Rwanda Safari- all you need to know
A Rwanda safari will land you in one of the most beautiful countries in the world, known as the “land of a thousand hills” with a picturesque volcanic backdrop. Rwanda is packed with beautiful scenery, beautiful people and beautiful wildlife. This guide will give you all you need to know before embarking on a Rwanda safari of a lifetime.
What is a Rwandan safari and where in Rwanda can you go?
Rwanda is most notably famous for being home to over half the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas, it is therefore no surprise that many of the people embarking on a Rwanda safari do so to see the majestic gorillas and to spend one monumental hour of their life with these beautiful creatures. The most famous destination for a Rwandan safari is the Volcanoes National Park which is located in the north west of the country and is home to five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, namely Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo.
The second most popular park that people visit on a Rwandan safari is the Akagera National Park which is in eastern Rwanda, bordering Tanzania. The Akagera National Park has an array of wildlife including lions, zebra, giraffe, elephants and hundreds of bird species.
What is there to do during a Rwanda safari?
A Rwandan safari will have you partaking in any of the following activities that can be considered as the major wonders of Rwanda:
1.A Gorilla trek: people travel from all across the globe to get a glimpse of Africa’s reputable mountain gorillas, whether it be just a leg of their Rwandan safari, or whether it be their entire safari. A gorilla trek will have you travelling to the Volcanoes National Park where you will meet your guide and will be briefed on your designated gorilla group. The educated guides will brief you on how to behave around the gorillas, what to wear, how to speak, and will ultimately ensure that you have a cohesive and safe experience during your Rwanda safari. You will then track and follow this group of mountain gorillas and will get to spend one monumental hour with them, documenting them, photographing them, and watching the dramatic group dynamics at play. A Rwanda safari gorilla trek will cost anywhere around US$2000 (depending on preferences and amenities) and the park permits will cost US$1500 per person.
2. Rainforest trekking: Many people also choose to include a rainforest trek during their Rwandan safari and this is primarily done in the Nyungwe Forest National Park in the southeast of Rwanda. The Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to a vast array of wildlife including 20-25% of the total number of primates in Africa.
The park has gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, olive baboons, Rwenzori colobus, L’Hoest’s monkeys, the owl faced monkey, red tailed monkey, mangabey, silver monkey, vervet monkey and is also home to three species of bush baby. This guided trek through the Nyungwe Forest National Park will allow you to interact with the mischievous troops, while walking through a canopy of lush vegetation spotting over 310 recorded species of birds, including the red-collared babbler and the Great Blue and Ruwenzori Turacos.
The Nyungwe park is also renown for the canopy walkway which is a swaying bridge delicately placed 60 metres above the forest floor and is 90 metres long. The canopy bridge is a must see and will serve you some breath-taking views along your Rwanda safari. The entrance fee for the park is US$60 for foreign non-residents and $40 for foreign residents.
3. An Ecologist pilgrimage: During a Rwandan safari, many people choose to partake in an ecologist pilgrimage whereby they visit and pay their respects at the Karisoke Research Centre. The Karisoke Research Centre holds the burial site of activist and zoologist Dian Fossey. Dian Fossey was an American primatologist conservationist who was famous for her 1983 book “Gorillas in the Mist”.
Fossey was instrumental in her conservation efforts and took a strong stand against game wardens, zoo poachers and government officials who wanted to convert gorilla habitats to farmland. Dian Fossey was mysteriously murdered in 1985, presumably by poachers, at her Rwandan forest camp. Dian was buried at the Gorilla Cemetery at Karisoke next to one of her favourite gorillas, Digit, along with 20 other mountain gorillas who were killed by poachers. It is no surprise that this powerful piece of history is a must-see for all Rwanda safari goers.
4. Akagera National Park Savannah: The Akagera National Park is living proof of restitution and of fixing historical injustices. Rwanda suffered a devastating genocide in 1994 and the land was stripped of its resources as refugees cleared the land in search of livestock and safe dwelling.
Before 2015, the park was barren, lion had not been seen, and the black rhinos had been hunted to extinction. The park partnered with the Rwandan Development Board in 2010 and has overcome their history as an over-poached and resource depleted area to become one of Central Africa’s largest protected wetlands.
In 2015 the park seamlessly reintroduced lions to the territory and in 2017 they reintroduced black rhino. As of 2019 the park has lion, black rhino, hippos, sitatunga, zebra, giraffe, elephants and even leopard. All of which you could potentially see on a Rwanda safari in this park.
