Rwanda is a landlocked East African country with a green, mountainous landscape. Its renowned Volcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The park encompasses 4,507m-tall Mt. Karisimbi and 4 other forested volcanoes. In the southwest is Nyungwe National Park, with ancient montane rain forest that’s a habitat for chimpanzees and other primates.
Volcanoes National Park lies in north-western Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the rare and endangered mountain gorilla and golden monkeys. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains, and spans 160 km² covered in rain forest and bamboo. The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey. There are many things to do and see in this park as follows.
Mountain Gorilla Tracking
Gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is second to none in attracting tourists into the country. The mountain gorillas are critically endangered, with fewer than 900 left in the wild worldwide. Time is running out to see these gentle giants in their natural habitat, which is why this experience is at the top of most visitors’ lists.
Volcanoes National Park has 11 habituated gorilla families. In visiting the park, you may come to meet any of them – Susa, Amahoro, Sabyinyo, Ugenda, Hirwa, Umubano, Karisimbi, to name a few. Each gorilla group can be seen by a maximum of eight people per day. To visit, you must book a gorilla permit in advance, which is priced at $1500 USD each. A maximum of 88 gorilla permits are on offer each day and are given on a first come, first serve basis. Mountain gorilla trekking safaris starts in the morning with assembly at the park headquarters for a briefing about the activity. This is followed by a hike through the bamboo forests of Volcanoes National Park, keeping an eye out for the gorillas in their natural habitat.
The trek can take anywhere from one to six hours depending on the movement of the mountain gorillas across their habitat. You’ll spend a maximum of one hour with the gorillas, where you’ll be able to take photos and videos. Trekkers are accompanied by trained Tour Guides who are well-informed about different wildlife in the park and will lend a hand along the trek. They could carry your day pack or offer you a helping hand if you were to get stuck in the mud!
Golden Monkey Tracking
Rare golden monkeys have been sighted in the magnificent Virunga Mountains. Tracking the beautiful golden monkeys is another popular tourist activity in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. A glimpse of these creatures is considered to be a wonderful lifetime experience. Most visitors book a 3-day gorilla safari package, to experience the golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park. Like gorilla tracking, this activity starts in the morning with an assembly at Kinigi Park Headquarters.
However, golden monkey tracking is less strenuous than to gorilla trekking, so you’ll be finished by around midday. At the time of writing, a golden monkey permit is priced at $100 USD.
Adventurous Hike to Dian Fossey Tombs
A visit to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda can be mixed up with a hike to the tomb of the late Dian Fossey. Dian Fossey was an American primatologist who spent close to two decades in the park, studying the mountain gorillas. A biopic of her life was made into a movie in the late eighties, titled Gorillas in the Mist. She was murdered by poachers in 1985. Her grave is nestled between the beautiful volcanic peaks of Bisoke and Karisimbi, near Karisoke Research Center. The hike through the forest to the tomb takes about six hours (there and back). Along the way, you may be lucky enough to see elephants, buffalo, primates like golden monkeys and sometimes even the mountain gorillas that Dian dedicated her life to.
Mountain Hiking Adventures
Adventurous travelers can combine gorilla trekking with mountain hiking. Mount Bisoke stands at 3,700 meters above sea level, with a deep crater lake on the top. Hiking Mount Bisoke does not require prior hiking experience; you only need to be physically fit, due to the high elevation and length of the climb. The whole trek takes five to seven hours depending on your speed and the frequency of stops. Mountain Karisimbi is the second highest volcanic peak in the Virunga ranges and takes two days and one night to experience. While at the top of the volcano, you will enjoy fantastic views of the other five volcanoes and the beautiful Twin Lakes. Near the summit is the Crater Lake, which features drier vegetation than other parts of the park, with giant heather growing all over the slopes of the volcano.
Guided Walks and Mountain Bikes Excursions
There are many guided and unguided walks around Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. One of the most popular walks will lead you to the Musanze market, where visitors can interact with the local people. The park features a nature walk to the beautiful Twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. You can stroll around the lakes, snapping photos and videos of the scenery as you go. If you don’t fancy journey on foot, you’ll have the option to go via canoe. The Nyange Community walk is designed to show all aspects of village life in Rwanda. A guided walk through Nyange community will allow you to see how locals work and earn a living. You will visit Rwanda homes of iron smiths, mat weavers, local banana-beer brewers, and carpenters. You will also witness and if you choose, partake in the preparation of traditional Rwandan food – not to mention sample the meal at the end!
Another option is a guided visit to Iby’iwacu Cultural Village, on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. There are many cultural performances held here, where you can take part. The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village convinced ex-poachers to turn their back on gorilla poaching. They now make their living performing for tourists.
