Kigali, National Genocide Memorial, Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe Forest National Park, Akagera National Park
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
From gorillas in the mist to lions on the savannah, Rwanda is packed with unique wildlife highlights. Meet the legendary animals of the East African grasslands, track chimpanzees in the Congo Basin, boat past the hippos of the swamp, and find golden monkeys and 600-strong troops of colobus monkeys deep in the forest. This tiny, compact country combines the safari highlights of East and Central Africa, creating a wildlife intimacy that rivals any other place on the planet.
Kigali – Relaxing in Rwanda’s Colorful Capital
Kigali always comes as a surprise, feeling as much like Paris as it does East Africa. Broad boulevards are lined by elegant trees, architecture reveals a stylistic grace, and the cleanliness is always remarked upon by first-time visitors. Touch down in the capital city, and you will first transfer to a five-star hotel in the city, one with idyllic views over the hills. During the afternoon, you explore the city on a guided tour, stopping first at a vibrant local market, then listening to the stories in the National Genocide Memorial. Kigali is the perfect introduction to Rwanda, telling a tale of where the country has come from while celebrating the enthusiasm of the present. This country doesn’t look back, and there is an authenticity that you will come to love over the next 11 days.
Volcanoes National Park – Into the Famous Canopy
Gaze out from your lodge in Volcanoes National Park, and you immediately think of Dian Fossey’s Gorillas in the Mist. Swirling mist occupies the folds in the mountains, floating strangely amongst the forest. It is a spectacular journey to get here, weaving higher into the hills, then twisting beneath the rainforest canopy. After lunch at the lodge, the afternoon is at your leisure, a chance to fully relax before two days of gorilla trekking. Should you wish to start exploring, there are various forest trails that take you in and out of the canopy. Dinner at the lodge is a gourmet affair, a log fire crackling as the mist swirls ever onwards.
Volcanoes National Park – The First Unforgettable Gorilla Trek
Today you begin your trek, stepping farther into the wild and toward the gorillas. Mud squishes underfoot, branches are sliced clear by machetes, the trail disappears, and you are following paths left by the gorillas. Meeting a troop requires you to journey deep into the mountainous forest, into a landscape that feels evocatively foreign. Vehicles have never penetrated this place, and the sense of seclusion is exquisite. Groups of up to eight visitors are assigned to a particular, habituated gorilla troop, with troops assigned based upon the fitness levels of the visitors. Some troops may be a four-hour trek away; others might be found within 30 minutes. Regardless of how long it takes, this trek through equatorial rainforest is a major part of the experience.
In the distance you see the gorillas, moving on all fours. You follow, excitement building until the first magical close-up of the troop. Two blackback males appear first, ebullient faces and frenzied arms providing an intense first impression. Creep closer, stepping around a mother gnawing feverishly at tree bark. In a small clearing, you see two infants, playful and mischievous as they jump around the branches. Eventually, you count 14 gorillas, including the iconic silverback, who pounds around on his knuckles, almost causing the ground to echo. Spend a full hour with these gorillas, admiring all their behavior and communication, coming to love the most impish of the individuals. Then a resounding beat on the chest indicates that visitor time is over, the silverback providing a remarkable final memory of this remote and endangered troop.
Volcanoes National Park – Second Unforgettable Gorilla Trek
A new morning, a new trail, a new gorilla troop to visit. The differences are immediately apparent, this troop home to two silverback males. This troop is not a happy, harmonious family, over 20 individuals creating an atmosphere that feels laced with tension. Within the next few years, this troop will undoubtedly split, and you can already make out the dividing line. With so many gorillas, it is hard to know where to look, the troop feeding in the forest that surrounds you, including three swinging through the trees. You hear a loud crack, and you turn around just in time to see a baby gorilla falling through the canopy. A subtle look and you admire the peculiar stare between two old, female gorillas. A deft call and you witness the communication between two individuals.
On each gorilla trek, you spend an hour with the troop. These are habituated gorillas who are used to this daily encounter with humans. However, they are very wild, and it is impossible to predict their behavior. Sometimes you find tension and imposing displays of power; other times you find playfulness and a delectable charm. Going twice not only increases the range of behavior you can witness; it also provides an insight into two distinctive family troops. Most importantly, it gives you double time to enjoy the experience, meaning you can put down the camera and really soak up the intimacy, the gorillas jumping about in all directions.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – The Charming Road Across the Land of 1,000 Hills
Rwanda creates new definitions of green. Every mile seems to bring another unfeasible tone, a new hue that cannot be captured on an artificial screen: rustic green creepers winding up mahogany trees, lush rice paddies clinging to the hills, electric colors on passing birds, the arcane olive tones scattered through the canopy. It takes four to five hours to drive from Volcanoes National Park to Nyungwe Forest, although the journey will take longer due the sheer abundance of photographic viewpoints. Stop for lunch in a local village en route, a chance to discover more about rural life in these green hills. Then escape beneath the canopy of the Congo Basin, entering a rainforest of remarkable distinctiveness. Check into the lodge, and it is hard to go more than ten minutes without a troop of monkeys swinging past. The evening is at your leisure, getting ready for tomorrow’s chimpanzee trek.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Exhilarating Chimpanzee Trekking
It is dark and deserted in the forest, just the odd javelin of light piercing the canopy. This is the Congo Basin in all its glory, supremely mystical at every turn. The pathway winds, slowly, haphazardly, beneath the watchful eyes of owl-faced monkeys. Grey-cheeked mangabeys make an appearance, hooting from afar, then clambering down to view their visitors. Keep walking, into the depths of the forest, where a very special primate troop occupies the trees. Chimpanzees still rule the landscape here, flourishing in a place that has been untouched by man. You will spend an hour with a troop, absorbing the similarities and understanding why they are so important to us.
