In the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ as Rwanda is called, just over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas (about 480 according to WWF) are found in the broader Virunga Conservation Area (Virunga Mountains), which includes the well-managed Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. This is where the legendary and iconic gorillas conservationist, Dian Fossey, lived and worked with gorillas. The gorillas here are more habituated than in other areas, meaning that they are more habituated to having humans around.
Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Despite being landlocked Republic one of Africa’s smallest countries (26,338km) Rwanda has an incredible treasure trove of biodiversity that requires protection. The Albertine Rift Eco- zone (ARE), a region that stretches across six countries with Rwanda as its epicenter, is of particular importance as it has an exceptional level of species endemism. Scientists regard it as having the highest levels of biodiversity on the continent.
The nature lover will be impressed by the variety and the rarity of what can be observed visiting Rwanda, nut there’s more to Rwanda than protected mountain gorillas and Albertine endemics. The shores of Lake Kivu boast some of the best inland beaches in Africa and offer an opportunity to explore the many small islands of Lake Kivu.
Kigali, the capital and conference hub of east Africa, forms a central stepping stone to various destinations within the country and central and east Africa. The city is green, vibrant, and safe and brews superb homegrown tea and coffee.
Discovering Rwanda on your gorilla trekking safari can be discovered through encountering the attractions and tourist activities done in each national park.
Volcanoes National Park
Approximately 480 of mountain gorillas, Gorilla beringei beringei, live on the slopes of three dormant volcanoes in the north of Rwanda on the border with Uganda and the DRC within Parc National des Volcans (PNV) or Volcanoes National Park. The population is increasing and the individual groups are in a state with maturing individuals leaving and sometimes groups splitting. They are also free to wander through the forest and across the borders into neighboring countries.
The gorilla trekking among the Virunga volcanoes is a 2 hour’s drive from the capital Kigali, making it readily accessible for a person who does a 3 Day Rwanda Gorilla Trek.
Once a habituated gorilla family has been located by your ranger guides, you can settle down for an hour to observe them as they feed, play, sleep and groom while their babies tumble about the undergrowth all under the watchful gaze of the great silver Back male. Sitting only a few meters from a gorilla and looking face to face in the eyes of the apes is a thrilling experience not easily forgotten.
Permits for trekking to see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park are more expensive than on the Ugandan side –US$750 per person per hour on the Rwandan side year round and US$600 per person per hour on the Ugandan side, with a reduction in permit fees for the Ugandan low season of April, May and November at US$450 per person.
The 1994 Rwanda genocide
During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the Hutus killed almost a million Tutsi people in just three months. Kigali’s genocide memorial in Kigali provides information on this genocide, as well as those of Albania, German-occupied Europe, German South-West Africa (Namibia), Bosnia and Ethiopia. It’s a moving reminder of human cruelty and the shocking lack of reaction from the international community.
Nyungwe National Park in the southern province
Nyungwe Forest in the south is a very scenic national park of montane forest and home to a number of other primate species including chimpanzees and huge troupes of colobus monkeys. You are also likely to see L’Hoest’s along the roadsides. For those keen on bird watching this region has approximately 24 Albertine Rift endemics such as the regal sun bird. The park now has a choice of accommodation and can be reached from Kigali in a day as you enjoy your gorilla trekking safari.
Another endangered primate species also inhabits the bamboo forests of PNV, in fact here and in Nyungwe are the only places golden guenon or golden monkey, Cercopithecus mitis kandti, live. They are a subspecies of blue monkey and currently 2 groups are habituated and visiting them gives you an insight into another endangered primate species and benefits researchers still learning about the requirements of these monkeys. The walk to these monkeys is shorter than to the gorillas and makes a good option for a second trek in the park.
Akagera National Park
In the east is the rolling lowland Savannah of Akagera National Park with its series of lakes and wetlands. The park is being restocked and there is an increasing amount of wildlife. Again, like Nyungwe, Akagera is a top spot for birding with papyrus gonalek and shoe bill present in the reed beds. In fact Rwanda is a great bird watching destination and combined with Uganda would make a fabulous tour. A day or two on safari in Akagera is a great addition to a tour in Rwanda and highly recommended, especially now that the new Ruziz Tented Camp has opened, making for a comfortable stay in the park.
The west of Rwanda is bordered by Lake Kivu, a very scenic lake with islands, beaches and small lakeside towns including Gisenyi and Kibuye which can make a relaxing place to stay during a tour of the country.