Devote a fascinating week to trekking from Lake Bunyonyi to Mgahinga Gorilla and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. Let a Batwa “Pygmy” leader guide you through the wilderness of Echuya Forest, learn about the culture of coffee, feast on both fantastic restaurant meals and home-made traditional food. Camp on two islands, sleep at the homes of two local families, prepare yourself for national park action on the very edge of Mgahinga and rest in a guesthouse above Bwindi.
The Ultimate Hike is made of three segments that can be enjoyed separately:
• 3-day Volcano Quest Trek from Lake Bunyonyi to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
• 1 to 3 days for Mgahinga activities
• 3-day Parks Reunited from Mgahinga to Bwindi
Volcano Quest (3-Day Hike)
• meet all cultures of southwestern Uganda
• take in rarely captured 360º views of Bunyonyi
• visit 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
• trek through golden fields of wheat just beneath majestic volcanoes
• have a picnic among the calderas
duration: 3 days; difficulty: hard
starting point: Lake Bunyonyi or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
area: Lake Bunyonyi – Echuya Forest – Lake Kayumbu – Cyanika – Mgahinga
distance: 51 km/31 mi (11% by dugout canoe)
departures: daily at 9am
Price: USD 440 per person (USD 780 when one person only)
Includes guiding, dugout canoeing, meals and snacks, water, all activities, tips and contributions, tented accommodation. It does not include transport back from Mgahinga, accommodation there, or gorilla tracking.
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 — Mgahinga Gorilla National Park)
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.
From here, a murrum road takes a hiker deep into the villages lying below Uganda’s Virungas. The walk takes about an hour. But that will not be enough for you as spectacular and lovingly cultivated landscapes hide at the very base of the mountains! For the next 3 hours, our guide will lead you on tiny rural paths just beneath the boundary of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Your picnic lunch location will be in the middle of volcanic calderas.
The last couple hours of Volcano Quest will bring splendid vistas but demand some effort, as you will be hiking on shaky volcanic stones. Once you reach the national park’s main gate, Ntebeko, your dinner will be served at Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp, completing the trek.
distance: 24 km/15 mi
minimum altitude: 1,850 m/6,070 ft • maximum altitude: 2,420 m/7,940 ft
Activities in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
You can choose from the following list:
• gorilla tracking (includes park entry fees): foreign visitors USD 700; foreign residents USD 600; East Africans UGX 250,000
• golden monkey tracking: foreigners USD 60; East Africans UGX 40,000
• golden monkey experience: foreigners USD 100; East Africans UGX 100,000
• Batwa Trail Experience (includes park entry fees): foreigners USD 80; East Africans UGX 50,000
• hiking: one day climbs of Mt Muhabura (4,127m/13,500ft), Mt Gahinga (3,474m/11,400ft) and Mt Sabyinyo (3,669m/12,037ft) and others — for the details and prices see below …
Jump to a review of Mgahinga National Park hiking …
Parks Reunited (3-Day Trek)
How do you feel about symbolically reconnecting Bwindi and Mgahinga, two parts of an ancient forest, as you camp on a gorgeous tiny island on Lake Mutanda? You will experience a famous caldera, visit a coffee producer and get served fantastic restaurant meals.
• get a look into the famous Sagitwe caldera
• change your perception of the culture of coffee
• overnight at a former Punishment Island
• cruise in a motorboat across Lake Mutanda
• savour lovely restaurant meals
• traverse the dense woods of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
duration: 3 days; difficulty: moderate
starting point: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park or Buhoma (Bwindi Impenetrable National Park)
area: Mgahinga NP – Kisoro – Lake Mutanda – Nkuringo – Bwindi NP
distance: 59 km/37 mi (22% by motorboat)
departures: daily at 9am
Price: USD 490 per person (USD 790 when one person only)
Includes guiding, boating, meals and snacks, water, all activities, tips and contributions, accommodation. It does not include Bwindi park fees (up to USD 70 pp), transport from Buhoma or accommodation there.
