• Evelyn Nakazi

Top 5 African Safari Adventures in Rwanda

Rwanda, a small country in in the Eastern Africa region who’s name conjures up images of the gruesome 90’s genocide when mentioned. But if it still does for you, then you must be stuck in the nineties and you better check your calendar and teleport back before you close this juicy post and miss the good stuff we have to say about Rwanda. Better yet, let’s first take a look at what the world is saying about African Safari Adventures in Rwanda:

“Rwanda is known as Le Pays des Mille Collines (Land of a Thousand Hills) thanks to the endless mountains in this scenically stunning little country. Nowhere are the mountains more majestic than the Virunga volcanoes in the northwest, and hidden among the bamboo forests are some of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas. For a change of scene, the shores of Lake Kivu conceal some of the best inland beaches on the continent, while Nyungwe Forest National Park protects extensive tracts of montane rainforest, and is home to many primates. But it’s not all monkey business – Kigali, the capital, is safe and sophisticated.” Lonely Planet
“From stealing magic moments with mountain-dwelling gorillas to experiencing heart-warming encounters with villagers, Rwanda will deliver experiences unlike any other. Volcanic mountains, dense forests, tranquil lakes and lively towns add a stunning backdrop to Rwanda’s real gems – the sincere, proud people and majestic, mysterious wildlife.” Intrepid
“Rwanda is hot right now, and everyone’s beginning to realise it. Though the country is still one of the world’s best kept travel secrets, a possible tourism boom might come about as travelers are starting to pay a little more attention to East Africa’s smallest nation. This remarkable country – known for its impressive wildlife, flourishing arts scene, clean city streets, and vibrant local culture – is undoubtedly one to watch.” Trip Culture

That said is enough to give an idea of the thrills, excitement, and African safari adventure that awaits you to this beautiful Eastern Africa country. If you think that’s not enough to convince you, let’s dig some more into the Top 5 African Safari Adventures in Rwanda.

The Top 5 African Adventure Safaris in Rwanda

  1. Tracking The Gentle Mountain Gorilla in Volcanoes

  2. Nyungwe Forest From The Treetop Canopy

  3. Tracking Nyungwe Forest’s Habituated Chimps

  4. African Savanna Big Five Game Drive in Akagera

  5. Splash With The Hippos in Lake Ihema

Tracking The Gentle Mountain Gorilla in Volcanoes National Park

Silverback with it’s family of mountain gorillas in Volcanoes, Rwanda

Tracking The Gentle Mountain Gorilla in Volcanoes

A tracker leads while a ranger protects us following from the back (with a rifle) and into the jungle we hiked cutting a path through the thick misty vegetation with a machete, our hearts thumping like a distant African drum, probably the loudest noise in the eerie stillness of the forest.

After what seemed like a brief hike on the dump floor of the forest, we emerged into a clearing, the giants were right in front of us, a whole family of them relaxed in the foliage with the patriarch Silverback (male leader) taking note of the aliens arrival with a grant.

Pulling a scene right out of a Hollywood movie, the silverback calmly took position to execute his ritual duties by swiveling his body on his two hind legs, beat his chest with his two hands resounding a loud low wave sound and a cry that echoed throughout the forest and triggered our natural instincts to run. Alas the guide compelled us not to engage our instincts and stay put. I think I must have let out a tiny drop in my pants, you’ll never find out. Clearly that was a warning that we should not step into his territory. Big jerk!

As I aimed my camera to take a shot of the Silverback, something brushed past me and jerked off my adrenaline again. It took me a minute to gather myself and realise that it was one of the young juvenile gorilla that had brushed past me!

You’re only allowed one hour with these might gentle creatures but I can assure you, the few feet away from them is a memory that will stick with you for the rest of your life’s duration. You’ll talk about it for years and the story will never get old.

And it’s not just the moment you spend in their presence but entire hike through farms, steep cliffs, marshy land, and thick forests that could last anywhere between 1 to 5 hours depending on the location of the Gorillas, is a complete adventure in itself.

You’ll need to acquire a gorilla permit to be allowed anywhere near the endangered mountain gorilla. These creatures have heavy protection that’s more than the country’s president. A Rwanda gorilla permit costs US$1,500 per person. Iconic Travels will process the permit for you along with organising your entire trip including transfers from/to the airport. Check out Gorilla Trekking tours by Iconic travels.

Recommende Gorilla Trekking Safaris in Rwanda

  1. Mountain Gorillas & Kenya’s Masai Mara Experience

  2. Gorilla Trekking and Serengeti Wilderness Adventure

  3. Uganda’s Mountain Gorillas & Serengeti Great Migration Adventure

Nyungwe Forest From The Treetop Canopy

Canopy Walk in Nyungwe Forest

Nyungwe Forest From The Treetop Canopy

Quite simply, Nyungwe Forest National Park is Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity, with no fewer than 1000 plant species, 13 species of primates, 75 species of other mammals, at least 275 species of birds and an astounding 120 species of butterflies. It has been rated the highest priority for forest conservation in Africa and its protected area covers one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. Despite its huge biodiversity, Nyungwe is little known outside of East Africa.

One of the best African safari adventures in Nyungwe is the 200 meter canopy walkway that towers high 70 meters above the forest giving you a 360 degree view of the African rainforest. Your chance to pull out your Indiana Jones fantasies.

Spot the world’s largest ever recorded arboreal troop of black and white colobus monkeys, nearly 300 species of birds and 154 types of orchids. The 3 crossings, at 50m above ground, provide a wonderful vantage point of the incredible biodiversity of this rare montane forest. The bridge will sway and move as you walk, so hang on tight and don’t look down.

