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Due to their snow-white peaks, ancient astronomers Ptolemy referred to these mountain ranges as the "Mountains of the Moon." PHOTO/AMUSING PLANET

The Rwenzori Mountains were named the “Mountains of the Moon” by ancient astronomer and geographer Ptolemy because of their snow-white peaks.

Trekking the Rwenzori Mountains is one of the most exciting and challenging mountain treks in the world.

996 square kilometres of fantastical vegetation, lakes, rocky outcrops, cliffs, high glaciers, and snow-capped peaks form a unique and mystical world into which visitors can escape.

Once believed to be the source of the Nile, the ancient astronomer and geographer Ptolemy dubbed these mountain ranges the “Mountains of the Moon” due to their snow-white peaks.

The Rwenzori is Africa’s highest mountain range. Mount Stanley’s highest peaks, Margherita (5,109m) and Alexandra (5,083m) are only surpassed in altitude by Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. 

Both are extinct volcanoes that tower above the surrounding plains. 

Along with Mount Stanley, the Rwenzori is home to four other glacial peaks: Mount Speke (4,890m), Mount Emin (4,791m), Mount Gessi (4,715m), and Mount Luigi da Savoia (4,715m) (4,627m).

The Rwenzori Mountains are unique in their formation since they are not volcanic in origin. They are block mountains that rise directly from the Rift Valley floor, and their formation, like that of Kilimanjaro and Kenya, is linked to the Rift Valley’s geological upheaval.

These ranges are one of Uganda’s top 10 tourist destinations, as they contain three of the continent’s five highest peaks. The views from the summits are breathtaking, the routes are uncrowded, and the high-altitude forest is teeming with wildlife. 

The ranges contain six of Africa’s highest peaks, the majority of which are higher than the highest Alps.

These mountains provide an unparalleled and pristine landscape of alpine vegetation studded with charismatic giant lobelias, groundsels, and heathers dubbed “Africa’s botanical big game.” 

The area’s exceptional natural beauty is a result of the combination of spectacular snow-capped peaks, glaciers, V-shaped valleys, swift-flowing rivers with magnificent waterfalls, clear blue lakes, and unique flora.

Vegetation of the Rwenzori Mountains

On the mountain’s foothills, there are farmlands, and on the summit, there is distinctive mountain flora, which has attracted a large amount of fauna and provides a fantastic scenic view for travel enthusiasts. 

At the summit, take in the majestic snow-capped peaks that will take your breath away.

Climbing the Moon’s Mountains

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A climb of Margherita will take nine to ten days rather than eight or nine due to the incredible distance between the peaks. PHOTO/THE GUARDIAN

There are two routes to the Rwenzori peaks. From Nyakalengija, the more established route ascends the Mubuku and Bujuku valleys to the Central Circuit, which winds between the prominent peaks. 

The other route ascends the Nyamwamba Valley near Kasese, above Kilembe. Rwenzori Trekking Services and Rwenzori Mountaineering Services organise and manage expeditions on the Rwenzori.

Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) is a local community tourism organisation founded to enable the Bakonzo people to benefit financially from tourism on the mountain that has been central to their existence and cosmology for centuries. 

Local guides and porters are employed, and profits are supposed to be reinvested in community projects.

They do not, however, own the trail. The alternative is to forego Nyakalengija entirely and climb the Kilembe Trail, for which UWA granted a concession to Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS).

Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) offers a variety of mountain treks and climbs along (and between) the valleys of the Nyamugasani, Kamusoni, and Nyamwamba rivers. 

The distance between the peaks is incredible, and an ascent of Margherita will take nine to ten days rather than eight or nine.

An alternative ascent route from Kilembe passes through pristine landscapes — undiscovered by hikers for decades — of breathtaking beauty; the Nyamugasani Valley is home to an extraordinary string of eight lovely glacial lakes.

By the way, the Kilembe route is somewhat older as a tourist trail than the more established Nyakalengija Trail. Professor Scott Elliot first ascended the Nyamwamba Valley in 1895, 11 years before the Italian Duke of Abruzzi pioneered the more direct route via the Bujuku Valley.

The Kilembe Trail’s base camp is the Rwenzori Trekkers hostel, located at the upper end of Kilembe Town, 14 kilometres from Kasese and two kilometres beyond the market and bridge. 

A boda-boda ride from Kasese costs Ush5,000 (or Ush10,000 if you’re carrying a large backpack!). The cost of a special hire is Ush50,000.

The eight-day round trip to the summit of 4,842m-high Mount Baker is the most recommended route. Mount Stanley can be reached via a longer expedition, or shorter hikes of one to five days can be taken to appreciate the scenery.

RTS charges US$1,200 for an eight-day hike to the summit of Mount Baker. It includes everything — park entrance, a single porter, tented or conventional lodging, and food (excluding your high-energy snacks). 

Climbing equipment is charged separately if required. Instead of Mount Baker, a nine-day ascent of Margherita (Mount Stanley) will cost US$1,280.

It’s worth noting that UWA fees are per day, not per section (as on the Central Circuit). 

While the ascent of the Kilembe Trail alternates between fixed overnight locations to ensure proper acclimatisation, on the descent, it is possible to descend two stages in a day and save some money.

Shorter treks to Mutinda or Lake Kopello are slightly less expensive; budget approximately US$122 per day, full board.

Central Rwenzori trail

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In their formation, the Rwenzori Mountains are unique since their origin is not volcanic.

Rwenzori Mountaineering Services in Ntakalengija will make all arrangements for you whether you book directly with them in Kasese or through UWA headquarters in Kampala.

The seven-day, six-night hike along the Central Circuit loop trail with RMS costs foreigners/foreign residents US$780/705 and the seven/nine-day trip to the summit of Mount Stanley costs US$1,250/$1,530.

Additional days on the mountain are available for US$120 per day, and additional peaks can be climbed for US$150 per peak. The rates include two porters, lodging, and park admission fees ($35 per person/day), but not food.

Additionally, you can book through most local tour operators, who will transport you to Nyakalengija and hand you over to RMS. 

The Adventure Company is an exception, as it will provide an experienced expatriate expedition leader with technical mountaineering skills, first-aid training, and cooking skills to groups of eight to ten.

While the peaks do not match those found elsewhere in the world in terms of height, the highest point – Mount Stanley’s Margherita Peak – is 5,109 metres (although this is still Africa’s fourth highest peak). 

However, their remote location, changing weather conditions, astoundingly diverse vegetation, remoteness, viewpoints, and low visitor numbers all combine to excite adventurous trekkers seeking a truly unique experience. 

If you are looking for a complete Uganda travel experience, we also recommend checking out our guide to Mount MuhaburaMount GahingaKidepo Valley National ParkKibale National ParkLake Mburo National Park and Semuliki National Park.