While on this tour, I climbed mountains and indulged in remarkable camping escapades. In addition, I experienced life in rural Rwanda and traced the genesis of products I can’t do without. Today, allow me to break down the five-day expedition, tailored by Beyond the Gorillas Experience (BGE).
Day 1: Mount Kabuye
It takes three to five hours to reach the summit of Mount Kabuye through the main trail. From the starting point, approximately 1,600 meters above sea level, hikers ramble for about an hour before taking their first break. During the breather, they sit on comfortable benches and soak up breathtaking views.
After two more breaks, on equally comfortable benches and more stunning landscapes, hikers make the final push to the summit. Refreshments and organic energizers are served during each pause. These breaks are designed to create a picnic atmosphere. Apart from benches, BGE has placed trash bins and built decent toilets along the trail.
The final 100-meter gradient is physically taxing but not extremely strenuous. Overall, this activity’s level of difficulty is moderate.
Reaching 2,700 meters (8,800 feet) above sea level, Mount Kabuye is the third highest non-volcanic mountain in Rwanda behind Mount Muhungwe and Mount Bigugu.
While on the summit, stroll around the crest and feel the invigorating effect of the eucalyptus-scented, gentle wind. Take a minute to admire the panorama of the twin lakes. On a good day, the view of Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo volcanoes will take your breath away. On the other side of the loop, you will be awestruck by the blurry appearance of Bisoke, Mikeno and Karisimbi. From this viewpoint, the three volcanoes look like paintings in the sky.
The best view comes after the hardest climb. When you make it to the summit, you will be rewarded with the views of the volcanoes, the twin lakes and the grandeur of hills embellishing the surface of the area.
During sunset, the sky glows. Watching the sun fading away on the other side of the Virunga Massif is a spectacle you would want to see one day. When darkness envelopes the area, illuminating lights from the surrounding settlements look like little diamonds sprinkled on a dark surface.
Strolling around the crest in the morning is highly recommended. From your vantage point, you will see a network of trails meandering around the aforementioned rolling hills. On the other side of the loop, the view of the volcanoes and the twin lakes will take your breath away.
Mount Kabuye campsite has a fully equipped restaurant. The culinary expertise of the on-site professional chef ensures an ultimate dining experience on top of one of the highest mountains in Rwanda outside the Volcanoes National Park.
Day 2: Lake Ruhondo
The 11-kilometer Kabuye - Ruhondo trail spans from Gakenke to Musanze via Burera. It takes four to six hours to cover the entire off-the-beaten path, depending on one’s pace and durations of breaks.
The first 4-kilometer stretch is a steep slope. The rest of the trail meanders around hills, settlements, farms and small forest patches. Long distance notwithstanding, it is easy to navigate.
From Mount Kabuye to Lake Ruhondo, trekkers burn calories while absorbing the beauty of the rolling hills this destination is known for. One step after another, they marvel at the volcanoes, the twin lakes, Mount Mbwe and Gashaki Peninsula.
Walking brings money-can’t-buy health benefits. In addition, the oldest form of exercising increases our creative output by 60%. Researchers call this kind of creativity divergent thinking. On top of all that, this simple but highly effective drill stimulates a free flow of ideas. Engaging in activities that allow our minds to wander empowers our innovative acumen.
The Kabuye - Ruhondo trek is followed by a camping experience on Michael’s Island. While sailing to the island named after its lone inhabitat, you will be amazed by the transformation of Gashaki Peninsula into a tourism hotspot.
Upon arrival, stroll around the islet and listen to the sound of the gentle waves. Look farther and enjoy the view of Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo volcanoes along the border.
Like the rest of the campsites run by BGE, Michael’s Island has a fully equipped kitchen and a professional chef. Full course meals and an assortment of refreshments will be at your disposal while on the island.
Day 3: Volcanoes National Park
This national park is home to the mountain gorillas, from which a substantial amount of dollars is milked. Beyond the gorillas, the park offers a wide range of exciting activities.
Gorillas are not the only primates inhabiting the protected area. They share the same habitat with their less popular cousins namely golden monkeys. As a result of deliberate conservation efforts, both endangered species are registering rebounding numbers in terms of population growth.
The golden monkeys live in large groups. They are often spotted eating bamboo leaves and fruits. They have long, golden facial hair and bright orange backs. Limited research has been conducted on these fascinating creatures but the little we know about them shows quite advanced cognitive development.
Moreover, Volcanoes National Park is a hikers’ paradise. There are eight mountains within the Virunga range. Five of them are located along Rwanda’s northwestern border. The five towering volcanoes co-shared by Rwanda are Muhabura, Gahinga, Sabyinyo, Bisoke and Karisimbi.
Measuring 4,507 meters above sea level, Karisimbi’s summit is the highest point in the entire chain. The most physically taxing part of its trail is the stretch popularly known as mubakomando. Muhabura, the second-tallest volcano in the area, has a very steep slope. Bisoke and Gahinga hikes are relatively easier while Sabyinyo’s summit is not yet reachable from the Rwandan side.
Karisimbi hikers can also add a stopover at Dian Fossey’s tomb. Visiting the final resting place of the legendary primatologist will make you feel like a monk in a remote pilgrimage site. Dian Fossey spent the last eighteen years of her life living with the gorillas while protecting and studying them.
Day 4: Tea Experience
There are currently 24,000 hectares of tea and 18 factories in Rwanda. The growth of the highly organized sub sector has led to the formation of 21 cooperatives and a couple of companies providing outgrowing services.
Tea is grown on highlands and well drained marshlands between 1,500 and 2,500 meters above sea level. Highlands and well drained marshlands describe the land of 1,000 hills pretty accurately. No wonder the famed green crop covers tens of thousands of hectares in Rwanda.
As the country positions herself as an investment magnet, more and more chunks of land are expected to be converted into tea plantations. Tea experiences give tourists a deeper insight into the entire production process and a better understanding of the supply chain.
Day 5: Congo Nile Trail
The Congo Nile Trail spans the distance of 227 kilometers. From Rubavu to Rusizi via Rutsiro, Karongi and Nyamasheke, the trail attracts adventurers determined to discover the hidden gems of the Kivu Belt. This scenic route, through the watershed that separates the drainage basins of Africa’s most iconic rivers, is food to the soul of every nature enthusiast.
Along the way, tourists learn a lot about a wide range of economic activities carried out by members of the local communities. The trail slashes through fishing camps, coffee plantations and washing stations. Furthermore, trekkers get up, close and personal with honey producers, banana beer brewers, boat builders, miners and farmers.
BGE offers tailor-made packages covering stretches that suit a client’s preferred itinerary. From Nyamyumba Beach to the southern flank of Lake Kivu’s stunning shoreline, the journey along the Congo Nile Trail is quite intriguing.
The author is an adventurer currently visiting all 30 districts of Rwanda. Follow his awe-inspiring expeditions on Twitter @GeoExposure