Kigali, Nyungwe Forest Reserve, Volcanoes National Park, Akagera National Park
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
Charming Rwanda has a captivation that knows no boundaries. Gorillas play amongst the mist of volcanic mountains, lions and hippos roam in the savannah, and verdant rainforests capture the exotic allure of another world. This country combines the evocative landscapes of both East Africa and Central Africa, creating an enchantment that stretches from chimpanzees to elephants, 700-strong monkey troops to flocks of rare birds. And all these natural highlights are wonderfully off the beaten track,...
Kigali – A Captivating Day in the Capital
Land in Kigali and you get an immediate sense of how remote and untouched Rwanda has been. This might be a capital city, but it feels much more like a village, with its boulevards rising and falling across green hills. You’ll also notice how quickly and thoroughly the country has recovered from the 1994 genocide. Roads are in perfect condition, people walk the streets throughout the day and night, and there isn’t even the smallest scrap of garbage (Rwanda has banned plastic bags). One evening in Kigali and you’ll realize that this is a nation almost on par with the West in regards to its infrastructure. Yet it’s also iconically African; women balancing baskets on their heads, vivid colors blending on the streets, and the big warmhearted smiles you’ll come to expect over this 11-day safari. You’ll be greeted at the airport, and it’s a short private transfer to your five-star hotel in the city center.
Nyungwe Forest Reserve – Rwanda’s History and the Serenity of the Rainforest
While it’s possible to fly south to Nyungwe Forest Reserve, the overland route passes some evocative cultural attractions. Start with two national genocide memorials, churches that have been left untouched since the 1994 atrocities. Blood scars the walls, skulls are battered with club marks, and bones are stacked in huge piles. The victims’ clothes hang from the roof, and the guide narrates how the killings took place using the indentations on the skulls. It’s haunting and unforgettable, bringing many people to tears. However, witnessing the memorials creates a deep admiration for the Rwanda of today. In a little over 20 years, the country has managed to recover from such depths, a truly inspiring tale.
Pass by the Ethnography Museum, and you’ll take in a story that dates back far before 1994. Among the assortment of stories is the history of colonization. Rwanda became a German colony when European powers divided Africa at the Berlin Conference. But that was eight years before any white visitor had managed to cross the hills or forests and actually enter Rwanda. This country was as isolated as they come, something that has helped to maintain the untouched allure of its natural splendor. You’ll arrive in Nyungwe Forest Reserve in the late afternoon, and have an opportunity to go on a short walking trail around the lodge. Chimpanzees might be spotted. Mangabeys and colobus monkeys swing from the trees. And the hooting you hear comes from one of the Congo Basin primates that occupy these branches. Open your senses, watch the monkeys that swing past the balcony, and settle into the wonder of Central Africa.
Day 3 - 4
Nyungwe Forest Reserve – Primate Safari and the Allure of Central African Rainforest
Untouched and exotic, Nyungwe is a classic piece of the Congo Basin. Vibrant orchids wind their way around mahogany and ebony trees; butterflies are seemingly everywhere, and cacophonous hooting echoes from the dense canopy. It’s as mystical as the Congo promises to be, except you don’t have to travel to a war-torn country to experience it. This is the great appeal of Nyungwe, the chance to experience authentic Central African landscapes in a safe and modern country. You’re staying in a fabulous lodge that’s wound into the canopy, with fine dining served to the call of mangabeys and lavish outdoor bathrooms that make you feel like you’re having a shower in the rainforest.
This fairytale forest is far too thick for vehicles. You explore on dedicated trekking safaris, with guides chopping a path using their machetes. The day’s focus is on chimpanzees, beautiful characters that seem to be able to communicate with you. Spend an hour with them and it feels as if they’re human. Fingers curl around branches, faces are cast in emotion, eyes seem to reveal everything, and there are delightful moments as you encounter the whole troop. Like gorilla trekking, you’re allowed to come within seven meters of the primates. This, however, is something of a challenge, as some of the chimps are crossing the ground and walking upright, while others are swinging through the canopy directly above your head. Soon they’re surrounding you, and it certainly feels like you’re much closer, savoring an hour with one of Rwanda’s endangered greats.
Along the way to the chimpanzees, you’re likely to encounter a whole host of other primates. Over a quarter of Africa’s primate species occupy Nyungwe, and their numbers are staggering. Playful troops of the endangered L’Hoest’s monkey usually surround the lodge, grey-cheeked mangabeys cluster on the highest branches, while the curling tails of red colobus monkeys keep you constantly entertained. Then there’s a spectacular echoed cry, and the guide takes you closer. Spotting 50 Rwenzori colobus monkeys is impressive. But in Nyungwe they huddle together in troops numbering several hundred individuals. Stop. Stay quiet. And admire the show as the monkeys swing past for five or ten minutes. The next day involves a tailored primate trek, and the guide will customize the journey based on what you haven’t seen after day three.
Volcanoes National Park – The Magic of Gorillas in the Mist
A beautiful drive takes you from southwest to northwest Rwanda, offering pristine views over Lake Kivu and the thick forests of the Congo Basin. Touch down, and you’ll notice that the trees and climate are different in Volcanoes National Park. They’re shrouded in mist throughout most days, curling wisps that evoke the title of Dian Fossey’s bestselling book, Gorillas in the Mist. On the drive to the lodge, you’ll understand what they mean with gorillas in the mist; such is the thickness of the forest canopy and the magical swirls that make it so photogenic. A decadent lodge welcomes you and provides an idyllic base for the next three nights. It’s a place with breathtaking views and a sense of adventure that comes with Volcanoes National Park.
