A complete guide to the Rwenzori Mountains  

The Rwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the Moon) also most popular as the Rwenzori Mountain range is a block mountain with 6 mountain ranges. The Rwenzori Mountains are the 3rd highest mountains in Africa. They follow Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro respectively.

The Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley stands at an elevation of 5109 meters above sea level. This is one of the best peaks enjoyed by hikers on a Rwenzori hiking tour.

Where is Rwenzori Mountain located?

Mountain Rwenzori is located in western Uganda covering the districts of Kasese, Kabarole, Ntoroko, and Bundibugyo. The Rwenzori Mountains also cover some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It stretches to some parts of the Virunga Mountains. Mount Rwenzori was formed when the Precambrian basement rocks uplifted in the middle tertiary which is slightly different from the formation of most volcanic mountains. The highest peak of Mount Rwenzori features snowfields and glaciers.

The 6 major peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains

The Rwenzori Mountains trekking safaris entirely involve conquering any of the 6 Chain Mountains. They include; Mount Gessi (4715m), Mt. Baker (4844m), Mt. Speke (4890m), Mount Luigi da Savoia (4627m), and Mt. Emin (4971 m).

Margherita Peak (Mount Stanley)

Margherita is found on Mt. Stanley the highest point in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Margherita is ranked the 3rd highest point after the legendary Kilimanjaro Volcano in Tanzania. Neighboring it are other numerous peaks.

Mt. Speke

Mt. Speke is the second-highest peak on Mount Rwenzori, rising at an altitude of 4890 meters. Close to Mount Speke is the scenic Mt. Stanley.

Mt. Baker

Mount Baker (Kiyanja) lies on the Rwenzori Mountains just close to the Democratic Republic of Congo border. Mt. Baker rises at an elevation range of 4843 meters and makes up part of the highest mountain peaks.

Mt. Gessi

Mount Gessi makes up part of the highest peak on Mount Rwenzori. Mt. Gessi lies at an elevation of (4715 meters) and is Uganda’s 5th tallest mountain.

Mt. Luingi di Savora

Situated close to Margherita Peak, Mount Luigi di Savora (4627 meters) is Uganda’s sixth-highest mountain peak. On the summit of Mount Luingi di Savora lies a spectacular Sella peak and it is this mountain range that the Duke of Abruzzi didn’t attempt but he named it. The Duke of Abruzzi is one of the most famous mountaineers and during his mountaineering adventure journey, he made his first ascent to Mount St Elias in 1897 and K2 in Karakoram. During the Rwenzori Mountain hiking expedition, Abruzzi conquered all the Rwenzori peaks. Like most Rwenzori Mountain peaks, Mt. Luigi di Savoia lies on the ridge with different peaks like Sella, Stairs, and Weismann peaks.

Mount Emin

Rising at an elevation of 4798 meters, Mount Emin features narrow and rocky ridges. It is the fourth mountain range in the Rwenzori Mountains. It is free of snow but has 2 peaks; Umberto (1574ft) and Kraepelin (15720ft). The two peaks are situated between the Uganda and Congo border. Considering its position, hikers can access it from the Ugandan side or even from the DRC side. As you navigate to the peaks of Mount Emin, expect to pass through the Mugusu Valley, groundsel sheltered steep then descent to the path between the two peaks.

The Geology of the Rwenzori Mountains

Kilembe Hiking Trail

Mount Rwenzori is believed to have been formed approximately 3 million years ago. It formed when the black crystalline rocks such as granite, amphibolite, gneiss, and quartzite got uplifted. Mount Rwenzori is the world’s highest block mountain (non-volcanic, non-orogenic) mountains. The uplift divided the paleolake Obweruka forming 3 of the now African Great Lakes that is Lake Albert, Lake George, and Lake Edward. The Rwenzori Mountain range extends 120 kilometers long and measures about 65 kilometers in width.

The flora on Mount Rwenzori

The Rwenzori Mountains are most popular for their distinct vegetation zones. These range in varying zones/elevations including alpine meadows, alpine zones, bamboo zones, montane forests, and rock and glacier zones.

The savanna grassland zone (680-1800m)

The savanna grassland zone lies at an elevation range of 680 to 1800m. It features a diversity of plant species including shrubs, grass, and trees. This vegetation zone is dominated by grass species such as Penissetum, Cympopon Ibrism, and Imberata species. The shrubs and trees comprise combretum and acacia species.

Afro-montane forest zone (1800 to 2600m)

The afro-montane forest zone is composed of prunes Africana and podocarpus species. It also features some ferns and grasses.

Bamboo zone (2600-2900m)

At 2600-2900m, there exists a bamboo mixed forest complex. This features species such as sedges, shrubs, herbs, and grasses and a hike around this belt comes with a spectacular view.

Heather zone (3000 – 4000m)

The heather zone grows in poor soil areas. It dominates the top ridges, rocky and boggy ground. The heather zone features plants such as red and mauve balsam, disa stairs, impatiens rusorremsis, and others. In the valley areas, there exist huge bogs with sedges and carex rusorremsis.

The Afro-alpine moorland zones (4000 to 4500m)

As you ascend, the density of the Erica species decreases the abundance of the Afro-alpine trees like the lobelia, shrubs, and grass tussocks. The elevation range of 4000-4500m makes up the pure afro-alpine region and plant communities around this zone can be stunning. The Afro-alpine zone comprises plant species like the Tussock of grassland, dendrosenecio woodland, alchemilla shrub, curex bog, and helichrysum shrub.

Rocky or glacier zones (4500 to 5109m)

This zone features open and is dominated by lichens and mosses. These can be seen at the highest point of the Rwenzori mountains.

Climbing the Rwenzori Mountain ranges

Mountaineering is the prime experience that awaits every adventure seeker on the Uganda safari. If you are looking forward to an adventure in the Rwenzoris, there are several options for you to choose from. Following different trails, hiking Mountain Rwenzori is a rewarding experience. Some of these trails include; the Central Trail, the Kilembe Trails, and the Bukurungu Trail.

The Central circuit

The central trail is the most preferred hiking trail by hikers. It is managed by the locals who live adjacent to the Rwenzori Mountains and Kilembe trails. The central circuit ushers hikers through the scenic route as they conquer the Margherita. Some of the features to expect to encounter on the Rwenzori central circuit include scenic vegetation, and great views of Mount Baker, Stanley, and Speke. There are also higher chances of finding some birds and mammals. A complete trek through the Rwenzori Central Circuit trail requires at least 7-9 days. With a 9-day Rwenzori hiking expedition, you can reach the Margherita peaks and back.

Kilembe trail

Are you a passionate hiker and seeking the most challenging trail? You should consider hiking the Kilembe Trail. Its landscape is characterized by rough terrains and is ideal for experienced hikers/climbers. It holds features including rocky areas, pristine surroundings, rocky areas, and boggy. Hiking the Kilembe trails takes about 7 to 9 days. The hiking usually starts from 1450 meters above sea level. Hiking the Kilembe trails gives travelers a chance to enjoy scenic views of vegetation, physical features, and the surrounding areas.

Bukurungu trail

The Bukurungu trail is a preferred hiking trail for nature enthusiasts. It is most popular for its breathtaking scenery. Trekking through the Bukurungu trail allows you to explore about 4 scenic Lakes including Bujuku, Bukurungu, Mughuli, and Irene. There are also some rivers, scenic waterfalls, and lush vegetation. A complete trek along the Bukurungu trail can last you about 8 days for you to reach the Margherita peaks. Along the way, hikers can mainly go camping.

Packing list for Rwenzori Mountain hiking safaris

Packing for Rwenzori mountaineering adventures may differ from the way you pack for a normal African safari in the savanna park. Considering the nature of the adventure that awaits you in the Rwenzori Mountains, some of the essentials to include on your packing list include trekking poles, two long-sleeved shirts, waterproof pants, hiking socks, heavy fleece/down jacket, camp shoes, insulated wool gloves, trekking pants, and rain jacket.

The essentials for trekking include a ruffle bag for you to carry the gear, bottled water, trekking poles, crampons, ice axe, trekking towels, high energy giving snacks, headlamps, hiking ropes, a camera with additional batteries plus memory cards, water filter, sleeping bag, and waterproof daypack. The toiletries that you may require for Rwenzori Mountaineering include antibiotics, lip balm with sunscreen, sunscreen, face lotion, a portable power bank, a hairbrush, Diamox for altitude sickness, and a toothbrush.

