A year after her Rwanda gorilla safari, Sonja and I spoke on the phone and she still didn't have words for her amazing experience. She loved the country and its people and only wishes she had stayed longer...
|Table of Contents|
|Planning & logistics
|Visiting the primates
Other: genocide museum
Tips & advice
|Did you use a safari company for your trek?|
No, I arranged everything on my own.
A lot of people are hesitant to send money to Africa by wire transfer.. how did the whole booking process go?
I started by reading the Bradt guide, and I felt quite assured through reading the guide. Then I searched various travel talk websites - TripAdvisor, the Fodor's and the Lonely Planet - and I think that just made me feel better knowing that other people who have been on a Rwanda gorilla safari had done the same thing.
Wiring the money was probably the most nervous thing I did concerning my Rwanda gorilla safari but I had a lot of e-mail communication with the one woman at the OTPR [Rwanda Tourism] office and she sent me a lot of e-mail verifications... that's how I did it.
And then I brought those e-mails with me, and thankfully I did, because they had no record about payment. But once they saw everything, they were okay and had just filed me somewhere else.
You get the actual permits only once you report to the office.
Why did you pick Rwanda and not Uganda?
I read about both of them and Rwanda just sort of pulled me more than Uganda did. Just reading [about both], it was more appealing to me.
|Where did you stay during your Rwanda gorilla safari and what was it like?|
We stayed in Ruhengeri the first night. We walked around town; it was quite beautiful!
The next day we went to Kinigi (the smaller town near the gate) and stayed at the Kinigi Guest House. It's in a very beautiful setting, in the mountains.
I thought it was fabulous... a lovely place. It's run by the Association of Solidarity between Rwandan Women (ASOFERWA) - women and orphans from the genocide. It was very basic, but I just felt like everybody was so warm and friendly. There was a school right behind it and the children were always coming around and we played soccer with them.
The food was fabulous and there's a big giant fireplace for after the gorilla trekking where you can sit and warm up - I thought it was a wonderful place. It was really so nice. I would recommend it.
|How about transport...how did you get around?|
And I had arranged transportation for the gorilla trekking in Ruhengeri - through the ORTPN office - before we had left because you have to arrange your own transportation. That was US$50.
It's not a taxi service: they had a 4-wheel drive truck, because the roads can be very treacherous and you can't use a regular car... you have to arrange a 4-wheel drive truck.
Where we stayed was just a 2-minute walk from the Rwanda gorilla safari staging area. We would just walk there at 7am and our driver would meet us there.
One of the things to note about the truck we had and our driver: we also had people that were staying at the guest house with us share the car. Because lots of people don't book any vehicles. We wanted to make sure we had a vehicle, because I didn't want to risk not being able to go.
|Could you please try and put into words the actual gorilla trekking experience?|
Once we left the staging area we had to drive for nearly 45 minutes and then we trekked for about an hour. Then I guess the guides had discovered them so we had to leave our bags.
We were all very giddy and excited and it was ... I still don't even have the words for it! I couldn't stop smiling and I was in such awe. I had a mountain gorilla grab my leg and then run away and then come back and grab it again - she was playing with me.
My husband had a silverback gorilla come up behind him and the guide just told him to stay very still. He had his back turned to him so didn't see it. He did (stay still), and didn't know what was going on. He is 6'5", and was the biggest of the group so we think the silverback was sort of checking him out.
There were 8 of us in our group, trekking, and every single person had the most incredible smile and just afterwards we just couldn't believe that we just spent an hour with these amazing creatures. And I still feel that way about my Rwanda gorilla safari.
It's absolutely wonderful.
They seemed very curious and they'd look you in the eye, look at what you were doing. They were just amazing.
And the second day's trek?
We visited a different group. They were a little more elusive... I don't know if they didn't like our presence there. There were more babies so I think they were a little more protective, so we were at much more of a distance. But still, equally!
I think the first time was more special I guess would be the word, and the second time was different. I still felt fabulous, I was just in awe to be in their presence again.
The second day it didn't take very long to find them - only about 15 minutes.
