Most often, when traveling abroad, I do virtually all of the planning and booking, but felt that for this trip to Rwanda and Tanzania, my husband and I needed to rely on the expertise of a travel company. After considerable time spent evaluating a range of options, we elected to book with this travel company, and we could not be happier that we did so. Our travel planner was exceedingly patient and professional as she fielded my many questions and customized the trip to meet all our needs and interests. I can honestly say that anytime she expressed an opinion or made a recommendation in response to a given query, her judgement was spot-on. There is not a single decision that we made based on her advice, from the number of days in each location, to the sights to see and the accommodations at which to stay, that we regretted in the least. With all the information she provided beforehand we felt extremely well-prepared.
The trip itself exceeded our expectations (which, I must say, were pretty high to begin with). We found our driver/guides in both Rwanda and Tanzania to be extremely personable and quite knowledgeable. Something magical (often more than one thing) seemed to happen every single day. Our guides intuited very quickly what sorts of things interested us most, and were the source of boundless information.
We'd highly recommend this travel company to other travelers without any hesitation.
It's a challenge to single out just of few of the most memorable parts of our trip, but among the highlights for us were the following:
We loved all the treks in Rwanda, both in Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Park. I am glad that we decided to do two gorilla treks, since each of the groups was very different, as was the terrain in which they were located. My husband would probably put the golden monkey trek very high on his list too.
The Genocide Memorial in Kigali is a "must" for anyone traveling to Rwanda. It is remarkably well curated, providing a tremendous depth of information not only about the 1994 genocide but about other instances of mans' inhumanity to his fellow man in the course of the 20th century.
We've been on safari before in various places in Southern Africa, but our experiences in Tanzania topped them all. We will never forget seeing over a thousand zebra at Hidden Valley, experiencing a lengthy encounter with a stunning leopard, and watching the nearly simultaneous births of about a dozen wildebeest in a woodland I dubbed "the maternity ward." I suppose I could say that we were lucky, since we managed to see nearly everything we hoped we would, but honestly I don't think we would have without the skill and patience of our guide.
Our travels in Tanzania went beyond the typical safari experience in ways we welcomed as well. Picking up on our interest in everyday life, our guide took us on a walking tour of a small town (Karatu) where we very much enjoyed seeing the fruit and vegetable market and interacted with vendors and customers (with our guide as translator, of course). We also visited two different Maasai cattle markets, an experience that made the visit to a Maasai boma pale in comparison.
Equally memorable was the unsolicited kindness of everyone with whom we interacted along the way. We never felt that hotel/camp staff or tour guides and rangers were motivated by gain, but rather that they were genuinely intent on ensuring that we felt welcomed and left with only the most positive feelings about themselves and their country.
There's really very little, if anything at all, that we'd wish to do differently. We might seek a smaller, less business travel-oriented hotel in Kigali, but appreciated the facilities offered there especially after overseas travel. My husband and I have discussed at great length my choice to begin in Rwanda and then go to Tanzania, which meant that we started there in the Ndutu region (the most dramatic and varied of the locations we visited in that country) and then headed to Ngorongoro Crater and finally to Tarangire National Park. Several other travel companies had urged us to go in the reverse direction, going from good, to great, to outstanding, but we would stick to our route. Our pace and activity level was moderate to begin with, leading up to the more demanding treks in Volcanoes National Park. Following this with the more sedentary safari experience in Tanzania gave us a chance to relax. We did welcome the chance to walk about in Karutu, and if we were to change anything at all, it might be to find some additional opportunity to stretch our legs and get some activity while in Tanzania. I suppose that some travelers might be a bit disappointed in Tarangire after the super-abundance of wildlife in the Ndutu region, but for us, those last two days of our journey were more nuanced. As our guide predicted, we'd see the same things but in different settings, and we were able to appreciate the similarities and differences--and, as luck would have it, witnessed a kill and its aftermath (4 adult lions and 3 cubs cleaning a male impala to the very bones) that was one of the most powerful experiences of the whole trip.
So--perhaps a slight bit of fine-tuning, but I'd happily do the whole thing the same way again.
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