Exclusive History of Rwanda Tour

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Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Africa
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Total Trip:

11 Days
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Countries Visited:

Rwanda
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Places Visited:

Kigali, Nyungwe Forest, Nyanza, Butare, Huye, Ruhengeri, Batwa villages, Volcanoes National Park
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Departure Dates:

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Rwanda’s history dances with charm and intrigue, unraveling tales from the heart of Africa. Locals guide you through haunting genocide memorials but Rwanda’s history doesn’t just start in 1994. Wind back in time to the Nyanza kings and the indigenous Batwa pygmies, discover all the tales from the pre-colonial era and immerse yourself in rural communities. Including a gorilla trek, this exclusive 11-day tour takes you on an intimate journey through a fascinating nation.  

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Customizable Itinerary

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Day 1

Kigali – 1994 and the National Genocide Memorial

Rwanda is etched into world history for the genocide of 1994, when over a million civilians were killed during the incited violence between Hutus and Tutsis. Understanding the ebullience and vibrancy of modern Rwanda can only be done by first going through the lens of this atrocity. You’ll be greeted at the airport and transferred to the Serena Kigali, a five-star base in the heart of the capital city. With its elegant pool and relaxed restaurant, it’s the perfect place to recuperate from the flight and gaze out on the hills of Rwanda. Take your time, enjoy your lunch, and then visit the memorial in the afternoon.

Tens of thousands are buried in mass graves here, a very moving sight as locals regularly visit the memorial. Almost as poignant is the story on the inside, a detailed walk through the events that led to the genocide. It’s doesn’t hold back any punches in the complicity of the United Nations, and a poignant phrase sticks in the memory: the world was silent when we died. Another intriguing piece of complicity comes from early colonial times, when the two ethnic groups – Hutus and Tutsis – were created from one harmonious people. While this may not be a happy place, understanding what happened in detail evokes real admiration for the country of today.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Transfer

included

Tour

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Day 2

Kigali – From 1907 to the Colorful Markets of Today

Vivid colors fill Kimilonko Market, a rainbow of styles merging with the fluttering shouts of traders. It’s Rwanda’s biggest and brightest, a throb of colorful chaos that makes for a very entertaining morning. Your guide takes you past various food stalls, enabling you to sample all the country’s delicacies, and then you continue the tour at the Belgium memorial site, located at the exact point where Kigali was founded in 1907. Interestingly, the first European to arrive in Rwanda was a German colonialist, who came almost ten years after Rwanda had been designated a German colony. That’s how remote and untouched Rwanda was; no European had ever set foot here when it was suddenly declared German property. Just imagine the upheaval and anguish that must have caused, and continue to marry that with the incredibly friendly welcomes you receive everywhere in Rwanda.

After lunch, you visit the memorial sites of Ntarama and Nyamta. These are old red-brick churches, untouched since 1994, piled high with the skeletons of the murdered. Clothes and fabrics hang from the roof, belongings are left in piles, and skulls rise in huge columns. Local guides conduct the tours and narrate the specific stories of these churches, helping to put a very individual picture on the overarching story at the national genocide memorial. The story isn’t about why. It’s about what, it’s about the skulls bashed by machetes, the thousands lying in unmarked graves, and the blood splattered on the church interior.

It’s not always a pleasant viewing and many visitors leave in tears. However, there’s always a message of hope and it’s inspiring to take in the brutality of the genocide, and then compare that to the resilience of reconciliation of everything around you. Rwanda is a developed nation that captures the heart, the people and the landscapes inviting you into the warm center of Africa. Visiting these memorials creates huge admiration for the nation and its people.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast

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Day 3

Nyungwe Forest – 19th-Century Kings of Nyanza

The four-hour journey to Nyungwe is dotted with delightful sights. Drive through thick tea plantations, where women carry baskets of leaves on their heads; admire the wood and thatch houses that dot the hillside; and visit the palace of the Nyanza kings. It’s opulent in a sense, although you must remember that it was built at a time when Rwanda was completely isolated from the world. And it’s an opportunity to wander through the 19th-century tales of the nation, discovering how the Nyanza kings ruled and the intriguing customs that came with the time. Later on, you stop for a traditional lunch in a small village, a chance to spend time in one of the thousands of little communities that dot the Land of 1000 Hills. For the next three nights, you’re staying at Nyungwe Forest Lodge, a sumptuous accommodation that’s surrounded by the shouts of monkeys.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 4

Nyungwe Forest – Rwanda’s Rich Pre-Colonial History in Butare

Rwanda’s history definitely didn’t start in 1994. Nor did it start at the Berlin Conference. If anything, the colonial period blunted many of the rich traditions that had been passed down from antiquity. Rwanda Ethnographic Museum is the finest museum in Rwanda, if not East Africa, celebrating and evoking the time before the white settlers. A specialist guide takes you around and it’s a captivating story. On this relaxed day, you’ll also visit the botanical gardens in Butare and some sublime hot springs in Bugarama, before returning to the forest, where there are likely to be various monkeys within sights of your balcony.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 5

