“I’ve never been so surprised on a trip – much to my ignorance I didn’t know too much about this ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ before I travelled (other than its horrific past); and had no idea it would turn out to be such a beautiful country.

It's relatively simple to travel around, and easily accessible too, with RwandAir flights to Kigali three times a week from Gatwick (touching down for an hour in Brussels), or an 85-minute flight from Nairobi. On arrival, immigration is fairly painless and getting my visa was the fastest ever.​

And for such a small country (around nine times smaller than the UK), it has an awful lot to offer. Mountains dominate Central and Western Rwanda (its highest peak being Mount Kirisimbi), and there are five volcanoes, 23 lakes, and numerous rivers, some of which form the source of the Nile, so you're never far from amazing wildlife, both large and small, or magnificent opportunities for hiking and trekking.​​

The Adventure Begins!

Met by our host and driver for the week, Yves from the Rwanda Development Board, and Innocent, from Uber Lux, our first stop was in Kigali itself, and we headed straight for The Retreat, a small, 11-room boutique hotel (and a little slice of heaven after the almost 11-hour flight).

Centrally located, you can easily and safely head out to explore, and there are personal guides at the hotel on hand to show you a different side of the city: everything from fashion tours, arts and cultural activities (I particularly enjoyed our walk through some of the lively, local neighbourhoods), to nature hikes, culinary experiences and coffee masterclasses.

We also stopped by the Genocide Memorial Centre – a hard place to visit, but a truly moving experience, trying to get your head around the country's history and what its people went through (the gardens a beautiful tribute to those who perished during this horrible time).​

Next Stop... Akagera National Park

Rwanda s largest national park in the Eastern Province, isa beautiful two-hour drive from Kigali – the scenery constantly changing from hills and rice paddy fields, to lush forests (and I have to say the roads were pretty good too). We stayed at Ruzizi Tented Lodge, set in a ravine forest at the edge of Lake Ihema, owned and managed by the park with 100% of the profits going back to supporting conservation initiatives, community engagement and law enforcement.

Akagera is home to an array of fascinating plant and animal life (over 300 different type of birds, introduced lions, elephants, Black Rhino and leopard); its lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains and rolling highlands making it incredibly scenic and unique.​

Hippo Heaven

Game drives can be quite long from here as to get to the savannah in the North would mean being out all day with a picnic lunch, but the boat trips from here are sensational. 

You can get out onto the water and up close to the hippos – a dream come true for me as I absolutely love them… they always remind me of an African bushman fable I used to read to my nephew. And when we set off on our boat trip, just before sunset, they certainly didn't disappoint!

There's also plenty of birdlife to seek out, and our guide picked the perfect spot for us to sit watch the sun set. ​

Magashi Wilderness Lodge

​The next morning we visited Magashi Wilderness Lodge on Rwanyakazinga Lake, due to open in May, with almost 100,000 acres of private concession – so there are no restrictions and no fences. It's a more typical safari-style camp, but being right on the lake, as well as 4x4 game drives you can take the boat out; or mix it up a little, heading out by 4x4 and having the boat meet you half-way!

It's a great location: we popped out on the boat for 10 minutes (which turned in to an hour after spotting giraffe and more hippo!), and it's also a bit of a twitchers' paradise (in fact it was here I got quite good at spotting Fish Eagles).

We also visited the park's anti-poaching HQ and met their K9 Unit – really interesting to see how everything works behind the scenes and how they've managed to reduce poaching over the years.

Akagera to Nyungwe National Park

​​From Akagera it was a four-hour transfer to Kigali from the park's north entrance (though helicopter is an option), and then five hours on to Nyungwe National Park in the southwestern corner of the country. You can break the journey up though as in-between there's Rwanda's cultural corridor. Visit the Kings Palace Museum, enjoy a display of traditional dances, or visit Butare's Ethnographic Museums to learn more about Rwanda's culture and history. But our guide, Everest, treated us instead to a three-hour canopy walk before we hit our destination!

While I'd presumed we were just taking a stroll, much to my dismay we stopped at the canopy walk: three swing bridges suspended over the treetops, the longest being 100 metres up! I've dived with sharks and been on numerous shark feeds but this was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life! I'm still not sure how, but I made it across (apparently, the valley views below are quite breathtaking, but my eyes were only focused on the end of each bridge!). 

One&Only Nyungwe House

I don't think I've ever been so pleased to see a hotel (in this instance One&Only Nyungwe House)… mostly because they welcomed us with a much-need G&T from the Gin Bar! Set on a working tea plantation in one of Rwanda's oldest rainforests (home to over 300 birds and 13 primate species), One&Only's rooms are set in little clusters around the property looking into the forest, and it's a great location for hiking, biking, and – our next adventure – trekking to see Chimpanzees and Colobus Monkeys. ​


    Looking like intrepid explorers with waterproofs, trousers tucked into socks and gators provided by the hotel (top tip – be sure to hire a porter who’ll help drag you up the hills and be your barrier as you go flying down the other side!), a 40-minute walk from the car got us into the thick of the forest (it was so exciting as right on the path as we arrived, a chimp was there to greet us!).