How did the logistics work in the mornings before the trek started?
They give a briefing beforehand and then divide everyone into the various groups. Everybody who books a Rwanda gorilla safari wants to see the Susa group. The first day we actually asked to visit them but it was already booked so they said the second day they would put us with them, but we decided against it because they were about a 3-hour climb away.
When we were on our Rwanda gorilla safari in October it wasn't completely full, so I think we kind of had the option in which group we wanted to go to. The first day we picked the Amahoro group, and I think the second day it was actually quite full and we had the option of Susa but we decided to pick a closer group.
Once you got put in your group, each individual guide would give you a briefing about what was going to happen.
Then we'd get into our trucks.
Would you recommend people book two trekking days for their Rwanda gorilla safari?
I think once is enough. I felt very fortunate for going twice; I don't think it's necessary though. I feel fortunate that I was able to afford it. I know the prices have gone up now and I wouldn't be able to afford to do it now.
Did you get a lot of photos and was the low light a problem?
We had just two cameras and you're not allowed to use flash. I did get some very good photos. Some of the ones that I wish I had gotten but didn't turn out as well. But digital is a wonderful thing - I was able to take many photos.
|Did you have any problems with insects during your Rwanda gorilla safari?|
When we were there it was a low risk time. We were there just at the start of the rainy season. I don't remember any bugs bothering us at all.
|Did you do any other activities during your Rwanda gorilla safari?|
We did. We went to see the Kigali Memorial Centre, the genocide museum, and it was very powerful. It was a very somber experience.
It was at the end of our trip that we did this, so it explained a lot of what we came across in discussions with people and just ... they had the war tribunals along the countryside so we had witnessed a lot of them but didn't know what they were. So that helped us understand a lot more of the country and the people.
Would you recommend that people visit it?
Yes, although it was very emotional as well and draining. The driver that we had for the day said it was a very respectful place to go, to pay your respects.
|Do you have any regrets about your trip to Rwanda?|
I regret not giving myself more time there.
I would have liked to have gone to the lakeside [Lake Kivu] as well as going into the Nyungwe Forest. It is a small country but there's a lot to do. I think most people just go in for the gorilla trekking and out.
|Do you have any tips or advice to give to people planning a similar trip?|
If people book their own permits, I highly recommend they bring copies of their booking and payment confirmations and e-mails along.
Rwanda is more than just its gorillas and I think people should spend more time there.
We didn't bring enough cash with us and we couldn't change travellers cheques in the small towns - only in Kigali. But where we were staying - Ruhengeri and Kinigi - there was nowhere to change the money. They would only change US Dollars. I don't know if that's changed in the last year, but we were very fortunate to meet people at the guest house who were willing to change our pounds and also when they were sharing the truck with us, they were able to give us money. That was the biggest draw back that we had.
Don't they accept credit card?
No. I don't know if with the trekking they did or not; I don't think so. That was our biggest difficulty, that we didn't have enough money.
|How would you rate your visit to Rwanda overall (out of 10)?|
10! The gorillas were one of my top two highlights of our entire 6-week trip.
And the Rwandan people are just so hopeful; they like the tourists and want to share their culture and how things have changed for them, I don't know how to describe it! It's a lovely place.
*Sonja and her husband travelled around for 6 weeks in total and only booked one organised tour as part of it:
They started in Nairobi, Kenya and on to Lake Navaisha. Upon their return to Nairobi both of them got quite sick. From there they went on a 10-day organised Kenya Tanzania safari (her trip report). Next they flew to Rwanda where they went gorilla trekking twice (this trip report) after which they flew to Zanzibar and finally ended their trip in Mombasa. They made use of a lot of internal flights to get around.
Sonja says that it really was a dream trip but warns those planning a similar holiday that it took about 9 months to plan.
|Safari Location:||Rwanda: Volcans National Park; Kigali|
|Safari Company Used:||N/A (Independent travel)|
|Duration:||4 days in October|
|Traveller Details:||Sonja and her husband, Canada|
|Rates & Availability:||Plan your own Rwanda gorilla safari|