This UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rwenzori area contains the tallest mountain range in Africa, including several peaks that are permanently covered by ice. The three highest peaks in the range are Margherita (5109m), Alexandria (5083m), and Albert (5087m), all on Mt Stanley, the third highest mountain in Africa. The mountain range, which isn’t volcanic, stretches about 110km by 50km wide and is home to an extraordinary number of rare plants and animals, and new examples of both are still being discovered. Two mammals are endemic to the range, the Rwenzori climbing mouse and the Rwenzori red duiker, as are 19 of the 241 known bird species. Despite this, this is one of Uganda’s less-visited national parks, and so nature lovers wanting to escape the safari crowds should definitely put it on their list.
Two companies offer trekking in the Rwenzoris: the prominent Rwenzori Trekking Services which caters to the Kilembe Trail, and the community-run Rwenzori Mountaineering Services stationed in Kasese town, it arranges treks from Nyakalengaji. Muhoma trail is open to both, although Ruboni Community Camp Site can assist with preparing guides like also Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) can.
The best times to go trekking are between late December to the last weeks of March and from mid-June to mid-August, when there are low rains. Even at these times, the higher tops are mostly covered in mist, but this generally clears for a short time each day. April and October are the wettest months.
The guides, who are compulsory even if you’ve conquered the seven summits, are always on standby meaning you can book in the morning and leave the same day.
Walking trails and huts are in very good shape, particularly on the Kilembe trail, where huts use polonium insulation to make life comfortable. There are wooden pathways over the bogs and bridges over the larger rivers, lessening the impact of walkers on the fragile environment.
Note: trekkers should confirm that their travel insurance policy covers adventure/mountaineering activities above 4000m and rescue. Otherwise, rescue costs start from US$150 to US$10,000 per hour for a helicopter.
Nothing like special equipment is required for a trek if you don’t go to the snow area ( and if you intend to do, the gears can be hired from the trailhead), but make sure you bring enough of warm, waterproof clothing because temperatures drop below 0°C often. You’ll also need a good sleeping bag.
The most important item is a good, broken-in pair of trekking boots to get you over the slippery rock slabs, which can be a bit treacherous some times. Rubber boots are also essential for the bogs-so ensure these are available. A portable day pack is useful as your porters would travel at their pace.
Before you attempt to trek in the Rwenzoris it’s better you get a copy of the Guide to the Rwenzori’s(2006) by Henry Osmaston, which covers the routes, natural history, and all other aspects of the mountains. Also, you can get the Rwenzori Map & Guide, A large-scale contour map.
The Rwenzoris trekking routes
The peaks are accessed via two major routes; the Kilembe Trail and the long-standing Central Trail that starts from Nyakalengija village. For those short on time there are the two-three days Muhoma Nature Trail, a 28km circuit set up by UWA in 2012 that’s a shortened version of the Central Circuit.
Be aware of the dangers of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) altitude sickness, in which symptoms can start to be seen above 3000m. In extreme cases, it can be fatal. If exhibiting severe symptoms like (headaches, hallucinations, and breathlessness) you’ll need to immediately descend to the camp down. To reduce the likes of AMS it’s better to take the first day easy to acclimatize and not rush. Drinking enough water is essential too.
Rwenzori Trekkers Hostel
Run by Rwenzori Trekking Services, this scenic and peaceful option is in kyanjuki just above Kilembe, 12km outside Kasese, and is a perfect starting point if you plan on tackling this side of the Rwenzori. Rooms, all with shared bathrooms, are in restored miners’ housing and are slightly run-down with peeling linoleum floors, but they’re fine for the price.
The restaurant has a great trekking menu comprising T-bone steaks, pasta, and vegetarian options. The hostel does some excellent work in the community, and also offers village walks and cultural performances.
Ruboni Community Campsite
This community-run place down the road from Nyakalengija is at the base of the hill just outside the park boundary, with an attractive setting and comfortable lodging. All profits go towards a health center, tree-planting projects, and more. It also offers guided walks into the hills outside the park, drumming lessons, and traditional dance performances.
It’s near the Nyakalengija entrance gate.
Equator Snow Lodge
Conveniently located for the central (and Mahoma) Trail, this luxury mountain lodge at the foot of the Rwenzoris has large cottages with fireplaces, sunroofs, and hardwood details with riverfront balconies surrounded by old-growth forest. There are superb trekking opportunities in the immediate area, even if you’re not keen on a hard-core mountaineering expedition. Massages too. All up, excellent value.
It’s near Nyakalengija park entrance.