Rwanda is known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ thanks to the infinite mountains in this scenically spectacular little country. Nowhere are the mountains more magnificent than the Virunga volcanoes in the northwest, and hidden among the bamboo forests are some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. For a change of scene, the shores of Lake Kivu conceal some of the best inland beaches on the continent, while Nyungwe Forest National Park protects extensive tracts of montane rainforest, and is home to many primates. But it’s not all monkey business – Kigali, the capital, is safe and sophisticated.
Sure, Rwanda’s name may evoke memories of the horrendous genocide that brutalised the country in 1994, but it’s all over and the country has embraced a promising and vibrant future. Rwanda remains unwavering, tourism is once again a key contributor to the economy, and you’ll feel absolutely welcome.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
The Virunga Mountains that straddle the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, are home to around 480 mountain gorillas, more than half of the world’s entire population (the rest live in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda). In Volcanoes National Park, the Rwandan part of the Virungas, twelve gorilla groups are now habituated for gorilla safaris; more than anywhere else in the world.
Look into the eyes of a large silverback gorilla and he’ll look back with a thoughtful, intelligent gaze, mindful that you’re another individual. Any apprehensions or nerves you might have had during your trek will melt away the minute you see your gorilla family. Gorilla trekking safaris offer a thrilling encounter that transcends any other ‘wildlife’ experience we know. With only 800 gorillas left in the world, it is a rare chance to see this imposing primate up close.
Any anthropomorphism must be forgiven; it is impossible not to be struck by the humanoid nature of these neighbors on the evolutionary chain. While observing so much of African wildlife — warthogs, elephants, giraffes — one marvels at their prehistoric form and questions our placement in the same biological class. With the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, which share 98 percent of our DNA, we are looking into a mirror, and they are looking impassively back.
Rwanda, more than mountain gorillas
Gorilla trekking isn’t the only thing to do and see in Rwanda. Rwanda is a small country that doesn’t take much time to traverse, but there is still a wealth of activities.
Most travelers come to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park and leave, often to nearby countries as part of a broader trip in the region. This is a real shame as the country has some incredibly beautiful landscapes, including lakes, volcanoes and mountains. Not to mention the opportunity to visit local markets and villages to get a feel for everyday life in Rwanda.
These are some of the best things to do when in Rwanda:
Chimp Trekking in Nyungwe Forest National Park
Located in the South West corner of Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is an untouched natural rainforest that is filled with exciting biodiversity. Covering over 1000 square kilometres, Nyungwe is surely one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests. It’s believed to be one of Africa’s oldest forests, staying green even through the Ice Age, which explains its diversity.
Home to habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primates species (including a 400-strong troop of habituated Ruwenzori Black & White Colobus), it’s also a birder’s paradise with over 300 species, including 16 endemics, and is home to 75 different species of mammal.
This majestic rainforest is filled with nature and wildlife experiences for you to emerge yourself in. Hiking or even biking the beautiful terrain, tracking the famous chimpanzees, experiencing the canopy walk, witnessing beautiful birds, relaxing by the waterfalls, are just a glimpse of activities that Nyungwe offers.
Sounds and views collaborate to create a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience. Exploring through the forest, travellers will witness the lush green mountains and cooling mist in a landscape that won’t be soon forgotten. Chimpanzee trekking is a must-do when in Rwanda considering that they’re only found in central and west Africa and sadly, their numbers are dwindling.
Golden Monkey Trekking
Golden monkey trekking takes place in Volcanoes national park. These rare species are also listed as endangered – and Volcanoes national park currently has two habituated golden monkeys’ troops that are available for visiting by tourists in the park, both of which make about 80 members.
Golden monkeys in Rwanda live in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes and habituation has helped them to overcome their initial shyness to accept their daily visit by researchers and tourists. They are very active creatures, and jump from tree to tree which is really interesting and a little difficult to photograph! This is a rare and delightful experience not to be missed!
Dian Fossey Tomb Tour
Trekking to the Dian Fossey Tomb is one of the most sought after safari activities carried out while visiting Volcanoes national park for a gorilla trip. The trek involves a 30 minutes drive from the park headquarters to the trail head to access the Karisoke research camp where visitors walk for 10 minutes to the park boundary.
The walk from the park boundary to the research center where the Dian’s grave is, takes about an hour to 1½ hours and affords good views of forest hogs, forest elephants, a variety of primates and bird species.
This hike is an incredible experience physically, emotionally and intellectually. It is so inspiring to learn about someone who was so dedicated and left a legacy that exists even today.
Rwanda’s western side is bounded by Lake Kivu, one of a string of huge freshwater lakes which lie along Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Dominating the border between Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo); Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest lake in Africa.
The real joy of this area is driving between the towns, and it’s a lovely option for a slower route between Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park. The road gently curves back and forth as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake from Gisenyi all the way to Cyangugu, with Kibuye almost at its centre point. Every corner produces another gorgeous view. Eucalyptus trees line the road, while every inch of the hills seems to be terraced with bananas. Lake Kivu’s three main towns are roughly 3-4 hours apart from each other. Spend the days on Lake Kivu watching the sunsets and sunrises or taking a little boat tour. What’s not to love about something that looks this beautiful?
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s safari destination. Set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterise much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is an archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland.
Akagera is, above all, big game country! Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes, while lucky visitors might stumble across a spotted hyena or even a stray lion. Giraffe and zebra amble through the savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala, but also the diminutive oribi and secretive bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world’s largest antelope, the statuesque cape eland.
The most significant news recently is the translocation of eighteen Eastern black rhinoceroses to Akagera ten years after the last individual was documented in the country. Lining the lakes are some of the continent’s densest concentrations of water birds, while the connecting marshes are the haunt of the endangered and exquisite papyrus gonolek, and the bizarre shoebill stork – the latter perhaps the most eagerly sought of all African birds.
Kigali will impress you with its cosmopolitan cuisine and cafes, the sidewalks and street lights – a rarity in East Africa – and the super cool arts and design scene. Spend a few days experiencing the local culture and cuisines, as well as exploring a bit of the history.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre is the most popular attraction in Kigali, and for good reason. It’s very well-done, and helps to explain the Rwanda you see today while addressing the dark past. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 is one of the bloodiest mass acts of violence in modern history with an estimate 1-2 million people losing their lives in a span of only 100 days from April to July. Obviously an abridged version of its history cannot possibly encompass all of the complexities and happenings; which makes the genocide center a worthy stop if you’re interested in learning more.
About Origins Safaris
At Origins Safaris we are passionate about wildlife, cultural heritage, adventure and exploration. We customize each and every safari to your personal requirements and expectations, ensuring an exclusive, unique and authentic experience every time.
Origins Safaris is a family business, founded in 1963 by Don and Margaret Turner. It is managed today by two subsequent generations of the family, and predominantly by Don’s son, Steve. We are so much more than just a travel broker – our years of experience, professionalism and reliability means that we go the all important extra mile, to make sure your dream safari is safe, memorable, educational and most of all great fun. We are renowned for our meticulous safari planning from start to finish, and the highest standards of natural history.
Origins Safaris provide that crucial “sound advice and impeccable service” so seldom found by other companies. We have 50+ years of authentic African safari experience and the know-how to make your trip run as smoothly as possible.
If you would like to travel to Rwanda and experience some or all of the amazing attractions highlighted above, please contact us on the following: http://originsafaris.com/ugandarwanda-overview/
Origins Safaris – Authentic African Experiences Since 1963