Hiking in Rwanda | Everything You Need To Know in 2021

Hiking in Rwanda

If you like to challenge yourself, go sightseeing while getting some exercise, you will love hiking in Rwanda.

Whether you are a complete newbie to hiking or more experienced, Rwanda’s numerous hills have something for you. 

I like to go hiking and have tried out a couple of trails around the country. It’s been a great way to discover Rwanda.

I’ll share some of the trails I’ve hiked and other popular ones that I am yet to go to. I’ll also throw in some tips that you may find handy.

I’d like to help you make your hiking experience in Rwanda a memorable one!

So let’s get right to it.

Trekking Groups in Rwanda

Hiking or trekking groups are a great starting point, especially when you’re new to a place.

And Rwanda has a lot of them, both formal and informal groups that you can join.

Informal Hiking Groups

If you prefer an informal tour that’s more of a group of friends hiking together, then you can join one of the groups that organize hikes and treks often.

A great way to do this is to join the Living in Kigali Facebook group. People often invite anyone interested to join in on hikes. And you can post your own, pick out a place and ask in the group if anyone would like to join. 

There are also other groups where volunteers map out some exciting trails across Rwanda and invite anyone interested. 

You may need to pay a minimal guiding fee of about $2 to the organizers. The fee is more of an appreciation for their effort.

One group that I have personally joined a couple of times is ‘Tourism Lovers 250’, led by a Cameroonian, Guy Mouofo.

You can get details of their next hike on their Instagram, tourismlovers250. Join one of their hikes and get to explore Rwanda with a mix of locals and international hiking enthusiasts.

For these informal groups, you will, of course, need to organize your transport and accommodation, according to your preferences. 

Formal Tour Companies

You may also choose to go hiking in Rwanda with formal tour companies.

These companies plan your whole itinerary for you at a fee. You will get everything from permits, transport, accommodation, a guide, and activities planned out for you. 

They are especially great for hiking where you need permits. However, some hikes must be guided by a professional, like Volcanoes National Park that hosts Rwanda’s famous Silver Back Gorillas.

There’s a number of them, including our partners, Lion Safaris and Rwanda Eco Company Safari.

Hiking Independently

You may also just be looking to explore by yourself. 

And there are several places you can hike without a tour guide and have a great time.

For instance, you can hike up Mt. Kigali alone. And the way up is more of a nice, long walk than an actual hike. 

All you need is an adventurous spirit and Google maps to guide you.

You will find that these are easy to do. The path up Mount Kigali, for instance, passes by people’s homes, and you will often be hiking alongside locals on their way to and from home. 

Don’t be surprised when a few children join you on your hike and go much faster than you. 

The locals go up and down the hills without breaking a sweat. 

So whether you are joining a group, or a tour company, or hiking alone, let’s look at the best times to go hiking.

Best Time to Hike in Rwanda

Rwanda falls very close to the equator. So while its weather patterns vary, there aren’t very extreme variations.

There is a long rainy season between March and May where the rains sometimes really come down heavy.

This is the time to avoid hiking, especially as there are storms and lightning. The weather changes pretty quickly, so if you go hiking at this time, carry warm clothes and maybe an umbrella just in case.

The dry season is usually from June to around September and later in December to around February. It’s often sunny with a few clouds here and there and the occasional showers.

I’d recommend planning your hikes around this time. If you go very early, you can avoid the scorching sun. Just remember to bring some sunscreen with you to keep your skin protected.

October and November often have short rains. You can hike around this time, especially for the trails that need less planning. 

With a hiking period picked out, let’s look at some of the most popular hiking trails that you could try out.

Popular Routes and Trails

Mount Kigali

You don’t need to travel outside of Kigali to get hiking trails. Right on the outskirts of the city, you have Mount Kigali.

And well, it’s not exactly a mountain. But it is one of the highest hills in Kigali. 

Mount Kigali is excellent for beginners or someone just looking for an activity to kill a couple of hours.

