Mount Bisoke (Visoke) is an active volcano in the Virunga Mountains of the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. It straddles the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but the summit is located in Rwanda. It is located approximately 35 km northeast of the town of Goma and adjacent Lake Kivu.
Bisoke, like all of the peaks in the Virunga Mountain Range, is a volcano created by rift action on the forming divergent boundary of the East African Rift which is slowly bisecting the African plate. The mountain reached a height of 3,711 metres (12,175 ft) after its last eruption in 1957. Bisoke has the largest crater lake of the range.
The mountain is located within Rwandan Volcanoes National Park and Congolese Virunga National Park. The steep slopes of the peak are densely covered with equatorial rain forest and alpine meadows. The summit does not gather snow, but is often shrouded in fog. Bisoke is one of the mountains considered a habitat for the endangered mountain gorilla, and the Karisoke Research Centre founded by Dian Fossey is located in the valley to the west.
Being located within two national parks, it is by law off-limits to most standard wilderness industries such as logging, farming, or mining. Aside from visitors to the parks searching for gorillas or other wildlife, the peak is popular with mountaineers. It can be climbed in a day from the Rwandan side, and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) leads two-day excursions to it and nearby Mount Karisimbi, most often out of the nearby city of Ruhengeri. The local tourism industry was devastated during the 1990s due to several bloody uprisings and wars in central Africa including the Rwandan Civil War (1990–1994), Rwandan Genocide (1994), First (1996–1997) and Second (1998–2003) Congo Wars, and Burundian Civil War (1993–2005). During this time, military action and refugee relocation wreaked ecological havoc (including deforestation and poaching of endangered species) upon the Volcanoes and Virunga National Parks, as well as the surrounding area. In recent years, both parks have been somewhat secured, and the tourism industry of the area has been recovering, despite ongoing conflicts.
All guided trips for both volcano hikes and gorilla trekking leave from the ORTPN office in the Virunga National Park near Ruhengeri (Musanze). The trailhead is about a 30 minute drive over rough terrain from the ORTPN office so be sure to have organized transportation ahead of time.
Hiking Bisoke volcano
Hiking Mountain Bisoke can be an experience of a lifetime but it can also be one of the most challenging things a person can undertake, especially if physically unfit. The hiking is 6 to 7 hours, including 2 hours of descent, but that is for inexperienced hikers. Experienced hikers can take less than 4 hours to hike and come back down to the base.
Apart from the experience of hiking on the extinct volcano which is part of the Virunga Mountain range, at the peak, there’s a crater lake known as Lake Ngezi. The trekking starts with an assembly at the park headquarters in Kinigi at 7a.m. Here, each group is assigned a guide who briefs them about the activity they are about to embark on.
Although Mount Bisoke is not the highest (it is 3,711 metres) it is the most visited mountain of the Virunga Massif.
The journey goes through Bisate Village and many farmlands of Irish Potatoes and Pyrethrum. There are rocks lined up along the path but they can get slippery when it rains. The long climb to the entrance can take one almost 2hrs but it depends on how experienced they are.
Activities to do at Mount Visoke
Hiking to the crater Lakes
Mount Bisoke is the most hiked of all the Virunga Volcanoes because of the two stunning crater lakes, breath-taking mountain scenery and relatively easy trek. The volcano has two major hiking trails each leading to one of the Crater Lakes. The trek to the Bisoke Crater Lake on the summit of Mt Bisoke/Visoke Volcano is the most popular mountain hiking adventure in Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda. It is a moderate hike which is done within a day. The trek is very rewarding with beautiful scenery and great views of the lush Virunga and Rwanda’s hilly landscape, a cloud experience at the top of the volcano and arguably the most beautiful crater lake of the Virunga ranges – Bisoke Crater Lake.
The most popular of the trails is the one to the Crater Lake at the summit. It is in total a 6 hour hike, that is, 4 hours to the summit and 2 hours back.
The second trails leads to the second Crater Lake, Lake Ngezi, and this is much shorter, and takes only about 3 hours, with 2 hours to the Crater Lake and 1 hour back.
Both are one day hikes, relatively easy that even the non-experienced hikers can take on. The hikes also offer chances of encountering the Mountain Gorillas, sighting the Golden Monkeys, plus a range of wildlife and breathtaking mountain scenery.
Mount Bisoke is home to habituated Mountain Gorilla Groups. Tourists can enjoy the most awe-inspiring wildlife adventures, that is, trekking the Mountain Gorillas.
Dian Fossey Tomb Site
The trek to the Dian Fossey’s tomb and the gorilla cemetery in the former Karisoke Research Camp is one of the hikes and activities that people do in Volcanoes National Park that will give you a wonderful experience of learning about this wonderful woman who dedicated her life to the Mountain Gorillas and also of enjoying the beauty of the Virunga and observe plenty of rear wildlife. The famous primatologist and conservationist, Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research base in the valley between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke hence coining the name Karisoke. This area is located at an altitude of 3000m, and was abandoned during the wars in the 1990s.
To join this trek you have to report to the park headquarters at Kinigi as early as 7am. Here you will meet the ranger guides and assemble for briefing with the others who are going for this trek. At about 8am you will leave the park headquarters and drive for close to 30 minutes to where the hike will start just outside the park. It is from the starting point you will pick a hiking stick and hire a porter that you will need to carry your bags and will offer some support during the hike.
The initial walk of about ten minutes is outside the park boundary and goes through the local communities. Enjoy the magnificent views of the Virunga Mountains ahead of you. Approach Mount Bisoke, go over the stone wall which marks the boundary of Volcanoes National Park, taking the trail at the base of Mount Bisoke and start to ascend, going through some eucalyptus plantation and thickets. This area of the park is common with gorillas so be on the lookout and when you are lucky to encounter a group you will be allowed no more than a minute of viewing and strictly taking pictures
The entire Dian Fossey tomb trek takes between 1 – 3 hours depending on your level of fitness. Proper hiking shoes are necessary as the paths are normally very muddy and slippery since it rains most of the times. Also much need is trousers and long-sleeved shirt to protect from stinging nettles and thorny plants.
Birding & Forest Walks
Volcanoes National Park has about 165 species of birds, of which 17 are endemic to the area. There is an array of wildlife to encounter including Mountain Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, Forest Elephants, Buffaloes, orchids and other lots of unique mountain vegetation.