Hiking Mount Sabinyo: Mount Sabinyo is one of the extinct volcanoes on the Virunga Mountains and the other includes; Mount Karisimbi, Mount Muhavura, Mount Bisoke, Mount Mikeno, Mount Gahinga, Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira. These 8 Virunga Mountains occupy 3 countries where Mount Sabinyo, Muhavura, and Gahinga are found in the south western part of Uganda covering Mgahinga national park. Mount Mikeno, Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira are found in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo covering Virunga national park. Mount Karisimbi and Bisoke are located in the Northwestern part of Rwanda covering Volcanoes national park. These mountains offer the best tourist attractions for travellers all over the whole as they are where we find the only remaining endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world and other primates like the Golden monkeys trekking and hiking experiences.
Mount Sabinyo located on the Uganda side of the Virunga Mountains covering Mgahinga national park. It is separated from Mount Mubavura which is its closest by a crater lake that is about 20 meters wide. Mount Sabinyo derived its name from a local word “Sabinyo” which means “an old man’s tooth” given that its jagged summit similarly looks like a worn out tooth when compared with the other mountains. Mount Sabinyo is the fifth highest of all the eight Virunga Mountains with 12,037 feet that is 3,645 meters high. Mount Sabinyo creates a border for the three countries – Uganda, Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo. Mount Sabinyo is surrounded by forests that are homes to the Albertine birds which are only found in this area. The mountain slopes are home to the most endangered primates which are the mountain gorillas and also some animals can be found here including the forest elephants, forest antelopes, buffaloes to mention a few.
Hiking Mount Sabinyo from Uganda
Hiking mount Sabinyo is found Mgahinga national park – far south western part of Uganda. Climbing Mount Sabinyo is one of the most exciting mountain hiking experiences despite the challenging sharp ridges and crater lakes that exist. Hiking is only done in Uganda because the routes to the summit have only been created there and it offers the most challenging hiking adventure despite its rugged slopes and craters on the side causing making ridges.
Hiking Sabinyo Mountain requires you to report to the park offices to register and make necessary clearance before you meet with the park officials who will brief you and the other hikers about the park, its features and expectations for the hike. After briefing, all hikers are given walking stick before you start hiking. For the hike, you are provided with armed rangers to escort you during the hike. They will protect you from any insecurity and any threat from the wild animals that graze at the slopes of the mountain. There are porters also available for hire for those who wish not to carry anything on them or have heavy bags and need help given the tiring hike. Hiring porters is also a way of supporting the local youths of that community to earn a living and support their families.
As soon as you are well prepared with all the necessary arrangements, you will set off on your climb to Mount Sabinyo. You will walk through the flat areas with many swamps then proceed to ascend to a place where we find very thick vegetation zones for up to 2,800 meters and this area consists of bamboo vegetation which is a best habitat of the golden monkeys. If you are lucky, you may spot them or better still encounter the mountain gorillas and some of the animals like the Forest elephants and so many others. You will proceed to the sub-alpine vegetation with less trees and its here where we can spot the rare Rwenzori Turaco which is one of the most beautiful birds which can only be found in the Albertine rift area. At this level of the hike, you can already spot the summit from a far, passing through several wooden ladders that are nailed into rocks. Climbing through the ladders is very scary however; you can focus your minds to reaching the summit to overcome your fears. This hike takes about 4 hours to climb and 4 more hours to descend that is a total of 8 hours a day to hike. In cases where you fail to reach the summit by about 3 pm, consider descending immediately because it will late to complete on time if you went further.
Reaching the summit with all its difficulties is rewarding, refreshing and exciting because it’s at this final level that one stands in the 3 countries of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda at the same time. This summit has 3 peaks standing in all the 3 countries and in between the peaks; there are unarranged extensive ladders which allow the hikers to cross through. Standing at the summit offers refreshing views of the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi and Rwenzori mountain ranges in Uganda, Lake Kivu in Rwanda and Congo and about 6 of the Virunga area with human settlements and forests and plantations. After all the enjoyments, descend back. Descending from the mountain is quiet easier however challenging given that you will have to go through the ladders with care especially during the rainy days.