Nyungwe Forest to Lake Kivu – Primate Tracking and the 2002 Nyuragongo Volcano

Immense troops of Angolan colobus monkeys swing through the trees of Nyungwe Forest, hundreds of them parading through the high branches. Endangered golden monkeys greet visitors with their blue faces, while chimpanzee families occupy the remote reaches. This thick forest is quintessential Central Africa, a chance to explore the landscape of the Congo Basin and discover over a quarter of Africa’s primate species. Park trackers expertly lead a morning primate tracking tour and a number of endangered monkeys will be spotted. You won’t be seeing just a few of them. Hundreds of them will be surrounding you, some scampering across the ground and others curling their tails high in the canopy.

After a late lunch and time to refresh at the lodge, you drive to Gisenyi along Lake Kivu, where the Serena Lake Kivu Hotel gazes across the water to the Congo. Nyiragongo Volcano looms large over the town and erupted as recently as 2002. You’ll see how the sprouting ash has created unusual hills that lope out into the lake. The water is fresh and clean, making a great place to swim as the sun sets. Dinner at the hotel is included tonight.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 6

Kigali – From 1994 to Today – A Tour of Ross Carr’s Orphanage

Enthusiasm is infectious. Take one step into Ross Carr’s Orphanage and you’re greeted by a wall of smiles and cacophony of shouts. Started in 1994, the orphanage has helped over 400 children, and there are some incredible individual stories. You’ll be impressed by how so many of the older children can speak English, as well as how they play the role of older siblings and parents, looking after the youngest of the children. From here it’s a short journey back to Kigali, with stops at a couple of vibrant villages along the way. Everyone is keen to share their story in Rwanda and you’ll find that, by now, you’re fully immersed in the customs of the country.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch

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Day 7

Ruhengeri – 1960s to 1980s – Exploring Dian Fossey Projects and Community Walk

Rwanda is small and almost everywhere is within two hours of the capital. No road is straight, nor flat, but every highway is in perfect condition, another indication of the strides made in recent years. You’ll arrive in Ruhengeri in the middle of the morning, where you spend the day walking between rural communities who occupy the outskirts of the forest. Many of these have been assisted and uplifted through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund. You’ll visit rural schools, health clinics, community centers, and meet the locals that occupy this remote world in the heart of Africa. It’s not where you come to point the camera and take a few photos, but where you connect with culture and see a very authentic side to the country. As always, your guide helps lead the way and acts as translator throughout.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 8

Ruhengeri – Rwanda’s Oldest Residents – Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park

A pair of black eyes greets you in the trees. Then another. Deep set yet glowing powerfully, these are eyes filled with emotion. Walk a little further and you see more, a dozen gorillas occupying a tiny clearing. It’s taken two hours to get here, an exhilarating journey through indigenous forest that got thicker and thicker. Guides sliced the way with machetes as they followed the radioed calls from the trackers, bringing you here, just a few meters away from a whole gorilla family.

At first you don’t know where to look. You watch one and then move on to another, trying to calculate the size of the troop and attempting to understand their constitution. Goosebumps rise yet the exhilaration slowly drifts away. At first sight, it can seem scary, but after a few moments, you start to become naturalized to the situation. Take out the camera and get the snapshots, the jet-black fur framed against the vibrant green of the forest. Then put the camera away and absorb the intimacy of the experience. It’s almost too close for words, especially when the silverback bounds past on his knuckles, the soft thud of the earth a sound that can stay with you for eternity.

On a gorilla trek, you have a whole hour with the habituated troop, admiring them as they go about their day. They’re usually feeding, some gnawing at bark, others picking berries off trees, still more pulling down branches and feasting on their favorite green shoots. Officially you can come within seven meters of the world’s largest primate, although it feels much closer than this. Only around 1000 of these beautiful creatures remain and gorilla trekking is arguably the most intimate wildlife experience on the planet, a chance to spend time with truly wild and remarkable creatures. It’s two hours back to Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge where you spend the night in Rwanda’s most salubrious accommodation.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Activity

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 9

Ruhengeri – Rwanda’s Ancient Forest Dwellers – The Intimate Story of the Indigenous Batwa People

Gorillas aren’t the only indigenous residents in the forests of Volcanoes National Park. Batwa pygmies have shared the trees with them for centuries, along with the forest elephants, golden monkeys, and various other wildlife. Like the gorillas, the Batwa are fighting for their survival, as they’ve been forced out of their traditional lands without compensation. Now they’re amongst the poorest of Africa’s groups, economically that is. But they’re rich in culture and history, helping to keep alive traditions that have been passed down for generations.

