Introduction

Mount Bisoke, also known as Visoke, is an impressive volcanic mountain in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Hiking to the summit of Mount Bisoke offers an incredible experience for people seeking an unforgettable adventure in the heart of the jungle.

The trek allows you to explore the Virunga Mountains’ stunning landscapes, dense forests, diverse flora, and the chance to encounter the park’s famous residents—the mountain gorillas.

picture of the crater lake without fog

What are the Pros and Cons of hiking Mount Bisoke?

The hike up Mount Bisoke offers breathtaking views of the Virunga Mountains and surrounding landscapes and reveals a diverse and fascinating ecosystem unique to this area.

Mount Bisoke is home to the endangered mountain gorillas, providing a unique opportunity to see them and other wildlife, such as forest elephants and golden monkeys, in their natural habitat.

Successfully reaching the summit of Mount Bisoke not only grants a profound sense of accomplishment but also unveils the reward of a stunning crater lake, contributing to an unforgettable sight.

Mount Bisoke presents an opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and history, owing to the mountain’s regional significance, while simultaneously offering the chance to learn about the area’s unique geology, flora, and fauna.

The guidance and supervision provided by rangers and guides throughout the journey ensure a secure hiking experience.

The weather conditions on Mount Bisoke can change rapidly and without warning, potentially making the hike more challenging.

While the trip to Mount Bisoke can be pretty expensive, particularly for solo travelers or those without personal transport, the hike’s popularity can also lead to frequently crowded trails, potentially affecting the overall experience.

There are strict regulations to protect the ecosystem, mountain gorillas, and other wildlife. These can limit the activities and behaviors of hikers during their visit.

jungle landscape along the hike

Brief Summary about Mount Bisoke

Mount Bisoke is part of The Virunga Mountains, a chain of volcanoes in East and Central Africa stretching across the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda. The Virunga Mountain Range is home to several active and dormant volcanoes.

This extinct volcano is shared between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.It is also renowned for its crater lake, one of the few in the Virunga Mountain range, adding a unique charm to the summit.

Mount Bisoke distinguishes itself with diverse landscapes, including verdant forests and open meadows, and its rich wildlife, including unique species like mountain gorillas and forest elephants. You can learn more in our article about Gorilla Trekking in DRC if you’re curious about the differences between Mountain and Eastern Lowland Gorillas. The mountain also profoundly connects with the renowned American primatologist Dian Fossey. Given its historical significance and unique biodiversity, Mount Bisoke truly is a hidden gem within the Virunga Mountains.

How long is the hike to Mount Bisoke?

The trail is approximately 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long, and the terrain can be challenging at times, including steep sections and uneven surfaces. The duration of the Mount Bisoke hike can vary depending on several factors. On average, the hike typically takes around 5 to 7 hours, considering both the ascent and descent.

However, it’s important to note that individual fitness levels, weather conditions, and group pace can influence the overall time.

We recommend you take the whole day to enjoy the hike fully, have a comfortable pace, and have enough time (including breaks) to appreciate the breathtaking views.

height sign in the summit of mount bisoke

How hard is the hike to Mount Bisoke?

We would describe the hike to Mount Bisoke as moderately difficult. Steep inclines and higher altitudes intensify the physical effort needed for the trek to Mount Bisoke, usually making it somewhat tricky. The weather, especially rain, can further complicate the hike. Rain makes the trails muddy, causing a tougher climb and a slippery descent. Usually, before the hike, the guide will offer you strong wood sticks for support and safety; we recommend you take them.

Do I need a guide to hike on Mount Bisoke?

Yes, you are not allowed to visit or do any activity, such as hiking up Mount Bisoke at Volcanoes National Park. Entry to the park is strictly regulated, and a guide is required for access.

Do I need to book the Mount Bisoke hike in Advance?

No, bookings and reservations for the Volcano Hikes are made on a first-come, first-served basis. Ensure you arrive early in the morning to secure your spot. However, if your plans include Gorilla Trekking at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, booking in advance is required due to the extremely high demand.

Can I see gorillas if I do the hike to Mount Bisoke?

While the Mount Bisoke hike offers incredible natural beauty and diverse landscapes, it does not guarantee sightings of gorillas. Gorilla trekking is a separate activity that takes place in designated areas. Usually, the rangers purposely avoid passing the tracks where the Gorillas currently are if you are not doing the Gorilla Trekking activity.

However, if you are lucky, during the Mount Bisoke hike, you may still have the opportunity to encounter them as they freely move around the area. If you spot the Mountain Gorillas, the rangers forbid you from photographing them. They’ll rush you to continue the trek and won’t allow you to spend time with them since you haven’t paid for the (much more expensive) Gorilla Trekking activity, where you can spend one hour with the Mountain Gorillas.

We got the chance to see mountain gorillas up close since they were crossing the only path we could use on our way down. It was a breathtaking moment for us, even though we just saw them briefly.

If you still want to see gorillas without getting broke, check out how to do budget-friendly gorilla trekking in our other article.