DAY 1 (Mgahinga Gorilla National Park — Kisoro — Lake Mutanda)
You will begin near the gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and hike gently downwards to Kisoro Town. This walk through exorbitantly fertile volcanic areas will include a climb of the pretty Sagitwe caldera and a stroll past the first missionary settlement at Mabungo Hill.
Coffee Pot Cafe in the middle of Kisoro is owned by a German lady who makes excellent food. After lunch you will take about 3 hours to reach Lake Mutanda, visiting a coffee farming family on the hill in between. Even those who aren’t ardent coffee drinkers appreciate the expert guidance and the outlook over the lake.
A short motorboat ride will then bring you to a narrow island in the south of Mutanda, called Gahiza. Unmarried pregnant girls were traditionally left on this Punishment Island as a warning to other youngsters. With loads of rabbits on the island you won’t be surprised by what comes on the plate … (Vegetarian options available too, of course.)
The main accommodation solution at Gahiza Island Retreat is the campsite, shielded from volcano winds by African dragon trees believed to have been planted 600 years ago. However, small groups may be able to upgrade to the cabins.
distance: 20 km/12 mi (13% by motorboat)
minimum altitude: 1,800 m/5,900 ft • maximum altitude: 2,420 m/7,940 ft
DAY 2 (Lake Mutanda — Nkuringo)
The isle of Gahiza is pleasant enough that you will love a slow morning. By midday the island’s motorboat will start moving towards Chameleon Hill Lodge, your fantastically colourful lunch break place on the extreme northern tip of Lake Mutanda.
Among the islands you meet on the way, you are sure to most remember Kyangushu or the Island of the Dead. In bygone times clan heads used it as a burial site to avoid bringing bad luck to the mainland. They believed that death was abnormal, so they would take their deceased ones to Kyangushu to make sure they remained there. (Another, more practical explanation is that keeping corpses on the island stopped wild animals from feasting on the corpses.) You can still notice some bones in a small cave on the side of the island.
On another island, Buhingiro, a colonial-era chief would set up camp while hunting hippos. Locals say hippo meat was at first a delicacy beloved by Batwa ”Pygmies” but later became everybody’s interest. Now they are long gone, but there is a peculiar hippopotamus tale from 2013 that connects Lake Mutanda and Lake Bunyonyi …
You have had astonishing surface-level views of the Virungas by now, but Chameleon Hill Lodge lies a bit higher and new panoramic dimensions will embrace as you eat. At 2pm you will hit the village trails for 3-4 hours, taking you nearly to the outer edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Your village to overnight in will be Nkuringo.
distance: 25 km/16 mi (40% by motorboat)
minimum altitude: 1,800 m/5,900 ft • maximum altitude: 2,166 m/7,106 ft
DAY 3 (Nkuringo — Bwindi Impenetrable National Park — Buhoma)
The trek’s last morning will shine on you at Nkuringo Guesthouse, on a ridge overlooking the valleys of DR Congo in the west and the rainforest of Bwindi in the east. Your back will be grateful for a night of no camping, and your legs eager to drop into the wild … Today’s trek comes to roughly 5 hours in total.
Accompanied by a park ranger, you will descend to Kashasha River under the canopy of ancient trees. There is a hiking path with interesting bridges, a gorgeous river junction and natural obstacles that will entertain you for an hour or two. Cherish this time, as it is the closest you will get to what one imagines as crossing a rainforest.
The rest of the route is wide and flat, utilising a clearance once made for never-completed road.. Plenty of birds are guaranteed, and even other wildlife if you are lucky enough. In case you run into giggling or uncomfortable-looking rangers, sharpen your senses. They are not overly excited to offer anyone a free gorilla encounter, but they also won’t ask you to close your eyes, and the path is for all primates!
Unless you are too exhausted, you should take a side trip to a trio of waterfalls in the middle of Bwindi. See more in the video …
distance: 14 km/9 mi
minimum altitude: 1,446 m/4,744 ft • maximum altitude: 2,166 m/7,106 ft
Have fun browsing through the Dutch Ultimate Hike pictorial!
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