A tour to Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village allows you to see the traditional house of a local king as well as the herbal mixtures preparation by an authentic medicine man. You can take part in arrow and bow shooting, or enjoy Kinyarwanda cultural music, dances, and drumming performed by local people. You’ll have the option to explore local areas on mountain bikes through different routes with a guide.
Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes. It lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and is in the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the East African Rift. Lake Kivu empties into the Ruzizi River, which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika.
Lake Kivu is Rwanda largest and most scenic Lake – the sort Rwandan Indian Ocean Coast of Kenya or Zanzibar in Tanzania – it is where Rwandans, Expats and Visitors to Uganda go to relax and chill out for a few days.
There is no better place to bring a safari to an end than at Lake Kivu where you can swim – there is no danger from hippos, crocodiles or even Bilharzia – you can lounge on sandy beaches and take a dip in the lake and enjoy a refreshing swim in Lake Kivu. For most, it is simply a place to relax and chill out, while other take nature walks, go birding in a boat or on land, explore some of the islands, the nearby hot springs and more.
Relax and Chill out – Lake Kivu:
Lake Kivu is the best place to relax and chill out in Rwanda after gorilla tracking once or twice, hiking up Volcanoes, Biking or Hiking the Congo Trail, Chimpanzee Tracking in Nyungwe National Park. Relaxing and Chilling out along Lake Kivu is the best way to bring your Rwandan Safari to a memorable end.
Lake Kivu is the perfect place to just be instead of doing, the relax, read a book, enjoy the tropical sun, the splendid views of the Lake, the Islands, the Mountains, fishing boats, the smell of the water, the light breeze – once again – Lake Kivu the best place to relax and chill out in Rwanda – you will enjoy your time along the shores of Rwanda’s most scenic Lake
Swimming in Lake Kivu – Rwanda:
There are many beautiful lakes in East and Central Africa – but most you cannot swim in – Lake Kivu is not only a lake where you can relax and chill out, but you can swim in the Lake. There are no hippos, crocodiles and no Bilharzia found in Lake Kivu making it the perfect lake in Africa to swim in. Lake Kivu is the best lake in Rwanda and that includes swimming in the Lake. The temperature at the Lake is just right and the water is not too cold-perfect to dive in get refreshed.
Water -Sports – Lake Kivu – Sailing – Wind-Surfing – Kayaking -Motor-Boats-Fishing:
There are lots of water sports to indulge in on Lake Kivu; from paddling to one of the explorable island to sailing across this beautiful lake are activities that are most enjoyable for most. You can water-ski here – go windsurfing or just go and explore the lake on a motorboat of one kind or another. Lake Kivu is known in Rwanda and with past visitors as a place for excellent water-sport activities that are not to be missed. One cannot forget about fishing for some tilapia for lunch or dinner.
Hiking and Biking – around and near Lake Kivu:
Lake Kivu is the perfect location for 1/2 day – full day longer hikes – nature walks and bike rides. This includes venturing out on the newly developed Nile-Congo Trail where you can hike or bike along for days – or just make it a one day experience. You can include in your hiking and biking safaris – village visits – cultural interactions which are an enriching experience for all. There are hills that you can climb around Lake Kivu and coast back down on your bike. Just let us know what you are interested in for your time in Lake Kivu and we will arrange it for you.
From Crop to Cup – Coffee Tour-Lake Kivu:
The half day excursion includes a boat ride on Lake Kivu to Nyamirundi Island where you learn and take part in the process of seeing the coffee process from crop to cup. The washing of the beans is done at the Gashashi washing station – you then see the coffee drying, roasted and ground – with you tasting the finished product. Many major coffee houses across the world including Starbucks are using Rwandan Arabica Bean Speciality Coffee. Be sure to buy some and take it home and as you consume a cup of it back home you will be pleasantly reminded of your Rwanda Safari Experience.
Rosamond Carr – Imbabazi Orphanage -Gisenyi – Lake Kivu:
Imbabazi Orphanage was started Rosamond who lived for many years in the Mugongo area where she started a flower plantation\ that supplied hotels with fresh flowers from Kigali to locally. She was a very close friend of Dian Fossey. In 1994 she began the Imbabazi Orphanage – it moved several times but as security returned to the area – the orphanage returned to the Gisenyi Area. Rosamond Carr died in 2006 but her memory lives on through the flower farms and the Imbabazi Foundation’s work with children.
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorates the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The remains of over 250,000 people are interred there. There is a visitor centre for students and those wishing to understand the events leading up to the events of 1994. The Centre is a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place in which the bereaved could bury their family and friends. The Centre is managed and run by the Aegis Trust and the Kigali City Council.
