In contrary to the Volcano National Park this natural reserve is a display of the east african savanna which hosts alot of the "typical" african animals as Anitlopes, Zebras, Elefants....
Get your Permit before at the ORTPN office in Kigali or at the gate of the park.
It is very difficult to reach the park without your own car.
The initial size of the park was much larger before. Due to the increasing growth of population various parts were converted into farmlands which decimated the animal population continuously.
Don't miss spending an hour with these magical creatures. It does require planning in advance, and contacting the National Park to check what the latest system they have implemented with regards to how you get a permit - but it is all worthwhile. Also, don't be put off by the price - a high price is needed to ensure that protecting the gorillas is economically sustainable for the local area. If not, poaching becomes the more attractive option. And as there are limits on how many can see each family per day (usually 6-8) there is a high price to pay - but it is all worth it!
(see my main travel page for more on gorillas)
I have strong concerns about which pictures to post and which to keep private, though the Rwandan citizens who accompanied my group on our visits to the genocide sites encouraged our taking pictures and said, "It's important that people know what happened here." So, I do think that I would be remiss not to encourage other Americans visiting Rwanda to make a trip to the Gisozi Memorial Education Center in Kigali. It is not an easy tour. As the brochure says, "Gisozi...is the burial site of over 250,000 people killed in a three month period during the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. It is a symbol of the extreme and horrific consequences of ethnic division; the result of decades of hatred, impunity and systematic persecution of a minority group. ...to prevent such things, we need to learn how and why these tragedies happen...."
If you happen to cross the border with Tanzania at Rusumo -yes this is a very suitable and fussless overland option- don't forget to see the falls.
Visas for both countries are available on the border, although for Rwanda I would recommend that you get it in advance since you'll get a multiple entry 1month visa for the same price as a 15 days single entry on the border.
True March 2003
What happened in Rwanda in 1994 was one of the most horrible and shocking things in human history.
If you could not find refuge, you had only 1 choice: kill or be killed. An estimated 800.000 people of the Tutsi tribe and moderate Hutus were brutally slaughtered in only 3 months time.
When travelling Rwanda it's hardly imaginable that the people carry a history like that. There's such a peaceful and friendly mood in the places that I visited.
That said, it's important to visit one of the genocide memorials to understand Rwanda and to show respect to the survivors that carry such terrible memories. Bones and skulls are on display around some of the massgraves that makes it all an even more shivering experience.
Only in the Kibuye region about 60.000 people were killed (the majority in only 2 weeks' time), which equalled 83% of the Tutsi population.
You can visit the RC church on the top of a hill just outside Kibuye town, where about 500 people were killed after they sought refuge.
Another site is in the hills at Bisesero, where about 13.000 Tutsi managed to defend themselves for a month after the start of the genocide.
Other memorial sites are f.e. in Nyamata and Ntarama, some 20-30 km south of Kigali.
Even if you don't go for the gorillas, there's still enough reason to visit the Parc, as I found out.
As volcanoes are one of my passions, the presence of 5 more or less free standing and beautifully shaped volcanoes in a chain was sufficient reason for me to hang around a couple of days.
The NP-office offers guided climbs to the top of 2 of them, Visoke (3711m) and Karisimbi* (4705m -the tallest). The latter has only been opened for climbers since the summer of 2002!
Plans have been made to organise an amazing 1 week trek to all the summits, but trails have still to be cleared.
Note: 2 of the 3 not yet accessible peaks can be climbed from Uganda side: Gahinga (3474m) and Muhabura (4127m)
***see also my "Uganda-Mgahinga NP" page!***
The climbs to the summits are not technical and can be done by fit hikers. The scenery is great! However, the trek to Karisimbi's summit is an overnight trek and should be prepared properly (f.e. food, cold).
During my stay there was a lot, A LOT of rain and the clouds covered Karisimbi most of the day. I only climbed Visoke (aka Bisoke), which took about 5 hours roundtrip from the Parc entrance.
