Earlier this week, Ashley discussed our efforts in Uganda to boost conservation through tourism in national parks. One place where we have worked to accomplish this goal is in Rwenzori. Here we developed new tourism products to boost visitation and revenue, which is vital to conservation. Increased tourism has also helped provide new sources of income for the local community.
The Rwenzori Mountains, the fabled "Mountains of the Moon," lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The Rwenzori Mountains National Park was established in 1991 and was recognized as aUNESCO World Heritage site in 1994 and as an international Ramsar Wetland site in 2008. The national park hosts a variety of species of wildlife that include 70 mammals and 217 birds, including 19 species that are endemic to the region, as well as some of the world’s rarest plants.
The Rwenzoris are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination that offer multi-day treks around and up to the mountains peaks, which are among the highest in Africa, and one of only three locations that hosts glaciers on the equator. For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring communities also offer nature walks, cultural performances and accommodation. Despite this, the number of visitors to the region is limited, due in part to limited tourism activities and facilities offered in the area.
To address this gap, Solimar’s USAID-funded project “Sustainable Tourism in the Albertine Rift” with support from US Forest Service, and in partnership with ECOTRUST, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Geolodges, worked to improve the tourism products being offered in and around the mountain to promote greater visitation to this incredible destination.
The New Rwenzori Mountains Visitor Information Center is a multi-function facility next to the National Park, providing information and services for visitors to the region. The Center offers information about the history and ecology of the mountains and their people; it also has space for UWA briefings and registration before entering the park, a restaurant and a craft shop. The Visitor Information Center will allow people traveling to the region to learn more about the National Park and the mountain, its people and their culture.
Solimar and our partners supported the Visitor Center through funding and technical assistance in the development of the building and the interpretive information within it. The Visitor Center is also paired with a private lodge concession that offers accommodations and a restaurant in partnership with the local community for travelers to the park.
The New Mahooma Nature Trail is a 28 km loop-trail starting and ending at the main entrance to the park. Solimar, with support from the US Forest Service and in partnership with UWA, developed the trail as a way to diversify the options available to visitors to the region, which before hand only offered long treks into the park. The trail traverses the lower slopes of the mountains culminating at Lake Mahooma where the trail joins the existing ‘Central Circuit’ trail to return to the park gate. The entire circuit could be completed in 1-2 nights, or parts of it as a day hike.
We hope that the addition of these new tourism products will help increase tourism to the mountains. And even more importantly, help increase revenues for the people of the region as well as support the park in their ongoing conservation efforts.