Rwanda: Luxury & Private Safaris
Rwanda is a lush green country known as the “land of a thousand hills.” Life bursts from the seams here and you get the feeling you could drop a seed and watch it sprout from where it fell, full of natural energy and vitality. Comprised of mountains, hills, rainforests, twisting roads and rural villages, this once war-ravaged land is a small, but densely populated country and home to one of the most incredible animals one could encounter, the mountain gorilla.
While Rwanda has traditionally not been thought of as a classic Big 5 safari destination, it’s four national parks are inhabited by an abundance of animals and birdlife. Akagera offers a robust big game experience in a gorgeous lakeside setting, while Nyungwe and Gishwati will round out primate viewing with the challenge of trekking chimpanzees. The once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking experience is the main reason for visiting Rwanda, but the friendly locals, interesting villages, good hiking, and stunning scenery make creates a uniquely diverse experience. Rwanda is a destination for active, engaged travelers, happy to pay for the exclusive privilege of observing the great apes in their natural habitat. With it’s easy access to the rest of Africa, Rwanda can be a good add-on to a traditional safari or can be a stand alone destination for a shorter stint to Africa.
A Rwanda safari is an excellent destination for photographers. There is something about Rwanda’s humidity and lighting that brings a mystical quality to your photos and you leave with impressive proof of your time in the forests.
In recent years, Rwanda has adopted a tourism model with a focus on high end tourism to support conservation and communities. Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park was a pioneer in bringing the luxury safari lodge concept to Rwanda and has now been joined by several other truly exceptional lodges across the region as well as in other parks.
Rwanda offers world class service and accommodation standards, with the accompanying price tag. That being said, with this destination you may be paying a premium for beautiful lodges, and exclusive, unique experiences, but it’s also important to keep in perspective that you’ll also be contributing to significant conservation efforts.
Secrets and Tips from our Experts
- Volcanoes National Park is 3 hours from Kigali on excellent roads, and the advent of helicopter transfers between regions can really allow full access to this country in under a week.
- Serious photographers should do two hikes, one to take pictures and one to enjoy just the gorillas.
- The genocide memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama are moving additions to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre.
- Think of the $1,500 gorilla permit fee as a donation to conservation.
- If you have the time, spending a day experiencing a local village will be a positive, enlightening experience you’ll never forget.
Is Rwanda the right destination for you?
Rwanda is a terrific destination for those who are eager to see primates; the most popular being the gorillas, chimpanzees, and golden monkeys. With favorite activities including hiking and trekking through the forest looking for apes, this country is suited for active travelers.
Rwanda is densely populated but very safe, making it the perfect place for travelers who want to interact with local people. Engaging with locals can be one of the most rewarding aspects of visiting Rwanda and something we highly recommend.
Travelers should know that Rwanda’s tourism board is focused on growing accommodations and experiences at an exclusive level to maximize the countries small footprint and bring in sustainable tourism revenue with minimal impact on wildlife and communities.
Rwanda can stand on it’s own, but traditionally it’s been an add-on to a longer traditional safari. Kigali is easily accessed from East and Southern Africa and as the country is relatively small, you don’t have huge distances to travel to make a visit worthwhile.
When to visit Rwanda?
Rwanda is truly a year round destination. The ideal time to visit is during the dry seasons of June to mid-September or December to February. The dry season has light cloud coverage which helps to regulate the temperatures, although you may experience some rain. March to May is Rwanda’s long rainy season which can make for a wet gorilla trek, however rain is always a possibility, regardless of season, while trekking in Volcanoes or Nyungwe.
How much should I budget for a trip to Rwanda?
Rwanda: Luxury & Private Safaris
Rwanda is not a budget destination, as accommodation options are much better for travelers using the luxury lodge options. For those on a budget they still must pay $1,500 per person per gorilla trek which sets a certain minimum cost for any Rwanda itinerary that includes the gorillas. Transportation within Rwanda is also more costly than some other nearby countries, and luxury lodges may charge upwards of $1,500 per person per night for their excellent service, dining, locations and accommodation.
Our favorite areas
Visiting the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is the highlight of any trip to Rwanda. We also really like the cultural experiences in Kigali and recommend at least one night there. It is a safe, vibrant city and the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center is quite moving and worth a visit. For clients who want to spend longer in Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest National Park and Akagera National Park each provide a dramatic contrast to Volcanoes National Park and allow travelers to get a broader sense of the landscape and enjoy more diverse safari wildlife experiences.
What else should I know before planning a safari to Rwanda?
- Rwanda: Hikers Paradise: The highlight of a visit to Rwanda is viewing the gorillas, but you to achieve this you’ll need to hike between 1 – 5 hours through often steep terrain to access them. This would not be suitable for those uncomfortable with that level of activity, or who don’t enjoy being outdoors.
- Rwanda: Luxury & Private Safaris: Rwanda is not a classic Big 5 safari destination. If you are looking for a longer traditional safari, head to Kenya or Tanzania. From either country you can easily add gorilla trekking in Rwanda to your itinerary. In Rwanda there is an excellent traditional safari experience possible in the small, but excellent Akagera NP.
- Rwanda: Gorilla Treks: For travelers headed gorilla trekking, we recommend two gorilla treks to get the most from this incredible experience.
Ways to experience Rwanda
Rwanda is best experienced with your local guide through active trekking and hiking. The mountains and hills of this beautiful country are best discovered on foot as you explore the bamboo and rainforests, overlook volcanic mountains, and visit the crater lakes at the apex of a hike. The country is also very well-known for road biking.
Gorilla and chimpanzee trekking and visiting the golden monkeys require hikes deep into the primates’ forest where you’ll spend an hour observing the habituated primate family in their natural environment.
Cultural experiences can be enjoyed in cosmopolitan Kigali, or in the remote areas of Rwanda in small villages with a local guide where you will come across the friendly locals, eager to engage in a cultural exchange.
Wildlife you will see
Rwanda is not a standard Big 5 safari destination and travelers visit the country mainly for its primates. Volcanoes National Park, home to 40% of the world’s mountain gorillas, is the prime location for gorilla trekking. The Volcanoes National Park also has golden monkeys, forest elephants, buffalo, hogs, and a number of bird species.
Nyungwe Forest and is inhabited by chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, mangabey, and numerous bird species. The tiny jewel of Gishwati NP is home to chimpanzees and bird life.
Akagera is the closest to a traditional game experience, thanks to its diverse landscape focused around a massive lake. With the addition of the excellent Magashi Tented Camp you’ll have the chance of seeing buffalo, elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, a variety of antelope including roan and a wide array bird species in the park.
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