One glance at the chimpanzees, and you can tell that they are biologically similar to yourself. Deft fingers open seeds, eyes display emotion, and gestures change with every passing second. You spend a whole hour with a chimpanzee troop, and you understand that they are also socially very similar. Individuals form cliques, mothers nurture babies to their bosoms, certain males gain respect through their size and power, and others enchant with their peculiar ways and enigmatic actions. The chimpanzee experience is very different from the gorilla experience. You will usually not get as close, as the chimpanzees stay primarily in the canopy, only a handful coming to the forest floor. Encounters come with unpredictability; some days you will see the whole 60 or 70-strong troop, other days it is a small splinter group. But in whatever manner you encounter chimpanzees, there is an intimacy and intensity to the hour, brought on by the remarkable similarities you will witness.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – The Mystical Monkey World of the Congo Basin
Nyungwe Forest is home to a quarter of Africa’s primates, including many rare and endangered species. Today is fully flexible, and the guide will outline potential trekking options, from leisurely trails to serious hikes into the tangled undergrowth. L’Hoest’s monkeys are scattered around the trails, different mangabeys have faces full of emotion, and when you encounter the Rwenzori colobus monkeys, it is impossible to know which way to look. They gather in 600 – 700-strong troops, bathing whole sections of forest in noise and intrigue. This second day also provides a back-up day for chimpanzee trekking if you failed to see a troop yesterday. You will find a fabulous landscape here, one that makes you feel like an old-world explorer venturing into the unknown. But unlike Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this part of the Congo Basin is wonderfully illuminating.
Akagera National Park – Aerial Safari Across Rwanda
You have had a journey by land; now you will savor the sights of Rwanda from the air. The light aircraft swoops across the west of the country, rising over a thick, impenetrable swathe of forest, then soaring over the volcanic remains around Lake Kivu. Then you veer eastward, traversing the iconic, hilly scenery of central Rwanda. The hills flatten, and a savannah extends beneath the wingtips, an insight into the next three days. Touch down, and the landscape feels indelibly East African. Open grasslands are dotted with antelope, trees rise above the swamps in the distance, and lone trees act like safari sentinels.
This is classic East Africa safari territory, with a distinctive difference. Akagera is a mix of both grassland and wetland, the contrast of habitats attracting a huge diversity of wildlife. After lunch, you start the safari experience by joining the park’s rangers on a behind-the-scenes tour of the park. You learn about conservation and methods of preserving this precious habitat. You find out the role of a ranger in maintaining harmony between man and wildlife, and you savor the knowledge of the rangers, who know exactly where particular lion prides hide, and precisely where to find certain ungulates. After a day with the rangers, you spend the evening watching the savannah from your luxury lodge, the silence occasionally interrupted by raucous animal calls.
Akagera National Park – Big Game of the Iconic Grasslands
Venture onto the plains, where the grass glows beneath the morning sun. Sable antelope stand proudly, their photogenic horns spiraling skywards. Herds of eland and tsessebe dot the grasslands, along with hundreds of oribi. Some antelope skip and dance, enthusiastic in the morning ambiance. Next, you will find the lions, a healthy pride that inspects you with curiosity. In the morning, you explore these plains in a vehicle, a game drive revealing wildlife diversity. It is quite possible that you could see 15 – 20 different species on the drive. In the afternoon, there is a huge change in atmosphere, a walking safari taking you across the same big-game landscape. Giraffe tower over you, zebra and buffalo cross the trail, and you watch the intense battles between horned males.
Akagera National Park – Exploring Swamps and Savannah in Eastern Rwanda
A final day and another enchanting landscape, the safari starting with a boat ride through the lakes, perhaps into the swamps dependent on water levels. Hippos are everywhere, and you paddle within meters of their bulldozing frames. Strange aquatic antelopes line the edge of the water, ears pinned back as they watch you pass. Tropical birds swirl, joining the flocks of menacing vultures. It feels like an entirely different world than the nearby grasslands; this is one of Akagera’s great highlights. In the afternoon, you continue the safari with a game drive over a rock-strewn savannah, an area of less abundant wildlife but more intense encounters. The views from up here are very special, and you will take wine and canapes to enjoy as you watch the sunset. Back at the lodge, dinner comes with the odd giraffe wandering past, silhouetted by moonlight.
Akagera National Park to Kigali – Departure
It is a two-hour drive back to Kigali and the country’s main international airport. You arrive in plenty of time before the departure, after a winding journey through Rwanda’s legendary green hills.
- Journey into the misty forest and spend an hour with an inspiring gorilla troop
- Explore the atmosphere of the Congo Basin and encounter around a quarter of Africa’s primate species in Nyungwe Forest, including 600-strong troops of colobus monkeys
- Game drive across iconic East African grasslands, where lions chase after a wonderfully diverse cast of antelopes
- Trek through Volcanoes National Park a second time on another gorilla trekking experience
- Discover the depths of Nyungwe Forest, passing extravagant flora en route to an hour with a troop of wild chimpanzees
- Boat across the Akagera lakes and walk over the Rwandan savannah, enjoying intimate encounters with Africa’s famous big game
- Admire the Land of 1,000 Hills from the land and the air, with a day driving across the hills and an aerial safari above the forests
- Spend a day with researchers and conservationists in Akagera National Park, going behind the scenes to understand how such unique wilderness is preserved
$6,705 per person (excluding international flights)
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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