east africa maps
No. 7 - FORT PORTAL & KIBALE NP
The Fort Portal region has been popular with foreign visitors since Henry Stanley and Emin Pasha trekked down the length of the Semliki Valley in 1889. Varied and scenic landscapes, a rich history and diverse wildlife make this my favourite part of Uganda to explore.
The Fort Portal region’s best known excursion is one of the most challenging in East Africa - the ascent of the 5109m high Rwenzori. The mountain’s boggy, glacier-carved valleys and the snow-capped summits are the preserve of hikers, mountaineers and porters prepared to brave foul weather and less-than-tropical temperatures for a week or more. For most visitors, however, the Rwenzori is simply a superb backdrop for descents onto the hot, steamy floor of the Semliki valley, forays into the dark depths of the Semliki and Kibale forests, and wanderings over the hills and around the lakes of the Ndali crater field.
Fort Portal is arguably Uganda’s most attractive town, at least in terms of setting and climate. The town is divided by the Mpanga river. Shops, banks, bars, businesses, cheaper hotels and the bus park are located on the southern side. The northern area is quieter and more select, hosting the golf course, government buildings, smarter housing and the historic Mountains of the Moon hotel.
Some 20km south of Fort Portal, the Ndali-Kasenda craters represent the largest of Uganda’s several volcanic crater fields. Just a few thousand years ago, this was a blackened wasteland, blighted by lava and ash. Today it is one of the loveliest parts of Uganda. Dozens of craters, including at least thirty lakes, await discovery, while the area known as the Top of the World provides a magnificent 3600 panorama that includes Kibale forest, tea plantations, crater lakes, the Rwenzori, and Lake George and the rift valley plains. The crater field boasts an expanding range of accommodation of all standards and provides an idyllic setting for a few day’s casual exploration.
The 795km2 Kibale National Park extends through Toro for almost 60km, from the Kampala-Fort Portal road in the north to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the south. The northern and central parts of the park lie on the Fort Portal plateau and are covered by tropical forest. Further south, forest gives way to open grassland as the terrain drops down onto the hotter, drier plains of the rift valley. Kibale is best known for its 13 different primates, including 9 diurnal species. Chimpanzee can be tracked at Kanyanchu River Camp, 35km south of Fort Portal.
The Rwenzori - or Mountains of the Moon - contains six distinct mountains above 4,570m, including Uganda’s highest point, the 5,109m Mount Stanley. The Rwenzori is the highest and most fabulous of the Nile’s several sources, supplying the river with snowy meltwaters that seep downhill through boggy valleys that contain colourful mosses and gigantic forms of heather, groundsel and lobelia. The forests, moorland and peaks of the high Rwenzori are protected by the Rwenzori Mountains National Park. This can be explored by the six day Central Circuit from Nyakalengija which follows the Mubuku river up to the high peaks and descends down the Bujuku valley. An historic trail ascending from Kilembe (Kasese) is being re-established. Shorter routes traverse the northern Rwenzori between Kazingo and Bundibugyo.
The 160km long Semliki Valley is the section of the Albertine rift between Lakes Edward and Albert and beyond the Rwenzori mountain. Most of the valley lies in Congo and indeed the sliver of Ugandan territory isolated between the Rwenzori and the Semliki River-frontier has a distinctly Central African feel. The road from Fort Portal winds over the northern Rwenzori, providing memorable views across the valley towards the Blue Mountains of Congo. It also overlooks Semliki National Park which protects the easternmost tract of the great Ituri forest of the Congo. This 212km2 park is best known for its birdlist: 441 recorded species include 216 forest birds of which 80 are Central African species that are found in few - or indeed any - other forests in East Africa. The main attractions for the casual visitor are the hot springs at Sempaya and the lovely swamp forest that surrounds them. The forest contrasts with savanna that covers the northern Semliki valley towards Lake Albert, part of which is contained in the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
Bradt Guide to Uganda (7th edition: 2013) Philip Briggs & Andrew Roberts.
Updates on blog: http://bradtugandaupdate.wordpress.com
Uganda Wildlife Authority
For information about Uganda’s national parks www.ugandawildlife.org
Guide to the Rwenzori: Henry Osmaston
Guide to Kibale National Park: Sarah Prinsloo
Rwenzori Mountains National Park Rwenzori Trekking Services
Abanyarwenzori Mountaineering Association
offers shorter hikes over the northern Rwenzori +256 772 621397
Jane Goodall Institute - Chimpanzee conservation in Uganda
Uganda Travel Planner
Rwenzori View Guesthouse
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