Mount Bisoke also known as Mount Visoke standing at a high of 3711 metres above sea level is a dormant volcano that had its last known eruption in 1957. Mount Bisoke is found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and is part of the 8 volcanoes that make up the Virunga massif which spans across Rwanda, the Democratic republic of Congo and Uganda. Though Mount Bisoke is shared by the Democratic republic of Congo and Rwanda, the greater part of the mountain including the crater lakes and the summit lie in Rwanda.
Mount Bisoke is covered by profuse alpine vegetation from Hagenia forest that gives the mount; a green beautiful scenery. The mount’s vegetation is a habitat to a number of wild animals that include the unique and greatly endangered mountain gorillas. The other animals that live in mount Bisoke are forest elephants, buffaloes and golden monkeys; the mount is also a hub to over 30 bird species.
Mount Bisoke was named after a Swahili word Bisoke that means water to refer to the two crater lakes that sit on the mount’s summit. Both craters look insanely beautiful on the volcano with one sitting exactly on the mount’s summit at a diameter of 400 metres and depth of 100 metres and the other crater almost at the summit; halfway the top.
Mount Bisoke is one of the wonders in Volcanoes National Park and can be hiked on your visit to the park. The mount can be fully hiked to the top crater and back on a life thrilling adventure that takes about 5 to 7 hours a day for the first time or non-experienced hikers and about 2 to 4 hours for experienced hikers.
The hike on mount Bisoke gives one an opportunity to appreciate Hagenia forest’s several tree species especially the bamboo trees, the mount’ s green lush vegetation, the numerous bird species that live the forest together with the wild animals especially the endangered mountain gorillas
Hiking mount Bisoke starts in the early morning at Kinigi where the headquarters of Volcanoes National park are; hikers meet at the headquarters at 7: 00 am where they are briefed and assigned a hiking ranger. The session at the headquarters normally takes about 40 mins or an hour and after the session hikers together with the ranger are driven to the starting point of the hiking experience which is a slow bumpy ride, 30 – 40 mins drive from the headquarters.
The start of the hiking trail at the end of the park goes through several local plantations and villages that lead to a stone wall fence that you go through and start climbing up the mountain. Mount Bisoke being home to mountain gorillas, you normally have a chance to spot the endangered species that have been habituated for gorilla trekking purposes, as you climb the hiking trail though usually the ranger with giving you under 3 mins to view them and take a few pictures before you continue on the hiking experience.
It’s always advisable that if you wish to spend more time with the mountain gorillas you, you sign up for a mountain gorilla trekking expedition and a gorilla trekking permit fee of 1500 USD.
Other animals you hope to see on the trail include the buffaloes, forest elephants and golden monkeys; though some people have spotted these animals on their hiking experiences before it’s not a guarantee that one will see them because these animals are quite difficult to site and the golden monkeys in this habitat are not habituated hence they are not familiar with human presence and are not able to stay around when they see the humans.
As you hike through Hagenia forest you appreciate the peaceful atmosphere of the forest and beautiful green scenery of the trees. You get to marvel at the different tree species in the forest and the birds that keep making pretty noises in the forest. The section with Hagenia forest on the hike is the easiest to hike and it’s normally at the start before you embark on the more challenging steeps on the mountain. Because it’s a forest though, expect numerous plants covered with thorns to get into your way and nettle bites as you move through the forest.
As you hike higher on the mountain’s altitude, it really gets cold; hikers are advised to have warm clothing on them for this part of the hike. This section of the hike also becomes harder for hikers because at higher altitudes oxygen levels drop, so you are prone to tiring quickly and easily. For people with chronic breathing or respiratory problems, this is one thing to keep in mind and to carry the appropriate medication for cases where they run out of oxygen.
To help hikers take in enough oxygen even in the high altitudes the rangers make stops for the hikers to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the mount and surrounding areas as they also rest to gather up more oxygen to take them further on the hike.
At the top of the mountain, you get to see the magnificent crater on the summit, hovering clouds that roam over the summit, the lush vegetation on the summit and sights of the surrounding areas including Mount Mikeno and Mount Karisimbi in DRC.
At the top of the mountain, you can choose to stay as long as you like however the temperatures up there normally force you to leave in less than 10 mins especially during the rainy season because it gets so cold and with low oxygen levels at the top; your actually not well enough to stay for a long time.
During the dry season you can stay up there longer than 10mins, but still you will be forced to leave in less than 30 mins or an hour because the temperatures up there are detrimental to human survival.
The temperatures at summit vary between 10°C in the dry seasons to 2 or less °C in the rainy seasons; some rainy seasons are too bad the crater is misty and barely seen.
After enjoying the bisoke summit, you will then come down the mountain and then back to Volcanoes National Park where you will enjoy the rest of your day; after your amazing experience.
The hiking permits for this Bisoke hiking experience cost 75 USD per person per hike and they are purchased at Kinigi offices on the day of the hike; this permit will entitle you to a hiking guide and give you access to the mountain hike. However, you should that it doesn’t include transport to and from the hiking head which is 30 to 40 mins away from the park offices; it is advised that you plan for you hire a private vehicle to carter for that. Also, that permit doesn’t include the porter fees, hiking stick purchases, snacks and water you on the hike and all other things.
Other key things you need to keep in mind as you plan for this Bisoke hiking experience are:-
- Especially if you are a first-timer, you need a porter to help you with your luggage as you hike, give you a push when you’re stuck or get you out of the mud during a hike; so make sure you hire one before you start your hike. Porters are hired at the head of the hiking trail; which is the starting point of your hike.
- You need a hiking stick to help you keep your hiking balance as you go up and come down the mountain, be sure to get one from the ranger before you start your hike.
- Make sure your attire favours your hiking experience especially the shoes and clothes. Shoes should be waterproof hiking shoes, have moderate-heavy clothing not to wear you down at the start of the hike and not to leave you so cold at the top of the hike. Long sleeved clothes are great as well as long trousers, raincoats, hats or other headgear, gloves (gardening gloves are perfect) and other things as you see fit.
- The hike is quite long and needs you to have consistent energy as you take it on, so carry some water and food/snack to eat on your hike.