The scars of Rwanda’s genocide in the 1990’s still run deep, but the country has since benefited from a major political and infrastructure upheaval and is now forward-looking and optimistic. Low-level eco-tourism is starting to take off, with gorilla safaris in Rwanda being the prime draw in this small landlocked country.
Rwanda – ‘the land of a thousand hills’ – is made up of hills, mountains and volcanoes, and forms a natural buffer state between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. The country is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, with virtually every hill terraced and farmed to make maximum use of the land. The only exception is the handful of national parks that Rwanda is home to, where the rain-forested hills reaching to the horizon makes for stunning vistas.
The Virunga volcano range is home to a fair portion of the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas – estimated at only 700 in the wild. Tracking mountain gorillas in their natural habitat through tropical jungles and rainforests is unquestionably the highlight of any safari in Rwanda, though other primate and money trekking opportunities are also available.
Self-drive safaris in Rwandan national parks are not an option – in fact, for the most part, national parks are walking affairs only. So, to experience all the wildlife Rwanda has to offer you’ll need to make sure you get in contact with a tour company in Rwanda for those all-important gorilla permits.
Rwanda safari highlights
Best time to visit Rwanda
Because of the altitude, Rwanda generally enjoys a pleasant climate with maximum temperatures of 30 degrees. Of course the higher up the mountains you go the cooler it gets – particularly at night when you’ll need several layers to stay warm.
Rwanda has four seasons – two dry seasons broken up by a ‘long’ rain from March to May and a ‘short’ rain from October to December. The northeast of the country sees the most rain where high volcanoes are snow-capped and the lower slopes covered in rainforest. You can visit the country to track gorillas at any time of year, but bear in mind it’s a much harder slog through the rainforest if you visit in the rainy season. On the plus side, during rainy season the country is at it’s most lush and verdant, versus a barren, brown hilly landscape during dry season.
July and August is peak tourist season, so you’ll either need to book your gorilla permits well in advance, or consider visiting the country at a different time.
National parks in Rwanda
Rwanda may be tiny in comparison to it’s neighbours of Tanzania, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but that’s fairly irrelevant given the wealth of wildlife going on in the equatorial country’s national parks – particularly the mountain gorillas.
One of only three countries with wild – and habituated – mountain gorillas, Rwandan national parks tend to focus on gorilla safaris, though there are also opportunities to hang out with habituated chimps, and the very rare golden monkey. Rwanda has just three national parks, all of which hug it’s borders with neighbouring countries.
Top Rwanda national park picks
One of the best places in the world to see wild gorillas is without a doubt Parc National des Volcan – 160 km sq. of dense, wet jungle on the upper reaches of towering volcanos. It’s a long,sweaty walk to the very top of these peaks, but the reward is getting to see several fmailies of wild. habituated mountain gorillas.
1,000 km sq of dense, mountainous virgin rainforest, as well as some smatterings of swamps and savannah on Rwanda’s southern border with Burundi. The park hosts 13 species of primate, including huge troops of up to 400 colobus monkeys and 20 families of chimpanzees, of which two are habituated – meaning good chimp spotting potential.