Day 6 - 7
Volcanoes National Park – Two Days of Intimate Gorilla Trekking
To reach the gorillas, you must go deep into their realm, initially taking trails created by forest elephants and then forging a fresh path into the upper reaches of the mountain forest. Trackers are well ahead of you, radioing in the location of the gorilla troop you’ve going to visit. But sometimes the gorillas are moving, so the trek could take anywhere from 20 minutes to three or four hours. Just as in Nyungwe, it’s an exhilarating journey, stepping through a landscape that seems as old as time. As the pace slows, the guides prepare you, helping calm the nerves as the gorillas are just through the next set of trees. A few more steps and three gorillas greet you, waving their arms in a display of power. Don’t step back. Meet their gaze. Time seems to stop still as you stare into the eyes of the world’s largest primate.
The three gorillas break away, and you get a little closer. Another four come into view, then two more gorillas that are feeding in the canopy. After a couple of moments, you see the silverback, a domineering male with a thick band of gray fur across his back. This is a family of individuals and everyone displays different behavior. Some gorillas hide themselves away, pulling down branches as they seek privacy from the rest of the troop. Others are playful, communicating with each other and seeming to dance for the camera. They go about their day, and you have an hour to take it all in, a beautiful and intimate hour with one of the world’s most endangered species. Sometimes it’s too real for words. At other times, it’s too surreal to make sense of. Which is one reason it’s always recommended to go gorilla trekking twice.
After the gorilla trek, you’ll have hundreds of photos and some sublime memories. The following day, you visit a different troop with completely different characteristics and behaviors. It’s usually a more relaxed experience, as you go trekking with knowledge of what to expect and a camera roll that’s already bursting with photos. This second trek isn’t seen through the camera lens but in pure high definition, as you watch the gorillas interact with one another in the forest. Seeing such majestic creatures isn’t just a once in a lifetime experience; you’ll want to keep doing it day after day; such is the intensity and beauty of the experience. Two gorilla treks enable you to get a real understanding of how these animals live in the wild, along with a chance to encounter their full spectrum of behavior.
Akagera National Park – The Charm of the Rwanda Savanna
Micro flights take you across Rwanda and after leaving the rainforest you settle onto the plains. Akagera is classic East Africa, with grasslands and savanna packed with zebra, impala, giraffe and elephants. It looks a lot like how you’d imagine Masai Mara or the Serengeti to look. But in the east of the park, there’s a surprise, an assortment of marshes and papyrus swamps that are more akin to the wetlands of the Okavango in Botswana. There aren’t many places where wetlands and grasslands are so effortlessly combined, and Akagera packs it all into an area of less than 500 square miles. So almost as soon as you touch down, you’ll be getting close to a stunning variety of East African mammals.
Day 9 - 10
Akagera National Park – Exclusive Big Game Safari in Rwanda
Akagera pulls you in different directions. Take a boat safari through the wetlands and admire tsessebe or hippos along the banks. Game drive across the plains and immerse yourself in the different herds, quickly distinguishing the roan antelope from the bushbuck, and the eland from the oribi. Marvel at the majestic horns of sable antelope and stand amazed at the size of a giraffe on a walking safari. Then there are endemic waterbirds and the only lions found in Rwanda, a healthy pride that seems to dance for the camera.
The safari itinerary for these two days is inclusive and flexible, allowing you to create days based on your interests: game drives, walking safari, nighttime drives, boat safari. One particular activity that’s highly recommended is a behind-the-scenes tour of the park headquarters, a chance to really understand conservation and management of a wilderness that supports such a diversity of wildlife. Like Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Park, you’ll notice that the wildlife is very inquisitive. This is mostly due to the lack of visitors in these parks. Animals are naturally curious, and they have yet to get used to people; which makes Rwanda an extremely authentic place to go on safari.
Akagera National Park to Kigali – Departure
From Akagera, you drive west across Rwanda, waving farewell to the giraffes and hippos then traversing the Land of 1,000 Hills. You’ll arrive in Kigali in plenty of time for your international departure from Kigali International Airport.
- Spot some of the world’s rarest primates, from the enormous wild mountain gorillas to the grey-cheeked mangabeys, the similarities of chimpanzees to the strange L’Hoest’s monkey
- Experience the mystique of Central Africa with three nights in the thick rainforest of Nyungwe, where endangered primates and vibrant orchids cling to the ebony trees
- Explore Rwanda’s colorful history and celebrate its journey into the present by visiting a series of cultural sites on the road from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest
- Discover the East African savannah with a three-day safari in Akagera National Park, home to an enchanting collection of wildlife
- Admire the game from different angles as you combine game drives with boat safaris and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Akagera park headquarters
- Go gorilla trekking through the beautiful forests of Volcanoes National Park, then spend an hour with two different troops
- Going gorilla trekking twice helps you encounter the full array of behaviors, including playful infants and silverbacks beating their chests
$14,295 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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