Hiking Mount Sabinyo requires a permit that is; you need to have made payments before the hike. You can book in advance or on the very day of the hike in the morning before your briefing session. This permit is obtained at the park head office in Kisoro however it is best advised you book your permit 2 days before your actual hiking day. Hiking fees to Mount Sabinyo is USD 85 per person per day and this fee includes the park entry fees and ranger guides fee.
How to access Mgahinga national park
This park can be accessed from Kampala city of Uganda or Kigali city of Rwanda depending on your arrival flight. It takes 8 to 9 hours drive from Kampala to Kisoro district where the park is found and about 4-5 hours from Kigali – Rwanda via the Cyanika border which is much shorter as compared to Kampala You can either use private or public means. There are public buses that cross the border and reach close to the towns where the park is found and from Kisoro town, it’s about 14km to the park head offices. With private means, you can do a self-drive tour or let us organize your trip including transport in our 4X4 safari vans to avoid inconveniences on the road.
Alternatively if you are scared of the long drive from Kampala to Mgahinga national park, there are daily domestic flights available, operated by Aerolink Uganda Limited in Entebbe airport and Fly Uganda in Kajjansi airstrip. These flights to Kisoro only fly in the morning given the changing weather conditions in Kisoro district. It takes about 2 hours to reach Kisoro airstrip from Entebbe given that all flights are connecting flights. Kisoro airstrip is the closest to Mgahinga national park.
When is the best time to hike Mount Sabinyo?
The dry months of January, February, June, July, August and December are the best times to visit Mount Sabinyo. Despite the fact that the area is montane rainforest where the weather conditions change from time to time especially the rains, it is still best to visit during the dry period because then routes are accessible and manageable to hike unlike in the rainy season where the trails become very muddy and slipper. Hiking while it is rain is most uncomfortable experience any hiker can experience and also during the rainy season, the forest is darker affecting the hike as the ladders become dangerous.
The summit is very cold and one is bound to get the altitude sickness while climbing so whether in a dry and wet season, you are constantly advised to travel with your hiking gears such as good clothing like comfortable hiking boots/sneakers, raincoats/jackets, hand gloves, long sleeved shirts and pants, long stockings for tucking in. Good clothing is very necessary for any hiking experience. Other hiking gears that must be considered for hiking include; a backpack where you will carry in your packed snacks, drinking water, toiletries, and a portable first aid kit for minor pains or scratches. A camera and binoculars are very important items on a safari for taking great photo memories of every interesting moment while in the park.
Other activities combined with hiking Mount Sabinyo
Mgahinga national park offers other activities besides hiking Mount Sabinyo that can be done before or after the mountain climbing experience. These activities include;
Mountain gorilla trekking; Mgahinga national park has only one habituated gorilla family that is open for gorilla trekking. This gorilla family is called the Nyakagezi family. It’s interesting to trek these gorillas because trekking here provides more privacy as compared to trekking gorillas in any of the other parks considering the overcrowding of tourists in other parks.
Golden monkey trekking: Mgahinga national park is the only golden monkey trekking destination in Uganda. Golden monkey trekking takes about 5 hours depending on their movement in the park and on finding the primates you are allowed to watch them for an hour as it is quite easier to find them and interestingly satisfying to watch them as they are very playful.
Birdwatching; Mgahinga national park is one of the best birding destinations in Uganda with over 300 registered bird species including the Albertine birds which can only be found in this area that is the Rwenzori Turaco, Double-toothed Barbet, Grey-crowned Crane, to mention a few. There are forest animals also available such as the forest Elephants, Buffaloes, Antelopes, forest fogs, Veorvert monkeys, black and white Colobus monkeys to mention a few.
Accommodation where to stay
There are available accommodation facilities close to Mgahinga national park. Most of these accommodations are around Kisoro town and they share visitors who also wish to visit Bwindi Impenetrable national park providing good bedding facilities, food and drinks and conformable stays of great view of the Virunga Mountains. Some of the closest luxury accommodations there include; Gahinga lodge and Lake Mutanda Resort. Mid-range accommodations include; Lake Mulehe Safari lodge, Travellers’ Rest Camp while the Budget accommodations includes; Camping, Mucha Lodge, Travellers’ Rest Camp to mention a few.