Mgahinga Gorilla National Park calls everyone interested in the Earth’s great apes – this is a place to see endangered mountain gorillas. We came to try some of the best volcano hiking in Uganda and decided to climb Mount Sabyinyo. An extinct volcano located on the border of three countries – Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mount Sabyinyo – hiking in Uganda
Mount Sabyinyo is an inactive volcano, located in Uganda, East Africa. The volcano is a part of Virunga Mountains in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park – famous for the rare mountain gorillas. The trip to the park was a part of our trip to East Africa when we visited Masai Mara safari and a charity village in Kenya, as well as Rwanda, and Uganda.
The Mount Sabyinyo volcano lies on the border of three countries – Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. And because of that, it’s also a part of three national parks withing these countries: Virunga National Park in the DRC, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. However, the peak is only accessible for tourists from the Ugandan side.
The name Sabyinyo refers to a “tooth”. In fact, the volcano has a nickname of “old man tooth”, because of its rugged shape.
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Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The slopes of the volcano are home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla. This is also a place where you can see them (although, you’d need to go to the lower parts of the jungle for that, paying much much higher permit fee. Like $520 higher, yep).
Mount Sabyinyo hiking tour wasn’t something we specifically planned. Although I had it on mind when I was planning our Uganda trip. Initially, we wanted to go gorilla trekking, but this didn’t work out. I’m glad we decided to try some Uganda hiking and climb Mount Sabyinyo instead. After all, volcano hikes are probably my favourite type of hikes (and not only because I’m a geologist).
Mount Sabyinyo hiking trail
The hike to the top of the volcano is quite a strenuous one. It takes around 7-10 hours for the return trip, that’s why it’s important to leave early.
Mt. Sabyinyo has three peaks. The first one is at 3421 meters, and the summit is at 3,669 meters. The top marks the border between Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Thanks to that, during one hike you can see all of the three countries.
The trail is 8 miles out and back and the climb is almost vertical in places. Locals describe it as “demanding”, and it surely is. At all times you also need to deal with high altitude. If you are not used to that, you might struggle with your breath and energy. Another challenge are the unstable ladders, that you need to climb. I definitely recommend packing your day bag light, as it’s very uncomfortable to do that when you have something heavy on your back.
Hiking Mount Sabyinyo practical advice
The permit to hike Mount Sabyinyo costs 50-80$. The hike normally starts at 8 am from the base of the Park. There, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) provides you with a guide, armed guard and a briefing.
The armed guide is a must due to unrest in the border area and wild animals. And surely so – after we left the UWA office, we stumbled across some buffaloes in the bushes. The guide needed to scare them off with a stick and sounds, while we were waiting, so it’s safe to pass.
If you don’t know what is a buffalo, here is a photo from Masai Mara safari when we could see them from the safety of our safari jeep.
The volcanoes, nature and the ladders
The hike is truly spectacular with the wonderful views onto the surrounding mountains and volcanoes, together with unusual plants and animals that you can encounter on your way. If you are lucky, you can see a bird Rwenzori turaco which is endemic in the area. And then the idea that the endangered mountain gorillas are somewhere in this forest too, adds to the mystique.
The nature along the hike is unusual and magical. As you cross the forest patch and climb into the alpine forest, tropical plants surround you on every step.
Another interesting part of the Mount Sabyinyo hike is the handmade wooden ladders set up on the path in order to help with the climb. The hike is steep and the ladders are supposed to make those places easier. However, their stability and sturdiness are questionable and walking on is an adventure in itself. The feel of accomplishment and the breathtaking views from the top mitigate any troubles.
What to pack for hiking Mount Sabyinyo
Here are some of the useful things to take for the Mount Sabyinyo hike:
- Suncream – you’re in Africa, where the sun is strong. I always take this suncream as it has great protection, good skincare and is perfect for kids and adults on face and body.
- Sunglasses – you need to protect your eyes. Check UV sunglasses in good price here.
- Hat for the sun protection
- Good hiking shoes – Proper hiking boots are recommended. Merrell has good hiking shoes. Check the price and models here.
- Reusable water bottle – save plastic and fill in the small reusable bottle from bigger water bottles. I often use insulated bottles like this one to keep the drink hot or cold for a long time.
- Small day backpack
- Energy bars or nuts if you get hungry quickly (I do!)
- Camera with landscape lens – I use Fuji X-E1 and Samyang 12mm, which I used to capture photos in this post.
- Waterproof jacket – you will be hiking in the rainforest, where it’s usually wet. We were coming back in the pouring rain 😉
Would you like to try hiking in Uganda and climb Mount Sabyinyo volcano? Or maybe you’ve already done that? Let me know in the comments!
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