The hike up the mountain is more of a walk along a neighborhood with people’s homes. 

You can take a moto-taxi to the bottom of Mt. Kigali to start your hike, or make it a bit longer by starting further back. A significant landmark you can use as a starting point is the Nyamirambo stadium. 

And if you go, especially on a Sunday morning, you will find locals exercising and gearing up to take the hike along the main road. If you are planning to go alone, this is a great time to do so, and you can just follow other groups to find your way.

As you go higher up Mt. Kigali, you will be rewarded with some most magnificent panoramic views of the Kigali city center. 

Definitely worth the short hike up.

Congo Nile Trail

This trail is popular with hikers and cyclists. The Congo Nile Trail will have you hiking along Lake Kivu through dirt roads and jungles.

If you hike the whole trail, you will have done a good 227km from end to end. So it would take you about 10 days to complete.

You may, of course, also choose to pick some sections of the trail to go for a few hours to a few days. 

Most people do the 4-day hike from Gisenyi, a town on the lake’s northern end, to Kibuye, south of the lake.

And you can camp along the way or check in at the numerous guesthouses in nearby towns to rest overnight.

The Congo Nile Trail makes for a great way to see how the locals live, have great views of valleys, waterfalls, and the lake.

Mount Karisimbi

The volcanic mountain is the highest peak in Rwanda at over 4500 meters. 

It forms part of the chain of volcanic mountains known as the Virunga Mountains found at the Rwanda, DRC, Uganda borders. And they also host the famous Mountain Gorillas.

If you’re looking for a challenging hike, then add Mount Karisimbi to your list. Lying along the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the mountain offers a trek up a muddy trail. 

You should note that it gets pretty slippery during the rainy season. So you may want to avoid it at this time.

Carry proper hiking equipment to trek Mount Karisimbi.

You may also stay in one of the cabins you’ll find along the way. 

And expect to be wowed by the incredible views of Rwanda and Congo.

volcanoes national park

Volcanoes National Park 

Last on our list, but not least, is the Gorilla tracking hike in Volcanoes National Park. 

This is one hike that Rwanda is known for. Most visitors tour the country to see the silver-back gorillas.

I haven’t yet tried it myself, but people who have done this hike say it is quite an unforgettable experience.

And it is expected to be thrilling, to see such large yet friendly creatures up close. 

You will need to get permits by applying online on the government’s Irembo service to see the gorillas.

At the time of writing this, you will also need a PCR Covid test taken 72 hours before you visit the park.

The hike starts from the park’s headquarters in Kiningi. It may take between 30 minutes and four hours to see the gorillas. 

And as the gorillas live in families, you will be allocated one of the families to visit. The time it takes depends on how far the families are from your starting point.

For more information, check out our guide to gorilla trekking in Rwanda. 

Gearing Up for the Hike in Rwanda

For the basic, beginner-level hikes, you will be good to go without any specialized hiking equipment. All you need is:

  • A nice pair of sports shoes with good grip
  • A bottle of water 
  • Sunscreen (even when you think you don’t need it. The weather may change while you are on the hike)
  • Some snacks to eat on the way
  • Your phone or camera to take some snaps 
  • Bug repellant

For the more advanced hike, like up Mt. Karisimbi, you may need more specialized equipment. Like proper hiking boots, weather-appropriate clothing, and trekking poles if you need them, as well as the items listed above.

Buying Hiking Equipment in Rwanda

Now you may struggle to find hiking equipment in Rwanda, like a nice pair of hiking boots. 

If you can, bring your hiking equipment from home. 

You may also be able to get some from neighboring countries like Uganda and Kenya.

Final Thoughts

Hiking in Rwanda can be an adventurous, thrilling, or even calming experience. Pick out a place to go for your next hike, or discover a new trail. 

Rwanda is such a beautiful country, and you can get to experience its beauty and breath in some fresh air on one of the hikes.

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