Keep your eyes peeled for 13 different kinds of primates, including golden and red-tailed monkeys. It won’t be difficult to spot a group of colobus monkeys — they typically move in packs of 300 or more. Besides being on high monkey alert, you should also be ready to spot 300 different bird species, 120 butterfly species and 35 different reptile species.

Spanning almost 400 square miles, Nyungwe offers plenty to do after you’ve conquered the Canopy Walk. The park has 13 different hiking trails, some of which are specific for chimpanzee trekking. You’ll spot waterfalls, tree ferns, orchids and many of the aforementioned animals. In the distance, you’ll spot lakes, mountains and volcanoes from many of the hikes’ higher points.

On an African safari Adventure in Rwanda, you can access to the canopy walkway, which is on the Igishigishigi Trail, involves a preliminary 20-30 minutes hike from Uwinka. Nyungwe canopy walks are scheduled at set times, 8am, 10am, 1pm, 3pm, last about two hours and cost US$60 per person.

chimps in kibale - Chimpanzee Tracking

Tracking Nyungwe Forest’s Habituated Chimps

They may pale in size when compared to the hulking masses that are the mountain gorillas, but there is no denying the affinity that we humans have for chimpanzees. Sharing an estimated 94% of our genetic material, chimps display an incredible range of human-like behaviours ranging from tool use to waging war.

Chimps are highly sociable creatures, and one of the few primates to form complex communities ranging upwards of 150 individuals. During the day these communities break down into smaller units that forage for food, a behaviour that has been dubbed ‘fission-fusion’ by anthropologists. Since they cover a greater daily distance than the relatively docile gorilla, chimpanzee tracking is a much more uncertain enterprise in Nyungwe Forest National Park.

Chimpanzee habituation in Nyungwe is still very much a work in progress, and although you will almost certainly encounter them, it might not be all that close up. This is especially so because Nyungwe’s chimps seem to spend longer periods of time high in the treetops than many other East African chimps.

Much like gorilla tracking, you need to be prepared for lengthy hikes that can take up to several hours. However, the vegetation on the forest floor is much less dense than in Volcanoes National Park where the gorillas live, so the walk is generally a little less tiring. In the rainy season you have a good chance of successfully tracking the chimps on the coloured trails (a network of trails of varying levels of difficulty), though in the dry season they have a tendency to head for higher elevations.

Although there are groups of chimps throughout Nyungwe, the habituated group that most people are taken to is actually located in the Cyamudongo Forest, a very small, isolated ‘island’ of forest surrounded by tea estates a little over an hour’s drive from the park office at Gisakura.

This group consists of about 40 individuals. At certain times, though, visitors might be taken to see a second habituated group, the Uwinka group, which is the largest with around 65 individuals. That said, this group, which is usually found within 12km of the Uwinka Reception Centre, is harder to access.

Whichever group you end up visiting, having a car is something of a necessity for chimp tracking, as you’ll need to arrange transportation for you and your guide to the trailhead. Be prepared for an early start – usually 5.30am from Gisakura. Chimpanzee Tracking permit in Nyungwe forest costs US$90 per person and you can use porters to carry your bag or help you hike for 10 bucks.

African Savanna Big Five Game Drive in Akagera

African Savanna Big Five Game Drive in Akagera

The African safari truck skid on the soft, dump beaten track and dramatically turned 180 degrees and then hit the brakes to a sudden stop. “They are a little ahead, they just upturned a truck!” A voice passed on a message on a walkie-talkie. Then suddenly he stepped on the gas cautioning us to hold on tight so he could make time to find the elusive Rhinos. This is a typical African safari adventure scene in Rwanda.

Akagera National Park includes some of the most scenic savannah in East Africa ― open plains, woodlands, lakes, swamp and grassy low mountains ― and is home to one of Africa’s highest hippo densities and crocodiles as well as the rare sitatunga (antelope family) and more than 520 bird species.

Lions, Tigers, Leopards, Zebras, Giraffes, Wild Buffaloes, Elephants, and hundreds of birds have made this terrain their home and watching them as they roam their home majestically is heavenly.

Splash With The Hippos in Lake Ihema

Splash With The Hippos in Lake Ihema

In Akagera National Park, another glorious day gives way to a warm, velvety night. A pair of African fish eagles return to roost on the shore of Lake Ihema, their finger-like primary feathers silhouetted against the purple-hued sky. The birds’ haunting cries reverberate across the placid waters and are swallowed in the gloaming.

This part of eastern Rwanda moves to nature’s rhymes and rhythms. At the Ruzizi Tented Lodge, the nightly hippo concert begins, a medley of belches, bellows, grunts and splashes breaking out a few metres below the property’s lakeside dining plat­form. With guests enjoying beers and cock­tails, semi-submerged bulls announce their presence with tuba-like blasts, seemingly oblivious to the merrymaking overhead.

The lake stretched out on the edge of the Akagera National Park, its waters reflecting the royal blue hues of the sky. Huge white clouds that looked like giant bundles of cotton framed the horizon. For a moment, everyone stayed still and a pregnant silence descended on our party.

We watched in silence as hippos went on with their ritual display of wild drama. Apart from the hippos, the water is also filled with crocodiles which made an appearance from time to time on the banks. Apart from these inmates the lake was abuzz with the activities of many exotic birds which would have delighted any ornithologist worth their salt.

A boat ride on the lake Ihema is definitely an exciting adventure one should experience when in Rwanda.

Rwanda may not be able to compete with the giant neighboring destinations like Kenya and Tanzania but it surely has something they don’t have, and that is both the savanna and the rainforest jungles packed with myriad wildlife in a space not bigger than Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park. Iconic Travels can take you there and promise you an unforgettable African Safari Adventure in Rwanda.

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