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Close Encounters of a Primate Kind

Our team embarked on an unforgettable nine-day journey into the depths of the Rwandan rainforest and left with a deep appreciation of the country’s majestic wilderness and wildlife. From mingling with the communities in Kigali to coming face-to-face with Rwanda’s mountain gorillas, this was a remarkable trip that we won’t soon forget.

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Starting from
Ideal Length
9 Days
Best time to go
Dec-Feb; June-Sept

Day One to Three
This is Rwanda

A True Adventure

The Land of A Thousand Hills

Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Descending into Kigali Airport, it’s easy to see why Rwanda is known as ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’. Although a small country (Rwanda is just under a third of the size of Scotland), its verdant landscapes of bamboo forests blanketing endless rolling hills have established it as one of the most beautiful countries in Central Africa. Beginning in the slick urban sprawl that is the capital, Kigali, and finishing in the mist-shrouded jungles that shelter the elusive mountain gorillas, this was a true adventure. Our nine-day luxury travel itinerary to Rwanda invites you to set aside everything you think you know about Central Africa and surrender yourself to the surprises and wonders that await you.

An Urban Sprawl

Kigali: A Surprising City

Image courtesy of Kigali Marriot Hotel

Despite its tumultuous history, Kigali is a city that brims with optimism and gratitude for the peace and prosperity it has enjoyed in recent years. The region is still far from a tourist hotspot, but the locals welcome guests with warm smiles and waving hands. The streets of Kigali buzz with a sense of community – a feeling that is treasured in a place once so divided. Thanks to a city-wide cleaning initiative, the city is meticulously maintained and easily explored. Base yourself at one of the few five-star hotels in the city and prepare to learn more about Rwanda’s culture, history and path to peace.

A short stay in Kigali demands a visit to the Genocide Memorial in the Gisozi district. Opened in April 2004 on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, the memorial is a powerful site for remembrance and learning. Over a quarter of the people killed in the three-month-long atrocity are buried on the grounds and visitors can come to pay their respects and explore the permanent exhibitions to learn about the tragic loss of life and the struggle for reconciliation that was to follow.

Day Four to Six

A Bygone Time


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Bid farewell to the urban buzz of Kigali and enter the quiet depths of the surrounding emerald forests. Wake up early and take the two-hour (very bumpy) drive south to Nyanza, the historical seat of the Rwandan kingdom. Dating back to the 19th century, the stunning Royal Palace Museum is housed in a traditional urukari – a royal palace house. Here you will get a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle and customs of the country’s historical royal family. 

Next door, visit the Rwesero Art Museum to see contemporary art and photography by local artists, most of whom use their artwork to comment on the social and political history of Rwanda. A colourful and laid-back institution, here you will be greeted with a cold bottle of beer and encouraged to chat with some of the local artists about their personal histories and the inspiration behind their work.

Into the Forest


Image courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda

The next two nights are spent on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park. Arguably the most important site for biodiversity in the country, this mountain rainforest is home to over 1,000 species including 13 species of monkeys and 300 species of birds. With its uneven mossy terrain, thick sprawling roots and dense forest undergrowth, trekking here is no easy feat but with the right guides, you’ll have a good chance of an encounter with some of the forest’s fascinating primates.

One and Only


Image courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda

Boasting incredible views of the rainforest canopy bathed in iridescent mist, the One&Only Nyungwe House is located on a sprawling tea plantation on the periphery of the national park. Welcoming you with ear-to-ear smiles, steaming towels and delicious refreshments, the hosts here are committed to ensuring that your stay in the rainforest is the perfect balance of effortless luxury and eye-opening adventure. Before settling in your suite, take in your surroundings with a welcome drink on the wide open-air terrace overhanging the leafy ridge below. With 275 bird species in the region including the elusive red-collared mountain babbler and near-endemic Kungwe Apalis, the forest is one of the best places in Central Africa for birding. Enjoy a moment of stillness as you listen to the cacophony of birds providing a hypnotic soundtrack to the scenes of ancient trees stretching out as far as you can see. 

Tea Picking


Image courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda

Wake up and wander on to your verandah to enjoy the vibrant wildlife before heading to the plantation’s tea factory where you will learn from experts all about the tea leaves grown in the area. After smelling, tasting and discovering all of the nuances of tea and its many elements, head into the depths of the plantation to try your hand at tea picking. It may sound simple, but there is a real art to picking the right leaves; an art that the men and women who work on the plantation have mastered to a tee.

Searching for Monkeys


Image courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda

During your stay in Nyungwe Forest, get up close and personal with some of the jungle’s most mischievous residents – the colobus monkeys and the chimpanzees. Pull on your sturdiest walking boots and head to the national park’s centre where you will be met by an expert guide and tracker. Follow your guide deep into the heart of the forest in search of the cheeky creatures. A journey for the wild at heart, prepare to be walking through unbeaten paths, through thick forest and up and down steep inclines – a small price to pay for the extraordinary experience of seeing these wonderful monkeys in the wild.

