Rwenzori Mountains: Mountains of the Moon

Ruwenzori Mountains Virunga National Park Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The mountains are said to have been formed three million years ago. The range is about 120 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide. The Rwenzori is composed of a group of mountains referred to as massifs. The massifs are separated by deep gorges. They are Mount Stanley (5,109 metres), Mount Speke (4,890 metres), Mount Baker (4,843 metres), Mount Emin (4,798 metres), Mount Gessi (4,715 metres) and Mount Luigi di Savoia (4,627 metres).

Vegetation in Rwenzori Mountains. Photo: Jorn Eriksson/Flickr

The peak of the mountains is the Marhgherita Peak which is on Mount Stanley. It is the third highest peak in Africa. The name Ruwenzori was changed to Rwenzori around 1980. This was in order to keep more closely with the local name Rwenjura.

Read: WATCH: Snows Of The Nile short documentary

The mountains are one of the sources of the river Nile. Although glaciers are disappearing from the mountains due to global warming, the Rwenzori peaks are permanently snow-capped.

Ornithologist James P. Chapin displays Flag #4 on expedition in the Ruwenzori Mountains, 1925
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The mountains are a host to two national parks, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Virunga National Park. The mountains also boast of lush vegetation which ranges from tropical rainforest through alpine meadows to snow.

The reference to Mount Rwenzori as Mountains of the Moon came from Greek explorers trying to locate the source of the Nile. A merchant called Diogenes reported that the source of the Nile came from a group of mountains which the indigenes of the land called Mountains of the  Moon because of their snow-capped whiteness. Unfortunately this snow-capped whiteness has been reducing and is likely to stop existing.

Snow Capped Rwenzori Mountains
Photo: Jorn Eriksson/ Flickr

The glacial recession on the Rwenzori Mountains has been a cause for worry. It is one of the evidence of global warming. In 1906, the Rwenzori had 43 glaciers across six mountains. Almost 100 years later, in 2005, less than half of those glaciers were present on three mountains.

Read: Sossusvlei, one of Africa’s most spectacular landmarks

The Rwenzori Mountains experience high and regular rainfall throughout the year making it have one of the most diverse vegetation. The Rwenzori has five vegetation zones which changes as one goes higher. The grassland which is found at 1000 to 2000 metres, montane forest (2000 to 3000m), bamboo/mimulopsis zone (2500 to 3,500m), heather/Rapanea zone (3000 to 4000m) and finally the afro-alpine moorland zone (4000 to 4,500m).

Uganda has three UNESCO Heritage Sites and Rwenzori Mountains National Park is one of them.

Once called the Ruwenzori Ranges, and now called the Rwenzori Mountains, the Mountains of the Moon are located between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Stretching to heights of about 5, 109 metres the Rwenzori Mountains are one of the highest mountains in Africa.

When Ishasha lions take on the trees


Located about 450 kilometres south west of Uganda’s capital, Kampala, in the Western Rift Valley, the Ishasha sector of the famous Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s sole habitat of climbing lions.

While the rest of the game park is predominantly savannah grassland, Ishasha has the vegetation pattern of a tropical rainforest. This is most probably why the climbing lions make their home here.

Because of the peculiarity of these wild cats, the National Geographic Traveler magazine gave Queen Elizabeth National Park the nod as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Africa. The park certainly is one of the continent’s lesser-known gems.

As Uganda’s most visited national park, Queen Elizabeth as a whole is a “wonder” but it is the spectacle of the Ishasha climbing lions that earned the park its rightful place as one of Africa’s destination greats.

Read: Hungry lions in Serengeti gnaw at tourist truck’s tyres


Joseph Byamukama, CEO of Adventure Kama Safaris, a travel and tour company in East Africa, told TIA that he was compelled to add the Ishasha sector to his itinerary because his clients were most interested in seeing the “king of the jungle” casually resting on a tree branch rather than lazing around on the ground as usual.

“This park has hundreds of lions, but most of them don’t climb,” he said. “There is something about the Ishasha lions that makes them special and ‘superior’. Only a few places in the world can boast of this lion species.”

Byamukama is referring not only to the lions’ unusual behaviour but also to their physical characteristics, which differ somewhat from other prides across the continent. The male climbing lions have black manes – locks unlike those of their counterparts.

According to the park’s website, the lions mostly ascend the trees in the afternoon, especially on extremely sunny days, probably to escape the vigorous sting of the tropical tsetse fly.

Read: Kenya: Six lions escape from nat park, wildlife services intensify search


In Africa, there are only two known climbing-lion habitats: Ishasha in Uganda and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. However, reports indicate that sightings of climbing lions in a few other national parks are on the increase.

