Africa's easiest and most accessible gorilla trekking is the main draw card of a Rwandan safari. After arriving at the capital city of Kigali, you are only a few hours' drive away from the legendary Volcanoes National Park and its habituated but still wild gorilla families. It was on the bamboo-covered slopes of Rwanda’s Virunga Volcanoes that the late Dian Fossey studied the behaviour of the endangered mountain gorilla for 20 years, followed by the filmmakers who shot Gorillas in the Mist. Now small groups of privileged visitors can experience one of the most memorable wildlife encounters on earth - gorilla trekking through the pristine Virungas rainforest. Rarely experienced in isolation, a Rwandan gorilla safari combines well with other East African destinations in Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania but there is more to green and hilly Rwanda than meets the eye: it is also home to the primate-filled Nyungwe Forest National Park where there are chimpanzees and fantastic bird-watching opportunities. Akagera National Park, on the other hand, offers big game viewing in a diverse savannah setting. Lake Kivu is a gorgeous expanse of water surrounded by Rwanda's gently rolling slopes - in fact, Rwandans call their home 'the country of a thousand hills' because of its undulating landscape. Kivu is a great place to enjoy boating, hiking, kayaking and chimp trekking. Small, compact and easy to travel around, friendly Rwanda has dealt with its past tragedies and offers intrepid travellers and wildlife enthusiasts what is usually a hard-to-gain insight into Central African cultures, wildlife and environments. Simply browse our range of popular tour itineraries and recommended accommodation or contact one of our African Safari Experts for assistance with planning a tailor-made Rwandan safari.
Our top places to visit in Rwanda:
If you're researching when to go to Rwanda then the chances are that it's for a gorilla trekking adventure. Although it's regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trek is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest malaria risk. You can visit Rwanda and trek gorillas outside these optimum times of year but bear in mind that the going will be more difficult in the rain as paths are steep and maybe muddy. It pays to be as fit as possible before you commence your trek. The best time to go to Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe, however, is during the two rainy seasons - mid-February to early June and mid-September to mid-December - as the apes are easier to locate. Food is harder to find in the dry seasons and the chimp families often range far into the forest interior.
Rwanda might be one of Africa's smallest nations but not only does it pack in plenty of excellent wildlife destinations ranging from montane rainforests to grassy savannahs, but its modest size means that getting between places of interest is relatively quick and simple. Rwanda is 1.5 times the size of South Africa's Kruger National Park and almost all points of interest are about a 4-hour drive from Kigali.
The capital city of Kigali is the country's entry and exit point for gorilla trekking. You will fly in from East Africa's logistics hubs such as Entebbe or Nairobi and, depending on your itinerary, will either transfer straight to the Volcanoes National Park or overnight in this compact, vibrant and safe city. Your other option is to fly direct from Johannesburg in South Africa, which means it is easy to add a gorilla trek onto a Kruger, Cape Town or Victoria Falls holiday. There are also regular connections from Lusaka in Zambia; perfect if you have been visiting the Lower Zambezi or on a walking safari in South Luangwa National Park. Kigali is both safe and clean. Once a month, residents undertake 'Umuganda Day' when they engage in compulsory cleaning of all aspects of the city. It is taken very seriously and Rwandans are justifiably proud of their capital. As a means of combatting litter and pollution, all forms of plastic bags are prohibited in the country. Your safety is taken seriously and you may encounter checks at the airport, shopping malls and hotels. Rwandans prefer not to negotiate at the markets so don't be tempted to haggle about prices! Corruption and bribery of any sort are considered very serious offences. A full day in Kigali (ie two nights) will allow you time to visit the Genocide Memorial, which is both moving and inspiring, and to see the 'old' and 'new' parts of the capital.!
