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+256 786880735 Contact info@rwandagorillassafari.com

Mount Rwenzori National Park in western Uganda’s Bundibugyo district spans 996 sq km and shares the boundary with the DR Congo. The protected area was established in 1991, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1991, and designated a Ramsar site in 2008. This is due to its biological diversity including five zones of vegetation, 217 species of birds and 70 mammal species of which most are endemics. Rwenzori is famous for having permanent equatorial glaciers on three of its six peaks including Mount Margherita, Mount Speke and Mount Baker.

Margherita at 5,109m is the highest peak in Uganda and the 3rd tallest mountain in Africa. Mount Rwenzori is exceeded only by Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. The difference between both mountains is that Rwenzori is a block mountain while the others are volcanic. The six peaks are separated by steep ridges and deep valleys. Due to the nature of terrain, Rwenzori is the most challenging mountain to climb on the continent. The Italian prince Luingi Amedeo was the first person to climb Rwenzori in 1906.

National parks in Uganda

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) calls it a mystical challenge whereas Ptolemy, who was the first geographer to put it on the world map in 150 AD, described it as the “Mountains of the Moon.”

The presence of equatorial glaciers on the Equator

Rwenzori mountains is 33.2 km (20) sq. Miles north of the equator. Areas at the equator receive 12 hours of sunlight throughout the year therefore much warmer. The presence of permanent equatorial glaciers on Mount Speke 4,890m and Mount Baker 4,844m makes Rwenzori a must-visit gem in Africa. Due to the higher elevations exceeding 5,000 meters above sea level, it may not be surprising to see snow at the equator given that the higher you go, the cooler it becomes. However, the glaciers on Mount Speke and Mount Stanley seem to be receding due to climate change. According to a recent study expedition by Klaus Thymannn who recorded glaciers during 2012 and then returned in 2020 noticed that there’s a significant change. The story of Africa’s first mountain to lose glaciers is available in detail at the Story Institute, a Canadian based drama acting school. Klaus’s findings reveal why equatorial glaciers on Mount Rwenzori are diminishing.

Agriculture contributes to climate change

In a span of 8 years, he noticed that cultivation at the foothills is causing environmental degradation and also involves perennial crops like coffee, cotton and vanilla which sack too much of water in the soil. “Agriculture contributes to climate change and is also affected by climate change” according to the European Environmental Agency (EEA). Recently, Kasese municipality has become prone to severe floods, which destroy schools, water pipes and cause water borne diseases such as cholera that impact livelihood of people. This happens almost every year as the region receives heavy amounts of up to 2,500mm of rainfall per annum.

The government of Uganda in partnership with UNICEF are working with the local communities to mitigate climate change in the Rwenzori sub-region. Some of the measures include construction of hydro-electricity dams including Nyamwamba, Mubuku I and II. This is hoped to reduce overreliance on natural resources thereby saving biodiversity of Rwenzori Mountains National Park. There’s also a proposed cable car project.


Rwenzori Mountains National parkFrom the lower slopes to the highest point, there are five vegetation zones including montane forests, bamboo forests, heather and moorlands, subAlpine, rock and glacier. There are two trekking trails including the Kilembe, the most beautiful and central circuit, which offer an opportunity to hike through the different types of vegetation.  At the base of the steep mountain between 1000m- 2000m the area is characterized by mixed grasslands and agricultural farmlands such as banana plantations, coffee, vanilla, and other crops.

The montane forest 2,500 m – 3000m 

As you begin to gain altitude, the grasslands give way to dense forest canopies with streams and waterfalls flowing through it. Due to water, mist and coldness, the rare medicinal plants occur in this area such as Begonia sonderiana and the trees are often covered with moss. Hiking through this zone, you might spot some of the Rwenzori Endemic species such as Rwenzori colobus monkey, three horned chameleon, Rwenzori duiker and Rwenzori turaco.

Bamboo zone 3,000m – 3,500m 

Bamboo trees can grow up to 30 m to 40 meters high and Rwenzori has large bamboo forests. This means, you will be walking under the forest cover without much view of the surroundings.

Tree Heathers and senecios 3500m – 4000 m 

National parks in Uganda As you climb above 3000 meters, the heather and moorlands start to appear with common groundsels, tree heathers and senecios. These flowering plants grow yellow flowers and it has been observed that the life span is 30 years, after which they sprout again. Due to the open terrain, the views of the equatorial glaciers are visible on clear skies.

Afro-alpine zone 4000m – 5,109m equatorial glaciers

The afro-alpine vegetation zone is made up of distinct tropical plant species including giant lobelias, everlasting flowers, peucedanum kerstenii, and dendrosenecio adnivalis, which are native to Rwenzori. During May to June, the everlasting flowers in the lower afro-alpine zone blossom and form gardens, making Rwenzori one of the most spectacular mountain ranges in East Africa. These plants grow on exposed steep and rugged mountain ridges. In between, there are deep wet meadows and bogs that look like swamps.


