours’ drive from Kampala.
Rwenzori is known as ‘mountains of the moon’ a name given to it by Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in AD 150. Locally known as Ruwenzori, is translated as “rain maker” or “cloud-king.” The Rwenzori is not volcanic like East Africa’s other major mountains but is a block of rock faulted through the floor of the western Rift valley. The hike will take you through varied vegetation covers which include montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heath, hagenia-rapanea scrub and afro-alpine moorland.
Margherita Peak on Rwenzori Mountains
Margherita Peak Africa’s third highest peak in the world. The climb to Magherita Peak will take everything within you and the weather better cooperates with you. The journey to the peak is breathtaking as you pass various beauty points of forests, valleys, flora diversity, scenery of the mountains, streams of water and various lakes. You will also enjoy the various bird species, several primates like the chimps.
Transfer to Rwenzori Mountains National park
Today you will be transferred to Kasese and continue to the foothills of the Mountains of Moon – the Rwenzori mountains. You will have time to rest and prepare to start your trek tomorrow.
Hike to Sine Hut or Kalalama Camp
Start at Trekkers at 1,450 meters and sleep at Sine Hut at 2,596 meters being a height gain of 1,146 meters, or those who are fit and want to proceed to Kalalama Camp at 3,134 metres may do so and apart from the fantastic views gives you more time at Mutinda Camp where you may climb up to Mutinda Lookout at 3,975 metres.
There are wooden huts set between tall forest trees on a narrow ridge where you may sit and enjoy the beauty of the Afro Montane forest while you look down at a fantastic waterfall crashing over the rocks far below. This place is also rich with bird species being below the bamboo zone. Enjoy the waterfalls that are about 150 metres from the camp.
Hike to Mutinda Camp
Trekking starts at 8.30am and almost immediately you enter the Bamboo Zone which is steep climb with many high steps. In the wet season the bamboo zone is rather muddy and slippery making the going slow. However the atmosphere and the forest is beautiful as you climb 551 metres altitude and a distance of 1.8 km to Kalalama Camp at 3,147 meters which is in the Heather-Rapanea Zone where you can take a rest and a quick cup of tea or coffee before heading on to Mutinda Camp.
In the afternoon you may wish to climb up to the top of the Mutinda Lookout (one to two hours up and one hour down) the views are amazing as you stand on moss covered rocks at 3,925 meters with views across the Rwenzori Mountains and down to Kasese town and Lake George. For those clients who are climbing to Margherita or any of the main peaks climbing Mutinda 3,975 meters is also an excellent way to acclimatize and reduce the risk of high altitude sickness.
Hike to Bugata Camp at 4100 metres
The trail to Bugata Camp is boggy particularly in the wet season but with a little skill you make it. First you cross the Mutinda valley through the grass and everlasting flowers interspersed with many Giant Lobelias before climbing a steep section up to the Namusangi Valley (3,840 meters). The Namusangi Valley is wide, with many ups and downs as the trail climbs steadily to Bugata Camp at 4,100 metres.
Hike to Hun wick’s Camp
As you leave Bugata Camp you pass up a ridge then drop down slightly before ascending to Bamwanjara Pass at 4,450 meters where we have a hut should the weather turn bad. Here is possibly the best place in all the Rwenzori to observe the Malachite Sunbird as it feeds on the many lobelia flowers and a known breeding site. Farther on there is some steep sections before a steady climb up and over a ridge to Hun wick’s Camp which is situated on the top of a deep valley with good views of Mt Stanley, Mt Baker, Weismanns Peak and McConnell’s Prong.
Hike to Margherita Camp
Today you start the hike to the Margherita Camp at 4485 metres situated between some huge rocks and offering some shelter from the strong winds. You will move past Lake Kitandara which is very stunning with deep water and beautiful vegetation.
Wake up at 2am and catch an early breakfast before heading off to climb Mt Stanley at 2.30am. This is necessary as the weather has changed a lot and often even during the dryer season the mountain is closed in with heavy clouds and snow falls from 1 pm to 4pm and this happens within a short period of 10 to 15 minutes as the clouds rise up from the extensive Congo rain forests. Due to this change in weather we have set a strict turnaround time of 10am so if you do not reach the peak before then you must turn around regardless of the disappointment in the interests of safety. Margherita glacier has also suffered with global warming and as the outer edges of the glacier recede the ice is becoming steeper with one section of about 200 meters more than 60% grade. Combined with this much of the blacker has melted underneath causing caves under the ice and as it get thinner eventually caves in. So is it necessary that clients understand and take advice of where the guides suggest to pass.
