Imbaraga Trail

Imbaraga : Are you up for the challenge?
The Imbaraga Trail is one of the premier paths in Nyungwe,
but also among it’s toughest. This loop trail circumnavigates the
head of the Bururi valley, passing through habitats that range
from under-story thickets high on Uwinka ridge to lush riverine
forests 500 meters below. Special features include great views
down and across the Bururi Valley, some of the finest trees in the
park, and four lovely waterfalls.
The Imbaraga Trail should only be attempted by hikers with
enough strength and stamina to manage a long climb up the
western wall of the valley to return to the ridge at over 2400
meters above sea level – hence, its kinyarwandan name means
‘strength’. The ascent is continuous for about 2.5 kilometers and
will really get your heart thumping!
From Uwinka Overlook, follow the trail to the Buhoro-Imbaraga
junction and turn right and continue to the junction with the Ig-
ishigishigi Trail. If you follow the Igishigishigi Trail which forks left
from the main trail, you will add the canopy walkway experience
to your hike. Or, you can continue to the next junction and turn
This segment of the trail has four benches for resting or simply
taking in the wonderful and changing views. While relaxing, listen
to the variety of bird calls. You may also be able to distinguish tree
frogs, crickets, cicadas and sometimes monkeys. Near the bottom
of this valley the trail enters a grove of giant tree ferns with their
huge, distinctive lacy fronds. The fourth bench, at kilometer 2.0, is
located at the base of the first waterfall — a narrow stream spilling
over a nearly vertical wall of bedrock about 12 meters high. Shortly
beyond the waterfall, the trail gets steeper and passes a massive
African mahogany tree. This is only the first of many impressive trees
that are a hallmark of the trail.
At kilometer 3.2, the trail again crosses the stream, just below the
second waterfall. This one is similar to the first but several meters
higher. Look for giant lobelias near the bridge, either in flower or
with the dried remains of extremely long flower stalks. The latter are
hollow and used for making flutes. The trail continues descending
at a gentler gradient along the wall of the ravine, which drops off
steeply to the right. Here the underbrush is dominated by rampant
growth of a creeper,
Sericostachys scandens
, which is said used to
be eaten by elephant and buffalo, but is now growing with dimin-
ished biological control. Colobus monkeys will sometimes descend
from the trees to eat it.
Before you know it, you hit the third waterfall. This is the best of the
lot – a superb series of cascades fanning down angular bedrock steps
to a small crescent pool, surrounded by lush vegetation. The best view
of the full formation is from the trail just beyond the cleared sites
formerly used as campsites. From the base of the fall though, you’ll
probably only see the bottom section, which is about 15 meters high.
After crossing the Bururi River, the trail immediately begins to climb
the side of a deep, narrow ravine, on a long series of switchbacks
to the top of the Uwinka ridge, passing a fourth scenic waterfall.
On the ascent there are six benches – use them! They give you a
perfect excuse to stop without having to admit to being winded and
a few great views of the forest to boot. The last bench is located at
the junction with the Uwinka Trail, on the right.
Just after that junction, the trail reaches the top of the ridge, where
it continues to climb at a gentle gradient to a junction with the far
end of the Irebero Trail. From that point, the Imbaraga Trail contours
around the Bururi River side of the Uwinka ridge on a fairly level
path that coincides with the northern section of the Irebero Trail and
the Buhoro Trail. Soon you are at the junction where you began
your hike, and the short but not so gentle climb to Uwinka.