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 and villages, this once war-ravaged land is a small but highly populated country and home to one of the most incredible animals you will ever see, the mountain gorilla.

Rwanda is not a Big 5 safari destination, although the three national parks are inhabited by an abundance of animals and birds. It is a place for active travelers, happy to pay for the exclusive privilege of observing the great apes in their natural habitat. The once-in-a-lifetime gorilla trekking experience is the main reason for visiting Rwanda, but the friendly locals, interesting villages, good hiking, and beautiful scenery make it a great place for active travelers. And within easy access to the rest of Africa, Rwanda is a good add-on to a traditional safari.

This 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.

With the exception of Bisate Lodge in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda is rougher around the edges as a "tourist" destination. It won’t provide you with the sleek and sophisticated service and accommodation standards you expect elsewhere, and the available accommodation is often more expensive. That being said, with this destination you pay a premium for exlcusive, unique experiences and contribute to significant conservation efforts.

Secrets and Tips

  • Volcanoes National Park is 2.5 hours from Kigali on excellent roads.
  • 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 permit fee as a donation to conservation.

Good To Know

Trek with endangered mountain gorillas and learn Rwanda's history at the Genocide Memorial.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are our favorite areas in Rwanda?

Visiting the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is the highlight of any trip to Rwanda. We also really like Kigali and recommend at least one night there. It is a safe, vibrant city with good food 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 real sense of the landscape.

Who would like Rwanda?

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 being hiking volcanoes and trekking through the forest looking for apes, this country is suited for active travelers. You need to be fairly fit to make the most of the gorilla trekking and to access the beautiful landscapes.

Rwanda is densely populated but very safe, making it the perfect place for travelers who want to interact with local people.

Being fairly new to tourism, Rwanda doesn’t have much mid-level accommodation. There is plenty of budget backpacker-type accommodation and a very small handful of nicer and pricier properties, making Rwanda most suitable for guests willing to prioritize the experience of seeing the gorillas over luxury accommodation.

Rwanda is a good add-on to a longer safari for those travelers interested in including another country into their itinerary. 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 see the land.

Photographers will love Rwanda. The scenery and lighting make for some incredible photos, and there is plenty at which to point your camera lens.

Who wouldn't like Rwanda?

The highlight of a visit to Rwanda is viewing the gorillas, but you need to hike between 1 – 5 hours through often steep terrain to find them. This would not be suitable for those uncomfortable with that level of activity, or who don’t enjoy being outdoors.

Rwanda is not a classic Big 5 safari destination - you come to Rwanda to see the gorillas and other primates in their natural habitats. If you are looking for a traditional safari, head to Kenya or Tanzania. From either country you can easily add gorilla trekking in Rwanda to your itinerary.

For travelers going gorilla trekking, we recommend buying two permits and going twice to get the most from this incredible experience. However, each permit costs $750 but we like to view the permit cost as your contribution to gorilla conservation. Regardless, Rwanda is an expensive destination.

When is the best time to go?

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. But truthfully, rain is always an option regardless of season.

Is there a time you should avoid going?

Rwanda is a year-round destination, although the long rains from March to May can make for unpleasant hiking. 

How much should you budget for a safari to Rwanda?

Rwanda is not a budget destination. Although basic accommodation is available, travelers must pay $1,500 per person per gorilla trek which sets a certain minimum cost for any Rwanda itinerary that includes the gorillas. The limited luxury properties near Volcanoes National Park can cost upward of $800 per person per night.

What are some of the ways you can experience Rwanda?

Rwanda is best experienced 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.

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 families in their natural environment.

Cultural experiences can be enjoyed in Kigali, the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center being a noteworthy attraction. When walking through the remote areas of Rwanda, you will come across the friendly locals and get a feel for the people who live within its borders.

What animals will you 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 is inhabited by chimpanzees, colobus monkeys, mangabey, and numerous bird species.

Although Akagera is the closest to a traditional game experience, thanks to its diverse landscape, it doesn’t have rhino and lion. You can see elephant, buffalo, buck, and bird species in the park. 

Regions in Rwanda

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Have you started planning your safari on your own? Are you totally overwhelmed with all the information out there? Let us help you cut through all the conflicting information online and start planning a safari that is completely tailored to you. Get in touch with us and we can discuss your travel passions and help you begin the planning process for your dream safari.

Kim Green