**See also my impressions in the travelogue**!
The official rates (2003):
--- Gorilla Tracking $250/ 1 hour permit
--- Climbing Visoke $40
--- Climbing Karisimbi $100 (overnight)
includes permit, guiding and protection only.
If you are only 1 or 2, transport might be arranged in the Park vehicle for free. Otherwise you have to charter expensive 4WD taxi.
This extraordinarily beautiful Parc Nationale consists of an impressive chain of 5 inactive volcanoes that hosts some groups of the highly endangered mountain gorilla.
Amongst the various eco-tourism options are gorillatracking, hiking up (some of the) volcanoes, walks to a group of rare golden monkeys or an excursion to Dian Fossey's burial site.
The common base for exploring the National Park is the small town of Ruhengeri.
Lake Kivu is a large deposit of fresh water that marks the western border with DR Congo.
There are some excellent places to stay on the Lakeside such as Kibuye and -especially-Gisenyi.
The water is safe to swim (but just ask locally to be completely sure), there are nice beaches, gorgeous landscapes and the sunsets are regularly stunning.
***see "accommodation tips" for some good places to stay***
When visiting the gorillas, I was advised to take high speed film (1,600 asa) as the light in the jungle, even when sunny outside, is poor due to the shade of the jungle canopy. However, I also took some 200 asa and this turned out to be the best option as the family that we came across, just happened to be sunbathing in a clearing, and the light was perfect. In the photo opposite, I was lucky to have the camera ready as this little baby was kept out of sight by his/her mother and this sighting was the only glimpse we had.
The tours are run very conscienciously and the welfare of the gorillas is paramount. For the independent travellers who, like myself, try to avoid tours, this is not an option here. On our way to see the gorillas we stopped to pick up a couple of passengers, Rwandan soldiers, who accompanied us for the tour. They were under orders to shoot anyone found in the jungle without a guide, and then ask the questions! Anyone in the vacinity of the gorillas without official authorisation is considered a poacher.
From the tourist office in Kigali, it is possible to organise a guided trip to see the gorillas in their natural habitat. The trip takes about 2 to 3 hours or more, depending on how long it takes to find the gorillas. My group found them in just 45 mins from leaving the truck. The rangers know approximately where they are, but as they move about and can move deeper into the jungle, it can take a couple of hours tracking them through the bamboo jungle. Once you come across them , the guide will give you an hour only and then it's time to return to the truck. This limits the human contact as the guides do not want the gorillas to become too used to humans due to helping them maintain their natural state.
There is so few memoriable tourist activities in this country that I will list most of them here. Number 1 would have to be the gorillas. They are absolutely amazing (although at US$250 very hefty). It really is an experience of a lifetime to come within a metre of one of these magnificant beasts. Number 2 would be Lake Kivu, it is probably one of the safest lakes in africa to swim in due to the complete? lack of nasties in the water and it is beautiful.
Go to the Lakes - Kivu and Muhazi. There is accommodation at both of these. I would recommend going to Gisenyi for Lake Kivu and to Seeds of Peace near Gahini for Lake Muhazi (take your tent for this one).
They are beautiful, and the Lake is safe and clean and great for swimming in, walking along, bird watching and eating freshly caught fish.
There are two aspects to Rwanda that I recommend with great seriousness. I recommend these: (1) learn about the genocide of 1994; and (2) go and see Gorillas in their natural habitat. If you do these two things, you will have gained invaluable knowledge from your visit to Rwanda.
What I have to say is superfluous ... read what Eric (13) has to say, because he was there.
Whenever I think about it, I cry too ...
Boulevard de la Revolution, Central Kigali, P.O. Box 7469, Kigali, Rwanda
Good for: Solo
The hotel has beautiful views of the park, and is close to the start point for the mountain gorilla...more
Avenue Kamuzinzi, no. 8, Kigali, Rwanda
Satisfaction: Very Good
Good for: Families
More Regions in Rwanda