Majestic silverback gorillas beating their chest, 600-strong troops of colobus monkeys, chimpanzees draped across ebony trees, exotic species from the Congo Basin all abound as Rwanda is home to the world’s greatest primate encounters. Immersing yourself in the exotic realm of Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park, this iconic safari will explore the depths and details of the region's primates, from the unusual grey-cheeked mangabey to two intimate gorilla trekking experiences.
Kigali – A Day in Rwanda’s Vibrant Capital
Kigali is a remarkable city and will inspire anyone who may think that Rwanda would still be suffering from the genocide of 1994. Spotlessly clean and spacious, the city is dominated by broad tree-lined boulevards and a sense of calm. There are few, if any, more tranquil urban landscapes in the whole of East Africa, and a night in Kigali provides the perfect transition as you prepare for your primate adventure. You will be met at the airport and transferred to the city’s most iconic five-star hotel, and your suite will have incredible views over the city.
This first day will be at your leisure, and your private guide will take you on a tour of the city’s sights. The day’s route is flexible dependent on your energy level and your interest, though the National Genocide Memorial cannot be missed, and you must spend at least a few hours wandering one of the colorful local markets. Other nearby memorials provide a heart-wrenching, first-hand insight into what happened, with bloodstains on church walls and mass piles of human bones. The city’s tenacious spirit and respect for their past are an incredible testimony to the enthusiasm of today, showcasing how Rwanda does not live in the past but look ahead into tomorrow.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Surrounded by Monkeys
Strange sounds reverberate around the Nyungwe Forest as you step into the woods. Bizarre bellowing hoots ring out and pierce the dense foliage though many miles away. Tropical birds provide an orchestra of treble, chirping, and chiming throughout the day. There is a mystique to the atmosphere as you cannot always see who or what is responsible for the noise. You will fly in from Kigali and will immediately feel the magic of the Congo Basin. Walking trails are narrow, with guides constantly having to slice through branches and undergrowth while unusual creepers twist their way up the mammoth ebony and mahogany trees. Strange faces peer at you from high in the canopy with some of the world’s rarest primates surrounding the lodge. For political and logistical reasons, almost all of the Congo Basin is not accessible to visitors, but Nyungwe Forest is the inspiring enclave that is.
On this first day in Nyungwe, you will take a walk on one of the park’s trails. The guide will outline the different options as you can choose a one-hour jaunt or up to five hours spent beneath the canopy. You will begin to see large troops of Rwenzori colobus monkeys, their tails curling down from high branches and impish faces full of emotion. Deeper into the park, and the troops will number as many as 600 animals. They will surround you on all sides, constantly chirping to each other, foraging and eating as they make their daily journey through the canopy. Other unique icons include the owl-faced monkey and grey-cheeked mangabey, and these are just two amongst more than a quarter of Africa’s primates living in Nyungwe Forest.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Tracking Chimpanzees
Journey into the depths of the forest and pass beneath the large troops as you feel the mystique of the Congo Basin. The chimpanzees of this forest are found down the narrow walking trails, usually clustered together around the massive ebony and mahogany trees. While there are a few places in East Africa to trek chimpanzees, none can rival Nyungwe for the exoticism of the experience. You will be trekking deeply into generally unchartered territory and beneath trees that have stood for hundreds of years as you pass monkeys who rarely ever see humans. Trackers go ahead and radio back the location of the troop, and although encounters are never 100% guaranteed, you can search for chimpanzees tomorrow if you do not see any of them today. It is not just the chimpanzees that make this experience special; rather it is the forest itself as it is dense, enigmatic, and mystifying.
You will hear chimpanzees before you see them. Their communication has a poignancy, something almost human in its clarity, even if the language is alien. Calls echo and will lead you towards a troop in the canopy. Inquisitive eyes look down upon you and reveal so much feeling in a single expression. Occasionally, they will come from the trees to forage and find food on the forest floor. Nimble, human-like hands open nuts or use sharp small branches as tools. Babies are cradled into a mother’s bosom while adolescent males seem intent on mischief. For an hour, you will join the chimpanzees’ world and slowly absorb the intricacies of a troop and its communication. Return to the lodge to a roaring log fire that will guide you into the evening, accompanied by fine cuisine and imported wines.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Rare and Unique Primate Encounters
High in the canopy, you will spot an owl-faced monkey, supreme and serene on his lofty perch. All around the lodge, you will encounter L’Hoest monkeys and Rwenzori colobus monkeys, intriguing creatures that have become a constant on your three-night stay. A shimmering glow distinguishes the silver monkey while the grey-cheeked mangabey is always remembered for its unusual, haunting cry. Three days is widely recommended in Nyungwe Forest to ensure ample opportunity to experience the full range of the park’s primates, as well as leave a spare day for tracking chimpanzees. Even without the animals, you could easily spend weeks in this unique landscape to inspect the spectacular flora and brilliant Central African rainforest atmosphere. The day’s plans are flexible, and your guide will outline many potential walking trails dependent on what you want to see.
Volcanoes National Park – Cultural Connections in the Misty Forest
Fly north on a beautiful journey that truly evokes the scale of the rainforest. To the west, there will be nothing but trees, a dense canopy where mist flutters and the green colors blur onto the horizon. Touch down close to Volcanoes National Park, and then transfer to your luxury lodge that will abound with inspiring views over the canopy. This afternoon, you will meet the people behind gorilla conservation beginning with the Gorilla Research Centre. Learn more about the challenges and long-fought successes behind preserving these special giants before visiting a local village to meet the community members that live in harmony with the world’s largest primates. It is not unusual for gorillas to roam out to these villages, as thanks to innovative conservation the villagers no longer need to lay hunting traps for the forest’s smaller animals, traps that accidentally ensnared gorillas. Return to the lodge for sunset, and prepare yourself for tomorrow’s journey beneath the mist.
