Rwanda is the colour of emeralds from its thick lush forests and sapphires to its sparkling lakes. This is one of Africa’s friendliest countries and many people come on holiday to see the infamous mountain gorillas. It is the perfect add on to a Kenya safari or Tanzania safari holiday. With the ability to stay for just a few nights on your Rwanda holiday, you can see Kigali the capital city and then the country’s spectacular mountain scenery and its mountain gorillas and if time permits, the chimpanzees. The country experienced genocide in 1994 where almost a million people died. Whilst it forms a massive portion of the country’s history, there has been a huge evolution and unity and now tourists from all over the globe are warmly welcomed.
We recommend at least four nights on a Rwanda holiday so you can get a good sense of the country, its history, diverse landscapes and beautiful people. Not just mountain gorillas, Rwanda is also home to a healthy population of other primate species including chimpanzee.
Nyungwe Forest is considered the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa and is home to 13 primate species including the common chimpanzee, colobus monkeys, silver, golden, red-tailed monkeys and olive baboons, 85 mammal species, 275 bird species not to mention over a thousand plant species and many amphibians and reptiles.
Rwanda is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. It has more women in Parliament than any other country in the world and is truly one of the friendliest, safest countries on the continent.
Volcanoes National Park
Diann Fossey once wrote ‘so high up that you shiver more than you sweat’ in the great, old volcanoes that tower 15,000 feet and are covered with rich green rainforest – this is the Virungas. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park) protects the steep slopes of this beautiful mountain range and more importantly, its residents. This national park of international significance is home of the rare mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. Mountain gorilla trekking is the highlight here and your gorilla safari can entail anything from a 1 to 6 hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their lives living in or close to the forest. Weave through overhanging vines, moss covered trees and spot golden monkeys along the way, buffalo, bush duiker and a huge diversity of birdlife. As you stumble upon the familiar shape (or sound first if you’re lucky) of the mountain gorilla, your fatigue fades away and you watch in awe the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life in their remaining habitat. The allocated one hour passes by so quickly and as you descend the mountains, you’ll be reminiscing about the gorillas playing, resting, raising their young, feeding or even fighting!
This beautiful tree covered paradise forest offers the opportunity to explore jungle and see thirteen different primate species. The most famous of these species are undoubtedly the chimpanzees which live in two habituated groups that are in a region difficult to access, but perfect for those travellers seeking a challenge. Aside from the flora and fauna within the forest, Nyungwe boasts the most stunning waterfalls in Rwanda that are accessible through a ten kilometre trail through the heart of the rainforest.
Kigali is the national capital, business centre and main port of entry. Serviced by an efficient international airport Kigali boasts a range of hotels catering to all tastes and budgets, and an assortment of restaurants with international flavours. Despite such concessions to modernity, Kigali City retains the feel of a garden city, with a satisfyingly organic shape dictated by the verdant slopes over which it sprawls. The compact, low-rise city centre surrounds a busy, colourful market, and is studded with souvenir stalls displaying a wide range of lovingly executed local crafts. The atmospheric Muslim quarter abutting the city centre is well worth a visit, and one can also explore the network of leafy avenues that wind out of the town centre into the surrounding residential suburbs. Among the safest and friendliest of African capitals, Kigali is blessed with a moderate high altitude climate that belies its tropical location, and is conveniently located within three hours’ drive of the main tourist sites. The Rwandan capital provides both a comfortable and welcoming introduction to this land of a thousand hills.
Lake Kivu is the country’s largest body of water and takes up about half of Rwanda’s western bordern. It actually lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and is in the Albertine (western) Rift, a part of the Great Rift Valley. There are three main towns along the lakeshore – Cyangugu in the south, Kibuye in the middle and Gisenyi further north. The lake is a welcome respite after a gorilla trek and time in hiking in the Rwanda mountains. As the lake attracts a number of tourists and Rwandan holidaymakers, the level of accommodation here is generally of a better standard than in the national parks. The views from many hotels and guesthouses across the palm-fringed lake are lovely, with little sandy beaches and grassy banks leading down to the shore.
One of the most rewarding wildlife experiences is trekking through rainforest to get up close to mountain gorilla in serene mountainous surrounds. Tracking mountain gorillas can be done all year round in Rwanda and it is important to know that there are limited numbers of gorilla permits so it is worth booking early. You don’t need to be physically fit to hike, it’s a slow and steady pace as the forest is quite thick. We recommend you take good walking shoes, gardening gloves and a waterproof jacket as you often get muddy and wet. Don’t forget a small waterproof backpack for your camera.
