If you are thinking of visiting Rwanda and doing something adventurous and special, then a I day Bisoke hike should be on your list of things to do. Mount Bisoke also known as “Visoke” is one of the active volcanoes found within the Virunga ranges of mountains found in East and Central Africa. With a height of 12,175 ft, Mount Bisoke lies within the borders of Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and DR Congo (Virunga National Park). The summit and greater part of the mountain is in Rwanda. The mountain was formed as a result of a rift that is gradually dividing sections of East Africa. It has two crater lakes – one at the very top and the other (Lake Ngezi) found midway. Its last eruption was in 1957, giving it the biggest Crater Lake within the Virunga mountain ranges.
Mount Bisoke is a home to the endangered mountain gorillas and which are by large Rwanda’s more valuable tourism resource. The rich bamboo forests and other vegetation surrounding the mountain provide ideal shelter and food for these great apes. However Hiking Mount Bisoke and reaching the summit is also a favorite activity of many visitors to the Volcanoes National park. Many visitors to the Volcanoes National Park combine gorilla tracking with hiking Mount Bisoke.
Climbing Mount Bisoke
Hiking Mount Bisoke is an adventurous and exciting activity that can be done by even inexperienced hikers. Hiking up to the summit takes 6 hours while coming down 2 depending on how frequently the hiking team stops for a rest. Seasoned mountain climbers can climb the mountain in 3 hours. A Mount Bisoke hike is considered less demanding but hikers should be in fine form and prepare to deal with the thorny plants, stinging insects and muddy trails especially during the rainy season. The mountain is steep but manageable for most hikers. The temperature and oxygen levels can get so low making it tiring without having to stop frequently for a rest.
Bisoke hiking is popular among visitors to the Volcanoes National park in Rwanda because of the possibility of viewing the fog filled summit, crater lakes, stunning views and alpine vegetation found nowhere else on earth. The volcano is a habitat for forest elephants, buffalo, mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and several bird species. It is possible to meet one of the gorilla families or golden monkey troops along the trail which would make for an even more fulfilling experience. However visitors are only allowed at most 10 minutes to see the gorillas from a distance. Taking photos of the gorillas during the hike is prohibited – This opportunity is only reserved for visitors who have come for gorilla tracking. The mountain gorillas and golden monkeys you spot on the way may be wild (not habituated) hence keep a distance.
Hiking Mount Bisoke usually starts in the morning at the Kinigi park headquarters with briefing from an assigned ranger. The offices can get filled with tourists because it’s the same place visitors who have come for other activities like gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking and visiting the Diane Fossey grave get signed off. You will be required to show your hiking permit, passport and other documentation. This is the last time you will get a chance to use a decent/proper toilet (bush toilets during hiking) and snack until you come back from the summit. After registration and briefing, hikers are then transferred from the park offices to the starting point by their company guide or a hired taxi for those coming on their own.
The journey to the head trail and starting point takes 40 minutes through rough road. At this point you will be provided with hiking sticks from the park officials. You will be met by armed rangers to escort you up to the summit and have a chance to hire porters to help with extra luggage. The armed rangers are there to protect you against potential threats from wild animals and armed rebels who might cross from the Congo side (very rarely). Porters will also help you navigate difficult sections of the trail by pulling you up or down. The porters live near the park and like the wardens and rangers are very experienced and knowledgeable about the mountain trail. Some have been helping mountain hikers since their childhood. Hiring a porter will cost you 10USD.
The hike starts with going through leveled but rocky and rough ground at the foot of the volcano. You will pass through several local gardens/plantations before reaching the park entrance. The park is protected by stone walls that stop animals coming out to the gardens and humans entering the park. Once you reach on top of the summit, you will be able to spot the great landscape and vegetation that surround the Virunga region including the Mount Visoke Crater Lake, Mount Karisimbi volcano and Mount Mikeno in Congo. The weather will dictate how long you will stay at the summit. On a sunny day, you could even have a picnic on the mountain top. The lake at the summit is not suitable for swimming. The descent back to the starting point is easy except for having to deal with the mud-filled trails again. Your driver or company guide will be waiting for you at the starting point where you will separate from the porters and armed rangers at the starting point. We recommend that you give tip to the porters and rangers. This is one way of giving back to the community living around the park.
Requirements and Equipment for Hiking Mount Bisoke
In order to prepare well for hiking Mount Bisoke, you need to first ensure that you are fit and up to the task ahead. We see many hikers abandon the climb at the beginning of the trail only because of the mud. You need to prepare mentally with the intention of completing the hike regardless of the challenges you encounter. Prepare to carry the following items:
The right clothing: Come with a long trouser, a sweater, a long sleeved shirt and headgear. The long sleeved shirt will help protect you from stinging insects like beetles while good headgear will keep you warm as it gets colder towards the summit.
Hand gloves: Woolen or gardening gloves will protect your hands while holding sharp tree branches.
Light hiking shoes (water-proof boots) and stockings: They should be sturdy and able to help you comfortably and effectively hike through the mud filled trails especially during the rainy season. The hiking socks should be tucked to your trouser to protect yourself from insects, mud and sharp stems.
Walking/Hiking Stick: This will be provided to you by the park guides to help support you while navigating through difficult and steep sections of the trail.
Packed snacks and water: You might need to eat something along the way or need water for refreshment and quenching your thirst.
The cost of hiking mount Bisoke
The permit for hiking Mount Bisoke can be bought on the day of the hike from the park headquarters. Visitors planning to hike Mount Bisoke should expect to pay $75 per person. This doesn’t include transportation as you will need to hire a vehicle to the park and the head trail. Mission Africa Safaris can help you arrange for the entire trip ranging from acquiring permits, providing transportation and book accommodation.