Lace up those boots and prepare to meet the cross-section of our region, up close and very personal! This transboundary hiking journey connects Uganda and Rwanda while bringing you to the doorstep of DR Congo. It takes you to 5 mountain lakes and to the warm sandy shores of Lake Kivu. It includes a day of activities in Volcanoes National Park, the crossing of Echuya Forest Reserve and countless cultural and historical highlights.
The Transborder Trek is made of two segments that can be enjoyed separately:
• 3-day Rebellious Cultures hike from Uganda’s Lake Bunyonyi to Rwanda’s Lake Burera
• 4-day Thriving Countryside hike from Lake Burera to Lake Kivu
Rebellious Cultures (3-Day Hike)
Walk not only through verdant landscapes but through engrossing histories of 4 different cultures. Batwa ”Pygmies” once warred with the Bakiga, colonial borders separated the Bafumbira from the Banyarwanda, and the Belgians, British and Germans were not exactly peacemakers … Or if that isn’t your cup of tea: admire 4 beautiful lakes and a special forest reserve and camp on 2 stunning islands.
• meet all cultures of southwestern Uganda and Rwanda
• take in rarely captured 360º views of Lake Bunyonyi
• meet a traditional healer and a craftmaker
• experience the island hospitality of Tom’s Homestay
• cross Echuya Forest Reserve with Batwa “Pygmies”
• camp on a cliff overlooking Lake Kayumbu
• sample the best from Lake Burera’s motorboat cruise
• spend a night on a backpacker paradise island
duration: 3 days; difficulty: hard
area: Lake Bunyonyi — Echuya Forest Reserve — Lake Kuyumbu — Cyanika border crossing — Lake Burera
distance: 52 km/32 miles (20% by boat)
departures: daily at 9am
Price: USD 490 per person (USD 860 when one person only)
Includes guiding, dugout canoeing and boating, meals and snacks, water, all activities, tips and contributions, tented accommodation. It does not include visas, transport to Lake Bunyonyi and back from Lake Burera.
DAY 1 (Lake Bunyonyi)
If you have opted for our free night offer, you will wake up at Edirisa on Lake Bunyonyi and be treated to a substantial breakfast at 9am. If you have chosen a less basic accommodation elsewhere, we will collect you by a dugout canoe and bring you to Edirisa in time for breakfast (if you of course wish to take it with us).
A short tour around the forested peninsula will show you some pretty interesting things. Grass-thatched huts were erected for volunteers decades ago, an ingenious submerged swimming pool was later built to teach life-saving skills, a tree house was constructed by an Israeli lady, and there is more!
After a detailed briefing session the paddling will begin at 10am. Under the auspices of young skippers who have grown up on the lake, this will be a piece of cake. The first program item on the terraced hillsides of the Kyabahinga peninsula will be a dancing and singing presentation by nursery school pupils. At a trading centre above the school you will be invited to a cup of the local brew, obushera. (It is gonna be … unforgettable.)
The prize for your next activity, a relatively intense climb of about 30 minutes, will be tremendous lake vistas. Kyabahinga is uniquely located to give you an outlook over most of Lake Bunyonyi, its 29 islands and the distant Virunga volcanoes. You will hear the colourful tales, legends and historical facts related to the islands.
On the ridge of the peninsula you will meet Mr. Barara, a traditional healer, who will share some carefully chosen secrets of tropical highland flora. By 1pm Mrs. Annah, a craftmaker, will have prepared lunch for her family — and you! Beans, sweet and Irish potatoes, ground nuts and dodo (local spinach) will make for a filling meal.
But Annah is more than just a good cook; she is a master of craftmaking. She will show you how local crafts are hand produced, and give you ample opportunity to make some for yourselves. And, no, this is not for ladies only! Gentlemen can attempt a banana leaf elephant or a photo frame, for example.
In the afternoon you will descend to the water and enter the dugouts …
distance: 6 km/4 mi (40% by dugout canoe)
minimum altitude: 1,960 m/6,430 ft • maximum altitude: 2,100 m/6,900 ft
To go deeper into this itinerary check out The Secrets of Our Most Popular Ugandan Hiking Route written by our guide Owen!
DAY 2 (Lake Bunyonyi — Echuya Forest Reserve — Lake Kayumbu)
You will wake up on Habukomi Island some 30 minutes away from the Kyabahinga peninsula. On this island of pelicans our legendary nightwatchman Tom Karemire runs a homestay. While you camp on a lovely meadow next to his house, he shows you around the island, tells you stories and prepares meals for you. For example, freshly made chapatis with local honey will be your breakfast delight.
