Our Guide to
The colour of emeralds in thick lush forests and sapphires in sparkling lakes.
This small landlocked country borders Uganda on the north, Burundi in the South, Tanzania in the east and Congo in the west. Affectionately known as ‘land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda is made up of deep valleys and steep mountains with the average elevation of its central plateau around 1,700 metres.
Mountain gorilla trekking is the primary attraction on a Rwanda Safari, taking place Volcanoes National Park at the foot of the Virunga mountains that sprawl towards the Congo and Ugandan borders and forms part of the Albertine Rift. Thanks to Dian Fossey, the endangered Mountain Gorillas are well protected. Fossey dedicated her life to the study and protection of these primates and her grave can be visited on a hike up the mountain slopes. Gorilla trekking is on loads of bucketlists and certainly offers a rewarding wildlife interaction, even if it is just one hour in the company of these gentle giants.
A visit to the country can offer more than a Rwanda gorilla tour. Nyungwe National Park stretches 970 square kilometres across Rwanda’s south east and is one of the ancient forests of the world, dating right back to pre- Ice Age.
It is home to 25% of African primates including chimpanzees, silver, golden, red-tailed monkeys and olive baboons and colobus monkeys plus 85 mammal species hundreds of bird species and over a thousand plant species not to mention countless amphibians and reptiles.
Rwanda is also home to one of the Great African Lakes, Lake Kivu that offers visitors a relaxed time lazing on the shore, swimming and boating in the waters. To the east is Akagera National Park, a wildlife and wilderness area in its infancy offering a safari experience that is quickly becoming in demand as you explore through eco regions including swamp, mountains and savannah.
Rwanda is a remarkable country that plays an internationally important role in protecting the endangered mountain gorillas. Again, that is just one of the reasons to visit.
Do you want to gorilla trek in Rwanda or be one of the safari mavericks to visit Akagera National Park?
More on a Rwanda Safari
Facts and figures are not for everyone. So we will keep this brief and interesting, mixing up some statistics and our take on Rwanda.
What can one expect on a Rwanda Safari?
Rwanda is remembered as the African land of genocide from the early 1990s that saw almost a million people killed. These days, there is an overwhelming sense of healing that has taken place in such a short time. Rwanda is a nation of great pride with humble people hopeful about their future and comfortable talking about this period of time that dominated world press and devastated the country. Kigali is home to the genocide memorial where the ethnic conflict and political power struggle is well documented. You come away from the visit somewhat changed and more human with understanding and compassion in your heart for those who suffered.
A visit to the National Museum of Butare on your way to Nyungwe National Park will provide insight into Rwanda’s rich history beyond. The country was for many years a mysterious kingdom with a legendary military force that protected it from Arab traders and the many great Nile expedition parties. Colonisation took place and afterwards, a new cycle of ethnic conflict that eventually led to civil war and finally, the genocide.
A remarkable Rwanda safari has so much on offer from gorilla tracking and chimpanzee tracking to birding safaris, wildlife safaris and cultural experiences. Find out more about its wilderness areas below.
Akagera National Park Safari
Akagera, established in 1934 is named after the Akagera River that flows along the eastern boundary, feeding into a labyrinth of lakes dominated by Lake Ihema. It has been through a great deal with land encroachment and poaching. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera return to its former glory.
Its unique eosysetms offer forest fringed lakes, savannah plains, rolling highlands and papyrus swamps. This is one of the largest protected wetlands in central Africa and it offers a safari component to your Rwanda holiday.
Notable wildlife includes the Sitatunga, the sought after Shoebill Stork, elephant, buffalo, topi, zebra, waterbuck, roan antelope, eland and baboons and monkeys. Predators are here from jakal and leopard to hyena lion and the park is home to nearly 500 bird species.
Hiking and climbing in Rwanda
There are a number of fantastic climbs and hikes in Rwanda besides the gorillas of course.
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 to 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.
Dian Fossey’s Grave is another location deep in the mountains that you can access via a fantastic hike if not quite challenging due to the steepness in parts. Allow 5 hours for this one.
Rwanda primate safaris
Experience exceptional private viewing on a Rwanda Safari.
Volcanoes National Park offers one of the most rewarding wildlife experiences, 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.
Nyungwe Forest is a 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. 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.
Kick start your Rwanda safari in Kigali, the national capital and quite the cosmopolitan city. It seriously buzzes with energy and you are overwhelmed by the pace here and yet it’s impressive just how relaxed everybody is.
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.
Some of our Kigali favourites
- visiting one of the local markets so you get a sense of everyday life
- looking at local advertising campaigns on giant billboards (like the one pictured)
- Eating at relatively new restaurant, Heaven. It specialises in seriously decadent cuisine.
- Walking the local streets among the stalls and chatting with locals
- The Genocide memorial of course for a truly moving, highly emotional few hours
- If you are into geology, there’s a great little museum worth a visit
Lake Kivu Holidays
Lake Kivu is the country’s largest body of water and takes up about half of Rwanda’s western border. 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.
When to visit Rwanda
Rwanda is a year round African safari destination. If your sole purpose on a Rwanda safari is to gorilla trek, then the short dry season of December to February would be ideal. South of the equator, Rwanda has high altitude and a pleasant tropical highlands climate with rainy seasons. The average daily temperature is around 21 degrees Celsius. It gets cool in the mountains especially early morning and late afternoon before the sun rises and after it sets.
Rwanda has a long rainy season from March to May and short rainy season October to November. This also bring a long dry season from June to mid September and a short dry season from December to February. Rainy seasons bring sometimes persistent heavy rains, particularly March to May so that is the only time of year we try to avoid if you don’t want to trek to see gorillas in the rain.
From those who have ventured
Rwanda was a great holiday, we were sad to leave. Thanks Encompass Africa once again for organising such a great trip. Getting so close to the gorillas is certainly a tick on our very long Africa safari bucket list.
Rwanda gorilla experience – The SmithsRead more
Our holiday exceeded our expectations, It was absolutely fantastic!!!