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Rwanda

Choosing which time of year to see the Great Wildebeest Migration is made easy with this safari.

Rwanda Safari

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:

Volcanoes National Park - gorilla treks & bird watching

Kigali - gateway to the gorillas

Lake Kivu - part of Africa’s series of Great Lakes and offers an idyllic shoreside interlude - before or after gorilla trekking – in the quaint town of Gisenyi. Spend your days boating, kayaking and unwinding as you soak up the sun.

What travellers most enjoyed about Rwanda


Best Time to Visit Kenya

The Masai Mara is where to go in Kenya for the dramatic wildebeest migration but there's a great deal more to this East African country. Other classic big game destinations such as Amboseli and Tsavo are easily accessible as is the recently opened-up Laikipia Plateau region. And after the drama of a Kenya safari, what could be better than a few lazy days on a white-sand beach? Kenya's tropical coast offers everything from buzzing resorts to exclusive island hideaways making the country ideal for safari and beach vacations.

Where to Go in Rwanda

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.

Kigali: gateway to the gorillas

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.


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Volcanoes National Park: gorillas treks & bird watching

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.


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Nyungwe Forest National Park: chimps, primates & birds

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.


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Akagera National Park: savannah game viewing

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.


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Lake Kivu

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.


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Rwanda Travel Advice

Up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts - get True Lion King Safari's essential Rwanda travel advice before you go.

For practical advice and what to expect on gorilla trekking from those who have been, read our expert blog on 'Gorilla Trekking 101'.

Money & Spending

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

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.

Climate

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.

What to Pack

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:

  • Avoid wearing strong fragrances as animals have an acute sense of smell and may retreat from unfamiliar scents.
  • Dress in the colours of nature ie browns and greens. Animals are aware of contrast and bright colours, white and strong patterns create the highest contrast against the forest background, once again making game keep their distance.
  • Do not wear black or blue as these colours seem to attract tsetse flies and other bugs.
  • Ensure your bug spray is environmentally friendly.
  • If you can, bring extra stationery, toys or footballs for the village children. Read our useful blog on Easy Ways to 'Give Back' on your African Vacation here.
  • Consult your doctor or travel clinic about vaccinations and medication to help you cope with the altitude, if necessary. Many of the country's roads are very 'twisty' or windy, so consider bringing anti-motion sickness medication if you get car sick.

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.

Visa & Passport Requirements

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.

Gorilla-trekking Permits

A gorilla-trekking permit is essential. It is important to note that children under 15 are not permitted on gorilla treks.

 

About Rwanda

History & Economy

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.

People & Culture

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.

Landscape & Wildlife

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.


Best Rwanda Tours & Safaris

Nearly all of Rwanda's tours and safaris revolve around gorilla trekking in the fabled Volcanoes National Park but because of the country's close geographical and ecological ties with neighbouring Uganda, many of Rwanda's tours encompass aspects of both countries.

Rwanda is not just all about tracking mountain gorillas; other great wildlife destinations such as the primate-packed Nyungwe Forest National Park offer fantastic chimpanzee and birding safaris that combine well with a Volcanoes National Park gorilla trek. In addition, Lake Kivu and Akagera National Park offer everything from beautiful views, excellent hiking and spectacular canopy tours to Big 5 game drives (all of the Big 5 are slowly being reintroduced to Akagera).

Our selection of top Rwanda tours and safaris also include combinations with some of Tanzania and Kenya's most popular destinations: why not combine a Rwanda gorilla trek with the Masai Mara, Serengeti or even the Spice Island of Zanzibar?

Best Gorilla & Chimp Trekking Tours & Safaris

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Tours & Safari

9 Days Rwanda Birding & Gorilla Trekking Safari

Top Reason To Visit: Takes you to Akagera national park with over 525 bird species,

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$500

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8 Days Low Land & Mountain Gorillas

Top Reason To Visit: This is a chance to explore the wildlife in DR Congo and Rwanda

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$500

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6 Days Gorilla & Chimpanzee Rwanda Safari

Top Reason To Visit: Gorilla and Chimpanzee tracking safari in Rwanda is a flawless

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$500

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Tours & Safari

6 Days Bird Watching & Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Top Reason To Visit: This safari will take you for birding in Nyungwe national park

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$500

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Tours & Safari

5 Days Rwanda Cultural Tour

Top Reason To Visit: The remarkable recovery from the 1994 Genocide

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$500

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Tours & Safari

8 Days Rwanda & Uganda Gorilla Adventure

Top Reason To Visit: This this trip gives you a shorter drive time while giving you a feel

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$500

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Tours & Safari

4 Days Rwanda Gorilla & Safari

Top Reason To Visit: This gorilla safari to Rwanda gives you a chance to go

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$500

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Tours & Safari

4 Days Rwanda Bird Watching Safari

Top Reason To Visit: This birding safari will give you a chance to explore Rwanda

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$500

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Tours & Safari

6 Days Safari in Nyungwe & Lake kivu

Top Reason To Visit: This tour enables you to visit great destinations in Rwanda

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$500

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Tours & Safari

3days-nyungwe-primates-safari

Top Reason To Visit: Gorilla trekking Rwanda tour and safari is for those

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$500

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Tours & Safari

2 Days Rwanda Gorilla Trekking

Top Reason To Visit: This fly in Safari allows you one gorilla trek and time for

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$500

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Tours & Safari

5 Day Rwanda Gorillas & Nyungwe Forest

Top Reason To Visit: Gorilla Tracking Rwanda safari will take you to Rwanda to tour a

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$500

Best Rwanda Accommodation

Accommodation in Rwanda generally falls into two types: hotels in the capital Kigali, and safari lodges and tented camps situated in Rwanda’s parks and reserves, the most popular of which is of course the Volcanoes National Park. Accommodation here provides the ideal base from which to go gorilla trekking - expect clean and comfortable lodges, good food, amazing forest views and plenty of adventure.

Our selection of top Rwanda accommodation includes luxury ranch-style lodges, affordable bush camps and stylish city hotels - ask one of our African Safari Experts for advice on choosing the right lodge or hotel for you.

Rwanda Travel articles

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Accomodation

Sayari Camp

Activities travellers enjoyed: 4x4 Drives Bird watching Bush dining Fine dining experience Full-day safaris Game drives .

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$1,475

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Tours & Safaris

The Highlands Ngorongoro

Activities travellers enjoyed: Cultural tours Game drives Hiking Guided walking safaris Local village visits .

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$425

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Tours & Safaris

Ngorongoro Crater Lodge

Activities travellers enjoyed: Bird watching Game drives Local village visits Picnics Private game-drives Scenic drives .

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$1,115