Rwanda, a country in East Africa, is rapidly ascending the ranks of must-visit travel destinations. Despite being relatively new to the tourism scene compared to other African safari hotspots, Rwanda boasts a wealth of remarkable attractions that offer unique cultural experiences, thrilling primate encounters, captivating safari game drives, and breathtaking natural beauty. One of the crown jewels of Rwanda’s allure is the mountain gorillas that call the slopes of the Virunga Mountains their home—a species that gained international attention through the groundbreaking work of the renowned primatologist, Dian Fossey.
Dian Fossey’s dedicated research shed light on the urgent need to protect these magnificent creatures, whose population was on the brink of extinction. Today, mountain gorilla tourism stands as Rwanda’s most significant contributor to its economy and has solidified the country’s position as a top destination in Africa.
Nestled on the northeastern border of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park encompasses the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Mountains—a sanctuary for the last remaining population of mountain gorillas. Also known as Parc National des Volcans, this park attracts the highest number of leisure travelers to Rwanda, thanks to its lush greenery, dramatic landscapes, and, of course, the awe-inspiring gorillas.
The park’s name is derived from its five dormant volcanoes: Mount Karisimbi, the tallest at 4,507 meters; Mount Bisoke, featuring a stunning crater lake at its peak; Sabinyo, which straddles Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC; Gahinga, and Muhabura. Volcanoes National Park is a haven for diverse montane ecosystems, including evergreen and bamboo forests, open grasslands, swamps, and heathlands. While the mountain gorillas steal the spotlight, the park is also home to golden monkeys, black-fronted duikers, buffalo, spotted hyenas, and bushbucks. With 178 recorded bird species, including 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Rwenzori Mountains, it is a paradise for birdwatching enthusiasts.
The highlight of a visit to Volcanoes National Park is undoubtedly the thrilling experience of tracking mountain gorillas. With twelve habituated gorilla groups available for trekking, visitors set out each morning to embark on an unforgettable journey into the rainforest, led by expert guides and rangers. Spending at least one hour in the presence of these gentle giants is a truly life-changing encounter. Gorilla permits for Volcanoes National Park cost $1,500 per person per day, granting you access to this extraordinary experience. Outside the park, in the nearby town of Musanze, there is a range of camps and lodges catering to all types of travelers, ensuring a comfortable stay for luxury seekers and budget-conscious explorers alike.
Aside from gorilla trekking, Volcanoes National Park offers a variety of other hikes and activities, such as visiting the habituated golden monkey troops, hiking to Dian Fossey’s former camp and grave at Karisoke Research Center, and challenging day treks to the summits of Mount Bisoke, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Karisimbi. Additionally, visitors can indulge in hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and cultural experiences in the surrounding areas.
Situated in the southwest region of Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park borders Burundi’s Kibira National Park. This diverse montane rainforest, one of Africa’s most varied, safeguards numerous primate species, including chimpanzees, owl-faced monkeys, and colobus monkeys.
Nyungwe Forest is widely regarded as one of Rwanda’s most attractive destinations. It boasts a remarkable 70-meter-high suspension bridge that allows visitors to embark on canopy walks, offering breathtaking views of the forest from above. Birdwatchers will also be delighted by the park’s rich avian population, with over 322 recorded bird species. Nyungwe is home to 75 mammal species, 1068 plant species, and a small population of chimpanzees, along with 12 other primate species, some of which are endemic to the Albertine Rift.
Chimpanzee tracking is a popular activity in Nyungwe Forest National Park, providing the opportunity to witness these intelligent creatures swinging through the treetops. The park’s well-maintained forest trails also offer excellent opportunities for forest hikes and birdwatching—one of the best in Africa. Visitors can explore the trails that lead to the mesmerizing Isumo waterfall and experience the thrilling canopy walk along the Igishigishigi trail.
Nyungwe Forest is also renowned for its breathtaking views of vast tea plantations that border the park, providing a picturesque backdrop for your adventures. Gisakura, within the park, offers a chance to spot Ruwenzori colobus monkeys and forest fringe birds.
Akagera National Park, a hidden gem among Rwanda’s safari destinations, is the country’s only savannah game park. Located on the northeastern border, it shares a contiguous boundary with Tanzania’s Ibanda Game Reserve. The park features vast savannah plains, woodlands, swamps, and a dozen lakes, attracting an incredible array of bird species.
