A journey through majestic, unspoiled landscapes and incredible wildlife. This is one of Africa’s incomparable experiences that shows how diverse this breathtaking, wild continent is.
I’ve just had the most fantastic, life-changing experience in Rwanda which I’m excited to tell you about. I’ll be going again in June 2023 – join me on this bucket-list trip to see gorillas in pristine indigenous forests, families of playful chimpanzees and other endangered primates while staying in world-class, luxury accommodation.
Kigali: The friendly capital
I started my remarkable East Africa primate experience in the delightfully vibrant city of Kigali, the entry to Rwanda. I felt this to be one of the safest and friendliest of all the African capitals I’ve visited. This hilly city is blessed with a comfy, high-altitude climate. It has about 1 million people who live in peace. I felt that the gentle people of Rwanda were delighted to welcome me to their beautiful home.
Interesting site-seeing in Kigali: Kigali city is surrounded by green, lush rolling hills. On the tour through the city, we visited the Hotel de Mille Colline. You’ll remember it as ‘Hotel Rwanda’ in the famous movie of the same name. From here we went to the city center, the commercial quarter and then we visited the Kigali Museum where we learnt about the history of city. Next stop, a visit to the old Kigali and the Muslim quarter, all very vibrant and interesting sites to visit.
We continued on to the genocide memorial site, a grim but important reminder of a senseless massacre of innocent lives in 1994. I learned about Rwanda’s history from pre-colonial times to the 1994 genocide and how Rwanda has dealt with that past. Then onto happy, new developments in Rwanda. The country’s recovery has been INCREDIBLE, a testament to humankind’s resilience and the kindness of a people who want to live in harmony and be as progressive as any other country!
Gorilla trekking and endangered primates
Gorillas: the pinnacle. This was a life changer for me. I had forgotten just how incredible it is to experience one’s first elephant (we have so many in Victoria Falls!) or a whale in the ocean (I’ve been going to Mozambique for years!) and the pinnacle ‘giant’ species of animals that I take for granted sometimes… not ever again!
We started at the Kinigi Ranger Station where we were allocated guides and briefed before heading into the forest. Now, if you are good at hiking and sure-footed there are experienced groups, intermediate for those of medium fitness and then beginners, where you take it slow. I had an EIGHTY-TWO-year-old woman in my group, so we had porters and a slower group… she did it all!
We tracked one of the ten habituated gorilla families in Rwanda. It was great to have experienced rangers taking us through the indigenous forest. The pristine forest itself is an incredible experience. The friendly porters were there to help (for the elderly or anyone struggling with the hike) and there were only eight tourists going to each gorilla group. We hiked for about three hours searching for these great apes, their territory can range up to 40km, so they can take a while to find.
The park rangers and guides cleared the way through the forest. Then the guides said they’d located the gorillas, we heard a drumming sound as a gorilla beat its chest in the distance, it was so exciting knowing we were about to see them. And then, there they were… amazing.
We spent a magical hour with them as they fed, rested and played. Baby gorillas came right up to us, a huge silverback male curiously looked at us … a mum brushed past me with a tiny baby. It was literally life changing.
Sitting with the mountain gorilla was one of the most amazing wildlife experiences I have ever had.
A dominant male silverback can weigh over 200 kilos and is the largest living primate. His females care for their young with affection and playfulness but also with discipline. They are very curious, and are capable of making over 25 different sounds, including chuckling and purring. Communication also includes posturing, chest-beating and if all else fails – the charge (!) which thankfully we did not experience. As they are used to humans and the guides know them so well, it is actually very safe. The privilege of spending an hour with this family group is an experience that will never leave you. After your hour is up, you wind your way slowly out of the forest and back to the camp to swap stories about your astonishing experience.
Chimpanzee Trek: A superb addition to the primate experience!
After another early breakfast, we drove to the Nyungwe National Park to start our chimpanzee trek. There two species of chimpanzee in Africa, the Bonobo and the Common Chimpanzee Pan troglodytes (often shortened to Chimpanzee, and sometimes called the Robust Chimpanzee). The largest remaining populations are in central Africa (in Gabon, the DRC Congo and Cameroon). With only about 400 chimps in Rwanda, the population is endangered.
Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East and Central Africa and is incredibly rich in biodiversity. As I said before, the pristine forests are a spectacular experience in itself. The chimps were fabulous to watch as they played and groomed each other. They are so human-like it’s uncanny. Hearing the shouts of the chimpanzee group as you approach is so exciting and a little bit nerve-racking. When you see them, they are a very lively, curious and full of fun, what an experience!
Next, the Colobus Monkey trekking
The most famous primate in the Nyungwe National Park is the Ruwenzori colobus a sub-species of the wide-spread Angola colobus which lives in the Albertine Rift. The Ruwenzori colobus is extremely arboreal and an acrobatic leaf-eater. It differs from the other primates in this forest because of its contrasting black coat and snow-white whiskers, shoulders and tail-tip. It was lots of fun to watching these monkeys leaping from tree to tree, screaming at each other (hopefully not at us).
The birdlife in these rainforests is also incredible, colourful and diverse. It’s easy to find an expert birding guide to enhance the experience. I would suggest heading out on a late afternoon birding walk with a private birding guide.
All-in-all a trip to Rwanda is as diverse as you’d like to make it.
Incredible sightings of some of the rarest and most enchanting creatures on earth. There are less than 2000 mountain gorillas left, so it’s an expensive but bucket-list exercise. A once-in-a-lifetime, though, saying that – I’ll be heading back to the jungles and luxuries of the amazing One and Only and Singita properties in June 2023 as my guests wish to do this with me again! How can I say no!?! Anyone else keen to join me…? It will be a one of your life’s most amazing experiences, I promise you that.
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