The Remarkable Rwanda is a beautiful, lush green, landlocked country in the heart of Africa, known as “the land of a thousand hills”. This destination is rich in flora and fauna and has stunning natural beauty with its scenic rolling hills as far as the eyes can see. On this gorilla safari, you will visit the spectacular mountain gorillas on the slope of Virunga, chimpanzees in Nyungwe, one of the oldest continuously forested locations in the world with its spectacular scenery, and kayak on the blue waters of Lake Kivu.
Trekking to see the gorillas is honestly one of our best travel experiences ever in the world. The Park issues 96 permits a day, and visitors are divided into groups of 8 based on hiking abilities. Some of the gorilla groups are close to the park headquarters requiring an easier climb, and other groups are far up one of the volcanoes, which require very rigorous hikes over several hours. The whole process of dividing visitors into groups is done really well.
Visitors who go for mountain gorilla safaris enjoy free coffee, while the tour operators get together and decide who should see which gorilla group. You then put in a moderate hiking group with other people our age and fitness ability. The gorilla trekking tour can take anything from 2 to 8 hours trekking for the might gorillas. Our gorilla group was moving, so we first climbed to reach it, and then it started going down, and we followed them through dense vegetation on a steep mountain.
The trackers led you to the gorilla family, and we knew we were close when they told us to drop our walking sticks and to put on our face masks (so as not to spread germs to the gorillas). Then the magic happened. For the first half hour with the gorillas, it was tough to see them because we literally were on the side of a steep volcano with very dense vegetation. It wasn’t until the gorillas moved down the mountain to a flat clearing where the fun began.
The gorillas brushed up against a few of us and many came within inches of us as they strolled past us. We had a rather large family of over 20 gorillas with a couple of silver backs, a baby, many teenagers and other adult gorillas. We were given a little extra time with the gorillas in the clearing, because the first 30 minutes with them were under difficult conditions (it was hard to see them and get good pictures of them because they were behind such thick vegetation). Our head guide was incredibly knowledgeable about the gorillas and we felt safe at all times– even when a teenage male ran towards me several times trying to play with me.
This same teenage male was walking past me on my left and slapped me hard on my bum. It was right after that that he picked up a stick and started running towards me for the first time! I fell down trying to get out of the gorilla’s way as my adult son was behind me laughing hysterically. Of course, I was completely unharmed, and now have a fabulous story to share.
Even though the cost of a permit is expensive at $1500 per person to spend one hour with a gorilla family, it is absolutely worth it! If you want a once in a lifetime experience, trek to see the gorillas in Rwanda.
The golden monkey trek is much easier. It is basically a slow, gentle walk up a gradual incline. I would not go to northern Rwanda just to see the golden monkeys, but if you are there, it is worth your time, money and effort to spend a morning trekking to see them. They are beautiful creatures, and, like the gorillas, completely comfortable around humans. I particularly enjoyed seeing the mamas walking around on all fours with their babies hanging onto their bellies.
After mountain gorilla tracking or Golden money tracking, you can go ahead and visit the Iby’Iwacu cultural village now called the gorilla guardian village, a lovely “cultural” village in the vicinity of Volcanoes National Park. Staffed by former poachers and well worth a visit to relax, have fun, and understand more about Rwanda’s proud cultural history. This experience provides a taste of various Rwandan cultural experiences grinding grain in a traditional manner, a brief history of Rwanda, cultural drumming/dancing, Banana beer making, a traditional wedding ceremony and so on.
The dancers/presenters are members of the surrounding community. It’s a bit hokey at times and a bit touristy but the kids loved it and the singing/dancing/drumming was very good. The presenters made an earnest effort to share everything about their given stations. Overall, it’s a good stop along our itinerary in this part of Rwanda and a fun use of a couple hours.