Ruwenzori Mountains National Park


The geographer Ptolemy in 150 AD cited the Ruwenzori Mountains as a source of the Nile, calling them “Mountains of the Moon” because it seemed unearthly to have snow-covered peaks on the steamy equator. But there they are, one of earth’s great beauties crowning one of its great wild habitats in Ruwenzori Mountains National Park.

Wildlife varies with elevation, blending through mixes of forest elephants, chimpanzees, Ruwenzori hyrax, colobus, blue and L’Hoest’s monkeys, black-footed duikers, brilliant-winged Ruwenzori turacos.

But it is the “botanical big game” of this beautiful park on the western Rift Valley which the Swedish scientist Olav Hedberg called “some of the most fantastic…of the planet.”

Giant heathers, 18 inches (half-meter) tall elsewhere, grow over 30 feet (10 m) here. Blue lobelias, yellow groundsels, and others are similarly outsized. Primeval trees up to 40 feet (12 m) tall can be covered with crimson, yellow, and emerald-green mosses and clusters of pink orchids. Some of the flowers above the tree line literally dwarf humans.

Kasese, gateway to this World Heritage Site, with hotels and lodges, is 260 miles (437 km) west of Kampala via Mbarara on a main tarmac road. There’s also an airport. The park has camping only, but a good trail network and huts for hikers.

The loop trail, for the physically fit, takes six–seven days, or a three-day hike can be arranged. Waterproof bags and clothing are needed (everything is wet here) and sweaters—days can be like summer, nights like winter.

ALSO OF INTEREST

Kibale Forest National Park northeast of Queen Elizabeth has one of the densest primate populations in the most accessible of Uganda’s large forests—most significantly chimpanzees (Chambere Gorge is one of the best places to see them) but at least eight other species also, along with sizable elephant herds, buffalo, bushbucks, duikers, giant forest hogs, and over 300 bird and 144 butterfly species. There’s a campsite at Kamyunchi, which is base for chimp-viewing walks, and a guest house in Bigodi, 3.8 miles (6 km) away.

Wild, remote, spectacularly beautiful Kidepo Valley National Park with 510 square miles (1,340 km2) of dry savannah in northeast Uganda has more mammal species than any other Uganda national park, 28 of them in no other Ugandan reserve, including cheetahs, caracals, kudu, aardwolves, bat-eared foxes. Most numerous are zebras, elephants, buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffes, roan antelopes, and klipspringers. Among 400 bird species are ostriches and many raptors including ten kinds of eagles, three kites, and five kestrels.

It’s not easy to visit. The 500-mile (840-km) drive from Kampala is difficult and sometimes dangerous, bandit attacks not unknown. Chartered light aircraft can land at Apoka, where there’s a rest camp, but visitors must bring food and water, and 4WD is needed to go from there. But if you make it, you will see a wildlife panorama and scenery unlike any other in Uganda.

Graceful impalas that can high-jump 10–12 feet (3–4 m) and cover 35–40 feet (10+ m) in a single broad-jump find their specialized habitat—gently sloping grasslands with firm footing alongside open woodlands—only in Lake Mburo National Parkamong Uganda reserves. They join hippos, buffalo, zebras, elands, klipspringers, and some lions and leopards plus abundant birdlife in this well-watered (14 lakes) relatively new 200-square-mile (520-km2) national park. Four wheel-drive is a must; camping only (but hotels nearby). The park offers spectacular vistas; however, large cattle herds roam the grasslands, and it is heavily impacted by grazing. Located just south of the road from Entebbe toward Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Semuliki National Park is 75 square miles (220 km) of East Africa’s only lowland tropical rainforest, accessible by road 110 miles (180 km) west of Kampala. Over 400 bird species include seldom-seen lyre-tailed honeyguides, often alongside trails. Mona monkeys, forest buffalo, water chevrotains, pygmy hippos, leopards are among more than 60 mammal species. Accommodations in Fort Portal. Campsites planned.

 Rabbit-sized rock hyraxes have thickly padded feet with rubbery flaps kept moist by glandular secretions, forming a useful gripping surface for rapid mobility over rocky outcrops where they make homes. Fossil remains show hyraxes once were the size of oxen. Their closest relatives today are elephants.

Rabbit-sized rock hyraxes have thickly padded feet with rubbery flaps kept moist by glandular secretions, forming a useful gripping surface for rapid mobility over rocky outcrops where they make homes. Fossil remains show hyraxes once were the size of oxen. Their closest relatives today are elephants.

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