The tranquility of Kigali surprises most visitors. Then again, much of Rwanda comes as a surprise. This is a country that’s spotlessly clean, going as far as making plastic bags illegal. Broad tree-lined streets could come from a Parisian suburb; ebullient welcomes greet you at every establishment, and vistas are dominated by green colors. Feeling more like a village than a capital, Kigali is an indelibly relaxed city to start any vacation. You’ll be greeted at the airport and transferred to your comfortable hotel for your first night in the heart of the country.
Rwanda has a tragic past marred by genocide. But back in 1994, the West turned a blind eye. Visiting the National Genocide Memorial provides a very detailed look at the events that led to the massacre. Two nearby regional memorials offer a haunting look at what actually happened. Both Ntarama and Nyamata are completely untouched, with bloodstains on the bricks, thousands of skulls piled high, and blood-soaked clothes hanging from the ceiling. There’s no denying that it can be tough viewing, even if it’s an essential piece of the Rwanda travel experience.
Yet this isn’t a country that looks back. Visiting the memorials increases your admiration for the country of today. In the second part of the private cultural tour, you explore the colors and charms that are redefining this small East African nation. Vibrant tones mix with enthusiastic shouts in Kimironko Market, where the guide introduces you to Rwanda’s culinary delicacies. Cute cafes sell coffee that goes directly from bean to cup. An upmarket restaurant combines the grandeur of yesteryear with the artisanal style of today. Everywhere you go, there are smiling faces as the guide reveals a country that’s as forward-thinking as anywhere in Africa.
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It’s a two-hour drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park, where a third of the world’s wild mountain gorillas occupy thick swathes of mist-laden rainforest. Along the way, you first stop at the Gorilla Research Center, where local conservationists take you on a tour of the facility. This a rare chance to witness wildlife conservation at both its strategic and operational level. First trace the narrative back to Dian Fossey and her work in the 1970s. Then follow it to the innovative techniques of today.
You’ll then witness firsthand how conservation efforts impact local communities, with a visit to a small village. Elders are revered in Rwanda and senior travelers always receive an extremely warm welcome. For many years, the people laid traps for forest hogs and other small wildlife. Killing gorillas was an unfortunate byproduct of the hunt. Habitats were also being lost as villages expanded. These communities now receive a proportion of the gorilla trekking permit fee, in return for their essential role in preserving the local habitat.
From here, you continue to your mountain lodge. Outside your door are views over the rainforest and mountains.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Two sets of redolent black eyes return your gaze. The gorillas are looking at you, inspecting you, wondering about their visitors. Silence hangs in the air. Was that a smile? Perhaps only a grin, but there’s no doubt that there’s an interaction going on. The two gorillas turn, wrapping their arms around a tree trunk and gnawing at the bark. Take a few steps closer, and the rest of the troop comes into full focus, a dozen gorillas giving you the same careful inspection. A female frowns, a youngster appears to be on the verge of laughter, and two blackback males start climbing into the branches directly above your head.
Soon you’re in the middle of the troop, gorillas foraging and playing in every direction. Take out the camera and snap a few photos, the wild troop barely seven meters from the lens. Then put it down and admire the scene. It’s easy to spend minutes watching an individual; the black fingers that curl around a branch, the confused expressions as the branch snaps, then the glimmer of adventure as she bounds towards another tree. Zoom away, and you watch another female, this one gently caressing the hair on her infant’s back. Through roving eyes and expressive faces, you can decipher the emotion of the gorillas. Some seem mischievous, others serious, and then the silverback bounds about on his knuckles and half the troop seems scared.
The intimacy of gorilla trekking goes beyond what can be encountered elsewhere in the world. These are the world’s largest primates, a whole family inviting you into their world. For an hour, you’re completely captivated, lost in all the details of the troop. But you were expecting a wonderful wildlife experience. What about the trekking? Is it suitable for older travelers? Rwanda is a natural choice for senior travelers, as the trekking is generally shorter than in Uganda, with slightly easier trails. Seven habituated troops are accessed from the same trailhead, with a maximum of eight trekkers per troop. Nobody can pre-book the troop they will visit. Instead, the park rangers cluster together trekkers with similar fitness levels. Having such a wide choice of troops from a single trailhead means the treks can be more predictable than in Uganda, where at some places, there’s just one troop accessible from a trailhead.
Your guide also plays an integral role. Using his longstanding relationship with the rangers, the guide helps to ensure that you are assigned to the troop that’s closest to the trailhead (just ask if you’d like a longer trek, and your wishes can be accommodated). In many cases, it’s only a 30-minute hike. If you’re fit enough to walk for an hour, then gorilla trekking is possible. Porters are on hand to carry bags and even people. They’ve been doing this for years and know how to provide a comfortable journey for senior travelers. By grouping together people with similar fitness levels (senior travelers are usually placed in one group), the trek moves at a leisurely pace. This isn’t a race. It’s an immersion in an untouched rainforest. So take your time, travel slowly, and enjoy an hour with some of nature’s rarest characters.
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
A relaxed morning provides a final chance to take in the views, with volcanic cones rising majestically above the rainforest. You’ll then be transferred back to Kigali by road and board a local flight bound for Kamembe in the far southwest of the country. Admire the Congo Basin from the air, watching the contrasting swirls of green cascade beneath the wingtips, and then be transferred to your lodge near the Nyungwe Forest National Park. From your lodging you can admire the rainforest from the terrace, watching for monkeys that swing in the nearby trees.
