Iconic Game Parks in Uganda
5. Semuliki National Park
Across from the Semliki Valley National Reserve, 64 km from Fort Portal – the jumping off place for the Rwenzoris – is the Semliki Lodge, which was opened in 1966. In a bid to attract tourists, the Uganda Government set up a series of National Parks and Reserves in the early 1990’s. The 220 km2 Semuliki Forest Reserve was established in 1932 and re-established in 1993 as a National Park. The variety of wildlife is considerable, hosting 53 mammal species and almost 400 recorded bird species. It can be reached quite easily, and game guards are usually available to take visitors to its spectacular attraction at the bottom of the Semliki Valley. Once on the valley, on the western side of the Rwenzori, the marked parkways wind and twist through the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. “This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago”. Semuliki’s fame lies in its plenitude of birds, its beautiful scenery and its series of fumaroles and hot springs. The water gushing forth is hot enough to be dangerous at very close quarters but creates a rather splendid natural wonder. For those patient and brave enough to navigate through its 13 km trail, with a raised boardwalk on the wetland sector of the park, there’s a good chance of sighting assorted antelopes.
6. Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori Mountains, spectacularly titled the “Mountains of the Moon”, unlike the other lofty mountains of East Africa, are of the Fold System. Their sobriquet answers the quality of being visible from great distances, as the mist-shrouded mountains of this rugged massif tower almost 4,000 m above the Albertine Rift Valley. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park covers nearly 100,000 ha or 1,000 km2 in Kasese District in western Uganda and comprises the main part of the Rwenzori, which includes Africa’s third highest peak. This fabled chain of mountains – 120 kms long and 65 kms wide – could rightfully be christened as a miniature Alps. The highest summit is Point Margherita (5,109 metres) on the Shanley massif, and is an ice climb in which ropes and ice axes are needed. Very little of the range has been fully explored, and there is an abundance of high rocks and ice faces, which have not been touched by the climber. Impressively, the landscape is of stunning views of glaciers and snow-capped mountains just kilometres from the equator, where it is contiguous with the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. The popular starting point, for the ascent of the range, is from the village of Bugoye in the Mokubu River Valley, about 56 kms south of Fort Portal, where porters can be obtained.
The first hut above Lake Bukuju can be reached from Bugoye in a three days’ walk. This is a Mountain Club of Uganda hut and stands at an altitude of 12,600 feet, and this is the base for the ascents. There are two immediate huts, one at Ninnyabutaba, and another at Nyamalaju, at 10,600 feet, so that it is possible to reach the snows of the Rwenzori without camping. The main peaks of Stanley, Speke, Baker, Margharita and Alexandra, are served with mountain huts. For the walker, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park has many picturesque foot paths, which meander through a fascinating prehistoric world of fetching giant vegetation, forest of heather. For the non-climber, Rwenzori provide a very fine walking experience. There is a route that goes up the Mobuku River Valley to Lake Bujuku using the Mountains Club of Uganda each night. From Bujuku the route goes over the Scott-Elliot Pass to Lake Kitandara Hut. This is known as one of the most beautiful hideouts in Africa. In 1994, the landscape of Rwenzori Mountains National Park was inscribed as a Unesco World Heritage Site owing to its impressive and pristine landscape of alpine vegetation. Because of their altitudinal range, and the nearly constant low temperatures, humidity and high isolation, the Rwenzori Mountains support the richest montane-flora in Africa.
Rwenzori Mountains: The Highest Source of the Nile
Stretching further than any other river on the planet, the mighty Nile flows for 6,650 kms from the equator across North Africa to the Mediterranean. It is to Africa what the Amazon is to South America and the Mississippi to America; an invaluable lifeline. For thousands of years the source of the Nile was a mystery to explorers. It had given rise to one of the greatest civilizations, in Egypt, and early philosophers like Ptolemy wrote of it as having its source in the legendary ‘Mountains of the Moon’. Suitably equipped and fortified, explorers, one after another, failed to find its source. The most forbidding barrier, many wrote, was the Sudd Swamp (or the Bahr al Jabal) in the mid-north area of South Sudan. Expanding over 130,000 km2 and the world’s largest freshwater wetland, in a region still largely untouched by the tourist and by civilization, it was infallibly indomitable. But undaunted, explorers would overcome the ‘Sudd’ to reach the magnificent Rwenzori Mountains: The highest source of River Nile. Extending north–south for almost 110 km and east–west for about 65 km along the border between western Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, the Rwenzoris are made up of six separate mountains rising over 4,500 m asl – Stanley (5,109 m), Speke (4,889 m), Baker (4,842 m), Gessi (4,715 m), Emin (4,791 m) and Luigi di Savoia (4,626 m). Over millions of years, they have been sculpted by the growth of glaciers, resulting in many lakes, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Rising gradually from the highland plains of Uganda, the mountains fall steeply on the west to the Semliki River, the outflow of Lake Edward and an important tributary of Lake Albert, one of the sources of the White Nile. The heavy rainfall together with the melting of glaciers from the peaks provides a major source of water into the Nile River. Accordingly, the range is often claimed to be the most important source of the Nile. The Victoria Nile and Lake Victoria contribute far more water than the Rwenzoris, and the tributaries of the Kagera River, which flows into Lake Victoria, reach considerably further south from the mouth of the Nile. Other important freshwater bodies in the White Nile drainage include Lakes Kyoga, Albert, Edward and George. Yet, the Rwenzoris are certainly the highest source of the great Nile River, and, in all respects, the most spectacular.