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Fantastic 4×4 Road Trip Journey Across Rwanda

There is much more to the ‘the country of a thousand hills’ than initially meets the eye. Small, compact and easy to road trip around, friendly Rwanda has well and truly consigned the tragic genocide of 1994 to history. The country has reconciled and rebounded spectacularly from this tragedy and today it is one of the friendliest, safest and most welcoming countries on the continent.

With its many families of habituated mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of the country is unquestionably the most famous (and popular) of Rwanda’s protected areas. Sadly, most visitors to Rwanda simply come to spend time with its world-renowned mountain gorillas and then leave without sampling any of the country’s other safari offerings. While gorilla trekking is definitely Rwanda’s top safari attraction, Akagera and Nyungwe national parks are great additions to your Rwandan safari experience.

All three national parks are easily accessible by road and good for self –driving with a 4×4 rooftop tent vehicle, so a country-wide circuit through Rwanda’s gently rolling hills can provide a fascinating and rewarding Rwandan safari experience. It could include Volcanoes National Park (for gorillas, trekking and birding), primate-filled Nyungwe Forest (for chimpanzees, waterfalls, bird watching and hiking) and Akagera (for a typically East African Big Five Savannah safari experience), along with some time on Lake Kivu (for boating, kayaking and hiking) and a couple of days to explore the capital city of Kigali (with its sobering genocide museum).

With its stunning mountain scenery and surprisingly diverse wildlife resources, Rwanda offers far more than Africa’s premier mountain gorilla viewing, and is absolutely worthy of further exploration.

My family and I spent 2 days in Volcanoes National Park. We rented the car through mike from 4×4 Car Hire Uganda. With a lot of emails, we managed agree upon a 4×4 Land Cruiser TZ with rooftop tent and we agreed that he would bring it at Kigali International Airport which was done.

So, when we got the car, and we went to visit the Gisozi Genocide Memorial in Kigali and the next morning we went to Volcanoes National Park to trek to see the gorillas and to see the golden monkeys.

Both were incredible experiences, but trekking to see the gorillas was 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 enjoy free coffee, while the tour operators get together and decide who should see which gorilla group. We were put in a moderate hiking group with other people our age and fitness ability. We had a fairly easy climb for the first hour, but then a very difficult climb straight up through very thick vegetation for the next 45 minutes. 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 us 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. Very cute. It was really a fantastic 4×4 rood trip across Rwanda.

 

 

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