Opened a decade after the genocide, the memorial is a solemn, tear-inducing museum. With giant wall displays, archival documents, photos, video footage and weapons encased in glass, the indoor exhibit sheds light on the Rwandan genocide, as well its pre – colonial, colonial and post-colonial roots. The room filled with human skulls and bones was chilling but most heart-wrenching was the children’s memorial. From the details displayed next to their photos, you learn each child’s favourite foods and activities. It was like viewing a family album — except it abruptly ends with how the youngster’s life was violently snuffed out.
To provide an historical perspective, the indoor exhibit also delves into the sinister ideologies that provoked the world’s largest genocide massacres from the Namibian genocide to the Holocaust. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important reminder that ethnic cleansing of this kind is a global phenomenon.
Akagera National Park covers 1,200 square kilometres in eastern Rwanda, along the Tanzanian border. It was founded in 1934 to protect animals and vegetation in three Eco regions: savannah, mountain and swamp. The park is named for the Kagera River which flows along its eastern boundary feeding into several lakes the largest of which is Lake Ihema. The complex system of lakes and linking papyrus swamps makes up over a third of the park, and is the largest protected wetland in Eastern-Central Africa.
Akagera National Park is named after the river that runs through it. From a scenic point of view, Agakera is simply a stunning Savannah Park and is one of Rwanda’s Natural Treasures that will remind you of the Savannah Reserves of Kenya and Tanzania.
You will find splendid open Savannah Plains, broad-leaved forests and pleasant hills, candelabra Euphoria Trees, Lakes teaming with crocodiles and the large concentration of hippos. Maasai Giraffes, Burchell Zebras, Elephants, Buffaloes, various species of Antelopes such as the Defassa Water buck, Topi, roan antelopes, the large Eland Antelopes, Bohor Reed buck, Oribi, Common Duiker, Klipspringer and the semi-aquatic Sitatunga Antelopes and the Lions and Rhinos are back in Akagera National Park.
When it comes to Primates, you will find groups of the Olive Baboons, Vervet Monkeys and the rarely seen Blue Monkey; the wide-eyed bush babies can also be found here. You might also come across the black-tailed Mongoose, Catlike Genet, and black-masked Civet, Serval Cats, Warthogs, Bush Pigs, rarely seen Lions and more. Birders will find Akagera National Park a natural treasure trove with over 520 species.
Game Drives and Nature Walks in Akagera National Park:
A game drive is like unwrapping a present – each game drive hold new surprises as nature reveals its treasures in the form of scenic wonders, Wildlife such as Elephants, Buffaloes, Antelopes such Topi or Elands, Burchell Zebras, Maasai Giraffes, Savannah Birds, Monkeys, Leopards, Civets, Hyenas, Lions, Serval Cats, Rhinos, and more. Guided Nature Walks including Birding Walks can also be taken at Akagera National Park.
Nocturnal – Night Game Drives – Akagera National Park:
Nocturnal – Night Game Drives are most exciting as you venture out with spotlights to see the creatures of the night found in Akagera National Park. A nocturnal drive through Akagera Park is quite different from the day – at night there is a good opportunity to see the predators on the prowl looking for dinner.
You might see a few leopards, a Lion, serval cats, civets, lions, hyenas all out during the night. One drives quite slow during the nocturnal drive in order not to miss wildlife. Even nocturnal birds and bush babies their large eyes. A nocturnal drive is about 2 hours in length and gives you a different perspective of Akagera National Park at night.
Birding in Akagera National Park:
Akagera National Park is one place that is not to be missed by Birders along with Nyungwe Forest National Park. There are over 520 species of bird species that are found in Akagera National Park.
Birders who come to Akagera National Park are impressed by what they find, in particular the variety of birds and abundance of birds found in the park, ranging from water to forest and including Savannah and migratory bird species – many of them endemic to the park – plus extremely rare species are also as for example the threatened papyrus gonolek which you will find in the papyrus swamps s. the localized red-faced barbes, the flycatcher, and one can be pretty sure that one just might spot the elusive shoe bill stork while birding in Akagera National Park.
Fishing for Tilapia and Catfish on Lake Shakani – Akagera National Park:
One thing that might be a bit out of the ordinary is fishing along the shores of Lake Shakani – you will hear the snorts of Hippos and the cry of water birds and hopefully, the only other noise will be the sound of a fish on your line. Fishing anywhere is enjoyable – at Akagera you have the added pleasure of being in the African Wild – wildlife in the distance – hippos – and water birds all around you.
You might visit Akagera National Park while a fishing tournament is on – which would put you into the good company of fellow anglers.
Boating Safaris on Lake Ihema – Akagera National Park:
Boating Safaris are normally the highlight of a visit to a park in East Africa and so it is with a boating safari on Lake Ihema in Akagera National Park. Lake Ihema has one of the largest concentration of hippos in East Africa and it certainly is a sight to behold and so are the very large crocodiles that you will find along the shores of the lake. There are also countless of water birds you will find while on a boating safari on Lake Ihema and hopefully, you will spot a Shoe bill Stork.
Other animals such as Elephants find their way to the lake to water and to bathe and you have the opportunity to get closer to them than you would in a vehicle on a game drive.
The Nyungwe rain forest is located in south-western Rwanda, at the border with Burundi, to the south, and Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. The Nyungwe rain forest is probably the best preserved montane rain forest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. From the east side of the Nyungwe forest comes also one of the branches of the Nile sources.
Sheltering the highest population of chimpanzees in Rwanda roughly 400 individuals, Chimpanzee trekking is a major activity done in Nyungwe forest national park. On the actual day of trekking, travelers transfer to any of the three starting points of Gisakura, Uwinka and katabi where they attend a simple bring about the trekking dos and don’ts before embarking into the forest to meet the chimpanzees. Unlike mountain gorillas, chimpanzees are trekked at a relatively low cost of 60usd which make it a not miss on your Rwanda safari. On meeting the chimpanzees, you will witness the human like characters of chimpanzees such as feeding habits and how adult females nurse the babies’ juts like human mothers, which make them the most interesting animals to spend time with.
All travelers must have valid trekking permit as a pass to see and interact with these gentle giants for an hour. Also, travelers are reminded to keep a distance of seven meters away from the chimpanzees to avoid the spread of human wildlife diseases such as cough ad flue since chimpanzees are closer relatives to human beings hence susceptible to human diseases.
Forest walks and hiking trails
A forest walk /hiking trail is the best way to explore in full the beauty of Nyungwe forest national park. The national park has over 13 hiking trails, which are approximately 130 kilometres, which lead travelers into the interior of the forest. Each trail lead to a different point such as waterfalls caves and swamps and each trail offer unique features. The hiking trails include Igishigishigi trail, Bigugu trail, Ngabwe trail, Isumo waterfall trail, Kamiranzovu marsh trail, Karamba birding trail, Source of the Nile trail, Irebero trail, Muzimu trail, Imbaraga trail, Congo Nile trail, Umoyove trail, and Rukuzi trail among others. Some trails are long while others short hence providing a chance to all kinds of travelers to enjoy any of the hikes depending on one’s physical fitness and the ability to hike. Depending on which trail a travel follows, a forest walk in Nyungwe forest national park can as short as three hours to as long as 3 days. Hiking through the forest help travelers to enjoy a peaceful calm environment, while listening to the sweet sounds of birds singing up in the trees which melodies keep running in the minds of travelers.
The canopy walk is a 200 meters walk above the forest and is only done in Nyungwe forest national park in the whole of east Africa. Travelers walk on the built trail, which hang 60 meters above the forest rewarding them with an aerial view of the national park, wildlife, adjacent communities, Virunga volcanoes and attractions in the neighbouring countries. The two hours walk start and end at the national park headquarters at Uwinka information center the national park headquarters and it’s also the end point. All participants in the walk must be aged 6 years and above and each one must have a valid permit. Interestingly the canopy walk is done at 60usd, which is relatively cheap but rewarding you with a thrilling experience which last for a lifetime.
Sheltering over 300 bird species, Nyungwe forest national park is a best birding spot in Rwanda. Out of the total bird population in Nyungwe forest, 121 are forest birds while 27 are endemic to the Albertine rift valley. The most spotted birds in Nyungwe Forest National Park include Rockefellers sun bird, Chapin’s flycatcher, Great blue Turaco, red collared mountain babbler, Rera grauer’s rush warbler, Rwenzori Turaco, white tailed flycatcher, Rwenzori batis, barred long tailed cuckoo, Rwenzori nigh jar, Rwenzori hill babler, yellow eyed black flycatcher, Congo bay owlet, mountain sooty boubu, and the Neumann’s warbler among others. Experienced guides help in spotting these birds as well as explaining the unique characters of each spotted bird in the forest.
Besides chimpanzees, Nyungwe Forest National Park is a home to over 300 monkey species hence a best spot for monkey trekking. While in Nyungwe forest national park, expect to meet different species of monkeys, which include L’ Hoests monkeys, black and white colobus, blue monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys among others. These monkeys are similar in characters but are only differentiated by their colours. Monkey trekking is a very joyful experience given that monkeys are lively and playful creatures that keep you alert all the time by their continuous movements, shouts while jumping over you across tree branches. Therefore, book your safari to Nyungwe forest national park, enjoy all activities, see all attractions all rewarding you an extra ordinary experience.