The rift valley seismic action ages ago created a mountain range that captured the attention of explorers old and new. Today, this mountain range – tipped with three snow-covered peaks – is the third highest on the African continent. A myriad collection of flora and fauna have adhered to the ranges and surroundings, making for a richly diverse make-up of life.
Welcome to the Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
Gazetted as such in 1991, the national park attained World Heritage status three years later in 1994. The mountainous range is 110 km by 50 km with Mt. Stanley standing out and reaching far into the sky. Its Margherita (5,109 meters), Alexandria (5,083 meters) and Albert (5,087 meters) peaks deservedly give it the right to bear its ‘Mountains of the Moon’ moniker.
Apart from merely looking at the marvel that is these non-volcanic ranges stretching into the sky, the national park also boasts a variety of attractions that should more than tickle your fancy.
What attractions does Rwenzori Mountains National park have to offer?
For a large number of visitors, hiking and scaling the famed mountains of the moon is a great accomplishment. The park offers a gruelling 7-day circuitous route via the Central Circuit Trail to the peak of the mountain. However, the experience and the view from the peak makes it worth the exertion.
There’s also a secondary route that attacks the mountain from the south via Kilembe. This route offers breathtaking views of glacial lakes nestled in the valleys around Mt. Baker and Mt. Stanley before reconnecting to the Central Circuit Trail.
The Rwenzori National Park boasts a natural catalogue of 217 species of birds, with 19 of these endemic to the Albertine rift area. For the ardent birder, this is an attraction you needn’t resist. Train your binoculars and lenses skyward to capture the colorful majesty of the Rwenzori turaco.
Birders also have various opportunities to add to their life lists with sightings of the rare Montane Sooty Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Slender-billed Starling, Handsome Francolin, Archer’s Ground Robin as well as other birds that have made a home in the shadow of this commanding mountainous range.
The Rwenzori mountains are also home to more than just beautiful and rare winged creatures. Take in the wondrous beauty of 70 mammalian species including but not limited to the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, Chimpanzee and the more elusive Rwenzori Otter and the beautifully-patterned Leopard.
During your trek through the thinner air 3000 meters above sea level, you might also lay eyes on the rare Three-Horned Chameleon that is unique to the Rwenzori slopes.
While the Rwenzori mountains have the starkly unique fauna that might command the focus of your camera shots, it is the flora that is heralded for its extensive contribution to the biodiversity of the area. With every meter or foot that you ascend towards the snow-covered peaks, the vegetation lets you know that you are in a different albeit beautiful world.
Onto these Albertine slopes, Mother Nature weaves a unique tapestry of varying types of vegetation that includes heavy tropical rainforest at the bottom. Past the 2500m mark, you encounter the bamboo zone which, at 3000m up the mountain, meshes with a vegetation zone composed of Erica Heather, Rapanea and eye-catching Giant Lobelia.
Unique to the high East African mountains, the giant lobelia alone is an attraction that warrants a visit to the Rwenzori Mountain National Park.
Culture and community
Perhaps the most important and memorable part of a visit to the national park is to partake in the culture of the tribal community that made a home at the base of this iconic mountain. The Bakonzo tribe have called the foothills of the Rwenzori mountain home for the better part of a half-century.
Experience their culture by embarking on the cultural trail from the Ruboni Community Camp. You’ll witness and participate in the daily activities of the local folk including farming and preparation of local delicacies.
It’s not all work, though. There is plenty of entertainment as the Bakonzo turn on their charm through traditional dances and percussion instruments as well as a display of their mastery of the art of blacksmithing, basket weaving and storytelling.
On the books is a visit to the grass-thatched Bulemba Museum that houses the royal regalia of the first Rwenzururu king that got his people through civil turmoil. The museum also contains other culturally significant vestments and handicrafts.
Mark B. Mugaanyi has spent the last 10 years crafting content on a variety of topics including health, auto, technology and startups. Away from pounding on the QWERTY, he enjoys getting engrossed in a thick tome or getting first downs on Madden. To learn more about Mark’s freelance writing services, reach out here.