Game viewing is the main attraction in Akagera National Park, offering visitors the opportunity to encounter a variety of wildlife, including lion prides, eastern black rhinos, giraffes, elephants, buffalos, antelopes, zebras, monkeys, and 490 bird species on a typical game drive. A boat safari on Lake Ihema is highly recommended, allowing visitors to observe large pods of hippos, crocodiles, and an abundance of waterbirds.
Adding Akagera National Park to your gorilla trekking safari itinerary provides a contrasting experience with its savannah landscapes and diverse wildlife. It also eliminates the need to cross international borders, making for a seamless and convenient journey.
Sitting atop rolling hills and valleys, Kigali serves as Rwanda’s administrative and cultural capital, strategically located in the heart of the country. Known for its cleanliness and pleasant ambiance, the city boasts wide tree-lined streets and immaculate green squares, inviting visitors to take leisurely walks and explore its vibrant atmosphere.
Kigali’s flourishing art scene, diverse dining options, and a range of accommodation choices will captivate your senses and provide a perfect introduction to the country before venturing into its wilderness. For art enthusiasts, the Kigali Cultural Village is a must-visit, offering an immersive experience with local artisans and food vendors showcasing their incredible creations. It’s an ideal place to purchase authentic Rwandan souvenirs.
The city’s architectural highlight is a world-class convention center, resembling an ancient king’s palace, which illuminates the night sky from its perch atop one of Kigali’s picturesque hills. Golf enthusiasts will find delight in the 18-hole golf course situated on the edge of Nyarutarama Lake. Nature walks along the lakeshore tracks offer tranquilityand an opportunity to observe Rwanda’s urban birdlife.
The Kigali Genocide Memorial stands as a poignant testament to Rwanda’s history, commemorating the victims of the devastating 1994 genocide. With three permanent exhibitions and burial gardens, the memorial center provides a powerful and educational experience for visitors.
A visit to Kigali is a must when exploring Rwanda’s most attractive destinations. Spend a day or two immersing yourself in the city’s charm, enjoying panoramic views, and embracing the diverse cultures before embarking on your gorilla trekking or primate encounters.
Stretching along the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lake Kivu is part of the breathtaking string of lakes that grace the East African Rift Valley. Nestled amidst majestic volcanic mountains, the lake’s emerald waters offer stunning panoramic views in Rwanda’s western region. As the sixth-largest lake on the African continent and the largest in Rwanda, Lake Kivu is a true gem.
After an exhilarating gorilla trekking experience, Lake Kivu provides the perfect setting to unwind and relax. The town of Rubavu, also known as Gisenyi, stands on the lake’s northern edge and offers a picturesque retreat. With colonial mansions and hotels lining the waterfront, Rubavu provides an ideal ambiance for enjoying African sun downers and romantic evenings.
For adventure enthusiasts, the 227-kilometer Congo Nile Trail traces the entire coastline of Lake Kivu from Rubavu to Rusizi. Considered one of the finest backpacking and biking trails in Africa, it meanders through terraced hills, mountains, and eucalyptus-lined tracks. Lake Kivu’s allure is further enhanced by its proximity to tea plantations and the enchanting views they provide.
Including Lake Kivu in your Rwanda gorilla trekking safari package ensures a blend of romance, adventure, and tranquility, making it a captivating destination for all types of travelers.
Rwanda’s attractive destinations can be enjoyed throughout the year. However, for optimal gorilla trekking experiences, it is recommended to visit during the two dry seasons from December to February and June to September, when the trails are drier and more accessible.
If chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest is on your itinerary, the best time to visit is during the two wet seasons from March to May and October to November. During these periods, the forest provides abundant fruit and plants, making it easier to spot chimpanzees in accessible locations.
Embarking on a safari to explore Rwanda’s incredible destinations is made seamless with the assistance of local experts. Encounter Africa, a reputable tour operator, specializes in organizing gorilla trekking tours in Volcanoes National Park, including processing gorilla permits, arranging accommodations, planning transportation, and meals. Their knowledgeable team will ensure a well-organized and memorable gorilla trekking experience.
Whether you choose to witness the wonders of Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe Forest’s primate haven, Akagera National Park’s wildlife-rich savannah, Kigali’s vibrant cityscape, or the tranquil shores of Lake Kivu, Rwanda promises a journey filled with unforgettable encounters and breathtaking beauty. Start planning your Rwanda safari with a local expert to create a personalized itinerary that caters to your preferences and guarantees an extraordinary adventure in this remarkable country.