Volcanoes National Park – Evocative Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla treks can last from 30 minutes to four hours, but regardless of the trek’s length, everyone can sense when the gorillas are close. Something unknown lurks in the atmosphere that assures you that these giant primates are just around the next corner. A few more steps and a gorilla may come out to meet you, dancing wildly on two legs, waving arms in an impressive display of power. It is an invitation and a message that you are welcome in their family world, but that must show the utmost of respect. Walk a little closer and follow the retreating gorilla into a clearing to find a dozen gorillas that are feeding and foraging. Some gnaw against the tree bark while others begin to climb in the branches above your head and a nearby silverback crashes a path through the surrounding bushes.
This morning you will meet at the national park center for the start of your gorilla trek. Groups are a maximum of eight people, with each group assigned to a specific habituated gorilla troop. Note that troops are most commonly assigned on the fitness level of the group, with troops closest to the trailhead typically visited by the trekkers who would benefit most. There is an opportunity to request a shorter or longer trek dependent on your interests, but officially, you must stay seven meters from the gorillas. Their imposing welcome is more than enough for everyone to respect this, although some gorillas will approach people inquisitively. You will be able to spend a whole hour with the troop for an awe-inspiring spectacle that begins quietly as you sense their presence.
At first, your eyes will be drawn to the whole troop as you figure out who is who and just how many gorillas there are. It will be hard to keep your finger off of your camera shutter, as every second offers a whole succession of magnificent wildlife shots. But slowly your heart will calm down, and you will be able to focus on the individuals; the boisterous female deliberately feeding away from the rest, two infants throwing nuts from the canopy, the rippling back muscles of the silverback. Emotion is displayed in every pair of eyes and each changing glance. You are not merely encountering gorillas, but also experiencing their world and finding something unique at every angle. It will sometimes feel like it is over too quickly, but that is because there is too much inimitability packed into this hour with a gorilla troop.
Volcanoes National Park – Searching for the Golden Monkeys
Another remarkable primate has always had a home in this strange forest alongside the gorillas, the Golden monkeys. Raucous in their shouts and resplendent in their appearance, they are usually seen close to the main park trailhead, so you probably will not need to trek for as long as yesterday. Gathering in large family troops, the monkeys will fill the forest with unusual sounds and colors. Faces are tinted blue, fur glistens in the sporadic rays of light, and the troop’s frenzied behavior creates an unforgettable hour of intimacy. You will join the troop, from the tiny cradled babies to the bellowing young males, and spend time watching and understanding their behavior. While they might not have the size and legend of gorillas, these evocative monkeys provide a beautiful insight into an ancient animal that has almost disappeared from the world.
Volcanoes National Park – Meeting a Second Gorilla Troop
The contrasts are delightful, but it is the comparisons that are the most poignant. On a first gorilla trek, you are usually consumed by the gorillas’ unique details: the thick tree-trunk shaped arms and jet-black eyes with behavior that is remarkably serene behind the show of imposing power. So much is new and different that it can be hard to know where to look, but on a second gorilla trek, you can really absorb the similarities. It is clear to see that these creatures are not so different from ourselves as hands and feet could hardly be closer, maternal instincts are effortlessly portrayed, and independent thought is clearly observed. On this second gorilla trek, you will visit a different troop with its own social structure and inimitable behavior, and you will have time to focus on the comparisons and experience how wild mountain gorillas are very similar to ourselves.
This will be a similar walk through the forest as before, with a maximum group size of eight people. As before, you are officially allowed within seven meters of the troop, although some gorillas may get closer to you. This time the hour passes much slower as there is a calmness to the experience that ensures that you really admire the details. Two blackback males communicate through hand gestures, an infant learns and struggles to climb, and deft nails open seeds as monstrous hands pull down trees. Much like any family group, you will notice how some individuals retreat into places of tranquility, while others seek mischief and contact. You will notice cliques within the troop and sense where tensions lie. This second gorilla troop will help you to focus on physical similarities, but more memorably, the social similarities between gorilla troops and human family life.
Kigali – Departure
It’s a two-hour drive from Volcanoes National Park to Kigali, but the charming journey twists in and out of the hills for a memorable ride. Enjoy lunch at one of Kigali’s excellent international restaurants before transferring to the airport and your departing flight.
- Uncover the intricate exoticism of the Congo Basin, safely explored from Rwanda’s remote Nyungwe Forest National Park
- Journey into the thick mountainous hills of Volcanoes National Park, one of only two remaining strongholds of the critically-endangered mountain gorilla, the world’s largest primate
- Spend a day tracking chimpanzees and follow their strange echoed shouts to the heart of the wilderness
- Seek out troops of rare golden monkeys with their iconic primates with deft blue faces and resplendent fur
- Discover astonishing scenes in the Nyungwe Forest, with 600-strong troops of colobus monkeys, along with the bizarre and rare owl-faced monkey, silver monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey, and grey-cheeked mangabey
- Meet conservationists and communities as you follow in the footsteps of Dian Fossey to explore the successes behind gorilla conservation in Rwanda
- Create unbelievable memories with two gorilla treks that will guide your discovery of Rwanda’s primates with one bringing astonishing intimacy, and the other focused on the elaborate details
- Savor the dreamy forest vistas as you fly over Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park and gaze out over the misty canopy from your lodge
$6,385 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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