The climbing lions of Ishasha live alongside other wildlife that add to travellers’ delight: elephant, buffalo, various antelope species, and warthog. This is indeed a destination that earns its place on every discerning traveller’s bucket list.

Written by Alex Taremwa

Must-have items for a Safari


Shorts or trousers – unless you know you’re going to be somewhere really hot, trousers are probably the safest option here. They’ll protect you more from biting insects and the hot African sun, and if you wear thin trousers, you shouldn’t get too hot. Shirts and tees – Loose-fitting t-shirts are always useful, as they will protect your shoulders from the sun and keep you cool. However, it’s also a good idea to take one long-sleeved shirt with you, maybe even with incorporated insect repellent or sun protection.

Wide-brimmed hat – to keep your face and the back of your neck shaded. Sunburn can be very painful, and prolonged sun exposure, especially to the back of the neck, can lead to sunstroke – dangerous and unpleasant during your holiday!

Fleece – fleeces are lightweight and comfortable, and will help keep the chill off when night comes and the temperatures can really drop. They’re also useful for early morning game drives, when the breeze can be very bracing, and you can simply leave it in the safari vehicle or tie it around your waist when you’re not wearing it.

Sturdy boots – unless you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking, some thick-soled boots or shoes should do the job just fine. Some comfortable socks are also essential, as your feet are likely to get hot and sweaty after a day on safari!

Sunglasses – and good ones at that! Your shades should first and foremost be a form of protection for your eyes, and not a fashion accessory! You will need sunglasses with at least 99% UVB and 95% UVA protection. Cheap sunglasses can be very harmful to your eyes, so choose carefully.


What about healthcare?

High SPF sun cream – and we mean high! Factor 50+ is the best bet, as the African sun is very strong, and even people who claim to be “used to the sun” can burn very badly, very quickly. It’s simply not worth taking the risk. Extreme sun block sticks are also useful, as they are small and light and can be applied quickly and easily to particularly sensitive areas, such as the nose and cheeks.

Insect repellent – this can be bought in spray, cream, roll-on and wipe form. For a safari, it’s useful to bring a spray for generally application at dusk and dawn, and some wipes, which can be taken out with you in your day bag. They come in very handy for reapplication – especially important if you get a bit sweaty!

Antibacterial hand soap – this is purchased in very small bottles, and is useful if you end up using the toilet facilities at road-side cafes between national parks. Soap and even functioning sinks aren’t always available, so a handy soap will help keep you hygienic.

How can I keep safe and secure?

Torch – this is always a useful safari item. Depending on the kind of accommodation you choose, and where exactly your safari is, you might need a large torch, a head torch or a mini torch. If you’re using basic camping facilities, a large torch will be a necessity. Even for those staying in tented camps or lodges, some will turn off the power at certain times of the night to conserve electricity – commendable, but not helpful during midnight toilet trips! At such times, mini torches or head torches are a blessing.

Money belt – this is the best place to keep your money, especially upon arrival in a new country, when you might have large amounts of the local currency in cash. In busy airports, or bus or ferry terminals, you will feel a lot more secure with your cash strapped to your body!

Cheap bike lock – this isn’t a necessity for everyone, but can be very useful for people planning to take long train or coach journeys in Africa. For your own peace of mind, a cheap bike lock can secure your belongings to a chair leg or arm rest, meaning you can catch some shut-eye without worrying too much – a particular blessing on longer journeys!

But what about the fun stuff!

Camera – and all the stuff that come with it! That means charger or batteries, spare memory cards (or film if you’re old school), USB cable, zoom lens, case and anything else you might need, depending on how serious you are about your photography! An adjustable tripod with grips is great for positioning your camera at awkward angles in a safari vehicle, or for a lighter option, take a small beanbag to rest your camera on.

Binoculars – definitely worth the extra weight as far as we’re concerned! Good binoculars are an investment for future holidays, as well as your safari, as often the only way to pick out tiny details is with a pair of good binoculars. On safari, you can use them for picking out tiny speck in the distance, that might turn out to be an elephant or an eland, an oryx or an ostrich, and for really taking in the details of animals that are closer by.

Bird and wildlife literature – You can use these before, during and after your safari. Leaf through your wildlife book on the plane on the way there to brief yourself. Use it whilst your on safari to pick out the difference between a Grevy’s and a plains zebra. Research in your bird book when you get home to find out what that brightly coloured bird you saw on your last day was. Guide books will really help you make the most of your safari.

Let´s Safari!
So now your are all packed up and ready to go on safari! …That is of course unless you haven’t already booked your trip. If you are looking for that expert safaris tour operator in Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania or Kenya  to book your trip with, look no further than Adventure Kama Safaris. All tours our tours are private and can be fully customised down to every last detail.

We are the intersection of beauty and nature.

%d bloggers like this: