Rwanda safaris and gorilla tours to the “Land of a thousand hills” and a million smiles! It is such a small country, relatively smaller than Scotland but beaming with all nature’s beauty, wonderful people, culture, and wildlife including the most endangered primate species; mountain gorillas. With three national parks, a thriving capital city, spectacular mountain scenery and some surprisingly diverse wildlife, Rwanda has plenty to occupy a longer holiday and certainly deserves further exploration.
The gorillas in Volcanoes National Park are behind the hundreds of gorilla trekking tours the country receives each year. Alternatively, you can visit Lake Kivu for a honeymoon, do the canopy walk and track Chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National Park or view the wildlife in Akagera. Rwanda safaris may further stretch to Dian Fossey’s grave at Karisoke Research Center to let you carry out more exciting tourism activities.
PARKS AND RESERVES
Rwanda has diverse wildlife parks and reserves as noted below.
- Volcanoes National Park – A distinctive, mountainous utopia, in the heart of Africa. The rainforests on these highland slopes are home to the endangered mountain gorillas, other primates and fauna.
- Nyungwe National Park – Situated in the southwestern corner of Rwanda, the stunningly beautiful Nyungwe Forest Park is part of the Albertine Rift eco-region, making it a great part of your African wilderness primate vacation.
- Akagera National Park – Situated along the Northeastern border, the reserve was created in 1934. Today, Akagera hosts all the Big Five of Africa. In 2015-2017, conservation efforts were made to bring back the lions and rhinos.
- Lake Kivu – Located on the western edge of Rwanda, Lake Kivu sits above the Albertine Rift. The lake is known for its serenity and sandy beaches, where you can relax, sunbathe, or simply enjoy a rejuvenating siesta.
WHERE TO GO ON A RWANDA HOLIDAY
Volcanoes National Park in the north-west of the country is one of the few places in the world where you can witness families of mountain gorillas in their natural habitats, and seeing these intriguing creatures in the wild is one of the most heartwarming vacation experiences that you will have in Africa.
Rwanda’s gorilla trekking is its biggest attraction. Though, the diversity of Rwanda’s ecology goes far beyond the rainforests. Less well-known holiday options are Akagera National Park on its eastern border and Nyungwe Forest National Park in the south. Akagera National Park, a Big 5 destination, offers the classic wildlife safari experience of driving across vast savannah plains, where predator and prey play out a continuous battle for survival. Elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes, and other herbivores wander across the grassy landscape looking for the best vegetation and watering holes, while lions, leopards, hyenas and other ferocious hunters are ever-watchful for the chance to capture a young or weak animal. Beyond the savannah are wetlands, swamps, and woodlands, where you will find a host of other wildlife and birds specific to these habitats. In stark contrast, Nyungwe is dense rainforest with interesting hiking trails, bird watching and primate spotting.
The beach escape of Lake Kivu reveals yet another of Rwanda’s many facets. Long stretches of golden sandy beach are dotted with hot springs and friendly fishing villages. Here, both land and water offer an abundance of activities, such as fishing, boat tours, cycling, plantation tours, nature walks, watersports like jet skiing, kayaking, sailing and so much more. The lake is free of crocodiles and hippos, so it is also one of the few places on the African continent where you can safely take a refreshing swim.
The capital city of Kigali is a metropolitan experience offering distinctive restaurants, museum and shrines, community art projects, and historic architecture. Although the genocide that occurred in this Central-East African country may be a difficult subject for some of our guests, a tour of the Genocide memorials is a key part of a comprehensive trip through the Rwanda of past, present, and future.
Generally, Rwanda’s national parks are easily accessible by road, so a circuit of all three perhaps including the beautiful shore of Lake Kivu and the capital, Kigali, can make a fascinating and diverse holiday.
