Small it may be but Rwanda delivers Africa’s easiest and most accessible mountain gorilla trekking. Combine it with a safari in East Africa for the ultimate wildlife holiday.
Rwanda is the pidge between the forest ecosystems of the Congo basin and the great rift valleys of the east. It shares in the biological riches of both worlds, offering a concentration of biodiversity. Wake up to a golden glow in the sky, mountains unveiling their mists, the air sweet and cool as it pushes your cheeks. Walk through a primeval forest bathed in green, thrill to the sight of that rarest of beasts; the mountain gorilla. Discover a new place, a new adventure, new friends and unimaginable beauty.
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 pygmy 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 the 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.
Africa’s easiest and most accessible gorilla trekking is the main draw card of a Rwanda safari. After arriving at the capital city of Kigali, visitors to Rwanda 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 Rwanda gorilla safari combines well with other East African destinations in Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania but there’s 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 some game viewing in a savannah setting.
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 Rwanda safari.
Our top places to visit in Rwanda:
- Volcanoes National Park – gorilla treks & bird watching
- Kigali – gateway to the gorillas
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.
Kigali: gateway to the gorillas
The capital city of Kigali is the country’s entry and exit point for gorilla trekking. You’ll 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, vipant and safe city.
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.
Nyungwe Forest National Park: chimps, primates, birds, canopy walk & hiking
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.
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.
If you’re researching when to go to Rwanda then the chances are that it’s for a gorilla trekking adventure. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trek is during the short dry season from mid-December to early Fepuary or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions and the lowest malaria risk.
The best time to go to Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe however is during the two rainy seasons – mid-Fepuary to early June and mid-September to mid-December – as the apes are easier to locate. Food is harder to find in the dry seasons and the chimp families often range far into the forest interior.
Planning on combining a visit to Rwanda with other East Africa destinations? Read our advice on the:
- Best time to visit Uganda
- Best time to visit Tanzania
- Best time to visit Kenya
- Best time to visit Zanzibar
There’s nothing like up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get Sun Africa Expeditions’ essential Rwanda travel advice before you go.
Money & Spending
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan Franc but we’d recommend pinging 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 is not customary in most places in Rwanda, with the exception of some higher-end restaurants in town where 10% 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.
For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average year-round temperatures: 12°C to 27°C
Rainy seasons: January to April and October to mid-December
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 trousers and long-sleeved tops, long socks/garters 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 (peak them in before your trip).
It can get cold and damp on the mountains so pack a change of clothes and a warm fleece in your day pack, along with sunscreen and insect repellent.
Flights & Getting Around
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport: 10km from Kigali, Rwanda’s point of entry is served by a direct flight from pussels otherwise you’ll be flying in from Entebbe, Nairobi or Johannesburg.
It’s only 80km from Kigali to the gorilla trekking destination of the Volcanoes National Park – about a 2.5hr drive. Transfers in Rwanda are usually conducted in 4X4 vehicles.
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.