Welcome to the guide for Rwanda safaris, the parks to visit, gorilla trekking tours, wildlife safaris, accommodation options, getting there, attractions and so much more.
Where to Go?
You can visit Rwanda anytime of the year and experience various attractions below.
Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is located in the Northern part of Rwanda covering an area of 160 sq makes it no less a small area but the world’s habitat for the famous mountain gorillas sandwiched between an altitude ranging from 2,400 m to 4,500 meters above sea level. Volcanoes National Park is part of the greater Virunga Mountains, the only region in the whole world where mountain gorillas can be tracked making the park a world classic adventure destination. When one realizes that the last existing population of mountain gorillas can be found, waits no further than getting to Rwanda for gorilla tracking. Volcanoes national park has about 400 mountain gorillas making the park possibly the most excellent tracking safari destination in Africa.
The gorilla safari park is not only a home to mountain gorillas but as well as large mammals can be encountered while tracking gorillas, these include forest buffaloes, spotted hyenas, elephants, black fronted duiker, bushbucks, giant forest hogs, bush pigs and the famous golden monkeys. The forest is strategically located in the middle of the mist covered Albertine rift region hence most visitors looking for endemic species of mammals and birds should never miss out a chance to visit Volcanoes National Park.
178 species birds have been recorded in the park of which 29 of these are restricted to the Albertine rift region making the park a complete destination for bird watchers and eco tourists interested to explore the pristine natural forest.
Mainly the park was first gazzatted in 1925 around the areas of Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno due to threat that was overcoming mountain gorillas; later in 1967 the park became a historic base ground for gorilla conservation pioneered by the legendary American natural scientist Dian fossey who established a gorilla conservation research center at Karisoke. Her research was later published in the book gorillas in the mist and featured a film of the same name. The conservation efforts did not last for long and in the 1990’s the Rwanda civil strife critically affected tourism activities in the park not until in 1999 when peace was totally restored and slowly started to receive less numbers of tourists. Shortly in 2005 Rwanda started the annual gorilla naming ceremony for baby gorillas acknowledged as ‘Kwita Iziina’ that attracts many tourists who come to witness gorillas being named, additionally the strategy has increased conservation of gorillas significantly increasing their numbers.
The park is located in undersized villages of Musanze previously known as Ruhengeri which can be simply accessed by public transport by a 2 hour drive from Kigali international airport or Gisenyi town in Rwanda. Therefore visitors interested to track for only one day can easily track and go back to Kigali within a day. Gorilla tracking is starts very early in the morning because of the nature of the forest and the fact that gorillas move sometimes they may pay no attention to border. Visitors will be required to wake up at 6:00 am and receive tracking rules and a briefing from the experienced guide who will give you photo novels containing gorillas pictures and their features for purposes of clear identification of each group.
Visitors will be required to keep voices low so as not to scare way other wildlife in the forest giving you a chance to encounter other mammals as well. Note that you are not guaranteed to see gorillas until you walk and find them despite expert guides and trackers who closely follow their footsteps.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Groups
There is no other wildlife experience pretty than coming across the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Volcanoes national park has about 480 individual mountain gorillas that inhabit forest and good enough 10 groups have been habituated mainly for tourists to track, before visitors get into the forest, your guide shall take you through a particular group of gorillas. All Rwanda gorilla treks begin early in the morning at Kinigi park headquarters where all visitors gather and take note of the tracking rules.
A maximum number of 8 visitor are only allows to track one group of gorillas meaning that 80 gorilla trekking permits are given out each single day. Once you find the gorillas, you will spend one hour following them as you watch them play, jump over trees, feed which is interesting to see and photograph. However you must keep distance of 7 meters away from the gorillas because they are wild animals and can charge at any time or contract diseases human diseases.
Since tracking can take over 8 hours under your own steam in the forest, visitors are advised to carry packed food or snacks in your backpack. Porters are available for hire in case you need one to give you a push and carry your backpack. Below are the 10 gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park.
The Susa group A is commonly located around the Karisimbi volcano. The gorilla group has 28 gorillas including 3 silverbacks. The group is famous for the playful twin infant gorillas that are eye-catching, their home range is bisected by a River called Susa hence the group was named after the river. Therefore difficult to track because of the steep slopes along the volcano and walking along ridges but most rewarding is that you will be able to see 3 silverbacks living in accord, a pair of identical twin gorillas, a number of juvenile gorillas, and females. Surprisingly it is among the first groups to be habituated in Rwanda and believed to have existed during the time of Dian fossey.
