Rwanda’s epic scenery, pleasant climate and magnificent wildlife make the land a remarkable place to explore on foot. The best hiking to be had is in the western half of the country, all the way from Volcanoes National Park in the north, along the fringes of Lake Kivu in the west and down to Nyungwe National Park in the south.
A range of six extinct and three active volcanoes form the Virunga Massif, spanning altitudes from 2,400m to 4,507m. The Volcanoes National Park protects the Rwandan sector, with the other slopes falling within Uganda or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The park is best known for tracking gorillas but there is plenty more to see and do. The shortest hike is to Lake Ngezi, a scenic little lake nestled in a volcanic depression at the foot of Mount Bisoke. It takes about three hours in total and is relatively easy going, with the possibility of encountering wildlife along the way as well as gaze across to the Congolese forests.
For those keen to summit Mount Bisoke, a crater lake awaits at the top, which lies at 3,700m. This trail takes anything from five hours to a whole day.
The highest peak in Rwanda is Mount Karisimbi, which translates as white shell, referring to the frequently white-capped cloud cover at the summit. At 4,507m it is a strenuous yet rewarding hike, which takes two days, camping along the way. As this is the territory of gorillas, other primates and many bird species, hikers could be blessed with a chance meeting along the way.
In the saddle area between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke is the Karisoke Research Centre, founded by Dian Fossey in 1967, as well as the site of her grave. The walk up takes about an hour to an hour and a half, starting with a drive from the park headquarters 30 minutes away.
Other hikes include Mount Muhubura, a demanding full day climb up to 4,127m, and the scenic twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. It is possible to reach a viewpoint over the lakes by car, so hikers shouldn’t expect to be alone. For those keen to change it up a bit, it is possible to hire a boat for a scenic lake cruise.
The Buhanga Eco-Park offers more of a wander than a hike but is nevertheless worth considering. Paths crafted from lava stones form an interconnecting network between observation platforms, sometimes running between ancient ficus trees with creepers clinging to their trunks.
Rwandan kings of old were crowned in the caves in the Buhanga sacred forest, which translates as creation. Alongside its cultural significance, it is also quite beautiful, with rare orchids and butterflies.
All of the above require a permit and a guide. Conversely, Mount Kabuye can be accessed freely, lying outwith the Volcanoes National Park to the south east. It is popular with volunteers working within Rwanda and takes about five hours to reach the top, lying at an altitude of 2,700m.
Alongside Lake Kivu, the Congo Nile Trail is popular with both cyclists and hikers, traversing rainforests, bracken fields and bamboo forests. At 227km from one end to the other, it takes 10 days to complete on foot, although it is possible to do in single sections.
The trail is a wonderful way to soak up daily life in traditional villages, tour a historic church, swim and paddle on the lake shore or sip coffee where it’s made.
With twelve coffee-washing stations, three tea plantations, three cities, dozens of villages, and innumerable beaches, coves, waterfalls, valleys and vistas, the winding path of the Congo Nile Trail offers some of the finest hiking to be had anywhere in east and central Africa.
Winding its way along the fringes of the lake via the peaks of Rwanda’s green hills, the Congo Nile Trail is as challenging as it is rewarding. With a peak elevation of 2630m, it’s a serious workout to boot.
There are camp sites along the route, or guesthouses in the towns for those after a bit more comfort. Refreshments are available along the route, supplied by small shops.
In the south west, Nyungwe’s steep landscape makes it as an ideal destination for hikers – whether novice or experienced – as the park boasts an extensive network of scenic hiking trails:
A comfortable trek for novices, this 2.1 km hike will amaze with its majestic views of the Canopy Walkway and dazzling wildflowers. The Igishigishigi Trail can also be combined with the longer Imbaraga or Umoyove Trails.
Another relatively easy hike, the Karamba Trail – located on the former site of a gold mine, market and army camp – is considered one of the best spots for birding in Nyungwe as it is flanked by numerous fern trees.
This hike provides marvelous views of numerous ridges, rainforests, stunningly beautiful flowers and on a clear day, the Kibira National Park in Burundi. The trail is also a prime location for primate viewing and birding.
Also known as the Mahogany Trail, visitors will relax by a waterfall, take a stroll under some of the park’s tallest trees and savor the scent of aromatic leaves during this trek. In addition, the Umuvoye Trail provides access to several side trails used for chimpanzee viewing.
Although considered a difficult hike, this trail that takes hikers through rather lovely ravines is the perfect place to listen to early morning bird calls.
This trail loops around two of the highest peaks in the park and provides views of Lake Kivu in Rwanda.
Geared toward experienced hikers, the trail rewards hikers with the sight of four scenic waterfalls – any of them will be refreshing after trekking a little less than 10 km.
The highest peak in the park, this trail offers incredible flora and – on a clear day – views of Lake Kivu as well as hills and islands belonging to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
This trail takes hikers through verdant tea fields, a steep rainforest ravines and to top it off, the biggest waterfall in the Nyungwe National Park.
Water enthusiasts will love this trail it features the park’s largest wetland, an acient swamp and brilliant waterfalls.
A relatively easy hike in the remote northeastern part of Rwanda takes hikers through pine and eucalyptus forests.
Two paths lead hikers to the summit, which is a lovely picnic and camping site.
This exhilarating hike provides outstanding chimpanzee spotting locations as well as views of Banda Village, from where children’s voices carry up the mountainside.