Other essential toiletries include earplugs, wet wipes, anti-chafe balm, toilet papers, ibuprofen for emergencies like stomach upset, feminine hygiene products, and more. Important travel documents to carry for your Rwenzori Mountaineering adventure include valid visas, passports credit cards, etc.

Best time to go for Rwenzori Mountaineering

The dry months of the year are the best for visiting the Rwenzori Mountains for hiking/mountaineering adventures. The dry months to mark on your travel calendar as you plan your next mountaineering expedition to the Rwenzori Mountains run from June to August and December to February.

June to August and December to February are the most preferred months of the year and they guarantee hikers/climbers exceptional adventure. They experience low or no rainfall and the different hiking trails to Margherita Peak remain relatively dry making it easier to hike to the summits. The cold months of the year in the Rwenzori Mountains occur from March, April to May, and September, October to November. These are the wet or rainy months of the year and experience heavy rains. Hiking to the Rwenzori Mountain ranges at times is inconvenient when it starts raining.

Safety tips to follow during Rwenzori Mountaineering adventure

Hiking the Rwenzori Mountains requires extra care to avoid any chances of encountering any dangers during the trek. Check out our top safety tips and travel advice to follow on Rwenzori Mountaineering adventure;

  • First, consider acclimating yourself to the tough altitude. Note, that a complete trek through Mount Rwenzori requires you to be fit. You can begin with a gradual hike back to your home country or travel early and engage in exercises on the high terrain areas in Uganda.
  • During the guided trek, ensure that you observe the instructions as told by your guide.
  • Always be cautious about your surroundings to avoid any chances of encountering hazards.
  • During the trek, always consider taking regular breaks to allow your heart to settle or for you to have maximum rest.
  • Know the limits as to how long your body can allow you to trek. Be aware of altitudinal sickness as you continue ascending to the top of the Rwenzori Mountains ranges.
  • Hire a porter to help you with heavy luggage. With the porter available, you can concentrate on your trek to the Margherita less of interruptions.
  • Keep yourself hydrated at all times. Have plenty of clean bottled drinking water for you to take as you ascend to the summits of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park.

Where to stay on Rwenzori Mountaineering

While on a mountaineering adventure on Mount Rwenzori, expect to retire for the night in any of the available huts. The different trails feature huts where hikers can stop for meals and overnight stays. Nyabitaba hut, John Matte and Guyeoman hut, Bujuku hut, and Kitandara hut are some of the popular accommodation facilities in Mount Rwenzori. The huts to stay in along the Kilembe trail on Rwenzori Mountains include the Bagata camp (4062m), Sine hut (2585m), Butawu (3974m), kalalama hut (3147m), Kiharo camp (3460m) and Margherita camp (4485m).

How much does it cost to hike the Rwenzori Mountains?

The cost of hiking Rwenzori depends on several factors. These include how long you intend to spend exploring the Rwenzori Mountains, the trail to be hiked, accommodation, time of visit, group size, the tour operator, peaks to be conquered (6 peaks are available on Mount Rwenzori), transportation, etc. The cost of climbing Mount Rwenzori can range from USD 1900 to USD 3000. This amount may include; park entrance fees, accommodation, porters to carry your luggage, and other relevant taxes. Talk to a Uganda Travel Expert Now for the exact Prices.

The park entry fees for Rwenzori Mountains National Park cost USD 35 per person for foreign nonresidents and USD 25 for residents. Ugandans pay shs.20,000 as an entry fee to Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Rwenzori Mountaineering permits can be booked at USD 50 (for foreign nonresidents), USD 40 for foreign residents, and shs.50,000 for the East African citizens – Ugandans inclusive. Plan and book your Rwenzori Mountaineering expedition with Native Africa Tours and you won’t regret it.

What to Wear for a Mount Rwenzori Hike?

Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Rwenzori Mountains National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Uganda. It gained this official recognition in 1994. Later in 2008, the mountain was declared a Ramsar site. This park lies in the Western part of Uganda, and officially, it was established as a National Park in 1991. Rwenzori Mountains National Park occupies up to 996 sq. km of land area with over 70% of its area lying at an elevation range of 2500 meters.

