A Guide to the Ultimate Gorilla Safari in Rwanda

A Guide to the Ultimate Gorilla Safari in Rwanda

A Guide to the Best Gorilla Safaris in Rwanda...

Rwanda is a small, landlocked country west of Tanzania in East Africa. Known as the “land of a thousand hills”, Rwanda is mostly hilly and mountainous, with vast landscapes and wide open vistas. What makes Rwanda a beloved safari destination is the incredible wildlife that call these natural spaces home. Did you know that Rwanda is home to more than a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas?

In this blog, we’ll discuss why you should make Rwanda your next safari destination, which parks to visit and where you should stay. This unforgettable destination captures the hearts of all who know it, and we’re confident you’ll love Rwanda as much as we do.

With more than a third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas inhabiting Rwanda, it is the ultimate primate safari destination. These fascinating animals live high in the Virunga Mountains in Volcanoes National Park, an iconic reserve that is easily accessed from the capital of Kigali.

Another reason we highly recommend gorilla trekking in Rwanda is because of all the amazing conservation work the money spent on Rwandan gorilla permits goes toward! Rwanda is at the forefront of conservation, with money from the popular permits going to protecting lesser known wild spaces in the country. One such place is Akagera National Park. More on this later.

Gorilla tracking in Rwanda offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. There are about 10 habituated gorilla families in Rwanda, all located in Volcanoes National Park. When a family is habituated, it means that the gorillas are used to having human visitors and are happy for people to spend some time observing them.

The experience involves embarking on a trek through lush rainforests, guided by experienced trackers and park rangers. It is exhilarating to traverse the same rugged terrain these great apes do. Upon encountering a gorilla group, travelers are treated to an unforgettable experience – observing these gentle giants as they go about their daily activities, including feeding, playing, and caring for their young.

Interactions with gorillas have very strict guidelines that are essential for the safety of both the humans and the apes. These guidelines include the following:

  • Wearing masks (our germs can easily be passed on to the gorillas who do not have the same immune tolerance we do)
  • Maintaining a respectful distance
  • Minimizing noise

Permits are required for gorilla tracking, and it’s important to book well in advance because of limited availability. This is because each family is only allowed to have one set of visitors for one hour a day. But the effort and the cost is well worth it!

Although the gorillas are what makes Rwanda famous, the country is also home to a wide variety of other wildlife we definitely recommend seeking out if you have the time!

Golden Monkeys can be found in the bamboo forests of Volcanoes National Park. These playful primates are fascinating to spend some time with. We highly recommend doing a guided trek in search for these unusual animals as well as your gorilla trek while in Volcanoes National Park.

You’ll find large populations of chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National Park in southern Rwanda. They are not always easy to see because they enjoy spending time high in the treetops though.

Colobus monkeys are also found in Nyungwe Forest National Park. These funny looking animals are the most arboreal (spend the most time in trees) of all African monkeys, and are a unique addition to any Rwanda safari.

At this point you’re probably wondering if Rwanda is home to any wildlife other than primates, and the answer is yes! Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is made up primarily of wetlands and savanna, and is home to a variety of more traditional safari animals, including lions, elephants, rhino and more.

While most people are familiar only with Rwanda’s famous Volcanoes National Park and the Mountain gorillas that call it home, this beautiful country has so much more to offer!

Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s treasure and located about two hours away from the capital of Kigali. It is Rwanda’s top tourist destination with people from around the world coming to visit the gorillas that call the slopes of these extinct volcanoes home.

Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe National Park is located in the southern corner of Rwanda and is a densely forested region. It is home to colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. The park has several trails leading through the forests to waterfalls and rivers, and is perfect for travellers wishing to venture out on foot. There is even a canopy walkway where visitors can get into the treetops for a bird’s eye view of the forest below.

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s largest lake and the 6th largest in Africa, is located an hour away from Volcanoes National Park, and forms part of the border between Rwanda and the DRC. It’s a great spot to catch your breath after the thrill of gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park.

The beautiful lake is surrounded by mountains and has deep, emerald green waters. There’s a variety of resort towns on the lake’s shoreline, offering accommodation to suit all preferences and budgets.

Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park can be found in eastern Rwanda on the border of Tanzania. It is the largest protected wetland in central Africa and the only place in Rwanda where visitors can hope to see savanna adapted animals. The parks is characterised by woodland, swamps, low mountains and savanna.

