I still remember the feeling I had in my heart when I first visited the volcanoes National park. The towering mountains of the volcanic chain and the tall old trees made me feel like I was on a different planet. The views, weather, trees and chirping birds left me entirely in awe.
The location is said to be the coldest area in Rwanda and as for someone who has lived in Kigali - the capital city of Rwanda, you know what that means. I purposed to hike one day and started doing research. As I was researching which volcano is the best for hiking, I discovered Mount Bisoke, Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Kalisimbi with the highest being Kalisimbi standing at 4,507m above sea level.
In July 2020, I managed to hike the first not-so-easy one which is Bisoke, and it was one of my best hiking experiences at the time. It was an epic experience that made me plan for my next hiking adventure.
In 2022, I decided to tick Mountain Muhabura off my bucket list. It is said to be the most difficult due to Its steepness and whoever I told this gave me a doubt-filled look. This convinced me that Mountain Muhabura could be more difficult than I had imagined. Regardless, I proceeded with my plans, I wasn't backing down from a challenge.
September came, I set the dates for the hike, and started planning. I got most of the information from the official Visit Rwanda website. Besides the planning, I also had to start prepping my body for the challenge ahead. There was a lot to consider and do.
Workouts and short hikes
Mountain Muhabura stands at 4,127m above sea level and it is steep. No one wants to wake up and go hiking without preparing mentally and physically if they intend on conquering this particular mountain. Physical fitness is mandatory. You can prepare by going on short hikes, or by training your legs to walk a long distance and other body workouts.
To visit every national park in Rwanda, one has to buy a permit from Rwanda Development Board online or at their offices. The prices vary according to citizenship. Rwandan citizens, east Africans and internationals get different pricing.
Where to stay
This is also a key aspect to consider especially when one is planning to hike the next day. Though the distance from Kigali to Musanze is less than 3 hours, travelling on the same day as the hike is not advisable. Musanze is a developing town that has a lot of accommodations from luxurious hotels to budget accommodations. This will also allow you to wake up early, get a packed lunch and breakfast, and start off the hike on time.
Renting a car
This is so important especially when you want to move from Kigali to Musanze and
then Burera where the hike to Muhabura begins. If you want to hike any volcano from the volcanic chain, it is advisable to buy permits in advance. This saves you from the stress of last-minute long lines of tourists visiting the park on the same day. The distance from Musanze to Cyanika and Nyagahinga back is also not a walkable distance. If you want to make it early and worry less when you come
back after the 7 hours of the hike, a car is something to consider.
What to carry on the day hike
There are critical items one should never hit the trail without. Everyone needs a checklist to be sure they don’t forget anything. Here are some of the items to consider carrying;
- Sun protection (sunscreen, sunglasses, etc)
- Light waterproof clothes in case the weather drops
- Comfortable hiking shoes
- Lunch box
- Energy drinks
- Waste bag
- First aid kit
- Extra clothes and shoes that you can change into after the hike. You wouldn’t want to go back to the car in the same dirty clothes and shoes you had on the hike.
On the day of the hike, I woke up early and I was ready to summit, only to realise that I was the only one prepared. The driver and hotel people weren't ready. I had to carry breakfast and packed lunch but everything was served late. On top of this, no one had told me of the huge difference between Mount Bisoke and Muhabura, I ended up doing everything in a rush including the arrival at the main starting point of the hike. When I arrived, looking at the park rangers, porters and guides, I could tell the disappointment. They knew what was ahead of me and to be honest, the fear of not making it to the summit also kicked in.
As a tip, you should know that there is a fixed hour at which one is expected to be at the summit for both Mount Bisoke and Muhabura. If that time finds you anywhere else, even if it is close to the summit, you are advised to go back and start the journey down. This is what happened to me. Because of poor planning and preparation, I had little to no chance of getting to the summit.
Hiking Mountain Muhabura comes with several perks; nice views of twin lakes - Burera and Ruhondo, two other lakes in the neighbouring country of Uganda, and other mountains. So, even if you don’t make it to the top to see the crater lake, you will still be rewarded by these magnificent views.
Lastly, take as many breaks and pictures as possible, they will make your day memorable and less challenging, after all, it is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.