History and Culture of Rwanda Tour Plus Gorilla Trekking & Safari

A 10 day trip to Rwanda 
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Rwanda is not defined by the scars of history, but rather by the ebullience of the present. A landscape full of vitality and vibrancy, this tiny East African country quickly reveals its heart to its visitor as your safari will unravel the stories of past and present as you share stories with Batwa pygmies, connect with genocide survivors, experience pre-colonial history guides, and engage with so many colorful locals. Your cultural immersion will be complemented by thrilling forest encounters with gorillas, chimpanzees, 700-strong monkey troops and more.  As you refine your own itinerary for your Rwanda safari, consider browsing our other tours for inspiration and ideas.

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General Information

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Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Kigali, Genocide Memorial Centre, Kimilonko Market, Nyungwe Forest, Nyanza, King’s Palace Museum, Butare, Rwanda Ethnographic Museum, Huye, Lake Kivu, Nyiragongo Volcano, Ross Carr’s Orphanage, Ruhengeri, Batwa villages, Volcanoes National Park, Karisoke Gorilla Research Centre, National Liberation Museum 

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Kigali – From Colonial Dramas to the Vibrant Markets of Tomorrow

Kigali always surprises its visitors as there is something softly Parisian about Rwanda’s small capital with its broad, tree-lined lanes and classical architecture. The cleanliness is immediately apparent as there is not a scrap of trash anywhere in the city; plastic bags are illegal here, an indication of the country’s forward-looking approach to being clean and green. You will be greeted at the airport for a short transfer to your five-star hotel in the heart of the city with a restaurant that has become the hip place for a gourmet city lunch. Take lunch at this restaurant and meet your guide to talk over your plans for the next ten days. This time together will also bring a chance to take in an overview of Rwanda and its remarkable history, one that is complemented by two places you will visit in the afternoon.

Rwanda was a German colony ten years before any European had ever ventured into its green hills. Africa is filled with haunting stories of takeover, but surely none can be as belligerent as this, the country declared part of Germany without the colonialists even rolling in with an army. The building blocks of the 1994 genocide start with this abuse of power. You will visit the Belgium memorial site from 1907, marking where Kigali was founded and a great point to start a history that did not spread much out of Rwanda. Move next to compare this starting point with the warm welcomes of today, found in the extremely colorful Kimilonko Market. You will quickly see that the people of Rwanda do not hold a grudge but use openness and honesty to build a brighter future. The evening will be at your leisure as you settle in for your adventures ahead.

What’s Included: accommodation, airport transfer, tour, lunch, dinner

Day 2: Kigali – Stories and Secrets Behind the Events of 1994

Kigali’s different memorials will help you to build the complex picture of the 1994 genocide. Each memorial will evoke raw and real emotion.  However, these are not places for sadness so much as memory and insight. Spending a day at these memorials creates a deep respect for the people of Rwanda and the new country they have built in a relatively short time. The National Genocide Memorial is home to a mass grave on a mind-boggling scale, but more touchingly, it provides a detailed overview of the events that lead up to the genocide, bringing insights into how the world community engaged.

The memorial sites at Ntarama and Nyamata provide a graphic illustration of what happened as clothes of the victims are draped around church pillars, blood is smeared against the walls and the tales are heart-wrenching as told by locals who lived through the genocide and now manage the memorials. It is not pleasant viewing and the local insight creates a strong sense of attachment, but then you come outside into the Rwanda of today, tears still wet on your cheeks, and marvel at how welcoming and vibrant this country has become. Even after just two days in Rwanda, it will be enough to make your heart swell with pride for such is the country’s ability to pick up its visitors and smother them with an energy and identity.  This tour is handcrafted, so you can determine with your guide which memorials you may want to see, allowing you to experience this chapter of the country’s history in a way that engages you best.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 3: Butare to Nyungwe Forest – 19th-Century Nyanza Kings and Pre-Colonial History

It will be a beautiful four-hour drive to the far southwest of Rwanda and the Nyungwe Forest, with Butare roughly halfway. Butare is Rwanda’s cultural capital and abounds with a rich pre-colonial history, one full of innovation and integrity. You will drive through tea plantations to the palaces of the Nyanza kings, who were the country’s most successful dynasty. With your expert guide, these palaces are a celebration of the Rwandan culture of the 19th century. Move next to the Ethnographic Museum, perhaps the finest museum in the whole of East Africa. Unwrap the complicated story of the land’s past as the museum celebrates the cultures that made Rwanda a place of inimitability and prosperity, many centuries before the ill-fated arrival of the Europeans. After a leisurely lunch in Butare, you will continue your journey into the forest with a stop at a local village on route.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 4: Nyungwe Forest – Immense Monkey Troops in a Tangled Forest

It will not take long for you to see the colobus monkeys as dozens of them occupy the trees around your lodge. You will now be deep in an ancient stretch of the Congo Basin to explore a rainforest that is geographically Central African. A quarter of Africa’s primate species live here beneath a canopy that is far too tangled for vehicles. You will spend your day on a walking safari with many potential routes dependent on what you would like to see and how far you would like to walk. Certain endangered species are one potential highlight, but perhaps the ultimate encounter here are the troops of colobus monkeys. The monkeys swing past, dozens of them, hundreds of them, surrounding you from all sides. Some troops contain over 700 monkeys for a mesmerizing display of intrigue and impish behavior.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 5: Nyungwe Forest – Trek with Chimpanzees