How much does it cost to hike Mount Bisoke?

Here you can find a list with all the fixed and variable costs. It’s worth mentioning that the more people you travel with, the more cost-effective it becomes in terms of transportation and accommodation expenses.

Fixed costs:

– The park entrance fee includes the entrance, the hike, and the guides:

  • 75 USD for foreign non-residents
  • 65 USD for EAC foreign residents
  • 60 USD for foreign residents
  • 55 USD for Rwanda and EAC citizens

– Around 2 USD for the bus from Kigali to Ruhengeri
– Around 5 USD for the covid test (antigen). You will need to provide a covid test (antigen). Either you get it somewhere else, or you can get it at the visitor center the same day. They are very strict about that and a proof of vaccination is not enough at the moment.

Variable costs:

– Transportation to the starting point of the hike: To reach the starting point of the hike, you are advised to go by a 4WD car. A 4WD usually costs around 80-100 USD per day (including a driver). If you are on a very tight budget, you can try to get a boda-boda for a few USD to take you as close as possible to the starting point. You can then hike the rest of the path until you reach it, take the number of the driver and call him to pick you up again from the same spot when you return. You have to talk to the guide of your activity to make sure they wait for you.

Accommodation: You can find basic budget accommodation near Volcanoes Nation Park (in Ruhengeri) starting from 5 USD. We’ve stayed at Red Rocks Rwanda and enjoyed the place a lot. There are also plenty of luxury options available.

– Tip: We recommend you tip the guides and rangers at Mount Bisoke Hike, as they do a fantastic job (helping you all along the way).

People following the trek.

How to get to Volcanoes National Park?

There are several ways to get to Volcanoes National Park. The most straightforward method typically involves flying into Kigali International Airport in Rwanda. Once you’ve landed, the park is a two to three-hour journey away, accessible by either public transport or private transfer.

If you choose to travel from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park with public transport:
First, you can take a bus or shared taxi or approximately 5 USD from the Nyabugogo Bus Park (Google Maps Link) in Kigali to Musanze (Ruhengeri), the closest town to the park. There are multiple bus companies leaving there frequently throughout the day. You can buy your ticket once you arrive at the station.

From Ruhengeri, you can hire a motorcycle taxi (boda-boda) to reach either the park entrance (Volcanoes National Park Headquaters). Here you can book and pay for the activity you plan to do at the park. From the park headquarters, you are advised to go by 4WD car to get to the starting point of your activity. Usually, a 4WD car costs around 80-100 USD for a day with a driver, so the more you are, the cheaper it gets. Your accommodation in Ruhengeri can help you to arrange the 4WD car. If you have a limited budget, you can get a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) from Ruhengeri and ask the driver to take you as close as possible to the hike’s starting point. You can then hike the rest of the way until the starting point. First, your driver must take you to the headquarters, where you should inform your guide that you are going by boda-boda so that they will wait for you there.

Another possibility is to travel from neighboring countries like Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo. This option, while viable, involves a few more considerations. It’s likely to take longer as the distance to the park from these countries is more significant than from Kigali. Crossing international borders involves additional paperwork and logistical planning, such as visas, customs, and potentially different health requirements like vaccinations. Depending on the mode of transport and route taken, it might also be more expensive. Therefore, if you’re considering this option, it’s important to plan thoroughly and factor in extra time and resources.

Suppose you want to travel to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda from Kampala (Capital of Uganda). In that case, you can first take a taxi (= shared minivan in Uganda) from the New Taxi Park (Goolge Maps Link) in Kampala to the Cyanika Border Post (Google Maps Link). There is no fixed schedule. The shared taxis leave whenever all seats are taken. At the border, you either have to get a visa on arrival for Rwanda, or you can apply before for your visa online in case you don’t already possess the East African Visa. Once you cross the border, it’s easy to find transportation to Musanza (Ruhengeri), which is just 25 km away from there. You can either take a boda-boda (motorbike taxi) or a minibus for two USD.

Is Mount Bisoke in the Virunga Mountains?

Yes, Mount Bisoke is indeed part of the Virunga Mountains, a volcanic range stretching across three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). While some areas of the Virunga region in the DRC have experienced conflict, Mount Bisoke, mainly on the Rwandan side, is generally considered safe and separate from these issues. Rwanda’s emphasis on tourism safety ensures guided and secure hikes on Mount Bisoke. We recommend you stay informed about the latest travel advisories and follow standard safety precautions while visiting any location.

What should I bring to hike Mount Bisoke?

Passport: You must bring your passport with you to identify yourself.
Credit Card: While cash payments are usually accepted for park activities, you should better pay by card as it’s the preferred method. 
Suitable hiking gear: sturdy waterproof boots or shoes (keep in mind it can rain and it will get muddy), waterproof clothing, and warm layers for changing weather; we recommend you bring a raincoat.
Plenty of water: Staying hydrated is crucial during a physically demanding hike.
High-energy snacks: To keep you fueled during the hike.
Sunscreen and a hat: To protect you from the tropical sun.
Camera: To capture stunning landscapes and potential wildlife sightings.
First-aid kit: To address minor injuries during the hike.
Altitude sickness medication: As a precaution, given the high altitude of Mount Bisoke in case you are sensible with heights.

