Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible place to see Mountain gorillas, as the park is only a two-hour drive from the capital of Kigali. This park in the majestic Virunga Mountains was created with the express aim of protecting these critically endangered primates. Comprising a chain of mostly extinct volcanoes covered by rainforest, the park runs along the border with Uganda and the DRC.
The survival of Rwanda’s Mountain gorillas was ensured by the heroic work of Dian Fossey, a researcher who dedicated her life to these magnificent creatures and is buried at her research centre. The gorillas are located within a relatively small area where they can be tracked on foot. You need to be reasonably fit as you may need to walk two to four hours to find them.
Coming face to face with a gorilla troop, presided over by the dominant Silverback male, is without doubt one of the most moving wildlife experiences of all time, and tourism directly contributes to their survival. You must be over 16 and it’s important not to trek if you have a cold or other infectious illness, as the gorillas have little immunity to human germs. Make sure you wear long trousers, gloves and sturdy shoes, and don’t forget your camera, although we advise that you spend most of your time simply taking in this magical experience.
Nyungwe National Park in the far south of the country, is Africa’s largest protected mountain rainforest, and hosts one of the continent’s greatest concentrations of wild chimpanzee, as well as a dozen other noisy and acrobatic primates such as Ruwenzori colobus, Grey-cheeked mangaby and L’hotse’s monkey. For birders there are endemic regional species such as Handsome francolin and Rwenzori turaco. It’s well worth adding Nyungwe to your gorilla itinerary.
On Rwanda’s western side, Lake Kivu is one of a string of huge freshwater lakes that lie along Africa’s Great Rift Valley. The lakeshore is bustling with activity and here you can try local delicacies, relax on the beach, visit the hot springs or take boat trips to the nearby islands. Above Lake Kivu you can visit Kibuye’s genocide memorial church, with its brightly coloured stained-glass windows which, despite a tragic history, is now a place for peaceful contemplation.