5. Tea time: While drinking tea may not seem like a regular activity during a Rwanda safari, tea is an enormous part of Rwanda’s history and since its arrival in 1952, has grown into one of the country’s largest exports. The subtropical climate and rich volcanic soil makes the country perfect for farming high quality and world renown teas, including black tea, white tea and green tea.
While Rwanda is full of tea plantations, the Nyungwe National Park is surrounded by tea plantations that you can visit where you will be able to experience each stage of the tea making process, while contributing to the local economic development. Many people choose to partake in a tea excursion following a primate walk in the park which would make it the perfect end to your Rwanda safari.
6. Visit Lake Kivu: Lake Kivu is the largest lake in Rwanda and covers 2700 squared kilometres, offering a vast amount of activities for tourists who are looking to potentially extend their Rwanda safari. At Lake Kivu you can partake in swimming, hiking and biking along the serene shores, kayaking on the tranquil water and also community orientated activities such as visiting the Imbabazi Orphanage which was founded by the late Rosamond Carr to care for the orphans of the 1994 genocide. Carr was also friends with the Dian Fossey.
What animals can you see during a Rwanda safari?
Rwanda is home to a variety of different habitats which makes it the perfect home for diverse ecosystems where you could potentially see mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, other primates, giraffes, elephant, white rhino, black rhino, wildebeest, zebra, hippo, lion, cheetah, leopard and many bird species. All of these you could see during a Rwanda safari but if you would like to do a chimpanzee trek then it would be best to go during the wet season (February to October).
What accommodation options are there for a Rwanda safari?
During a Rwandan safari it is important to be realistic about your accommodation preferences and your budget. Accommodation in Rwanda can be separated into two categories with the first being formal hotels in the capital city of Kigali, and the second being safari lodges and tented camps. The most popular safari accommodation is in the Volcanoes National Park and ranges from budget to four-star. All of the accommodation options are clean and inviting and offer great service, great food and breath-taking views.
If you are looking to cut costs but still get great service, you could stay in the Kigali Serena Hotel which costs approximately US$200 per person per night. There are also other options available such as the Volcanoes Virunga Lodge (US$600 per person sharing), Sabyinyo Silverback lodge (US$1000 per person sharing) or the Ruzizi Tented Lodge (US$1000 per person sharing). It is important to plan and book in advance, if you know that you would like to do a gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park, then be sure to book accommodation within the park or just outside so that you don’t have to spend hours travelling each day.
What are the costs involved with a Rwanda safari?
A Rwandan safari is customizable in the sense that you can choose specifically what you would like to do and where you would like to stay. There are however package options that will give you an estimate of costs:
• A one day big five and big cat tour in Akagera National Park: this is a short one day tour which makes it the perfect end to your Rwandan safari and you will be able to explore the park in an airconditioned 4×4 while looking out for lions and other game. This tour which includes lunch and all fees costs US$278.
• A one day gorilla tour: This tour is situated in Volcanoes National Park and offers you the magical chance to track a group of gorillas and to see them feeding, tending to their babies and squabbling amongst themselves. This tour includes a professional guide, lunch and transport and will cost minimum US$500.
• A six day Rwanda tour: a six day Rwanda tour will give you an all inclusive experience of a lifetime with day 1: transfer to Nyungwe, day 2: canopy walkway adventure and transfer to Rubavu, day 3: full day in Rubavu city and on Lake Kivu, day 4: full day mountain gorilla trekking, day 5: visit to Iby’lwacu cultural visit and transfer to Akagera National Park, day 6: Full day Akagera National Park game drive. This all inclusive six day adventure will cost approximately US$5500.
Is a Rwanda safari safe?
Safety is an important consideration for most people embarking on Rwandan safari and one needs to be mindful of the rules within the country itself and of the rules within the various parks. While a day out on Lake Kivu or a game drive through the Akagera National Park may not have too many safety requirements, if you are planning on embarking on a gorilla trek in the Volcanoes National Park then there are a few safety rules that need to be considered and adhered to. The educated and trained guide will inform you at the briefing centre and will let you know that you must keep a distance of at least seven metres, must not trek when you are sick, must keep within your group, avoid direct eye contact and remain calm at all times, and also dress appropriately for the jungle in comfortable hiking boots and long pants.