Volcanoes National Park, Bisoke Crater Lakes, Gisenyi, Lake Kivu, Congo Nile Trail, Kinunu, Kibuye, Nyungwe National Park
Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.
A Rwandan adventure takes you into a land that rarely sees Western eyes, from gorilla troops to volcanic peaks, chimpanzees to Intore dance ceremonies. Handcrafted for active travelers, this 11-day Rwanda safari itinerary connects the country’s famous and unknown highlights, including four days following the Congo Nile Trail by bicycle and kayak. It is more than a journey into an untouched world; it is a connection with a culture and a country that is as charming as it is unique.
Volcanoes National Park – First Night in the Forest
Touch down in Kigali, and it is a two-hour onward transfer, a journey that weaves through the Land of 1,000 Hills, ascending across a landscape that went unseen by Western eyes until after Germany declared it was their colony. They had never set foot here; such is the density of the forests and the remoteness of the hills. Fast forward, and the country’s infrastructure exceeds any other country in East Africa, with excellent roads making for a seamless journey to Volcanoes National Park. Check into the lodge, and the evening is at your leisure, allowing for time to sit back and enjoy the view of mist floating around the forest.
Volcanoes National Park – Trekking to the Gorillas
Almost everyone thinks about gorilla trekking but only focuses on half the experience: the gorillas. The trekking is also magical, first following elephant trails, then making your own paths or following those left by gorillas. It can be steep and muddy, tangled, and slow-going. Visitors are assigned to troops based on their fitness levels, with older travelers usually trekking to the gorillas closest to the trailhead. A longer trek is far more enchanting for anyone seeking a challenge. Mesmerizing and mysterious, the forest closes in, and you realize that only a handful of people have ever walked on the ground beneath your feet. Sounds echo, perhaps from elephants, golden monkeys, or another silverback in the thick volcanic forest.
By trekking further, you can reach habituated gorilla troops that are not encountered on a daily basis, so there is a little unpredictability about how they might react. Again, this adds to the excitement, and the gorillas are more likely to display overt shows of power upon your arrival. They stand and stare, arm muscles rippling, faces sculpted with pride and defiance. They are some of the last, some of the less than 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world. And they are not apprehensive about encountering a small group of trekkers. One glance from them, and you will quickly respect the seven-meter proximity rule.
After this spine-tingling first moment, the gorillas return to their day-to-day, going back to the rest of the troop. You creep closer and spend a whole hour with them. Some gnaw on tree bark, arms wrapped around the trunk. Four are climbing the trees, the branches straining under their weight. A huge silverback emerges from behind the clearing, shoulders rising high, his stare fierce and domineering. He watches over the troop, scanning from tree to tree, inspecting his family. Then he walks on, slowly pounding the ground to a place just ten meters from your camera. Lying back, the silverback gets comfy, before tearing down the trees and eating from the branches all around. After an hour, you must return to the trailhead, a trek back through the forest, taking a picnic lunch en route. Back at the lodge, a soothing bath helps prepare you for tomorrow.
Volcanoes National Park – Summiting the Bisoke Volcano
Your legs might be a little tired after yesterday’s trek, but the enchantment of the forest is more than enough to breathe life into weary muscles. Today’s trek follows a narrow trail, with the guides sometimes clearing away overhanging branches with their machetes. You ascend slowly, first spending two hours in the forest, and then two hours above the canopy, rising on the alpine meadow slopes of Bisoke Volcano. It is not the highest of the park’s volcanoes, but it is the most iconic; a postcard-perfect cone that stands majestic above the forest. From up here, there are dazzling views into the land of the gorillas, such a thick canopy of complementary green colors.
Nearly 4,000 meters above sea level, this active volcano is an unmissable part of the East African Rift Valley. Towards the summit, you explore the Bisoke Crater Lakes, shimmering expanses of water surrounded by the unmissable shape of a volcano. Down below, you also gaze out towards Lake Kivu and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Descending only takes two hours, although you may move a little slower knowing that gorillas also occupy the slopes. Spend the third night in the luxury rainforest lodge, putting your feet around a warming fire, dining beneath the stars on a clear evening.
Gisenyi – Finding the Golden Monkeys and Lake Kivu
Trekking in search of golden monkeys is the shortest of the activities in Volcanoes National Park and a relatively easy morning in this equatorial rainforest. You are greeted by blue faces and soft golden fur, along with curious grins and peculiar frowns. Endangered and endearing, these primates are just one of the other Congo Basin species you will find in Rwanda’s forests. Return to the lodge for lunch, then drive an hour south to the shores of Lake Kivu and a hotel that gazes out over the water. This cute little town is the starting point of the Congo Nile Trail, and you will spend the night, resting your legs before exploring the town.