Akagera is one of Rwanda’s conservation success stories. The park was once overrun with large numbers of cattle and filled with poachers, but this has been eliminated and animals have steadily been reintroduced to the area. The park is now home to healthy populations of lions, black and white rhino, elephants, giraffes and more.

This beautiful park is well worth a visit and in doing so, travellers support the local communities who rely on the park’s tourism efforts to make an income.

Kigali

Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, is a clean, thriving city and is a great place to explore either at the beginning or end of your gorilla safari to Rwanda. While visiting Kigali, we highly recommend visiting the Rwandan Genocide Memorial. This museum highlights the atrocities that took place in the country during the 1990’s. It is a very moving experience and will give you a good understanding of what happened.

1. Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Volcanoes National Park

Singita Kwitonda is an exceptional property nestled in the lush foothills of the Virunga Mountains. It is right outside Volcanoes National Park, even sharing a 1.2km border with the park.

The luxurious lodge is made up of just eight suites and one villa, making it an exclusive and intimate accommodation option. Beyond its convenient location, the lodge boasts exquisite design elements, featuring locally-inspired architecture that blends modern elegance with authentic Rwandan charm.

Singita Kwitonda is the ideal base for Rwanda’s iconic gorilla trekking because of its prime location. But there’s lots more to do here. Head out with experienced guides in search of golden monkeys, or spend time getting to know the local community. Singita properties are known for their intentional and respectful community engagement, and we love that our guests have the opportunity to engage with the local people on a meaningful level here.

2. Bisate Lodge, Volcanoes National Park

The best way to describe Bisate Lodge is unique and enchanting. The property’s six villas are perched dramatically against the volcanic landscape. Each villa was designed with an homage to Rwandan royalty in mind – blending seamlessly into the into the surrounding environment.

Bisate Lodge’s commitment to sustainable tourism shines through in the many conservation and community projects it supports. As well as gorilla trekking, guests can get involved in reforestation efforts and activities with the local communities. Doing so allows you to get to know some of the amazing local cultures and people.

3. Singita Kataza House, Volcanoes National Park

For ultimate exclusivity in Volcanoes National Park, we love Singita Kataza House. This exclusive use homestead is perfect for families and groups of friends who want a space all to themselves. Kataza House exudes elegance and sophistication.

The spacious suites, private decks, and panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes create a beautiful base from which to explore the jungles and visit the fascinating gorillas who call it home. The villa’s intimate setting ensures personalized service and attention to detail, allowing guests to tailor their safari experience to their preferences.

4. Virunga Lodge, Volcanoes National Park

Virunga Lodge is another luxurious accommodation option for travelers wishing to experience gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. This haven is perched on top of a ridge with panoramic vistas of the Virunga Volcanoes and the scenic twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo. Virunga Lodge is a great choice for anyone interested in an authentic Rwandan safari experience.

Beyond gorilla trekking, guests can go in search of the park’s diverse wildlife, embark on cultural excursions to nearby villages, or simply unwind amidst the serene beauty of the surroundings. Virunga Lodge’s commitment to conservation and community development is evident in its sustainable practices and support for local initiatives, making it a beacon of responsible tourism in Rwanda. If you’d like to know more about this, read our interview with Volcanoes Safaris founder, Praveen Moman.

5. The Retreat, Kigali

We don’t always recommend time in the city during a safari, but when it comes to Rwanda, we love sending our guests to Kigali for a few nights. This beautiful, hilly city is relatively safe and offers a depth of insight into Rwanda’s culture and tumultuous history.

Our accommodation of choice in Kigali is The Retreat. This boutique hotel is tucked into a tranquil neighbourhood that provides easy access to some of Kigali’s main attractions. After a busy day exploring, guests can come back to spacious, elegant rooms and first class service.

The Retreat’s renowned restaurant offers farm-to-table dining experiences, where seasonal ingredients are sourced from the onsite organic garden and local producers. We highly recommend spending a few days here.

The best time to visit Rwanda is during the dry season from June to September and December to February. The temperature is mild, rainfall is minimal and the vegetation is less dense – making it easier to spot animals.

It’s worth noting that gorilla trekking permits can be in high demand during peak tourist seasons, so booking well in advance is recommended.

If you’re in love with the idea of experiencing a gorilla interaction or simply wish to explore this beautiful corner of East Africa, reach out to us. We love Rwanda, and we would love to plan a safari adventure that will make this incredible country as special to you as it is to us!