Wildlife in Rwenzori National Park

Up to 70 mammal species plus 217 bird species live in the varied habitats of Mount Rwenzori National Park in Kasese district. They include Hyrax, forest elephants, l’hoest monkeys, chimpanzees, Ruwenzori duikers, and black and white colobus monkeys. Other wildlife to see on the Uganda tour in Rwenzori National Park include bushbucks, giant forest hogs, Uganda clawed frogs, red duikers, blue monkeys, mongoose, and Rwenzori otters.

Rwenzori National Park is home to about 19 Albertine Rift Valley endemics. The bird check-list to identify on a birding tour in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park includes the slender-billed starling, blue-headed sunbird, illadopsis, lammergeyers, great crested grebe, little grebe, speckled pigeon, scaly spurfowl, Latham’s francolins, Cameron pigeon, Rwenzori turacos, blue-headed coucal, dimeric cuckoo, African emerald cuckoo, and ross’s turacos. Other birds include levaillant’s cuckoo, barred long-tailed cuckoo, buff spotted fluff tail, African palm swift, cinnamon chested bee-eaters, handsome francolins, lagden’s bush shrike, golden-winged sunbird, montane sooty boubou, Rwenzori turacos and long-eared owl.

What else to do in Rwenzori Mountains National Park besides mountaineering? 

Birding/bird watching

Bird watching is the other unusual experience you should expect to enjoy on Uganda safaris in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. A birding tour in the Rwenzori National Park allows you to spot a diversity of birds including several of Albertine rift endemic species.

The birds to identify in this park include the Grauer’s cuckoos, Rwenzori turacos, scarlet tufted malachite sunbird, long-eared owl, montane masked, Rwenzori nightjar, bearded vultures, and mountain buzzard. On bird watching tour in the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, you can also come across birds such as Cassin’s hawk eagle, piping hornbill, crowned hornbill, black and white casqued hornbill, Rwenzori batis, black-throated wattle eye, African shrike flycatchers, chestnut wattle eye, African penduline tit, green crombec, red-faced cisticola, and stout cisticola to mention but a few.

Cultural visit

Cultural/community visits can also be done in the adjacent local communities to Rwenzori Mountains National Park. On a cultural visit, you can come across the Bakozo people and explore in depth about their unique traditions and cultures. You will have great entertainment from the locals, and learn some hands-on skills like basket weaving. The other most important highlight of the cultural visit is meeting the blacksmith and the traditional healers.

Guided hikes/nature walks

Visitors with fitness challenges also have the option of exploring the wonders of Rwenzori Mountains National Park. A guided hike/nature walk around Rwenzori National Park is best enjoyed along the trails. The essential nature walking trails that guarantee nature enthusiasts exceptional day walking experiences include the Mahoma Trail, Ruboni Walk, Bwamba Trail, and Buraro Chimp Forest Trail.

Ruboni village walk: A guided walk through this trail introduces you to Ruboni village, a local community with about 2000 people. The Ruboni village is largely comprised of Bakonzo people- the popular mountain keepers.

The Buraco chimp forest: A hike through the Buraco chimp forest allows you to explore different species including birds, animals, and trees.

What are the Rwenzori Mountains famous for?

The Rwenzori Mountains are typically block mountain ranges. They are most popular for their distinct alpine floral species, especially the Albertine rift endemic species. These range in varying elevations. The most famous floral species in the Rwenzori Mountains comprise the giant heathers, lobelias, and groundsels.

Why are the Rwenzori Mountains referred to as the Mountains of the Moon?

Mount Rwenzori is a popular block mountain in Africa. It is believed to be the source of the River Nile. The term “Mountains of the Moon” was derived from a Greek merchant, Diogenes who visited East Africa and claimed to have found the Source of the Nile. The natives on the other hand described these block mountain ranges as the Mountains of the Moon thanks to their snow-capped peaks. When James Grant and John Speke visited the Rwenzori Mountains around 1862, they found the Rwenzori Mountain summits blanketed in white thus fitting into the Diogenes’ description. On the summits of these block mountain ranges, many upper streams feed several of the rivers in the Rwenzori Mountains.

In conclusion, now that you have learn about the Rwenzori Mountains, book your hiking tour now and create a signature of memories. 

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