Planning for gorilla trekking is far different from the experience of going in game drive vehicles rather it requires physical fitness and active hiking over steep terrain. Therefore a gorilla safaris should be planned ahead so as to get prepared for the hairy cousins.
GORILLA SAFARI PACKING LIST
Lake Kivu is a rift valley fresh water lake located west o Rwanda on the border with DRC a few kilometers from the active Mount Nyiragongo volcano in eastern DRC.
The lakes ecosystems harbor several species of fish such as cichlids, birds, otters and beautiful white sandy beaches while its shores have developed including towns with luxury resort hotels, camps and lodges including Gisenyi, Bukavu, Kibuye and Cyangugu.
While at lake kivu, when you don’t simply admire the views of islands Idjwi and Tshegera islands, terraced rolling hills, visitors can spend days exploring the local communities
Local people are very welcoming and will treat visitors as special people in their unique rural life including coffee farming, harvesting and making using machines. Other towns include Karongi which is located on hills overlooking the lake giving perfect sunsets while Ruzizi town is a busy town full of traders but it has a connecting route to Nyungwe forest national park a home to chimpanzees.
Kayaking is one of the amazing activities to explore the shores and islands of the lake. There are world class sea kayaks operating day and multiday kayaking trips between resort towns of kibuye and Gisenyi. Kayaks are great ways to spot birds also give you an advantage to stay on the waters for long hours connecting the town of Gisenyi and kibuye. You can also enjoy magical sunsets on the sea when waters are calm witness local fishermen fishing with their traditional fishing canoes while you can stop at one of the coffee washing stations to warm yourself up.
Bird watching should be done in morning or evening and canoes are recommended since they produce no noise to scare away birds. The lake has over 60 species of birds including water birds. The lake’s tropical forested islands provide home to water birds including bats, snakes that rely on fish as their food. Among the commonly sighted birds include king fisher, African fish eagle, cattle egrets, species of herons, hammer korp, weaver birds and cormorants.
Swimming safaris are also carried out on the waters of Lake Kivu because the lake is crocodile and hippo free making it one of the safest swimming zones in Africa. Swimming is usually launched from most of the shoreline hotels that also provide kayaks, and Jet Ski services. For instance Gisenyi hotel offers boat trips to the beautiful uninhabited islands. Paradise Malahide is another hotel situated on the islands good for relaxation.
Sport fishing is carried out during day and night; tourists can join expert local fishermen and learn their fishing techniques of catching small fish called Isambaza and tilapia. At night fishermen use lights which attract fish to the surface of the waters as they cast they nets and vessels in the water.
Boat rides are also carried out using speed boats which provide quick transport linking the towns of Gisenyi and Kibuye. This is usually done when tourists want to visit some of the coffee stations to see how coffee is made.
Accommodations around Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu Serena hotel is located on the shores of Lake Kivu about 6 km from the city of Goma. Visitors will enjoy free Wi-Fi connection, TV with satellite channels, free coffee and breakfast. There is access to the beaches for sunbathing and relaxation. It has swimming pool and health club.
Paradise Malahide guest house is about 7 km from the city of Goma, located on the shores of Lake Kivu; it has bungalows with 12 rooms built with wood. There are single, double and triple rooms. You will enjoy the whispers of the lake as you dine either in their restaurant or outside full of local and international dishes.
Cormron lodge is located on a hill overlooking Lake Kivu in kibuye town. The lodge has single, double and VIP rooms equipped with TV, Wi-Fi connection, mini fridge, bath and showers. There is a bar and restaurant, they have a playroom for internet game lovers. You can also launch water spot activities from the lodge.
Peace guest house is located near the port of Cyangugu with a capacity of accommodating 52 people meaning it’s suitable for family and group tourists. Rooms are very comfortable with en suit bathrooms, TV and internet connection. It has a conference hall for functions such as weddings and meetings.
Kwita izina is a yearly gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda that was formed in 2005 with the major goal to increase gorilla conservation efforts and monitoring Rwanda’s gorillas numbers. This is also greatly benefited local tourism business and conservation education.
Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills is among the only 3 places on earth where mountain gorillas live. Volcanoes national park in the north is a home to over 200 gorillas which are part of the virunga conservation area including Uganda and DRC.