Gorilla trekking is the region's unrivalled main attraction and the Volcanoes National Park is where to go in Rwanda to do it. Its mountainous terrain and dense forests make for tough walking conditions but the rewards are matchless: butterflies, birds and primates, headlined of course by families of habituated mountain gorillas. Volcanoes National Park is the site of primatologist Dian Fossey's Karisoke Research Station, where she led a team to study gorillas in the wild. You can undertake about a 2-hour hike to her tomb, which is - like so much in Rwanda - both moving and inspiring. The hike is good time to look out for primates, hogs, forest elephants and a plethora of bird species. There are a few troops of habituated golden monkeys, whose antics are great fun to watch. Golden monkeys are also endangered and permits are required for trekking them. It is always worth understanding more about the indigenous culture of the area you are visiting. Take a guided community walk to Iby'Iwacu village where you can experience traditional dancing, discover beer brewed from bananas, and visit a local healer. Serious hikers might want to consider a 2-day trek to Mount Karisimbi. Although this is fairly strenuous, you will be rewarded with excellent birding, spectacular scenery and the summit of the fifth highest mountain in Africa.!
Protecting the largest single tract of montane forest in East or Central Africa, Nyungwe is the best reason to further explore Rwanda after your gorilla trek. A magnificent rainforest full of birds, butterflies and orchids, the stars of the show are the 13 species of primate - including chimpanzees - that make the park their home. In addition to excellent hiking, the forest canopy walk is an excellent way of spotting blue monkeys living in the treetops.!
Located in low lying eastern Rwanda, Akagera is where the tropical forests of Central Africa give way to the dry savannahs of East Africa. An appealing mix of wetlands and rolling wooded grasslands, Akagera National Park is where to go in Rwanda for the chance to spot classic African animals including elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, leopard and many antelope species. This is a relatively small park and is roughly a 3-hour drive from Kigali. In addition to guided Big 5 game drives, Akagera also offers private boat trips, sunset cruises and night drives. All members of the Big 5 are slowly being reintroduced into the area in an ambitious conservation project.!
Located on the western border of Rwanda, Lake Kivu is a massive expansive of water ringed by verdant hills that offer excellent hiking, chimp trekking, bird watching and canopy walks. You will stay at Gisenyi, a small town on the northern shore from which you can go kayaking or boating. Kivu is a tranquil place to get over jet-lag from a long-haul flight or to relax after the rigours of gorilla trekking..!
Bisate Lodge provides the ultimate in eco-luxury, offering excellent accommodation and access to gorilla tracking experiences as well as having a strong conservation ethos.
Be captivated by every movement and sound in this glamorous setting.A comfortable lodge at the foot of the Virunga volcanoes and only 5 mins drive from the Volcanoes National Park.
Set back from the lake shore, Ruzizi Tented Lodge sits within the little-known Akagera National Park and consists of nine beautiful tents hidden among swaying palms and fruiting fig trees.
Up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts - get essential Rwanda travel advice before you go..
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc but we'd recommend bringing US dollars (post-2003 bills only) or euros in cash (traveller's cheques usually attract poor exchange rates). Do any necessary banking in Kigali as few opportunities exist outside the capital - bureaux de change establishments usually offer the best exchange rates. Credit cards - notably MasterCard - are accepted in some of the upmarket hotels and restaurants in Kigali but not in many other places.
Tipping is not customary in most places in Rwanda, with the exception of some higher-end restaurants in town where 10% of the final bill is standard. If you are doing a gorilla trek, tipping is not compulsory but it will be greatly appreciated – amounts vary depending on the size of your group and the level of assistance required. Your porter (if you choose to take one) should usually receive the highest tip, with a second tip distributed between your guides, trackers and security personnel. Bear in mind that some guides, porters and trackers are former poachers who now rely on tourists and travellers to make a living. Your generosity helps them see the value of keeping gorillas and chimps alive. It is worth hiring a porter to help you during the trek: he or she can assist you over tricky parts of the hike, offer support and carry your daypack if you find yourself fatigued on the hike back. Tip your porter well for excellent service. For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts - they'd be happy to share their knowledge with you..
Average year-round temperatures are about 12°C / 54°F to 27°C / 81°F.