Soaring High


Image courtesy of One&Only Nyungwe House, Rwanda

After traversing the forest floor, it’s time to get a different perspective on the jungle. Returning to the park information centre, you will find the zig-zag footpath leading you into the forest valley where you will begin a breathtaking one-and-a-half-hour walk along the suspension bridge stretching through the upper tiers of the forest. High up in the canopy you will be able to see some species who rarely make their way down to the forest floors such as butterflies, plants and insects, unique flora and even some monkey species.

A Great Lake


Rise and shine early this morning, pack your bags and meet your guide who will take you to board a spectacular helicopter flight to Gisenyi, a small and picturesque town on the north shore of Lake Kivu. One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Kivu is a sight to behold, especially from up above in your glass bubble aircraft. Look down between your legs through the transparent floor and see the expansive body of water, hugged by mountainous terrain, and stretching as far as the eye can see, its deep green waters interrupted only by a tiny island here and there. 

Your hosts during your stay by Lake Kivu are the gracious team at Lake Kivu Serena Hotel. Lying on the shore of the lake, the hotel boasts a private, palm-tree-lined beach and a wealth of outdoor and water sport activities for you to enjoy during your one night stay before journeying to the Volcanoes National Park – the home of the country’s most well-known residents, the mountain gorillas. For a rare glimpse into the daily lives of locals here, drive to the border between Rwanda and the DRC to experience ordered chaos as people trade their goods. Then head back to the hotel and take a canoe or paddleboard out to the waters before dinner at the panoramic restaurant. 


Majestic Mountains


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

As the morning mist clears away and the afternoon sun starts beating down on the lake, it’s time to drive to the foothills of the Virunga Mountains. A long but scenic drive, the journey will take you through the Rwandan countryside to Ruhengeri, the gateway to the Volcanoes National Park. As you drive into the outskirts of the city, you will set your eyes upon thatched nest-like structures nestled into the city’s surrounding hills. Welcome to Bisate Lodge, your home within the majestic Virunga Mountains.

One with Nature


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

Creatively striking the balance between luxury and adventure, Bisate Lodge is a breathtaking luxury bolthole situated in an eroded volcanic cone. Offering dramatic views of the incredible scenery all around it, the hotel is designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding environment; everything about this sustainable lodge has been designed with nature (and your appreciation of it) in mind. After checking in at the main reception lodge, don’t rush off to your forest villa right away. Instead, enjoy a welcome drink on the wraparound terrace with views of the humbling Mount Bisoke as you daydream of the adventures you will soon have in the depths of the world-famous Virunga mountains.

Conserve & Protect


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

The Virunga Conservation area spans across three adjacent national parks; Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Parc des Virungas in the Democratic Republic of Congo and – the park where you will be trekking – Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda. Home to the elusive wild mountain gorillas, this is one of the first areas to be protected in Africa, and today is the most important region for the conservation of these endangered animals.

Gorilla Encounters


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

During your time at Bisate Lodge, you will be invited to embark on monkey trekking activities led by expert trackers. On the first monkey trek, you will meet your experienced guide at the entrance to the Volcanoes National Park. Home to half of all 780 mountain gorillas in the region, you will trek through the surrounding forests in search of one of the handful of gorilla families who have made this area their home. These gorillas are wild animals and an encounter with them is completely unpredictable. Be prepared to trek for up to four hours in attempts to find these clever primates. As you search, your guide will educate you about the conservation programs in the area as well as the threats that face these animals and the survival of their delicate population. 

Discover the Wilderness


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

While the gorillas may be the star of the show here at Virunga, there are many other monkey species to meet, specifically the Golden Monkey, a primate native to the area that can be found in the region’s bamboo forests. As well as searching for monkeys, you will be invited to discover the caves in the surrounding area. Formed through volcanic activity, the caves are just over a mile long and your guide will explain to you their geological and historical significance as you explore. If going underground isn’t for you, explore above ground and take part in a guided hike up to the summit of Mount Bisoke where your efforts will be rewarded by astounding views of the endless rainforest and glistening crater lake.

Day Nine
Departure Day

A New Perspective


Image courtesy of Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

During your time in the rainforests of Rwanda, you will not only be reminded of nature’s majestic beauty but also its fragility. You will depart with a newfound appreciation and awareness of Central Africa’s delicate ecosystems and cherish memories of the intimate encounters that you have had with the country’s truly awesome animals  – recognising humanity in another species is the kind of surreal experience that stays with you forever. Hold onto this new respect for nature as you pack your bags and set off for Kigali where you will begin your journey back home.

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