Chimpanzee Trekking & Canopy Walkway
A prime adventure on any Rwanda safari holiday is trekking chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest. It is essential to book in advance to secure a highly qualified local guide and ranger to escort you and fellow primate enthusiasts. Also worth doing is the Canopy Walkway that has been built in the Nyungwe Forest Park some 50 metres above the ground. It is a 90 metre long platform. Enjoy views of the steep and deep valleys with massive forests.
Mount Bisoke Hike
Mount Bisoke, also known as Visoke is an extinct volcano in the Virunga Mountains standing 3,500 metres tall. It offers a tough hike along steep slopes that are densely covered with equatorial rainforest and alpine meadows. The 5 – 6 hour excursion is worth every moment. The summit is often shrouded in fog and when it clears, the views into the Crater lake are phenomenal.
This is a must visit if you are in Rwanda because it is so important to learn about and understand the magnitude of the genocide that tore the country apart just 20 odd years ago. All of our guests comment on the power of the experience and what a privilege it was to take time to learn and understand. You come away from the visit somewhat changed and more human with understanding and compassion in your heart for those who suffered. We highly recommend you take the audio tour that guides you through the memorial, both inside and out.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
If you are looking for mountain romance and luxury and a fully inclusive stay, look no further. This beautiful lodge features 8 cottages well spaced apart with lovely patio to admire mountain and forest views, fireplace, spacious bedroom, lounge and ensuite bathroom. The main area is like a homestead building with front porch overlooking three of the volcanoes. Inside is a small reception desk, two lounge areas and dining all with fire places. There is a curio shop selling souvenirs and locally made goods. In the main lounge there are loads of resource books and DVDs for guests. The highlight is a fantastic massage service where they come to your room, ensure candles and fireplace are lit before a one hour heavenly treatment. You come here for the gorillas! Other activities are local walks and of course in room massage. The lodge prepares backpack for each guest with water and snacks and supplies walking sticks, gaiters and raincoats saving you from having to pack it all! On return, they wash and dry your shoes whilst you walk back to your cottage in a pair of crocs.
Gorilla Mountain View Lodge
This affordable and fantastic friendly lodge is in the heart of the mountains and closest to the starting point for a Rwanda gorilla trek. Garden pathways lead to the 38 individual cottages dotted on the side of a hill all with lovely mountain views. Inside you’ll find simple yet comfortable open plan lounge, bedroom and ensuite bathroom. The main area is huge with comfortable lounge, welcoming reception, curio shop, bar and restaurant that serves up three buffet meals daily.
Nyungwe Forest Lodge
This luxury lodge is set in a tea plantation right on the edge of the forest with 22 guest rooms well spaced out. Each room has a private verandah with forest views and exuberant comfort including spacious bedrooms with fireplace, lounge and luxurious ensuite bathrooms. Two suites have adjoining rooms, ideal for families.The main area is classically beautiful and features a large lounge and dining room (with indoor, private room and outdoor terrace), small gift shop, spa and heated infinity swimming pool overlooking the forest. There are fireplaces all over the place adding to the romantic atmosphere and a boma area for outdoor campfire and dining. The onsite spa features treatment rooms, jacuzzi pool and fitness centre. With such a large number of primate species in the area, the highlights are hikes to see chimpanzee, colobus monkey, cheeked Mangabey and Blue and Golden monkeys. Other activities include walks to nearby waterfalls and swamps, bird watching walks and guided visits to local cultural centres.
We found Rwanda a remarkable country. Although we didn’t have a lot of time to explore Kigali, we both found it interesting. The Genocide memorial was harrowing but well worth the visit. The locals we spoke to, especially our guide, were so open and prepared to talk about what is such a painful and recent history. It was so eye opening. The kids we encountered along the way were adorable with their big smiles and furious waving.
Seeing the gorillas up close and personal in their own habitat is something very surreal, the feeling is hard to explain. We felt very privileged for the time we got to spend with the gorillas.
We had a terrific time on our gorilla safari. Everything went very smoothly, there were no problems at all. And most importantly we saw the gorillas! Our guide J.D. took very good care of us in Rwanda. Thanks to the team at Encompass Africa! Efficiently organised and exceeded expectations.
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