For thousands of years, the Batwa were known as the Keepers of the Forest. Small in stature but strong in mind, they survived through subsistence hunting and gathering, living a semi-nomadic lifestyle to always ensure a fresh supply of food. Some anthropologists estimate the Batwa has been in Africa’s equatorial forests for over 60,000 years. However, it’s only in the deep forests of the Congo where they still survive and maintain all their customs.

On a full-day private tour, you explore their living history, seeing how they originally lived on the land. Local Batwa guides showcase their knowledge of medicinal plants and their original hunting methods. Small communities welcome you with a traditional dance and there’s a chance to trade in the same way as centuries past, with the Batwa offering their honey and you bringing something of value to them (your guide will assist as the most useful is staple foods, just like the Hutus and Tutsis would bring in the past).

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner

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Day 10

Ruhengeri to Kigali – Gorilla Research Centre and National Liberation Museum

Today brings two intriguing stops as you journey back to Kigali. Firstly, venture to the Karisoke Gorilla Research Centre, an immersive hands-on perspective at how a gorilla conservation functions. It’s a remarkable story started by Dian Fossey. Then, you travel onwards to the National Liberation Museum, which tells the tale of how the genocide was stopped. It’s worth noting the political overtones here, as there’s a certain amount of propaganda being peddled at this new museum. In hushed tones, your guide will help to balance truth with fiction. Arriving in Kigali, the evening is at your leisure and you’ve got time to rest and relax before departing tomorrow.

What's Included:

included

Accommodation

included

Tour

included

Breakfast, Lunch

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Day 11

Kigali – Departure

After a relaxed morning, you’re transferred to the airport for your departing flight, taking the tales of Rwanda’s history onwards.

What's Included:

included

Transfer

included

Breakfast

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Trip Highlights

  • Journey back to the 19th century and the kings of Nyanza, an insight into the tribal history of the land
  • Follow the narrative from pre-colonial times to the colorful markets of today, immersing yourself in the vibrant heart of Africa
  • Go gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park and meet the oldest of Rwanda’s residents, wild mountain gorillas
  • Discover the story of the Batwa pygmies, semi-nomadic people who have occupied the forests for some 60,000 years; you’ll spend an intimate day in their communities
  • Explore the intricacies of the 1994 genocide, with visits to a variety of memorials across the country
  • Visit buildings untouched since 1994 and be guided by those that lived through the tragic atrocities
  • Explore some of Dian Fossey’s projects, visit Ross Carr’s orphanage, and spend a morning in the Karisoke Gorilla Research Centre
  • Track the primates of the Congo Basin in Nyungwe Forest, admiring Angolan colobus monkeys, golden monkeys, and possibly chimpanzees
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Detailed Description

Tiny Rwanda stands in the heart of Africa, a nation of rolling hills that wasn’t even seen by explorers until the late 19th century. Thick forests of the Congo Basin line the west, home to wild mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and indigenous Batwa pygmies. The old palaces of the Nyanza kings are scattered across the center, from a time long before colonial invaders. The country is famous for the 1994 genocide, but it’s not a shadow that looms large, but rather a poignant memory that increases admiration for the vibrancy and color of today.

Rwanda has a history that invites you in. It’s not a history that’s merely explored on museum boards. It’s one that encourages you to interact, to explore how the past has shaped today. This is a nation with a living history, one that isn’t afraid to bare its scars and speak the truth. There are few countries with such a fascinating tale to tell and this exclusive 11-day tour unwraps the narratives at the heart of Africa. From the Congo Basin to the smallest of villages, you’re guided by the locals, captivated by a story that’s mostly undocumented and virtually unseen.

You’ll start in Kigali, where the story goes from the Belgium arriving in 1907 to the National Genocide Memorial to the vibrancy of today. Among the stops are some of the red-brick churches untouched since 1994; they’re incredibly moving and really evoke respect for the reconciliation process. During three days in the south at Nyungwe Forest, you’ll get intimate with Rwanda’s rich pre-colonial history, as well as tracking the rare primates beneath the canopy.

Next, you tour Ross Carr’s Orphanage, opened in 1994, then explore the projects started by Dian Fossey, the famous gorilla researcher. Rwanda’s ancient residents occupy the forests around Ruhengeri and one day is spent gorilla trekking. Another explores the world of the Batwa pygmies, indigenous forest dwellers that are facing a fight for survival. Completing this exclusive tour is a visit to the gorilla research center, plus a look at contemporary politics at the National Liberation Museum. It’s the locals that guide you. They’re very open and friendly people, keen to tell a story that most of the world was oblivious to. Rwanda’s history is seen through their eyes and they’re masterful narrators.

This is a private tour with private transport throughout. Rwanda is a small country and it’s easy to get around on the excellent roads. Each day features various stops and there are many opportunities to see local villages and small communities. Accommodations are in Rwanda’s finest hotels; the Serena Kigali, Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Serena Lake Kivu, and Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. 

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Starting Price

$6 per person (excluding international flights)

This trip is customizable for your private travel.
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What's Included

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.

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