Mountain Gorillas are the main tourist attractions in Rwanda and have attracted many tourists. Gorilla tourism is driving economic growth in Rwanda through revenues and local community Conservation. This is a reflection of the growing number of the critically endangered mountain gorilla population as an achievement of sustainable tourism development and conservation.
As a result of increased tourism, human threats to gorillas also increase especially human disease transmission. In addition to poaching and habitat loss, Rwanda created “Kwita izina” as a strategy to monitor its gorilla population.
Since 2005when the Kwita Izina was introduced, about 216 baby gorillas has been given names which plays an important role in monitoring the gorillas in the habituated families and their habitat range. Last year, the event rocked Musanze witnessed on 2nd, September 2016, the naming of nineteen baby gorillas including a pair of twins.
Since 2005, the gorilla naming ceremony has grown into a yearly event attracting many local and international visitors. The 2015 celebrations saw a massive attendance of 500 international guests and over 20,000 local people.
Many guests who come for the ceremony find it interesting to arrange excursions around Kigali city visiting attractions such as genocide memorial sites, museums, craft markets, cultural events and to the national parks such as Akagera national, Nyungwe forest national park.
Naming new born gorillas is a way of recording the increase in the population of mountain gorillas in the virunga mountains region partly because of strong conservation that has put an end to human activities like poaching, habitat encroachment, illegal wildlife trade and human diseases transmission.
The Rwandan Development Board (RDB) which governs tourism in Rwanda, carried out a population census of gorillas in volcanoes national park between 2010- 2014 and results indicated a 26 % increase of gorilla numbers from less than 250 to about 400 individual gorillas.
Meanwhile, the board is currently undertaking another census of mountain gorilla population in volcanoes national park as expected to announce results during next year’s celebrations.
The baby gorilla naming ceremony is a way of raising awareness of protecting and conserving mountain gorillas on a national, regional and international level. People will share ideas on how to promote Rwanda as a leading eco tourism destination beyond the mountain gorillas. Rwanda has 4 national parks, several rift valley lakes such as Lake Kivu and high altitude tropical volcanic mountains which remain undiscovered.
According to the Rwandan Development Board (RDB), managing wildlife including mountain gorillas won’t be the role of the government in isolation but rather intentional partnerships bringing together the private sector, local communities and the youth.
The yearly conversation on conservation forums feature a series of proceeding activities which have evolved from the previous Kwita Izina celebrations. These have educated local and foreign visitors in Rwanda to collectively conserve wildlife especially gorillas.
the yearly pre and during event activities are always open for all guests include; naming baby gorillas ceremony, tourism exhibitions, launching of community development projects building on last year’s projects and a fundraising dinner which will take place at Kigali international convention centre.
These activities are geared towards getting practical solutions to challenges facing conservation of mountain gorillas and other wildlife from which tourism in Rwanda depend on.
As one of the greatest conservation achievements, it’s worth celebrating the harmony of nature and people. Several community projects have been set up around Volcanoes National Park to enhance visitor experience. The Iby ‘iwacu cultural village is one of the successful community conservation projects displaying Rwandan traditional culture. Visitors to this cultural village can take part in traditional activities such as local food preparation, fire making and banana beer brewing along with unique entertainment by intore (warrior) dance performances.
Akagera national park is the only savannah national park of Rwanda located in the north eastern side of Rwandan on border with Tanzania border. The park cover an area of about 1,200 sq km, its diversity of ecosystems comprising of savannah plains, wetlands, swamp fringed lakes and river Akagera from which the park was named. The park is among the most picturesque parks in East Africa for nature lovers. There are several lakes and the largest of all is Lake Ihema where boat cruises are done as well as spot fishing.
The park is famous for wildlife viewing safaris due to its large population of 90 species of mammals such as leopards, elephants, buffalos, impalas, zebras, giraffes, hyenas and over 500 species of birds which attract tourists. Now a big five safari destination, lions have been reintroduced as well the ongoing plans to bring back Black Rhinos by the African parks. Rwanda is happy to note, its ecosystem recovery has become its major tourists asset.