MOUNTAIN GORILLA TRACKING IN RWANDA
Tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda is the ultimate wildlife experience and the reason why most people come here on holiday: sitting within a small family group of gorillas is a ‘must’ for serious wildlife enthusiasts. This is where Dian Fossey first brought the world’s attention to the plight of these majestic primates in the late 1960s, when only around 250 survived. Today their numbers worldwide have increased to some 880, split between Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; almost half of them live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The survival of mountain gorillas is one of Africa’s greatest conservation success stories, and tourism has played its role in this. Rwanda is regarded as probably the best destination for a gorilla tracking safari. Although gorilla tracking permits aren’t cheap, your permitted hour with these great apes promises to be a priceless encounter that will remain with you long after your holiday is over.
PRIMATE HOLIDAYS IN RWANDA
Although mountain gorillas are the stars of the show, there are plenty of other primate tracking opportunities while on holiday in Rwanda. Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to thirteen different primate species, among them chimpanzees and Rwenzori colobus, both of which can be tracked. Indeed, Nyungwe’s colobus monkeys can sometimes be seen in spectacular troops of several hundred, believed to be among the largest numbers worldwide. And in Volcanoes National Park, two groups of endangered golden monkeys have been habituated for visitor tracking. Pretty and playful, they’re a delight to watch.
‘CLASSIC’ SAFARI HOLIDAYS IN RWANDA
Rwanda may not seem the obvious choice for a typical safari holiday, but if you’re travelling here anyway, Akagera National Park in the east of the country is worth exploring. Scenically it is one of Africa’s prettiest parks, with rolling hills and deep valleys, savannah plains to the north and lakes and papyrus swamps on its eastern border. It includes the largest protected wetlands in Central Africa and is home to some 8,000 animals and over 480 species of birds that include the rare shoebill, making Akagera an interesting destination for a bird watching holiday.
Rwanda is a surprising and inspiring country for a holiday, not least because of the remarkable way it has united in the twenty years since it tore itself apart during the horrific genocide against the Tutsis of 1994.
Whilst it would be naïve to suggest that the entire nation has moved on, a holiday here leaves you with an overwhelming sense of the people’s optimism and national pride, and their determination that genocide must never happen again. Today, people call themselves Rwandans, with no distinctions between Tutsis and Hutus. Yet remembrance is as much a part of the country’s progress as reconciliation. Each year, from April to July, commemorations called Kwibuka take place as part of the country’s healing process.
And at any time of year, a visit to Kigali’s Genocide Memorial is important in understanding Rwanda’s history and the events leading up to the genocide. It may seem an unlikely holiday attraction but it is in fact a beautiful, peaceful place that is testament to Rwanda’s strength and spirit of reconciliation.
WEATHER & CLIMATE
In the heart of Africa, fractionally south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Temperatures vary considerably between locations depending on their altitude, but very little from month to month in the same place. In the capital, Kigali, the average daily temperature is about 21°C.
- March to May – Rwanda’s long rainy season, when the rain is heavy and persistent.
- June to mid – September is the long dry season; this is generally the best time to visit if you have the choice.
- October to November – is a shorter rainy season and
- December to February – follows a short dry season
During both of Rwanda’s dry seasons, there is often light cloud cover. This helps to moderate the temperatures, but also occasionally brings light rain showers.
WHEN TO VISIT RWANDA
Holidays in Rwanda are possible all year, but the most popular times to travel are in the long dry season from June to September, and the shorter dry season around December to February. If you’re intending to track gorillas, you’ll need to plan your holiday well ahead to secure permits – especially around July to September. Rwanda’s main rainy season is from March to May, with shorter rains in October and November.
