On this trip, we were in Rwanda for only a few days to see the mountain gorillas and focused most of our time at Volcanoes National Park.
Next trip, we hope to visit the Nyungwe National Park, Lake Kivu, the twin lakes Bulera & Ruhondo, go on some hikes and see the golden monkeys!
Sharing our highlights with Amaharo Tours along with our itinerary below.
72 Hours in Rwanda
DAY 1: ARRIVE KIGALI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT + DEPART FOR RUHENGERI
We arrived to Kigali International Airport and met Babazi, our Amahoro guide/driver. Our 2 hours drive was scenic with panoramic vistas along the way.
It took about 2 hours to reach Ruhengeri, the second largest town in Rwanda. We checked into the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge where we were greeted with smiles and warm towels, and sipped our welcome drink, a hot ginger tea, by the fireplace in the lobby. The friendly staff at the lodge escorted us to our beautiful chalet surrounded by lush vegetation. The setting of the eco lodge is spectacular with a stunning backdrop of five volcanic mountains called The Virungas.
DAY 2: GORILLA TRACKING + INTER-CULTURAL EXCHANGE
After an early breakfast, we checked in at the National Park Headquarters to meet our guides. We attended the gorilla tracking briefing with our guides and rangers. Only 96 permits are granted each day, and trekkers are divided up into small groups and assigned a guide.
The population of mountain gorillas in Rwanda are increasing and many believe its because there are successful conservation programs in place with a limited number of permits granted per day to see these massive primates. Less than 700 mountain gorillas are living today. The Rwandan Government, sponsors, programs and tour operators are the main reason for the conservation efforts to protect this species.
As we embarked on our tracking adventure to see mountain gorillas, we were filled with anticipation as we trekked through the lowlands of the volcanoes park, closely following our guide. After trekking for an hour, we entered a bamboo forest and our guide and rangers started to use their machetes to cut down bamboo and open up a small pathway for us. With every step we walked into thicker vegetation and our hearts pounded as we got closer and closer to see the family of mountain gorillas.
The rangers signaled to our guide that the gorillas were around the corner and we were told to walk very quietly and stay close behind our lead guide. We turned a corner and met the first primates of our gorilla family – the Muhoza Gorilla Family.
It was an incredible moment to get within a few feet of this family of about 14 gorillas. We watched as the mother and baby gorilla sat in the middle of the forest eating leaves and grooming each other. The silverback grunted and screeched, bore his fangs and beat his chest, while the baby gorillas imitated him. The female gorillas stayed together and disciplined their playful young, while others laid in the grass and napped. Our hour zoomed by as we observed every move these gorillas made, and followed their family through the forest.
Our hour flew and we felt it was one of the most breath-taking wildlife experiences on earth! You get so close to these awesome giant primates. You stare at each other blankly not knowing who to break the long silence first.
Tracking the gorillas through the light mountain forest on the slopes of the Virunga truly is a magical experience.
TIP! Trekking may be strenuous up steep ravines, navigating your way through jungle terrain and can lasts up to six hours or longer at a relatively high altitude. It helps if you’re fit and healthy. Be sure to mention to your tour guide if you prefer to trek on the shorter route since there are a few options for trekkers. Also, some trekkers reserve permits for more than 1 day since there are no guaranteed sightings of the gorilla families.
Good to note: bring good hiking boots, long trousers, gaiters to prevent army ants from crawling into your pants; gloves for protection against stinging nettles, some snacks & sweets (for you, not the gorillas) as well as sufficient water as the rain forest gets hot and humid during the day.
Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center: In the afternoon we stopped at Red Rocks and met Harriet, Founder of Red Rocks. She is a trailblazer and has created a path to support local women to sustain themselves and their families with developing their skills, building their self-esteem, with a network of support.
Harriet studied in the USA and returned to her home country with a vision to bring success and happiness in Virunga area. She shared with us that the “Red Rocks initiatives were established from the idea that tourism and conservation has the power to lift disadvantaged people living around Virunga massif out of poverty and instill in them a sense of purpose and pride.” In just a few years, she’s led the way for several cooperatives in her native land.
We met a few of these women in these cooperatives and they greeted us in song and dance. They taught us how they weave the traditional Rwandan baskets, and we tried to learn a few words in each other’s languages and share a few things about our lives. Afterwards, we visited the boutique at Red Rocks and purchased some baskets made by women in the cooperative, where Harriet ensures proceeds go to the local women.
DAY 3: VISIT THE VOLCANOES AREA & MUSEUMS IN RUHENGERI & KIGALI
After breakfast, we checked out of our lodge and departed for a sight visit at Bisate Lodge, one of Wilderness Safaris most stunning lodges in Africa. There are only six en-suite forest villas with views of Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes, where legendary scientist Dr. Dian Fossey began her research of gorilla behavior. On our next trip, we hope to stay at this luxury lodge!
We made a stop at the local fabric stores before returning to Kigali. Rwandan women wear colorful fabrics with intricate designs, and we selected a few pieces of fabric to take home to make pillows, bags, dresses, etc.
TIP! If you stop at the fabric stores as soon as you arrive to town, you can arrange to have a local seamstress sew a dress, skirt, or pair of pants for you. Bring a photo of what you like to give the seamstress an idea of what you like and within 24-48 hours you will have a new outfit!
Before leaving Ruhengeri, we stopped at the Dr. Dian Fossey Museum where there are displays about gorillas and what Rwanda is doing to protect the mountain gorilla species. You can read Dian’s journals about the research that was conducted in 1967 to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. Her story is inspiring and you can see how her efforts have grown into conservation efforts for wildlife and programs for people who live near the gorillas.
We continued on to Kigali for a tour of the city. Dr. Richard Kandt, the first colonial resident governor of Rwanda, gave Kigali its name in 1907. This city is surrounded by lush hills of green and is referred to as — the land of a thousand hills. We visited the craft market for souvenirs and saw some of the city’s highlights.
One of our final stops included the memorial at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Museum. Our guide shared, “The memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. It’s a place for remembrance and learning.” We toured the museum and learned about the tragic events leading to the nation’s genocide.
We met Oliver, one of the survivors from the genocide, and heard his story about how he survived this genocide. He informed ways that he and many other survivors are making a difference today, to bring healing to their nation and help Rwandans move forward into a bright future. This visit was emotionally difficult, but also brought hope to how we can learn from these horrific events in history and join hands to ensure it never happens again.
Before heading to the airport, we went to a local restaurant to watch the sunset and views from the upstairs terrace at Repub Lounge and reflected on our incredible few days in Rwanda with our guide.
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Global Adventuress would like to thank Amaharo Tours for hosting our tour and stay in Rwanda.