A Traveller’s Guide to Hiking Mount Bisoke in Rwanda

Rwanda has become a top destination for those interested in gorilla trekking and mountain hiking. Rwanda gorilla trekking combined with hiking one of the numerous volcanoes makes for a truly memorable experience.

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in Rwanda for every nature-loving traveller.

– Guest post from Mission Africa Safaris –

I haven’t actually done this!

Gorillas in Rwanda

The one that should be at the top of your list is Rwanda’s Mount Bisoke. This hiker’s paradise is found in the Volcanoes National Park. It’s one of six volcanoes found within the Virunga ranges that cover sections of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It may not be the highest mountain in the park, but the views are worth every ounce of energy you’ll use getting to the top.

Mount Bisoke fun facts

Hikers from around the world come to Rwanda just to climb Mount Bisoke, and it’s not just because the area is home to protected primates, including gorillas. There are plenty of reasons to add Bisoke to your travel bucket list, here are just a few:

  • The summit is home to a Crater Lake, a volcano lake that is one of the main motives for hikers to make it to the top.
  • At an altitude of 3,711 meters, Bisoke is easier to climb than the neighbouring mount Karisimbi.
  • Climbing Mount Bisoke and descending takes only one day,
  • You don’t need to be a pro athlete to make it to the summit, just about anyone can do it.
  • At the top you’ll see jungle rainforest, bamboo forest, and possibly a gorilla family along the trail.

Mount Bisoke hiking basics

Since Bisoke is not as high as a some of the mountains within the Virunga ranges and the Volcanoes National Park, the hike to the top is not overly intense. Some hikers can get it done in as little as 5 hours, but you should definitely set aside a full day just in case it takes you longer to reach the summit.

Rwanda gorillas

Parts of the hike are fairly steep so you’ll definitely need a durable pair of hiking boots. In other words, it’s not acceptable to wear a pair of converse or flip flops on your journey up Mount Bisoke. You’ll have a guide leading you to the top, pushing you to continue on but also allowing you to go at a pace that is comfortable for you.

How to get to Bisoke

If you’re not already in-country, you’ll arrive to Bisoke by taking a flight to the closest airport to the National Park, Kigali Airport.

Depending on your budget, you can take a private taxi or public bus to Ruhengeri, where you’ll then catch another ride to the Park’s headquarters. The most convenient method is to book your hike with a good tour operator.

At the starting point of the trail you’ll be able to set up your guided hike with park authorities and rangers. Like in most game parks in East Africa, do not be alarmed if you’re escorted by an armed ranger up the mountains. This is for your own safety. The ranger is there to help scare away any dangerous wild animals like forest elephants.

Things to pack for the Bisoke hike

You’ll most likely be able to keep your large luggage with the tour operator at the base of Mount Bisoke or keep everything in your hotel/hostel. The clothes you wear depends on the time of year, but as you increase elevation it can get quite chilly. For this reason, you should where a fleece pullover and even another jacket on top for when you’re at the windy summit.

Waterproof clothing and boots is a must for hiking mount Bisoke in the rainy season, but even in dry season it’s a good idea to be prepared for the chance of rainfall.

One small daypack will suffice since this hike takes one full day to complete.

Gorillas in Rwanda

If your tour guide doesn’t provide food and water, you’ll need to bring this as well. We recommend a camel backpack for water.

If you’re trekking with a partner, we recommend one hiker carrying water and one carrying everything else. If carrying luggage is too much for you then you have a choice of hiring a porter at the starting point. These porters are willing to offer their services at a cost of about 15 US Dollars. Their presence increases the number of individuals ready to give a hand when climbing the steepest sections of the mountain

Everything else to know before climbing Mount Bisoke

Although just about anyone can make it to the summit, it’s still recommended to have a relatively good level of fitness. Extremely fit hikers can complete this hike in half day, while others could take a full day climbing and descending from base the summit.

You don’t actually need to book a Bisoke hike with a guide, but you do need a permit. With that permit you’ll be given access to a park ranger who will guide you along the hike (there are no instances where you’ll be hiking Bisoke on your own). Rangers depart from base at 8am so make sure to arrive on time or you’ll be left behind. Briefing is at 7am at the park offices.

For other mountain excursions in the area, such as climbing mount Karisimbi, obtaining a permit is often required at least 2 days in advance. This is not the case for Bisoke; you can get your permit on the same day and complete the hike from start to finish within the span of 12 hours.

After reaching the summit and marvelling at the amazing scenery, you can choose to do gorilla trekking, visiting the Ibyiwacu Cultural Village, touring the Musanze caves or taking nature walks within the Volcanoes National Park.

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