The Karisimbi group also called Susa B. The group has 15 gorillas as well as 2 Silverbacks and it split from Susa A in 2008 and it can be tracked along the higher slopes of Mount Karisimbi at an altitude of about 4,500 m above sea level hence relatively uneasy to track and visitors normally spend a full day tracking this group since it inhabits the steep slopes and the fact that the group tends to move very fast sometimes going to the top of the Karisimbi volcano.
This group has 18 gorillas that include 1 silverback, 2 Black backs, 2 sub adult males, juveniles and other gorilla babies and it can be found on the slopes of mount Bisoke one of the volcanoes in the park. Amahoro means tranquility thus the group is the most peaceful, therefore the silverback being calm it lost some of the members to other groups.
The group has 11 gorillas which include 1 silverback, 1 sub adult, male three adult females and 6 juveniles. The group split from Amahoro group forming its own family, Umubano means living mutually hence these two groups have been observed coming together.
This group is has 13 members which include 1 silverback and it can tracked between Sabinyo and Gahinga mountains. It has the biggest Silverback called Guhonda which attracts most visitors to track the group. Although the group inhabits the slopes of the two mountains, it is easy to track.
This group has 9 gorillas that include 1 Silverback which leads the group, 3 Adult females, 2 sub adult females, and 3 babies. Usually found along mount Sabinyo slopes, the group came into existence in 2006 when some of the gorillas left the Sabinyo group and formed Hirwa.
This is one of the wonderful groups to track with 18 gorillas which include 4 silverbacks. The group inhabits the slopes of mount Muhavura and it is believed to have come from the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. The group is lead by a silverback called Kwitonda which has successfully controlled the other three silverbacks and it can be hard to track due to the steep slopes associated with its home range.
This group has 25 gorillas only with the dominant Silverback called Agashya therefore got its name from. The group formerly had 13 gorillas when it was being habituated but due to the strength of the silverback the group has increased to 25 gorillas that include 1 silverback, 12 Adult females, 2 sub Adults, 3 juveniles and 7 infant babies. The group is usually tracked along the Sabinyo area however the range has other groups of gorillas that inhabit it; hence it tends to move deep into the valley thus not easy to track.
The group has 11 gorillas that inhabit the parts of Karisimbi volcano and the group is very unreliable because it changes its habitat frequently thus not easy to track.
This group is composed of 11 gorillas and it is famously know because it featured in the popular film “Gorillas in the Mist”. The group inhabits the slopes between Karisimbi and Bisoke volcanoes formed by Bwenge the dominant silverback back in 2007, unfortunately it has been losing some of its members who died mysteriously but nevertheless the group has come to survive. Bwenge means “wisdom” giving you a hint why it was featured in the popular Gorillas in the mist film.
Rwanda Safari, Best Time To Visit
Rwanda Gorilla trekking is done all year round visitors should never worry about the wet seasons. The best time to track gorillas in Rwanda is for the period of the dry months from June, September, and December to February. The dry season has many benefits but it is the time when visitors are many hence tracking permit need advance booking. Visitors have a chance to enjoy good views of the forest and encounter lots of wildlife because the vegetation is less flourishing. However during the dry season gorillas tend to move for long distances to search for greener vegetation, consequently anticipate walking for quite a lot of hours. Although the season is dry, you should never miss to carry your hiking gears and remember in the rain forest weather conditions change and it can rain any time of the day.
Alternatively visitors can also track gorillas during the wet season which dominates much the months of mid March, April, and July to October this is the time when visitors tend to be few and there is a likely hood that gorilla permit price may discounted. During this season gorillas tend not to move for long distances because of the availability of pretty vegetation hence visitors have high chances of tracking for a short time sometimes within 30 minutes of walking in the forest.
What you should Pack before you track Rwanda Gorillas
Whilst you are in preparation of visiting Volcanoes National Park for Rwanda gorilla tours you should never miss to pack accordingly regarding the nature of the activity involving long hours of walking in the thick forests, sometimes you might step over slippery ridges or muddy trails which is quite challenging. Therefore it is always good to dress reasonably and here is a suggested list of what you should wear or carry before you track. At lower altitudes its usually warm and very cold in the mountains of Rwanda.
All tourists interested in gorilla trekking must have yellow fever vaccination cards because Rwanda is susceptible to yellow fever and sometimes malaria. You should check with your medical personnel to get full medical protection.