However, since this is the day of a long, challenging trek to the other side of the mountains, you will wave Tom goodbye by 8am. The canoes will transport you to the other shore of Bunyonyi and from there you will slowly but surely ascend towards Echuya Forest Reserve, reaching it at around midday.
In Echuya you will be part of something unique: a Batwa “Pygmy”-guided nature trail. Our experienced partners will tell you how the forest used to be their home and how it remains a source of all kinds of natural cures and materials. You will be shown different herbs, plants that make rain, gold digging sites and more.
There is a swamp in the middle of Echuya that calls for rubber boots. Do not worry, our team will have packed some for you … The crossing of the woods is expected to take about 2 hours.
Your picnic lunch will take place above the twin Lakes of Kayumbu and Chahafi. The latter was a military outpost during the colonial times, and the trenches can still be seen. But your overnight destination will be the closer lake, Kayumbu, where we pitch tents on a church cliff overlooking the water surface. The plan is to be there by 5pm.
distance: 21 km/13 mi (15% by dugout canoe)
minimum altitude: 1,911 m/6,270 ft • maximum altitude: 2,514 m/8,250 ft
Learn more about our homestays in Little-Known Hiking Overnights in Southwestern Uganda by our tecnico Levi!
DAY 3 (Lake Kayumbu — Cyanika Border — Lake Burera)
After an 7am lakeshore breakfast and some game time with the local kids, you will walk towards Cyanika on the border of Rwanda. The 1.5-hour route leads past Lake Chahafi into fertile, heavily cultivated fields. You will feel volcanic rocks under your boots but also appreciate the fact that the terrain is as flat as it gets in the Gorilla Highlands region.
Cyanika is the most low-key of the three land crossings shared by Uganda and Rwanda. The trading centre before No Man’s Land has a couple of small shops and eateries that could prove handy, but that is all.
Dealing with border formalities should consume 30-60 minutes, and then a short stretch of hiking on tarmac can’t be avoided. You will turn to a feeder road at the very first opportunity and proceed hiking on level land through Rwandan villages. Once you climb the day’s one hill, you will be invited to an old mine. The Belgians started to dig for wolfram here a century ago, and during the last couple of decades the industry has come back to life. Not far ahead, a modern farmer is trying to prove that getting a job in the mine isn’t the only way out of rural poverty.
In the village of Gitare, about 2 trekking hours from the national boundary, you will sample some local brews and start noticing the differences between Uganda and Rwanda. Lake Burera lies nearby and a motorboat will be awaiting you, providing some relief to your legs.
For the next 3-4 hours you will be visiting different islands and taking in the culture, legends and history of Rwanda. It’s the fishermen themselves who will be serving you lunch, and then you will experience the country’s only island primary school! Your ultimate destination is the backpacker paradise isle called Cyuza. It is a wonderful, peaceful place with incredible volcano views and excellent eating. Maybe you could consider spending an extra day here?
distance: 25 km/16 mi (20% by motorboat)
minimum altitude: 1,860 m/6,100 ft • maximum altitude: 1,911 m/6,270 ft
Click for our story about Cyuza Island’s founder Bella …
Thriving Countryside (4-Day Hike)
Get a taste of Rwanda’s rural development while you trek along the Virungas and marvel at awesome views. Explore Volcanoes National Park, camp in an unexpected English garden, and reach the starting point of the Congo Nile Trail.
• behold the georgeous Twin Lakes of Rwanda
• get to know Musanze, a booming rural city
• visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus with a Dian Fossey exhibit
• explore the bounties of Volcanoes National Park
• meet an intriguing healer
• camp at the incredible home of Rosamond Carr
duration: 4 days; difficulty: hard
area: Lake Burera — Musanze — Kinigi — Imbabazi — Rubavu/Gisenyi
distance: 99 km/62 mi
departures: daily at 8am
Price: USD 540 per person (USD 920 when one person only)
Includes guiding, boating, meals and snacks, water, all activities, tips and contributions, accommodation. It does not include optional Volcanoes National Park fees, transport to Lake Burera and back from Rubavu or accommodation there.
DAY 1 (Lake Burera — Volcanoes National Park)
Lake Burera is separated from Lake Ruhondo by a narrow string of hills — at Ntaruka where they come the closest to each other your hiking will commence at 8am (following a hearty breakfast at Cyuza Island or any other accommodation you have chosen). The morning’s 4 walking hours will all be on flat land.