For those clients with less mountaineering experience we suggest that you stay on Stanley glacier and climb up to a good vantage point on a rocky outcrop on the southern edge of Alexandra Peak to enjoy fantastic views over Congo and the lower mountain ridges
After ascending the peak at 5,109 metres you then pass directly down to Hun wick’s Camp at 3.874 metres.
Descend to Kiharo Camp
Distance to Kiharo Camp 11km Time taken to walk 4 to 7 hours. From Hun wick’s Camp we start the day by climbing up a ridge towards McConnell’s Prong where you get the best views of all three peaks and Scott Elliott’s Pass before reaching Oliver’s Pass at 4,505 metres. The trail then cuts across below Weismann’s Peak to the confluence of the Nyamwamba River which flows down thought Kilembe and Kasese to Lake George in Queen Elisabeth National Park.
After crossing the confluence the trail meanders down the valley to Kiharo Camp at which is situated in a deep valley with high cliffs and dense vegetation. On the way down the valley after each bog you will climb over a ridge of stones and earth which seems out of place but actually was pushed there by slow moving glaciers which eventually stopped moving, melted and left a pile of rocks and debris in front of where the glacier once stood.
Descend to the starting point and continue to your hotel
Distance Kiharo Camp to the park gate 12.2km. The trail down the Nyamwamba Valley is mostly downhill and absolutely stunning with beautiful views, moss covered rocks along the river, cascading waterfalls, deep valleys and forests are possibly the best in the Rwenzori Mountains.
A few kilometers from Kiharo Camp the path turns off to the right to pass along the river. In the clear areas you may catch a glimpse of a Duiker quietly feeding in small clearings as you pass along the river. If you wish you may prefer to walk down the river itself hopping across the rocks as you pass down.
COMBINED TOURS IN NATIONAL PARKS WITH RWENZORI HIKING
Semuliki National Park
The Semuliki National Park protects an extension of the Ituri forest in the Democratic republic of Congo. It is located in western Uganda on the floor of the Rwenzori Mountains. It is the only tract of true low land tropical forest in East Africa. It covers an area of 220km2 with altitude of 670m-760m above sea level. It is the only host of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa and contains features associated with Central Africa rather than Eastern Africa. River Semuliki is the international boundary between Uganda and DR Congo. The park is dominated by the eastern most extension of the Ituri forest of the Congo Basin. Semuliki National Park lies off the popular Uganda safari circuit and is thus one of the least visited parks in Uganda.
Activities in Semuliki National Park
Chimpanzee Trekking in Semuliki national park
The primate walk is in Toro – Semuliki wildlife reserve. You are briefed at the research camp and you walk towards Kijura observation point where you continue journey tracking the chimps. The trail can take between 4 – 6 hours as you follow the tracks of the chimps. The trail is exciting with several birds sighted along the way and occasionally Elephants, buffalos, and lion.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in Semuliki national park
Chimpanzee habituation is a full day’s activity available at Toro-Semuliki wildlife reserve. It is booked prior at Uganda Wildlife Authority where you receive permit and join the ranger guides with researchers. Here you join the researchers as they follow chimps from early morning as they leave their nests to lake evening when they get back to nesting. The idea is for chimps to be acquainted with human beings and eventually join the group that will be available for chimp tracking.
Bird watching in Semuliki national park
The park’s main attraction is bird watching because of its location in the Albertine rift valley, low land forest and its central African species. In fact, it hosts Central African bird species that you cannot find anywhere else in East Africa. Semuliki national park is home to 441 bird species, 46 of Guinea-Congo biome species found nowhere else in East Africa. The species to look out for include; Shoebill, dwarf honey guide, Yellow throated Cuckoo, yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue and Ross’s turaco, purple breasted sunbird, orange weaver, white crested hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, African Piculet, Swamp Palm Bulbul etc. The Shoebill is often sighted at Lake Albert while in the canoe birding. More areas for birdwatching in the park include – Sempaya, Ntandi, Kirumia trail, Semuliki River etc.
The Semuliki hot springs are a major attraction to various visitors to the park. The Bamba people use them for rituals as they communicate to their gods for blessings and protection. The walk to the male (named Bintente) and female (Nyasimbe) hot springs take you through the forest where you watch red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheekedmangabey, and black-and-white colobus monkeys jumping from tree branches in search of food. The ‘female’ hot springs have a boiling fountain at over 1000C. Often you have an opportunity to cook plantains and eggs in the boiling waters and consume them as you continue your trekking journey.
Nature and Hiking walks
Nature walks happen deep in the forest together with a ranger guide. There are majorly three trails to follow inside the park;
Red monkey trail – this 11 km long trail follows the park boundary to the east and ends up at the Semuliki River. You have chances of sighting the rare DeBrazza monkey.