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Exotic Nyungwe is a symbol of Central Africa’s Congo Basin, a realm of vibrant orchids, cacophonous monkeys, and butterflies swooping amongst ebony and mahogany trees. It’s far too dense for vehicles, but the park is crisscrossed by a series of well-maintained hiking trails. These reveal the wildlife wonders of an untouched rainforest realm. Playful troops of L’Hoest’s monkeys are rarely more than 100 meters from the lodge. Tails curl down from the canopy, and you gaze up to see red colobus monkeys. The hoots of grey-cheeked mangabeys echo into your bungalow. This rainforest is home to a quarter of Africa’s primate species, and even on the shortest of walks, you’ll find many enchanting sights.
Today’s trek is dedicated to the park’s chimpanzees. Much like gorilla trekking, the troop has been habituated, and you’ll get to spend an hour with the wild primates, from a distance of seven meters. It’s more than close enough to admire frowns and smiles, inquisitive eyes and communicative gestures. Some swing through the canopy in evocative displays of balance and dexterity. Others come down to the forest floor, where you watch fingers curl around sticks as the chimpanzees go foraging. Much like before, there’s an intimacy that can’t be conveyed in photos. The length of the trek can’t be controlled in any of East Africa’s chimpanzee trekking destinations. However, Nyungwe makes a great choice because the trails aren’t particularly steep and there’s so much to see other than the chimpanzees.
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A final safari day presents various hiking options in Nyungwe Forest National Park. You explore with an expert guide, who will explain the different trails, in terms of length and what you’re likely to see. One unforgettable memory from the park comes from the Rwenzori colobus monkeys. Seeing a troop of 60 or 70 is incredibly impressive, the primates filling a large chunk of your vista. Here you’ll see troops of 600 to 700, perhaps even more, raucously swinging past for half an hour. Entertaining and enchanting, these are just one of the highlights on offer. Some trails provide a leisurely hour-long hike along the flat terrain, with others leading you into the depths of the forest. Primates are spread across the whole park, so even when staying close to the lodge, there are redolent scenes that go beyond the imagination.
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The nearby Kamembe airport helps provide an easy departure from Rwanda. You’ll fly back to Kigali and then transfer onto your international outbound flight.
For a tiny country, Rwanda really knows how to provide a unique experience. This is the home of wild mountain gorillas, beautiful troops that rove through the forests of Volcanoes National Park. Chimpanzees swing through the trees in Nyungwe Forest, joining another 12 primates in the iconic Congo Basin. Journey to the corners of the Land of 1,000 Hills and the natural encounters are amongst the finest on the planet. For most of the last two decades, Rwanda was considered an adventurous destinations for only the fittest and bravest. But that’s a misconception. The charms of gorilla trekking and chimpanzee tracking can be available to all if the right guides accompany you.
This luxury safari is handcrafted for senior travelers seeking to explore the beauty of Rwanda. It’s tailored to minimize the trekking time when doing iconic activities like visiting the gorillas, and instead, maximize the time immersed in the country’s culture and conservation. Rwanda’s three finest hotels provide five-star luxury bases, with infinity pools overlooking the rainforests and roaring open fires evoking a colonial era. Journeys between destinations are relatively short, either on excellent sealed roads or small planes that soar over the forests. In eight days, you get to explore the very best of the country and come face to face with many of its inspiring inhabitants.
Kigali feels like an overgrown village rather than a capital city. The broad tree-lined boulevards and a relaxed atmosphere help ease you into the local experience. Stay at the five-star Kigali Serena and spend the following day on an insider’s cultural tour. You’ll visit poignant memorials and discover the story of a genocide that went almost undocumented by the West. Then you’ll visit the present, exploring vibrant markets and absorbing an atmosphere that doesn’t look back. Every visitor is amazed at how far Rwanda has come since 1994.
Next, you drive to Volcanoes National Park, stopping at the Gorilla Research Center for a detailed look into conservation over the last four decades. A visit to a local community continues to celebrate the legacy of Dian Fossey, showing how gorilla trekking is transforming rural villages. The iconic gorilla trek takes place on the next day. Although the trekking time can’t be guaranteed, your guide will ensure that you visit the troop that’s closest to the trailhead. In many cases, it’s less than 30 minutes of walking, but you should be fit enough to walk for an hour. Porters are available to carry bags and people if required. Spend an hour with the troop, lost in their world, admiring all the emotion and interaction of one of nature’s most critically endangered mammals. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is the perfect place to relax and recharge your mind and body after the thrilling trek.
A short flight takes you to Nyungwe Forest, for three relaxed nights amongst the wonders of the Congo Basin. Spend a day tracking chimpanzees, marvel at the different monkeys that swing past the lodge, and gaze over the Central African rainforest from the infinity swimming pool at Nyungwe Forest Lodge. There are dozens of enchanting trails through the trees, so you can choose one that suits your energy levels. Vibrant orchids wind up trees commandeered by grey-cheeked mangabeys; golden monkeys have blue faces, and troops of Rwenzori colobus monkeys number over 700 individuals. With spa treatments waiting at the lodge, the privately guided walks envelop you with the exotic charms of a rainforest untouched by time. Nyungwe Forest has a small airport, where you take a local flight back to Kigali and depart Rwanda on the final day.
$10395 per person (excluding international flights)
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