When is the best time to hike Mount Bisoke?

The best time to do the Mount Bisoke hike depends on personal preference and weather conditions. Typically, hikers prefer the dry seasons from December to February and June to September, as they provide more favorable hiking conditions with less rain. However, even during wetter months, like March to May and October to November, rain showers are inevitable; the good part is that the surroundings become lush and colorful. Still, you should always check the weather conditions and ask the park before hiking.

Small sign to follow Dian Fossey's trek in the jungle.

Is it safe to hike Mount Bisoke?

Yes, the Mount Bisoke hike is generally considered safe for visitors.

Trained guides and park rangers accompany hikers, ensuring a secure experience, even when encountering wild animals along the way. They know the terrain, potential risks, and necessary precautions for the hike. So they are prepared to handle unexpected situations while prioritizing visitors’ well-being. We felt safe during the entire hike.

Hikers need to follow safety guidelines actively. This means staying on designated paths, avoiding risky behaviors, and respecting the natural environment. Being aware of personal limitations, staying hydrated, and wearing suitable hiking gear are essential for a safe and enjoyable Mount Bisoke experience.

Is Rwanda safe to visit?

Yes, Rwanda is generally safe for visitors and is known for its low crime rate, well-maintained infrastructure, and political stability. The country has invested significantly in tourism and takes the safety of tourists seriously. According to the 2022 annual report from the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), Rwanda holds the 11th position. In the Global Peace Index of the same year, it’s ranked 72nd.

Rwanda is often called the “Switzerland of Africa” due to its stunning landscapes and mountainous terrain, much like Switzerland in Europe. This nickname is also partly attributed to its progress in development, safety, cleanliness, and orderliness.

However, it’s always wise to follow standard safety measures, like not traveling needlessly after dark, keeping an eye on your personal items, and staying updated on local traditions and rules. We recommend you check the latest travel advisories from your government or international bodies before your trip.

Is Volcanoes National Park safe to visit?

Yes, Volcanoes National Park is a safe place to visit. Even though outdoor activities always come with some risks, the park maintains robust safety procedures to reduce any potential dangers. The park’s staff prioritizes the safety of its visitors, providing experienced guides and rangers for all treks and tours. As with any trip, using common sense, adhering to the park’s rules, and staying with your guided group are crucial for a safe and unforgettable experience.

How can I get a tourist visa for Rwanda?

Are you only planning to visit Rwanda? Then a single-entry visa will be the right choice for you. However, consider opting for the East African Visa if your travel plans include other East African nations like Kenya and Uganda. That permits travel between these countries using a single visa.

While it is possible to apply for the visa in advance through agencies and on the official page here, it is not necessary. You can conveniently obtain a Rwandan visa upon arrival at all land borders and Kigali International Airport. However, ensure you have your hotel reservation and a return or onward ticket handy, as these may be requested during the visa-on-arrival process. Upon arrival, you can get both the single-entry Rwanda visa and the East African Visa.

You can stay for 30 days in Rwanda with the single entry visa, while the East African Visa allows you to travel within the East African Countries Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya for 90 days.

How is the internet in Musanze (Ruhengeri)?

If you plan to work online during your adventure, we recommend choosing accommodation in the center of Ruhengeri. That is where you’ll find the strongest internet connection, as access is very limited outside the town center. The internet speed in this area is generally good enough for basic work, but for a more reliable experience, it’s better to rely on mobile data rather than WiFi. Please remember that internet stability in Rwanda can be hit-or-miss, which can make video meetings a challenge even when download speeds are adequate. So, be prepared for some fluctuations in your connection quality.

Is it worth hiking Mount Bisoke?

Absolutely! The Mount Bisoke hike provides an incredible adventure that combines physical challenge, a deep connection with nature, and the chance to encounter rare wildlife like mountain gorillas and elephants. It offers a unique opportunity to push your limits, immerse yourself in the beauty of nature, and forge lasting memories throughout the hike. 

Ranger walking through the village.

Is it worth going to Volcanoes National Park?

Going to Volcanoes National Park is definitely an incredible opportunity to explore the breathtaking nature and wildlife that Rwanda has to offer. The park offers a range of activities such as nature walks, cultural experiences, birdwatching, and the highlight of the visit is undoubtedly the thrilling opportunity to encounter gorillas in their natural habitat during a gorilla trekking adventure (or if you are lucky in a regular hike). This place ensures there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Landscape of Mount Bisoke's trek
Fields with sheep eating and mountains behind, the sky is foggy.
zoom in of the crater lake with a cloud on the side

Are you also planning to visit Diani Beach in Kenya and maybe even work remotely from there? If yes, then we highly recommend you to read here our full Digital Nomads Guide to Diani Beach.