The diverse habitats in the park create home to over 500 species of birds including globally threatened species such as shoebill stork, yellow warblers and papyrus gonelock among others. Guided birding trails in and around the park have been established including wooden raised bird viewing platforms. Birding is done on foot through the park to the swamp where shoebill stork can be spotted as well as on boat cruises for water birds.
The park’s turbulent history led to extinction of lions and rhinos as well as habitat destruction. However, Rwandan development board in partnership with African parks has established strategies leading to ecosystems and wildlife recovery and sustainable wildlife safaris operate in the park all year round.
African parks have been able to address conservation challenges with local communities who have benefited from the park’s revenue fees. This has recued poaching, illegal grazing, increasing animal numbers as well as boasting community tourism around the park.
Game drive safaris
Game drive safaris are best for Wildlife viewing in vehicles with roof top views. Akagera’s diverse habitats including swamps, lakes, rivers and savannah plains, are home to several types of antelopes, big mammals and African big cats.
Visitors are led by guides and rangers, driving through the park’s diverse habitats viewing wildlife. Game drives start early morning or evening and may last for full day or half depending on the choice of visitors. Visitors usually see elephants, zebras, antelope species, and buffalos, worth hogs, hyenas and duikers and a lot of birds.
Boat cruises are great ways to view wildlife while relaxing enjoying sunsets and sunrises. Lake Ihema is the largest lake which attracts many animals and water birds. water birds, crocodiles and hippos can be seen on water and elephants, buffalos along the shores as well as the swamp dwelling antelope sitatunga.
Boat cruises can be arranged any time of the day, however, they operate four rounds a day with the exception of privately arranged boat trips featuring food, drinks on board.
Bird watching bird watching safaris to Akagera national park are rewarding for birders, the park has 500 species including shoebill stork, papyrus gonelock which are threatened birds. Boat trips are good for water birds while guided birding trails move through savannah to the swamps where shoebill stork can be seen.
Visitors to Akagera with interest in learning about conservation and management of the park can participate in behind the scenes. This includes visitors meeting park staff as well as locals who are involved in conservation and tourism sharing their experience.
There are limited lodges and but with a lot of camping opportunities visitors to the park should book their places in advance.
Akagera game lodge is located within the borders of Akagera national park eastern province about 2 hours drive from the Rwandan capital Kigali. It has Luxury cottage with double, twin and single rooms which are decorated with African fabrics.
Ruzizi tented camp is the only second lodge within Akagera national park along the shores of lake Ihema giving a close stay with wildlife.
There are also several camping sites in and around Akagera national park which enable tourists to stay longer in the park enjoying activities such as wildlife viewing, boat riding, and nature walks and birding. They include, Karenge Bush camp, Shakani Campsite, Mutamba Campsite and Muyumba Campsites.
Akagera national park lies on the eastern border of Rwanda with Tanzania and accessible by public transport. From Kigali city, it takes 2-3 hours drive to enter the park through south at Kiyonza, the main entrance gate near the main visitor center where activities begin from.
Nyungwe forest national park is an ancient montane rainforest covering about 1000 sq km in the south west of Rwanda. The park is easily accessible from Kigali about 255 km; other safaris connect to the park from Cyangugu community forest and Butare town known for its genocide museums.
The park is famous for its biodiversity of wildlife especially largest population of primates in Africa including chimpanzees and the biggest troop of black and white Colobus monkey in Africa.
At least 13 species of primates have been recorded and about 75 mammals including several carnivores such as leopards, civets, genet, golden cats, jackals, tree hyrax as well as forest buffalos, forest hogs, bush pigs and duikers.
Being one of the largest and oldest montane rainforests, it’s a permanent water catchment area and stays ever green and wet throughout the year. The forest has over 100 species of orchids, tree ferns and 260 species of trees including rare lobelias. Rare species of reptiles like three horned chameleon and over 120 species of butterflies make it a nature researcher’s dream destination.
It’s amazing the park offers all year round adventure activities attracting many safaris including chimpanzee tracking safaris, bird watching trips, specialist wildlife research tours, hiking, nature walks, and nature photography among others.
Activities in the park
Chimpanzee tracking is the main tourist activity and requires active hiking through the forests. Nyungwe forest national park has over 400 chimpanzees including 2 habituated communities. Trekking starts early at 08:00AM, hence visitors need report at Uwinka visitor center and another at Cyangugu community forest center to meet guides for briefing.