Day 5 - 8
Kibuye – Cycling and Kayaking the Congo Nile Trail
A spectacular trail runs the eastern length of Lake Kivu, connecting rural villages and ascending across the green hills. Part of the trail is a rough and rugged road, hardly ever used, virtually impassable if you do not have a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Other parts of the trail are much narrower, dotted with goats and cows that roam around the villages. Some parts of the Congo Nile Trail are not even a trail, just a thrilling ride across lush green fields, beneath the shade of coconut palms. And while the Congo Nile Trail takes a path along the land, it is also possible to follow the water, paddling in and out of the bays of Lake Kivu.
The typical cycling tour from Gisenyi to Kibuye takes three days. It is a four-day kayaking excursion to cover the same distance. Over these four days, you make such an expedition, combining cycling and kayaking, connecting with a remote and unseen land that is rarely witnessed by foreigners. Local guides lead the way, and a porter carries your belongings, so you just travel with a day-pack. Each night you stay in a local village, where the accommodation is comfortable but not luxurious. There’s an option to stay in community guesthouses or do some glamping along the shore.
Spending four days on this trail helps tailor the experience to give you a chance to witness an Intore dance ceremony. Drums roll and dancers appear in traditional costumes, their faces smeared with paint made from the soil. The atmosphere intensifies as the drummers beat faster, the dance continuing as it has done for many centuries. It is something that is performed at big family events, like christenings and weddings, with the whole village invited to participate. This is not a dance that is put on for tourists. Do not expect 20 minutes of feigned dance moves and posed photos. It is a drawn-out affair, and the longer you stay, the more you can take from the experience, local people slowly casting off their inhibition to sit and talk with you.
Along the Congo Nile Trail, you will typically travel to Kinunu on the first day, then onward to Bumba on day two. Day three is the toughest on a bicycle, with steep climbs and trails that are hard to negotiate. It is a full day to Kibuye from here, making three days in total. However, allowing four days provides for some breathing space and flexibility, allowing you to easily combine cycling with kayaking, even if it is just some short paddles to islands on Lake Kivu. While it is an expedition, you quickly discover that the rhythm is slow in rural Rwanda, and the experience is all about stopping often and meeting the locals. Just breaking for a quick snack in a small village is likely to draw a big local crowd. Arrive in Kibuye on day eight and spend the final night of the expedition at a lodge on the lakeshore, returning from the rural land to some more modern Western luxuries.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Relaxing Day
A relaxed morning breakfast on the veranda offers you a chance to rest your body. It is less than a two-hour drive to Nyungwe Forest National Park, a journey that helps you complete the Congo Nile Trail through Western Rwanda. Arrive in the forest, and the day is at your leisure, a local guide can take you on a number of walking trails around the lodge. L’Hoest’s monkeys surround you, colobus monkeys swing through the highest trees, vervet monkeys gather in huge troops, and baboons can be heard hooting from afar. Thirteen species of primates occupy this forest, and most come from the Congo Basin, species that are as unknown as the villages you have just visited. The exact trekking route will depend on your interests and energy levels, with options for one-hour introductory hikes to half-day excursions.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Trekking with Chimpanzees
A final Rwandan adventure takes you through the trees, along the narrow trails of an equatorial rainforest. You are in search of chimpanzees, one of the habituated troops that reside in this pristine stretch of Central Africa. Mostly they are seen in the canopy, faces leaping with joy as they effortlessly jump between the branches. Sometimes they descend, staring at you in a way that almost feels intrusive. Their hands are remarkable, so similar to your own. Their feet are different, more curved, and capable of climbing. Facial expressions are unable to hide how they feel. So emotion is shown in every second: amusement, confusion, delight, and the cute shyness displayed by juveniles. You get to spend an hour with the troop, enjoying all their behaviors. On the way back to the lodge, you stop at the highest canopy walkway in East Africa, which is an easy final experience from these ten days of Rwandan adventure.
Kigali – Departure
The drive back to Kigali International Airport takes four hours, with a stop in Butare for lunch along the way. In the capital city, you will have dayroom use of a city hotel before your departure flight in the early evening.
- Trek into the depths of the equatorial forest to find a unique troop of wild mountain gorillas
- Summit the postcard-perfect Bisoke Volcano, a six-hour return hike that takes you high above Volcanoes National Park to remarkable crater lakes
- Search for golden monkeys in the forest, just one of many primates you will see over the 11 days
- Spend four days cycling and kayaking the Congo Nile Trail, a beautiful stretch of rural Rwanda along the shores of Lake Kivu, where every moment is an insight into a land rarely seen by Westerners
- Connect with local culture on a four-day expedition, including the rare chance to see an Intore dance ceremony
- Go chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest National Park, spending an hour with a habituated troop
$7,475 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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