After passing a pretty hot springs area you will walk into the urban world of Musanze, full of the spiky roofs that are so popular in Rwanda these days. They serve no functional purpose (there isn’t any attic underneath) but they are considered fancy and a proof that somebody has arrived.
You can get yourself a fix of excellent locally-produced art at the Inshuti gallery, where the Trojan Elephant and other garden statues will entertain those young at heart, and paintings will likely impress the whole group. After you fill your stomach nearby (great Crema coffee anyone?), the gently upwards part of the day will start.
We estimate that it will take you up to 4 hours to reach the guesthouse in Kinigi, the springboard for Volcanoes National Park.
distance: 28 km/17 mi
minimum altitude: 1,860 m/6,100 ft • maximum altitude: 2,460 m/8,070 ft
Ruhondo will be your 5th lake if you started at Bunyonyi; by the end of this adventure you will touch on 4 out of our Top 5 Prettiest Lakes!
DAY 2 (Volcanoes National Park)
The day for total action or blessed inactivity! The only recommended and included highlight is the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund with a nice exhibition about Fossey as the most famous gorilla researcher and a presentation of Rwanda’s contemporary conservation efforts. You can also consider the following activity menu:
• gorilla tracking: USD 1,500
• golden monkey tracking: foreign visitors USD 100; foreign residents USD 65; East Africans USD 55; Rwandans RWF 4,000; students RWF 2,000
• hiking: one day climbs of Mt Bisoke (3,711m/12,175ft), Mt Muhabura (4,127m/13,500ft) and Mt Gahinga (3,474m/11,400ft), a two-day climb of Mt Karisimbi (4,507m/14,787ft) and others — for the details and prices see below …
Jump to a review of Volcanoes National Park hiking …
DAY 3 (Volcanoes National Park — Imbabazi)
You will be trekking on the edge of the national park practically the whole day. A rather long day … If it gets too much for you, there are passenger motorcycles and other solutions to give you a little push (this would be a great stretch to do on a mountain bike!). Your guide will make the hiking less tedious with amusing stories and give you fresh local snacks to taste. Moreover, it’s a special feeling to have six dormant volcanoes above, in front and behind you as you push through the rich agricultural land at their base.
In terms of the road, there is seldom another option but to follow a wide dirt motorway that connects numerous trading centres. The segment you are going to do in the morning includes one uphill stretch but after that the route goes gently downwards, generally speaking.
2-3 hours down the road you will be invited to meet a colourful traditional healer in a valley just off the beaten path. You may have encountered his Ugandan colleague during the Rebellious Cultures trek but it is unlikely to feel too repetitive. This man practises different magics … Perhaps you need some for the remaining 6 hours of walking?
You will also see several model settlements for people who have been relocated from remote areas to be better served by the government — just like Cyuza Island was vacated at Lake Burera. Here, this includes the original diminutive forest inhabitants presently known as Historically Marginalised People. The area still bears the old name, Kabatwa.
In the evening you will branch away from the road, onto paths that lead to the Imbabazi Center for Hope. This lush farm compound used to be the home of a good friend of Dian Fossey’s, Roz Carr. She was once a New York fashion illustrator but fell in love with a globetrotter and eventually become the author of “Land of a Thousand Hills: My Life in Rwanda”. There is a cool library of books and videos to help you relax as the team pitches the tents.
distance: 45 km/28 mi
minimum altitude: 2,210 m/7,250 ft • maximum altitude: 2,667 m/8,750 ft
Watch and read more about the fascinating history of Imbabazi, Center for Hope.
DAY 4 (Imbabazi — Rubavu/Gisenyi)
The morning will find you in tents next to Carr’s extraordinary house, in a proper English garden with great volcano views. You still have half a day of walking in front of you, but this will be almost exclusively downhill and through one of Rwanda’s few tobacco growing areas.
As you slope down towards Rubavu (also known as Gisenyi), pay attention to the constant beeping in every trading centre. Can you guess what that is about? It’s pay-as-you-go electricity metres alerting users that power is about to get finished. Because locals don’t have the funds to load much money, the beeping almost constant!
The well-deserved ample lunch, your final meal, will be served on the warm shores of Lake Kivu.
distance: 26 km/16 mi
minimum altitude: 1,481 m/4,860 ft • maximum altitude: 2,210 m/7,250 ft
Dive into hiking stories and advice from Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo!
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