You are recommended to wear solid walking shoes to help defend you from the scratches, a rain jacket, walking sticks to support you are available at the reception center, protective gloves against stinging plants, long sleeved trousers and a backpack is useful to carry lots of things including toiletries and simple first aid equipment such as insect repellants, this will ease your movement in the forest. You are advised to tuck in your pants in order to avoid safari aunts.
You are never guaranteed to see gorillas hence tracking will involve intensive walking in the forest ranging from 30minutes to more than 8 hours, therefore visitors must have packed food, energy giving drinks, at least 3 liters of drinking water and snacks. Porters can be hired at 10 US dollars to carry your backpack and support you sometimes when you get tired along the tracking. You will benefit from the porter because you will move freely, take pictures without the weight of the backpack.
Visitors should have a waterproof day pack where camera equipment can be kept because you will need to take as many photographs as you want provided your cameras flashlight is off
Check thoroughly before your day pack before you enter the forest.
How to Get a Rwanda Visa
Every one of tourists wanting to trek gorillas in Volcanoes National park Rwanda is obliged to have a Rwanda visa before you can be allowed to track. Rwanda Visas are given out at Kigali International Airport for fly in tourists to Rwanda or it can be purchased at the Rwandan overland borders without prior application. Regarding the request of the traveler to get the kind of a visa you want, tourist visas are valid for only 30 days and it’s up to you to renew in case you want to spend more than 30 days in Rwanda. Tourist Visas cost US $ 30 by means of the up to standard form of payment which can be in US dollars, Rwandan francs or by use of credit cards. However you advised to use US dollars in cash since credit card payment may be unavailable at some points. Types of tourist visas include single entry, multiple entry visas valid for 90 days. Recently a joint East African Tourist visa has been introduced for those tourists interested in visiting the three East African counties valid for three months at 100 US dollars.
For any tourist to travel to Rwanda, you will be required to prove that you have enough money that can sustain all of your stay days in the country.
Gorilla permits in Rwanda
Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost USD 1500 per person for foreign visitors who come to track mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National park; the cost of the permit includes fees for entering the park. Gorilla permits can be acquired through Rwanda Development Board which is responsible for handling tourist inquiries regarding gorillas and other tourist activities in the park. Booking a permit can be done online using the reservation email of the board which most tourists use to inquire about reservation dates or tracking dates. The reservation offices at the park headquarters Kinigi can update visitors about transfer of money for those booking online.
Alternatively visitors who may not use the Rwanda development board to book gorilla permits, they can deal with local travel agencies only those verified by the board which is quite cheap, However most of the travel agencies will charge an additional cost of 25 or 60 US dollars Note that booking your gorilla permit in advance is good in order to avoid inconveniences that might ruin your travel plans.
Sometimes during low seasons, gorilla permit costs may be reduced in order to motivate visitors since they tend to be few. During peak seasons, visitors tend to be many hence you are not guaranteed a permit for a particular day of tracking because of high demand for permits and there’s is always a possibility of permits getting finished. Booking a gorilla permit may not guarantee you to see gorillas because tracking is a physical activity that will demand your input in the first place. Purchasing a Rwanda safari gorilla permit does not guarantee any visitor to see gorillas, however chances are very high.
Other Activities in volcanoes National park Rwanda
Golden Monkey Tracking
Besides mountain gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park, another popular activity is tracking the endangered Golden monkeys. Due to a diversity of remarkably rich medley of ecosystems in volcanoes national park that include widespread bamboo forests that act as a home to Golden monkey. Golden monkeys live in the lower slopes of bamboo forests at an altitude of about 3,600 m above sea level, different from gorilla tracking; golden monkeys stay in bamboo forests for most of their time thus visitors may not maneuver around the forest searching g for them. Golden monkeys are speedy moving little primates, very amusing to see as they suddenly jig from tree to tree or run after the other in loop around you. Watching these reddish gold back monkeys that blend in perfectly with the golden bamboo trees is an amazing experience.
Golden monkey safari in Rwanda starts 7:00 am in the morning; visitors can see two troops that have been habituated for tourism in the park numbering about 80 individuals, a maximum number of 8 people are allowed to track golden monkeys for only one hour at cost of 100 USD per person. Visitors can arrange their permits in advance or get them at Kinigi the park headquarters where porters can also be hired at 10 USD.
There are other interesting hiking trails in the forest that allow spend more time viewing other wildlife in the forest to give you a true meaning of a rain forest. Forest elephants, buffalos, forest hogs, bush pigs might be seen. Another beautiful route is the hike to the Crater Lake on top of mount Bisoke one of the volcanoes in the park.