    Then the trackers moved into action, using their machetes to create an area for us to crawl through. There was me thinking, ‘this is alright, a little stroll down the mountain and we’ve already found one, we’ll be back in time for breakfast after all’...​


    Not a chance...​ we followed those cheeky chimps for about two-and-a-half hours, only managing to get a quick glimpse of their backs now and then. Up and down, through thick forest, the rain came, we got soaked, took a few wipe-outs, got covered in mud and then lost them! So, when we popped out of the forest five hours later, the best sight was our guide and vehicle already waiting for us, as we had thought we’d have to trek the five miles back to the car park again!

    All in all though, it was one of the most fabulous five hours I've ever spent… I can really say I trekked with Chimpanzees!!


    ​The next morning, Everest was back, this time ready to take us out on the hunt for the Colobus Monkeys. The trackers had already spotted them and they were in a tiny forest on the edge of tea plantations.

    The walk through the tea plantations was quite tame to what we'd done the day before, and as we got closer to the forest and looked at the steep banks and thick foliage, we were so pleased to hear they were spotted right on the tree canopies, so we hiked to a higher point and watched them play for about an hour. Awesome! 

Lake Kivu

​After much monkeying around in Nyungwe, we headed off to Lake Kivu, right on the border between Rwanda and the DRC, an ideal place to stop when travelling on to Volcanoes National Park. Due to the volcanic nature, the lake is very clean and, best of all, free from wildlife, so it's completely safe to swim in.

It's so picturesque too, the surrounding hillsides are covered in pine and eucalyptus trees, and it's home to singing fishermen who we saw on a whistle-stop kayaking trip with Kingfisher Journeys as part of our stay at Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, in the resort Rwandan town of Gisenyi, set on a sandy palm-lined beach on the shores of the lake.​

Volcanoes National Park

​The final stop on our excellent adventure was Volcanoes National Park, in the far northwestern corner of Rwanda, home to the magnificent Mountain Gorillas and Golden Monkeys. Sharing the border with three countries, there are eight volcanoes here, but only five have gorillas.We stayed at the colonial-style Bishops House, right in the middle of Musanze, which felt a lot like a home away from home, with lovely little touches like hot water bottles and such, but I was way too excited to sleep!

It may be hard to top such a thrilling experience like seeing the Mountain Gorillas, but the Golden Monkey trek in a group of around eight people is a wonderful way to start your experience here. The Volcanoes National Park has two habituated Golden Monkey troops who live in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes, and again the treks can be anything from an hour to several, depending on the speed of the monkeys. They are so entertaining and interesting to watch though – always moving around and jumping from tree to tree (so not the easiest to photograph!). And on the plus side, they don't like too much altitude, so don't venture too far up!​

The Big Day Arrives!

​Then day I’d been waiting for all week arrived, and I couldn’t believe it when Yves told us he’d arranged for us to see the Agashya family of Mountain Gorillas, one of the most interesting of the families here, having seen rapid expansion after a number of females joined them from other families.

What an experience! Classed as a medium trek, we were to trek for around four hours, and after a little history lesson on the Agashya family at the Park’s HQ, and a safety briefing at the national park itself, we were on our way!

After a trek of around 90 minutes, we met our trackers who told us the Gorillas weren’t too far away. I don’t mind telling you though, that trek is no walk in the park – through forest with nettles the size of a giraffe, losing a leg down the odd hole now and again… you catch my drift! It was so much fun though, even when you’re down on all fours, trying to crouch along the path the trackers have made with their machetes! ​

​We knew when we were close...

Fresh droppings! I have to say I was over the moon, not just to see the Gorillas, but because my back was covered in nettle stings, and I'm sure a fire ant had got into my socks! Of course all that went away when we saw the cane moving, and heard the guttural grunts.

It was really scary at first, it felt like King Kong could just jump out of the bushes at us, while we're trying to keep our balance as the floor is just rotting cane (not to mention we're right on the side of a volcano!). And then there they were. One Silverback and a few toddlers. Who would have thought we would be so close…?! I could have just sat there and been very happy for an hour.

The Silverback stood up and looked quite impressive, but apparently he was a number 2, so still quite young. I started to move round and down towards another area when the bushes moved, and another Gorilla just rolled out in front of me, so I used the noise we were taught back at base, and the tracker told me to just move on and walk past! While I really didn't want to leave, we were so lucky as there were even more below! 


​We spent a magical hour with them in total, watching the main Silverback soak up the attention on what he seemed to think was his own personal photoshoot!

Then, just as the guide said we were leaving, the other Gorilllas started to come out of the forest to join the Silverback, who sat up to make sure we all got another good look at him… even changing position so everyone could get to see his face.

​You can imagine how silent we all were on the way back to the vehicle… it's without doubt an experience I'll never forget.​

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