Understanding the seasons in Rwanda is an integral part of planning your travel;
Gorilla safaris, chimpanzee – primate treks, and terrestrial wildlife game viewing safari in the three reserves (Volcanoes National Park, Akagera National Park, and Nyungwe National Park) are typically undertaken during the dry seasons to avoid muddy excursions, mostly on foot. Adventure-seeking guests who don’t mind the rain might opt to plan their trips in northwestern Rwanda during the wet season to visit the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit Volcanoes National Park. The gorillas are likely to remain in the lower altitudes during the wet season, as it is warmer there compared to being in the higher altitude. Food is more readily available, so they may not wander too far and you could spot the gorilla family assigned to you after a short trek of 30 minutes to an hour or two.
The forests have an incredible, Eden-like lushness in the wet season, with fresh vegetation and a riot of flowers. You could spot some of the gorgeous butterfly species and rare orchids that Nyungwe National Park is famous for. As with gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, trekking and viewing chimpanzees of Nyungwe Forest in the wet seasons takes less time too as they prefer lower altitudes too; though, much muddier with higher level of stamina required. You might also find that holidaying in this season is more economical, since some hotels, lodges and camps offer seasonal discounts on room rates to attract visitors during Rwanda’s off-season.
In northeastern Rwanda, the vegetation is sparser in the dry seasons, and animals of Akagera National Park are likely to congregate around the few sources of water and foliage. Food is also scarcer, so spotting specific herbivores in search of grazing grounds is likely to take you less time. You might also witness a hyena, lion, or leopard hunt in progress — an incredible opportunity to watch predators stalk and catch their prey.
Traversing the Rwandan savannah or mountain trails is easier in the dry seasons, since there are less muddy trails, thinner thicket, and fewer bugs, such as mosquitoes. Explore the uninterrupted wilderness knowing that you will not have to worry about being drenched by continuous shower. The dry season is also ideal for spending time in the thriving, bustling city of Kigali or on the sandy beaches of Lake Kivu. Enjoy indulging in distinctive water activities, sunbathing, lazing on a lounger, or taking a cool dip in the lake waters. Vacationers like to end their safari adventures at Lake Kivu for some rest and relaxation before it is time to head home.
When planning your travel, you will find that the dry season coincides with the summer months in North America and Europe. Accordingly, you can choose to spend your family safari in Rwanda when school is out and the kids are on vacation. The latter two weeks of December is the time for the cold winter season and festivities up northern hemisphere. If you would like to spend the festive period on vacation in Africa (reasons to visit), it could prove to be the ideal choice; you can take a break from the bitter cold of the northern winter and bask in the sunshine of the south.
No matter which season you choose to visit, you will no doubt find diverse activities to take part in and enjoy the warm hospitality and friendliness of the Rwandese, who typically go out of their way to make you feel welcome and at home
TRAVELLING AROUND RWANDA
With 4WD vehicle and driver, travelling in Rwanda is fairly easy. Although major arterial routes are tarred, roads in the more rural areas are not and can be in poor condition.
Flights (International) are taking to Nairobi and connect via local airlines or road to Rwanda, Kigali.
Although there are some excellent hotels, Rwanda’s facilities can sometimes be basic; service and food can be poor, as many staffs are new to tourism. However, to glimpse the heart of contemporary Africa, for some wonderful wildlife viewing and inspiring, thought-provoking travel, a holiday in Rwanda can be fascinating.
MALARIA & VACCINATIONS
The information on this page is just a brief, general guide and should not be used in replacement of a consultation with your travel doctor. The government organizations and travel clinics below are trusted resources for complete and up-to-date info about travelers’ health in Kenya.
· Malaria Risk
Most safari parks and the rainforests are high-risk zones. The highest risk of transition is during the rainy seasons.
RWANDA SAFETY & SECURITY
Today, Rwanda has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. It has more women in Parliament than any other country in the world (64% at the time of writing) and is one of the friendliest, safest countries on the continent. Yet for most people, it inevitably conjures up images of the dreadful genocide of 1994, when almost a million people died. Whilst the genocide is a massive part of its history, over twenty years on Rwanda has evolved into a united, proud and optimistic country that warmly welcomes its visitors and provides a truly memorable and inspiring holiday.