The great way to pay out an extra day in Volcanoes National Park is to track Golden monkeys a rare and delightful experience never to be missed alongside gorillas and other Rwanda safaris wildlife.
The Dian Fossey Tomb
The Dian fossey tomb is found at Karisoke research center is a famous grave yard where Dian Fossey an Americam natural scientist was buried. Other Rwanda safari gorillas that die have also been buried on the same grave yard. The research center was established by Dian Fossey during her time of dedicated Gorilla conservation research in the 1960s. The tomb is located in the saddle area between two volcanoes of mount karisimbi and Visoke at a high altitude of about 3000 meters above sea level. The trek to the tomb can take around 3 to 4 hours of walking taking you through some of the amazing secondary and natural forest stretches where a variety of mammals can be seen including the giant forest hog, bush pigs and lots of bird species. The trek is not easy to hike characterized by steep and slippery routes hence you will need good hiking shoes ora rain coat since it can rain at any hour of the day.
The Rwanda safari trek to the tomb starts at 7:00 am from the park headquarters at kinigi where visitors will take a 30 minute drive to the starting point of the tomb. The cost of the trek is 75 US dollars per person and permits can be bought on the same day you intend to hike.
Rwanda Safari, What Else Besides The Gorillas?
Located in East Africa, Rwanda lies in Africa’s great lake region bordered by mountains to the west and savanna to the east. The republic of Rwanda was colonised by German and Belgium before getting its independence in 1962. It is also known for the devastating genocide that took place in 1994 which affected it so badly but the country is working hard to attain full recovery from this trying time. Subsistence agriculture and tourism are the major sectors that support Rwanda’s economy. Tourism in particular is rapidly growing since the genocide. Besides the mountain gorillas, you can visit Akagera National Park Rwanda for wildlife experience of lions, zebra, kobs and more. You can also visit the primates of Nyungwe Forest National Park Rwanda. Listed below are some of the places that shape Rwanda safari tours.
Kigali City Tours Rwanda
This is Rwanda’s capital city and the largest in the country. Its clean and paved roads remind you of a European town. Founded in 1907 under the German rule, Kigali did not become a capital city till Rwanda attained its independence in 1962. Unfortunately during the 1994 genocide, Kigali was the centre stage. The city is built on a raised area with an average elevation of 1,600 meters above sea level and its climate ranges between 12 to 15 degrees. Kigali is a beehive of activities and when there you can clearly see the enthusiasm Rwandan citizens have in terms of business. As you plan your Rwanda safari, consider visiting Kigali on the last day of your trip after gorilla trekking.
This is the former colonial capital of Rwanda and is situated in the southern part of Rwanda. Colonial buildings, churches, clean streets, Rwanda safari museums, restaurants and a plethora of terrace cafes make up the city of Butare. Butare is the name most known and used by the locals also the city was renamed Huye. The major Rwanda safari attractions or tourists destinations in Butare are Ginkoro Genocidal Museum, the National museum of Rwanda, the National University of Rwanda and lastly Huye market.
Rwanda being located in the great lakes region of Africa it is surrounded with a number of immaculate and gorgeous lakes and beaches. The border of Rwanda and Congo harbours 5 volcanic lakes which comprise of incredible attractions to feed your eyes. The largest fresh water is Lake Kivu which is enclosed between green terraced hills along the border. It also houses some of the most beautiful resorts you will ever find in Africa. Lake Ruhondo and Lake Burera are not as big but also have breathtaking beauty and these are bordered by mountains which offer tourists an opportunity to go trekking, water skiing and hand gliding. A 5 Day Rwanda gorilla trekking itinerary often includes Rwanda safari to Lake Kivu.
As disturbing as it may sound to reminisce the genocide, Genocide memorials remain one the top destinations of tourists who come to Rwanda. Despite the incredible progress the country has made to move from the after math of that unspeakable tragedy, Rwanda safari visitors as well as the local people especially those who were not around at the time this happened need to hear about this horrific escapade that shook the whole of East Africa. These genocide memorials include; Kigali memorial centre which was developed as a museum housing the detailed but monstrous history of Rwandan genocide. It is located in Gisozi where 250,000 of the 1 million victims were buried.
The others are churches found south of Kigali in Ntrama and Nyamata and a school which were all sites of the massacre. The school has a museum as well which houses preserved bodies of victims and a detailed history of the break in at the time of the genocide.
Rwanda’s tourism is one of the reasons why Rwanda should be on your bucket list!