Sempaya nature trail –This trail leads you to the Sempaya hot springs. The walk is through a patch of forest where you most likely to encounter black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabey. Along the trail to the male hot springs, you pass tree house where you view the abundant birdlife and beautiful scenery.
The Kirumia trail is 13 km is perfect for birders, it ends up at the Semuliki River and traverses the forest.
Community walks and Cultural experiences
The Batwa lived in the forest before it was made a national park. They now live on the boundaries of the park but often visit the forest in search of medicinal plants. They have demonstrations of how they lived in the forest from gathering food, hunting, tools of how they lived and survived in the forest. Enjoy the music and dance performances and remember to purchase handcrafts they make.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest and most popular game parks for Uganda safaris. It is found in South Western Uganda bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Park is home to variety of wildlife and boasts a range of attractions and interesting activities that make it truly gifted by nature.
The major highlights of a visit to the park are the scenic game drives that give you a chance to view even the most elusive of the park’s fauna. The thrilling drives which are best done during the morning hours feature up close viewing of the wildlife which inhabits the park in the comfort of a vehicle. Your driver guide knows the different trucks in the park intimately and will take you in search of the different wildlife.
During the game drives, you could spot an elephant, the largest land mammal skillfully using its trunk to feed, a lion preying on an antelope or a hyena patiently waiting to devour the lion’s leftovers from a distance. Different groups of animals like Buffalo herds and Uganda kobs traverse the game park all day long. Warthogs, leopards, the giant forest hog are among the others you are very likely to meet on your game drive.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s top birding spots. A haven to over 600 bird species, the enthusiastic bird watcher is in for a major delight at the park.
Some of the birds likely to grace your photographic memories include the; Sedge warbles, Papyrus canary, the martial eagle, Pink backed Pelican, Yellow throated Cuckoo, and the Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, all which inhabit the park’s expansive grasslands, forests and wetlands. Do not miss the flamingos found at the Katwe and Bunyampaba salt lakes.
BOAT TRIP/LAUNCH CRUISE
The boat trip/launch cruise which takes place on the Kazinga Channel, a long natural water channel linking Lake Edward to Lake George is an exhilarating event for the visitors at the park.
During the cruise, one gets to enjoy the various sights and sounds that the park’s rich aquatic life extravagantly offers. Besides the large hippopotamuses taking their dips in the waters, the fierce Nile crocodiles basking lazily on the channel banks for a feel of the warm sun are some of the lifetime experiences you will encounter on the cruise. Not to miss are the Pied Kingfishers attempting to grab a meal?
THE TREE CLIMBING LIONS OF ISHASHA
Not every day do you see a lion climbing a tree, in fact it was considered a safe bet to climb one if you ever found yourself being chased by one. Not while in Ishasha sector though, a region comprising a portion of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Here, lions perched up on acacia and fig trees are an enchanting sight to behold.
Whether it is for a better view of their surroundings including potential prey like the Uganda Kob that grazes in the vicinity, seeking the cool breeze in the trees or escaping the notorious bites from the tsetse flies on the ground below, the reason for the lions choosing residence up the trees remains an intriguing mystery.
The Ishasha sector where these lions are found is accessible on the journey to or from Bwindi Forest as one heads or returns from gorilla trekking in the forest. Besides the amazing tree climbing king of the jungle, the sector is also home to other animals such as herds of buffaloes, large numbers of elephants, warthogs and antelopes all which make for a memorable trip to the game park.
The Kyambura Gorge, also known as the Valley of Apes found in the Northern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to chimpanzees. The chimpanzees in Kyambura are habituated meaning they have been accustomed to human presence and this does not deter them from going on with their activities.
The underground rainforest in a gorge which makes for an excellent protection from the sunshine as one enjoys the immense beauty of nature hidden there in. You will experience lush savannah grasslands leading to the gorge, to the flowing rivers and creeks. Red tailed monkeys, baboons, butterflies and different bird species are among other inhabitants of this little paradise worth sighting besides Chimpanzees.
Besides the primates, the forest boasts great hiking trails upon which there is a lot to explore. While walking in the forest, look out for soldier ants as they have such a painful sting. Otherwise you are in for an exciting experience while trekking one of man’s closest primate relatives.
Conclusion, the 9-10days trek is physically demanding, and you must have a good level of fitness to complete it. The breath-taking views at Margherita Peak are worth the physical demands of the trek 100 times over. Uganda has lots of other attractions apart from mountain Rwenzori, in different national parks.