HOME TO THE LARGEST POPULATION OF MOUNTAIN GORILLAS ON THE PLANET, RWANDA IS A COUNTRY THAT HAS EMERGED FROM THE DARKNESS
IF YOU LOVE YOUR PRIMATES THEN RWANDA AND THIS TRIP IS PERFECT FOR YOU - BUILT TO SPEND TIME WITH MOUNTAIN GORILLA AND THE CHIMPS, THIS WILL BE AN ADVENTURE YOU WONT FORGET.
Mountain Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is by far Rwanda's major international attraction. Following the release of Gorillas in the Mist about Dian Fossey's pioneering work in habituating gorillas and numerous subsequent documentaries, interest in gorilla trekking has grown exponentially with all the available permits being sold out virtually every day of the year. The ultimate bucket-list quest for many, Rwanda is a particularly safe, easy and welcoming environment to undertake a gorilla trek.
Beyond the gorillas Rwanda is a picturesque little country with excellent infrastructure which is increasingly becoming a regional hub. Many visitors will combine the gorillas with the Serengeti which is pretty straightforward, but it's certainly worth considering spending more than a couple of nights in Rwanda.
In the far southwest corner of Rwanda on the Burundi border lies Nyungwe Forest National Park, one of most biologically diverse high-altitude rain forests in Africa. Chimpanzee trekking is excellent here and there are a dozen other primates to observe.
The more you learn about the dignity of the gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.”
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Getting from Kigali's modern airport to Volcanoes National Park is a straightforward 2.5 hour road transfer along excellent roads. Along the way you'll see a lot of people - Rwanda being the most densely populated country on mainland Africa - tending their terraced fields, walking or riding bicycles often laden with produce, do take the opportunity to stop at a market along the way.
Rwanda is a remarkable country - crime and litter are almost non-existent, plastic bags have been banned since 2006. If you happen to be travelling on the last Saturday of the month 'Umunganda Day' you'll see the entire country, government ministers included, doing comunual work for public good from street cleaning to building schools.
Overnight at Bisate Lodge adjacent to the park.
You'll be collected early in order to get to the Park Headquarters at Kinigi by 7:00am - don't risk being late as they will leave without you. There are currently eight habituated gorilla families that can be visited and a maximum of eight tourists can visit each group daily. Which group you are assigned to visit is a the discretion of the park's staff although we will request a close or far group depending on how far you feel able to walk and every effort will be made for couples or families travelling together to all be assigned the same group.
After a 15 minute briefing you'll go in vehicles to your assigned departure points (typically 30 to 90 minutes drive from the Park HQ) and from there you set-off on foot - the guides set the pace to that of the slowest walker and take as many rests en route as required - remember there's no particular rush to get to the gorillas as you will have an hour in their company regardless. There is the option of engaging a porter and most people will do this - both for help in carrying kit but because it is of direct benefit to the local community. Initially you'll walk through farmlnd and villages - a real insight in to rural Rwandan life - before reaching the stone wall that marks the border of the park which is designed to keep buffalo and elephants in and clearly delineate where human activity should stop. Here you'll likely be reminded of how to behave in the presence of the gorillas (no flash, no direct eye contact or pointing etc) and when you are very close will leave your backpacks, walking sticks with the porters, prepare your cameras, don masks and make the final approach.
You'll have an hour in the presence of these magnificent beasts and although it will fly by it does provide ample time to observe lots of behaviour - the youngsters are generally particularly active and work out the family dynamics, the dominant Silverback generally being self-evident due to his enormous size. Why gorillas are quite as ambivalent to human presence remains a mystery that you may ponder for evermore.
TRAVERSE THE COUNTRY
In addition to gorilla trekking a Golden Monkey trek is well worthwhile, this being a rare subspecies of the fairly widespread Blue Monkey and only found in the bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda, Uganda and the DR Congo. Aside from being photogenic they are active and playful and a lot of fun to observe. As with the gorillas the time limit of one hour.
It's approximately an eight hour drive from Volcanoes National Park but not without interest - you'll drive along the shores of Lake Kivu before climbing back in to the land of a thousand hills.
Nyungwe Forest has been a National Park since 2004. The numbers of visitors are tiny compared Volcanoes National Park and while that may be part of the attraction it's certainly worthy of more interest than it receives. Stunningly beautiful forest glades of ancient mahogony, ebony and giant ferns play host to a plethora colourful birds and over a dozen monkeys.
The One & Only Nyungwe House offers incredibly high-spec lodgings, set in a tea estate on the edge of the forest.
The big draw in Nyungwe is chimp tracking - but it shouldn't be the only thing you, there are 130kms of trails to explore including a canopy walk suspended 50 metres above the forest floor. A rare subspecies of the striking Black-and-white Colobus Monkey lives in groups of well over a hundred while L'Hoest's Monkey and Grey-cheeked Mangabey are also frequently sighted.
The chimpanzee tracking starts very early in the morning and, as with the Gorillas and Golden Monkeys, you'll have up to an hour with them once they are located. The maximum group size is eight and although Nyungwe is lower than Volcanoes NP and recieves less rain, the hiking is generally a bit more difficult as the vegetation is thicker and slopes steeper. The thick vegetation can also prove somewhat problematic for viewing the chimps which are much more active and aboreal than the sedentary, terrestrial gorillas - however observing their uncannily human-like behaviour and characteristics in such pristine setting is well worth the effort.
It's aproximately 4 or 5 hours by car, again on good if sometimes twisty roads, to complete the across country circuit back to Kigali. There are a couple of places of interest along the wat should you choose to break the journey, including the excellent National Museum in Huye and the hilltop Rukari Palace.
A NOTE FROM ROD
INSPIRATION FOR THE TRIP
I am a late adopter of great ape safaris, having for a long time no particular inclination to seek out chimpanzees or gorillas. A visit to Mahale, Tanzania in 2015 changed that and over the last few years I've been incredibly fortunate to encounter chimps and gorillas in Uganda, Congo-Brazzaville and the DR Congo.
I frequently hear people say that 'I am not particularly interested in seeing the Great Apes' and I totally understand that - I had the same reservations about searching for a single species, especially when the alternatives were potentially more varied and comfortable - and the idea of being limited to an hour in their company seemed preposterous. Fact is you'll always see other things of interest spending any time time in great ape habitat and the one-hour rule is for the benefit of the apes, not us, plus you really can observe a huge amount in an hour.
While I don't believe an encounter with a great ape is necessarily going to turn anyone from safari generalist in to fanatical primatologist, I've also yet to come accross anyone who has regretted encountering either gorillas or chimps in the wild. To encounter such clearly humanoid creatures thriving in a forest is to ponder where we've come from, and why.
If you're intrigued by what all the hype is about please drop me a line and we can have a chat.
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All of us at Natural High have over 20 years’ experience in the countries we offer. We’ve lived there, worked there and arranged countless one-off journeys for clients. We live to travel – and love to share our tips on what’s really worth doing. For expert advice (and a traveller’s tale or two), speak to one of our team. They’ll be happy to let you in on their travel secrets, and help you plan a tailor-made trip that’s truly unforgettable.