Deep in the Nyungwe Forest live the chimpanzees. The chimpanzees clutch their own handcrafted tools, skillfully open nuts with their nails and begin to look and feel more and more familiar the longer you spend with them. There are two different ways of encountering the chimps, and you will not have a choice as with such wild and rare animals, the encounters are dependent on the primates themselves. Sometimes you will come across a full family troop, upwards of 50 individuals clustered together, high in the trees for a fabulous insight into their social structure and communal behavior. Other times, you may get to see a smaller splinter group with perhaps less than ten chimpanzees. This perspective will allow for a greater appreciation of the small details and a focus on the expressions and energies of individuals. Chimpanzee trekking is typically a full-day excursion, with the lodge providing a relaxed evening for your return.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 6: Lake Kivu to Ruhengeri – Ross Carr’s Orphanage and Traveling to New Jungle

It is impossible to walk into Ross Carr’s Orphanage without breaking out into an enormous smile. The children will greet you with an infectious ebullience and lead you by the hand around the orphanage. Started in 1994, this pioneering project has supported close to 500 children. You will be surprised by the well spoken English of the older children, and be deeply impressed by the orphanage’s social structure. This is a real family, with the older kids looking after the younger ones and fulfilling dual roles as siblings and parents. After your morning visit, you will make a couple of stops along Lake Kivu at villages on route to Ruhengeri and Rwanda’s gorilla trekking destination. Like all your overland journeys, you will travel privately with your English-speaking historical guide and the timing of the day is very flexible and dependent on your mood, so you can stop to explore more villages or sights should you wish.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 7: Ruhengeri – Dian Fossey Projects, Gorilla Research Center and the Communities Protecting the Gorillas

Before tomorrow’s gorilla trekking, your time today will be spent on an immersive look into gorilla conservation. Only around 1,000 gorillas remain, and it was Dian Fossey who played a pioneering role in ensuring their survival. You will spend the morning visiting a number of projects and communities that are supported by the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund including schools, community centers and health clinics, all in some of Africa’s most impenetrable forest. By supporting the communities, Dian Fossey transformed the communities into the providers of gorilla conservation.

Before the 1960s, many gorillas became the unwelcome giant found in animal traps set for antelope and other abundant, edible forest animals. The communities slowly changed their whole lifestyle in order to protect the gorillas and begun to lead the fight against foreign-funded poachers. The communities are a real inspiration, and the connection with local culture goes far beyond pointing your camera. As with all days on this itinerary, your guide will act as a translator and will help you to interact with the locals. After lunch, you will spend your afternoon at the Gorilla Research Center to explore the intricate details of managing the land and preserving the habitat of these great creatures. The center also provides a good insight into the gorilla habituation process and has a gallery of Dian Fossey’s notebooks and illustrations. Spend the night relaxing at one of East Africa’s finest lodges and rest up before tomorrow’s gorilla trek.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 8: Ruhengeri – Gorilla Trekking through an Incredible Landscape

Go gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park and you will get to spend a full hour with a habituated troop. But the most moving memory will always the first greeting with the initial interaction between yourself and these incredible primates. For most of the hour, the gorillas will go about their day as they eat, forage, cuddle, hug and cradle their babies and continue on with their day mostly oblivious to your presence. But when you first meet the troop, there is this remarkable moment of recognition as each of the gorillas inspect you with curiosity. You are their guests and far from you admiring them, they will look you directly in the eye. Goosebumps will rise on your arms and the intimacy of the moment will make it hard to reach for the camera. Black eyes will look your way intently and you may well be frozen, overawed by the closeness. Sometimes it will be just a single gorilla providing a welcome, other times you get the stare from the whole troop.

After these initial moments, the gorillas quickly settle back into their daily rhythm. Your heartbeat will slow and the rest of your time spent with the troop will be a surprisingly relaxed encounter. Marvel at all the details as an infant crawls behind her mother and a silverback stands majestically on two legs. Explore the behavior within the troop with the facial twitches, roving arms, inquisitive expressions and verbal calls. Come to just seven meters away from the world’s largest primates and savor the inimitability of the experience. Take your photos and keep replaying the interactions on the walk back to the lodge, which passes through more tangled, wild forest. The walking adventure can be anywhere between 30 minutes to three hours, with groups allocated based on relative fitness levels. The maximum group size is eight trekkers per one habituated gorilla troop.

What’s Included: accommodation, safari, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 9: Ruhengeri – Meeting Indigenous Batwa Pygmies

There is another indigenous resident that also makes for intimate encounters in this old equatorial rainforest. Batwa pygmies have a culture and lifestyle that is almost as endangered as the gorillas, fending for their survival in these deep forests that stretch into the Congo. Semi-nomadic, they have been forced out of their traditional lands without compensation. And while economically poor, they are rich in history and tradition. You can spend a day with these Keepers of the Forest to learn more about the use of medicinal plants and their original hunting methods. A small community will welcome you with a local dance and the welcome is completed through a sharing of resources; the Batwa trade you honey, for something of value to them. Note that traditionally this is not a financial transaction as the Batwa had no use for money; instead the guide will help you bring some staple foods, just as the Hutus and Tutsis have always traded.

What’s Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast, lunch, dinner

Day 10: Ruhengeri to Kigali – Liberation Museum and Departure

It will be a leisurely two-hour drive back to Kigali as you sweep through the Land of 1,000 Hills and its landscapes of nearly unbelievable green. Stop at the Liberation Museum, an interesting although rather one-sided look at Rwanda’s political development post-genocide. Your guide will help and provide an interpretation that cuts through some of the propaganda, and your own experiences over the last ten days will help balance out the fiction. Arrive in Kigali for a farewell lunch with your guide at the Kigali Serena, and then transfer to the airport for your departing flight.

What’s Included: transfer, tour, breakfast, lunch 

Price

Price 

Your custom trip package will include accommodations, transportation within the country, guided tours and activities, unique experiences, trip planning, and 24X7 support during your trip. 

Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates!