I looked at that mountain again and again during my commute to Kigali… It was marvellous. It was also as imposing as it gets, so it wasn’t difficult to identify it on the map: its name was Mount Kabuye. There were claims on the internet that it was the the highest non-volcanic peak in Rwanda that I didn’t take seriously — but 2,700 metres (8,800 feet) was a decent altitude.
For some perspective: I was born in an Alpine country in Europe called Slovenia where the tallest peak, the one proudly featured on the national flag, only raises to 2,864 metres. When a group of people decide that a mountain is going to be their symbol, you can probably imagine that they like hiking. For a Slovenian, it is near impossible to see a hill and not want to climb it. The benefits are obvious: great views, exercise and hopefully some peace in a pristine natural environment.
I am also lucky to have a Rwandan in my life who shares the passion. We had to wait through the lockdown, months had passed between the idea and the realisation, so it felt particularly sweet when we finally set our foot in Gakenke (if you want to sound cool, pronounce it as “Gachenye”). We thought we were doing it for fun.
Professionally we had spent a couple of months putting together a different kind of a tour experience — one with a guide helping you over the phone instead of driving with you. You know, something particularly COVID-19 friendly: you can keep to yourself while still having support and entertainment whenever you require it.
But then, on the slopes of Kabuye, a new idea popped up: could we do something like that for a hiker? Unlike roads, walking paths are many and confusing, so let us reveal our first surprise: after an hour or so of walking we bumped into the first signpost! With signage available, assisting somebody over the phone became more realistic.
We wondered who would go to the trouble of putting metallic signs and even toilets for hikers… The local government? The Beyond the Gorillas Experience guys? The Musanze-based company had been known for bringing tourists to Kabuye — but they wouldn’t need all this infrastructure… Intriguing.
Allow me to take you back to the Slovenian mountains. I said that being alone in nature was one of the bonuses, but there is another side to it: the huts, the drinking and eating places, even hotels high in the hills. Such places enrich your mountaineering life and I always miss them in East Africa.
So imagine our shock when we reach the wooded top of Mount Kabuye, and there are tents pitched around a permanent building! We did NOT expect that, there was NO mention of that on the signposts!
We were fortunate to run into Theodore Nzabonimpa soon afterwards. He was helpfully moving around with a plate full of tasty little fish mixed with vegetables, a wonderful appetiser to prepare his guests for lunch. Ha ha, and we carried a load of snacks with us! Theodore is the founder of Beyond the Gorillas Experience, and he liked our ideas.
He invited us back to Kabuye some weeks later, our full team, equipped us with his guide Francis and shared everything they had learned about the place thus far. To top it all, we were welcome to spend the night in his tents.
I could go on and on about the beautiful crafts we encountered on the way, about the fascinating king’s cave Francis showed us, about several more interesting sites we explored, about the dancing troupe, about the amazing food we ate… But the main takeaway is simply: customer service with extreme attention to detail. Theodore is one of those people who were born to be hosts, who actively look for more ways to impress.
An example: he sends a water container with his staff to the craftmakers’ place, just to help his guests refill their bottles. There is no dire need for that but it makes a hiker happy, and that’s what matters.
Mind you, Theodore doesn’t live on Mt Kabuye and it doesn’t make economic sense for him to always be around, or come with an experienced chef. However, his people are nearby and no matter when you do Kabuye, somebody will be on the top to serve you some drinks.
But it does make a lot of sense to announce yourself in advance (call/message us on +250 781 154 497). Allow us to now show you what we have created with Theodore’s assistance:
CLIMB MT KABUYE WITH A HELPER ON YOUR PHONE
The official start of this activity is Saturday, 12 September 2020, when you are welcome to experience it with a promotional 25% discount. More info on +250 781 154 497.
Enjoy the only hiking-friendly hill in Rwanda — and the wider Gorilla Highlands region — that boasts a bar/restaurant on its top! A Musanze-based company “Beyond the Gorillas Experience” has set it up for you to appreciate the historical, cultural and natural highlights of Mount Kabuye, providing you with a great reason to exercise a bit. We have finally added some unique twists, making Mt Kabuye trekking really special…
This time, your tour guide will be on your phone! Living and breathing experts from our team will help you get the best out of your Mount Kabuye trip, using WhatsApp. We will provide you with pre-tour advice, share with you a custom-made map and other digital goodies, and be with you through messages and voice calls. In short, you will never feel alone or unsafe.
It takes only 3 hours to climb Mt Kabuye from Gakenke (a town between Kigali and Musanze), making it a suitable destination for almost anyone. However, do not expect an easy hike! If you require assistance with your luggage, we can arrange a porter for you — and even a physical guide to go with you. However, this is primarily a digital experience, hiking like no other. Wanna try?
DAY-TRIP OPTION: HIKING ONLY — RWF 25,000 baseline price + RWF 3,000 per registered participant
With 3 hours up and 2 hours down, this is completely doable in a day. If you eventually realise you are late, there is a pleasant guesthouse in Gakenke and a homestay solution on the slopes of Mt Kabuye.
Using WhatsApp we will guide you to the top, helping you with a map, advice on the way and preparation before the trip. Don’t know where to turn where there are no signposts? You can always ask us.
On the top we will share with you a video welcome by the founder and cultural audio stories about the site. We will find you local support so that you can locate the famous cave and explain its story in audio.
Some additional explanation of pricing may be necessary: RWF 25,000 is the price for our Hiking Only services and it doesn’t matter if you are one or ten (that would only mean RWF 2,500 per person). However, we are inviting you to register your participants (additional RWF 3,000 per person) giving everybody direct access to information, membership in the WhatsApp group and the right to call us at any time. Additional clarifications available on +250 781 154 497.
DAY-TRIP OPTION: HIKING & FUN CHALLENGES — RWF 45,000 baseline price + RWF 5,000 per registered participant
Especially made for families with children or groups/teams this option adds an extra hour or two and includes everything from Hiking Only plus:
- the challenge of finding four parts of the Secret Letter
- a digital Scavenger Hunt (get a list of photos to take)
- entertaining competitions among groups
- cultural activities like banana beer making and crafts
NB: Some challenges can be eaten, for example, there is a rolex awaiting you at the end!
The price for our Hiking & Fun Challenges is RWF 45,000, no matter how many you are (if you are five that would come to RWF 9,000 per person). However, we are inviting you to register your participants (additional RWF 5,000 per person) giving everybody direct access to information, membership in the WhatsApp group and the right to call us at any time. Additional clarifications available on +250 781 154 497.
TENTED OVERNIGHT OPTION — RWF 35,000 per person with three meals
On the top of Mount Kabuye full-equipped quality tents can be awaiting you and tasty meals can be prepared. We will accompany that with a quality selection of social games you can play around the fireplace. If you wish, you can help with cooking and setting the tents up, however, by default all is done for you. Moreover, expect to get a herbal bath for your feet to relax them after the trekking!
text and photo: Miha Logar