Along chimpanzee tracking, other primates can be encountered until chimps are located for one hour close viewing and photography. After the trek, visitors can connect to local communities for a cultural experience at Banda and Kitabi cultural villages.
Visitors planning a chimps tracking safari in Nyungwe forest need to book chimpanzee permits with tour operators and Rwandan development board. The board has tourist campsites and a rest house at Uwinka, the main center where trekking co
Nyungwe forest national park’s diverse habitats including montane forests, swamps and rivers due to its location in the Albertine rift valley boats a checklist of about 310 species of birds. at least 27 birds are endemic to the Albertine rift valley and because the forest attracts migratory birds, it’s an important birding area (IBA).
Birding trips in the park cover a number of trails in and around the forest. Most of the birds are forest birds and spotting them takes time in the forest due to thick canopies. Birders can book their birding trips and also hire guides at Uwinka visitor center.
Canopy walks in Nyungwe forest national park started in 2010 to give visitors amazing elevated views of the forest as well as spotting birds, butterflies, primates living on top of trees. Hanging canopy walk ways range from 60 meters to 90 meters above the ground, including those for children above six years of age are conducted all year round.
Visitors need to have rain gears or hire them at the start because of the wet mist and coldness. The Rwandan development board guides, lead visitors to various trails including the most popular 14 k
Igishigishigi trail – Hiking and nature walking
Hiking on foot through different landscape sections of Nyungwe forest is the best way to appreciate nature and wildlife. Hiking trails range from one day to multi-day hiking and picnic, camping opportunities with facilities along such as shops, food and beverage as well as visiting coffee making villages and tea estates.
Some of the trails take visitors to the interior of the forest, with ancient swamps and trees, waterfalls and wildlife spotting such as reptiles, insects, chimpanzees and other primates, birds, butterflies and refreshing air.
The most famous hiking trail is the Congo-Nile dive trail which takes hikers to the separating ridges of Great River Nile and River Congo.
Local Community visits
There are Local villages which have benefited from tourism business supporting their economic wellbeing as well as conservation in and at the eastern edge of the park. For visitors looking for a Rwandan traditional cultural experience, look no further than Banda and Katabi cultural villages offering an overnight stay at a traditional hut accommodation, local cuisine including fire place dance and music.
Banda cultural village is located in the middle of the park; about 15 kilometers from the canopy walk point at Uwinka visitor center. Visitors to this village experience Rwandan culture by undertaking village walks and participating in activities such as food preparation, natural and traditional healing, pottery and fire making and folklore.
Kitabi cultural village is another interesting cultural village to experience Rwandan rural culture. It’s located at the eastern edge of the park and offers day trips as well as overnight stays.
The village Bandas featuring a restaurant and campsite from where to stay and embark on village walks. With a local guide, visitors can learn different local skills such as banana beer brewing, local food preparation, basket weaving and craft making, medicinal plant administration, cultural dances and storytelling.
Visiting cultural villages is a way of supporting economic growth and conservation of Rwanda’s wildlife in Nyungwe forest national park while a diverse cultural experience is guaranteed for visitors.
Colobus monkey tracking visitors are escorted by armed rangers into the forest to search for the black and white Colobus monkeys. Nyungwe forest is a home to stronghold troops of 400 Colobus monkeys often times called Rwenzori Colobus. Rwandan development board has habituated some of the troops for tourists to track and see which consist of over 200 individuals.
Visitors have a range of option accommodation near and within the park for overnight stays for instance Gisakura and Nyungwe forest lodge. Visitors need to transfer very early to Uwinka the park headquarters because most activities start at 08:00 am in the morning.
To get to Nyungwe in the southwestern corner of Rwanda, you will need a 4WD vehicle to travel for 4-5 hours covering about 225 km of road from Kigali city. The journey passes through several towns with amazing stopovers such as the Nyanza king’s palace and the national museum which display Rwanda’s culture.
Nyungwe can also be accessed from Cyangugu town about 50 km and 90 km from the town of Butare.
Visitors can also get to Nyungwe by charter flights that fly from Kigali to kamembe air port which near Nyungwe forest lodges and from there you can arrange transport to the park’s headquarters uwinka within the shortest time.