Rainy seasons: March to April and October to mid-December. The easiest gorilla trekking is during the dry seasons from June to September, and late December to February. Refer to 'best time to visit Rwanda for climate charts and advice on the best times of year for gorilla trekking.
You’ll need to be suitably equipped for gorilla trekking in Rwanda – preparation is key. When packing for your Rwanda safari, be sure to include long, thick trousers and long-sleeved tops, long socks or gaiters to wear over your trousers as protection against ants, a pair of light gloves to protect against nettles, a hat, a raincoat and of course a pair of sturdy, comfortable hiking boots (break them in before your trip). It can get cold and damp on the mountains at altitude so pack a change of clothes and a warm fleece in your day pack, along with sunscreen and insect repellent. Stinging nettles are one of the gorillas' main food sources so there are bound to be thick patches of nettles when you encounter a gorilla family. We recommend wearing the thickest trousers possible to protect your legs against scratches and gardening or other gloves to protect your hands (you may have to grasp vegetation from time to time to steady yourself on the trek). Other useful tips:
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport: A short drive from Kigali, Rwanda's point of entry is served by a direct flight from Brussels otherwise you'll be flying in from Entebbe, Nairobi, Lusaka or Johannesburg. It's about a 2.5-hour drive from Kigali to the gorilla trekking destination of the Volcanoes National Park. Transfers in Rwanda are usually conducted in 4X4 vehicles but you can also take a helicopter flight from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park. Because Rwanda is a small country, the maximum driving distance between major points of interest is about four to five hours long. In Kigali, one of the most efficient and fun ways of getting around is on the back of a local scooter - it's a great way to get an authentic taste of the city.
A passport valid for at least six months is required by all visitors to Rwanda. Visas are required by everyone except citizens of the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Kenya and South Africa.. Multiple-entry tourist visas can be purchased from your nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate. Visas are valid for three months and can usually be extended in Kigali on a month-by-month payment basis..
A gorilla-trekking permit is essential. It is important to note that children under 15 are not permitted on gorilla treks.
A land of pre-colonial kingdoms and powerful, cattle-owning dynasties, this tiny Central African country escaped the ravages of the slave trade but was subsequently colonised, first by the Germans and then the Belgians. Independence arrived in 1962 but Rwanda's post-colonial history has been a chequered one. The 1994 genocide was the nadir but since then the country has gone from strength to strength and punches well above its weight in regional affairs. Contributing 40% of GDP and occupying 90% of the workforce, agriculture dominates the economy but it's mostly subsistence farming with little surplus. Cash crops such as tea and coffee do generate foreign revenue as does mining for rare metals but tourism is the greatest foreign exchange earner..
A green and fertile country, Rwanda has long been settled. With over 11 million people crammed into an area smaller than Belgium, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Its earliest inhabitants were the pygmoid Twa, hunter-gatherers who were subsequently displaced by migrating Hutu farmers who now make up over 80% of the population. Next to arrive were the cattle-raising Tutsis who dominated traditional power structures until independence. Note that as a consequence of its history, modern Rwanda tends to ignore such ethnic labels. A young population (over 40% is aged under 15) the majority of Rwandans are Catholics with Protestants close behind. The country's official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English and Rwanda is generally seen as an easy, safe and friendly country to travel around. Music (particularly drumming) and dance dominate the cultural scene and there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories.!
Known as the 'Land of a Thousand Hills', landlocked Rwanda sits literally at the heart of Africa. A country of volcanoes, thickly forested mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, its position on the Albertine Rift Valley puts it at the heart of one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world although much of Rwanda's hill country and grasslands have been turned over to terraced agriculture and the country's large animals are restricted to its three reserves. Most famous of these reserves is the Volcanoes National Park, home to half the continent's remaining mountain gorillas and Rwanda's famous gorilla trekking industry. Nyungwe Forest is a haven for other primates including chimpanzees while the little-visited Akagera National Park in Rwanda's flatter and hotter east is the country's sole savannah reserve. Birdlife is prolific throughout the country with around 670 species recorded.!