Due to different vegetation types, Rwenzori mountains national park consists of rich biodiversity including 70 mammal species, 217 bird species and over 5 primate species including chimpanzees and unique reptiles such as three-horned chameleons. Mammals species in the Rwenzori inhabit the montane forests but are rare to spot due to the nature of terrain. These include forest elephants, Rwenzori leopard, Rwenzori duiker, Rwenzori otter shrew (micropotamogale ruwenzorii). There are primate species in the Rwenzori lower forested slopes including chimpanzees, Rwenzori colobus monkeys and red colobus monkeys.


Birding in Rwenzori MountainsThe protected area is also home to 217 species of birds of which 19 are Albertine Rift Endemics including Rwenzori turaco, Stuhlman’s double collared olive back, stripe-breasted tit, handsome francolin, Archer’s robin chat, bamboo warbler and. In addition, there are also afro-alpine highland species such as the mustached green tinkerbird and alpine chat. Some of the Congo-Guinea Forest species have also been recorded in the park including golden winged sunbirds, scarlet tufted malachite sunbirds, tiny sunbirds and buff throated sunbirds (chalcomitra adelberti).

Three horned chameleons

The three-horned chameleon (jacksonii chameleon) is a Rwenzori Endemic reptile. It was first described by George A. Boulenger in 1896 who observed that only males have three horns on their head while females don’t. Those hiking in Rwenzori can see the three horned chameleon at altitudes of 1,600 m – 2,440m. Other reptiles you might see include blue-headed tree agamas.

Activities in Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Mountain climbing 

Trekking in the Rwenzori is available for those intending to reach the summit Margherita or hike halfway up the mountain. Reaching the peak of Margherita is for experienced high-altitude hikers. There are two hiking trails available including the Kilembe trail and the central circle. Kilembe trail is the most challenging given that the trail passes through steep ridges on Mount Baker and Mount Stanley before approaching the equatorial glaciers at the summit. However, it is the most beautiful and offers the opportunity to walk through lush afro-alpine vegetation, see the valley of 7 glacial lakes including wild Lake Kitandara in the heart of the mountain range. Other spectacular features include the floating islands, wet meadows and bogs and Bujuku lake in the upper slopes towards Mount Speke and rainbow gorge along Margherita camp.

Trekking along the Kilembe trail takes 8-12 days roundtrip. The central circuit trail is the shortest Rwenzori trekking trail taking 5-8 days roundtrip. This is best for those intending to hike at a relaxed pace. Some of the highlights along the central circuit trail include bamboo forest zone and rock pools. Regardless of the trail you choose, trekking in the Rwenzori mountains requires technical equipment due to the nature of terrain.

Rwenzori Mountains National aprkRoute planning is flexible and should be arranged through a tour operator who has done both trails before. Hikers with the capacity to walk prolonged hours can skip some camps and will be able to complete the trail much faster. Your operator will direct you on the best trail to take after discussing your interests with them. They ought to have photos with guides to speak to who have been there so you can see which trail best suits your hiking abilities.


With 217 species of which 19 are Albertine rift endemics, Rwenzori mountains national park is a must-visit for uganda birding safaris. There are also afro-tropical highland and Congo-Guinea forest species including 3 sunbird species such as Golden-winged sunbirds, buff-throated sunbirds, little sunbirds, and sunbirds with scarlet tufts on their chests.

Cultural experiences

You can visit some of the Rwenzori mountain tribes, including the  Bakonjo, Bamba, and Bambuti pygmies, in addition to climbing. Their distinct culture was acknowledged by the Ugandan government, which established a subnational Rwenzururu kingdom under the leadership of Charles Wesley Mumbere. The Rwenzori tribes are among the strongest due to the nature of terrain. In particular, the Bakonjo and Bamba are farmers, excellent hunters, and herbalists. Visiting a herbalist for their amazing metaphysics is one of the cultural experiences that allows you to observe their way of life. Visit the camp in the Ruboni community. The camp invites cultural groups to perform for guests and share tales around the campfire.

How to get there 

Rwenzori mountains national park is 372 km (7-hour drive) west of Kampala capital city. The park headquarters at Nyakalengija UWA ranger post is 29 km (1-hour drive) through Fort Portal-Mpondwe-Hima road. Fort Portal city is 81 km (2-hour drive) north of the Rwenzori mountains national park. The park can also be reached by air through Kasese airstrip, which is 24 km (14 miles) or through the Mweya airstrip in Queen Elizabeth national park 80 km (2-hour drive) away from the park visitor center.

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