Gorilla trekking Rwanda

May 24th 2024  |   Primate Safaris, Unique Experiences, Rwanda  |  by   Lizzy Wilding
Gorilla trekking Rwanda

We organsied a holiday for Lizzy and Ian to Rwanda in January. Here they share their incredible journey of discovery.

Beyond gorilla trekking: exploring Rwanda’s rich culture and wildlife

“Visit Rwanda” the adverts encouraged – many of our friends questioned why we were even thinking of travelling to this tiny country in the heart of Africa; the main reason is definitely to go gorilla trekking but in ‘the land of a thousand hills’ if you are willing to explore further you will encounter a thousand smiles.

Liz and Ian Wilding at a tea plantation

Nyungwe National Park

After a direct overnight flight with RwandAir from London we landed in Kigali then headed straight to Nyungwe National Park, one of the oldest areas of rainforest in the world and home to families of chimps. We were up at 4.30am the next morning to trek through dense forest and watched a family of chimps eating in a ficus tree, in the background we could hear a local village. The conservation of the rainforest is important to Rwanda and provides work for porters and trackers so wild chimps live close by to their human relatives. The area is full of tea plantations – one of Rwanda’s main export crops and a major soucrce of employment.  The vertiginous hanging walkway above the canopy provided breathtaking views of this ancient and extraordinary rainforest.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Next stop were the gorillas in the north of Rwanda bordering DRC and Uganda. We transferred north by jeep, (about a six hour drive) and saw so much along the windy route – there were hardly any vehicles but there were so many people walking and carrying goods on bicycles or on their heads, and children playing beside the road. We had lunch on Lake Kivu overlooking the DRC and then headed to Volcanos National Park. The altitude was 8000ft, a good reason not to go straight there was to acclimatise at lower elevations as we have trekked at altitude before, so we knew what to expect.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park

It was another early start to get to the meet up point for gorilla trekking, there was an air of nervous anticipation whilst you waited to be assigned to your gorilla family group and meet fellow trekkers and your guide. Each group has no more than eight people and we sat around and compared footwear and gaiters. Thankfully we felt well prepared, long sleeved shirts and trousers, good gaiters and sturdy boots (unlike some around us). We were driven to the start point and met our porters who would help carry backpacks if needed and later on guide us through the boggy and rocky areas.

‘Stay 10m away’ was the rule from the guides. Gorillas, however, do not understand distancing. After a muddy trudge initially on tracks, the vegetation became denser, and the guides used machetes to create a route up through bamboo and giant stinging nettles and sometimes we were told to ‘walk quick’ so as to avoid the biting ants – having trekked over bogs in the Peak District a bit of mud wasn’t going to worry us.

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Trackers had located the family, and we were suddenly up close and personal with gorillas. On the first day the Sabinyo family were busy having family time, children playing and grooming each other whereas on the second day the Kwitonga family were on a huge feeding frenzy, silverbacks pulling down trees to eat berries and mothers hanging on to babies in the trees. The dexterity of their hands was on a par with the tea pickers we had seen a few days before. It was a privilege to have been surrounded by these amazing wild animals for an hour before we had to say goodbye, the photos we took were on our phones, a zoom lens is not needed when they are right next to you. On the way back we visited the Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to read about how far gorilla conservation has progressed in Rwanda. They are no longer critically endangered, and their numbers are increasing, it was totally worth the mud up to our knees!

Bisate Lodge was one of the best lodges we have ever stayed at, the food and staff were superb, free post trek massages and log fires in cosy rooms. They work closely with the local village, so we paid them a visit, the children were all smiles and Jimmy our guide was an expert in spotting tiny chameleons in the undergrowth, himself a local and proud to show us his village. The lodge is trying to increase the gorilla’s habitat as farming has reduced this over the years. We took part in the lodges reforestation project and helped to plant trees – perhaps one day the gorillas will visit them, we were sad to leave.

Liz with kids from local village

Akegera National Park

The next day we headed east to Akagera National Park. The park borders Tanzania and is vast, the wildlife is increasing after being reduced by poaching during the genocide. Black rhino has been reintroduced from a Czech safari park and are breeding. We saw the big 5, a family of lions sleeping off a big meal of zebra, buffalos and elephants by the water and a leopard stalking impala before being scared off by hyenas. We had already noticed the abundance of bird life on the jeep rides as hundreds of swallows dashed alongside but it was the boat trips on Lake Rwanyakazinga that totally wowed us. We’re not ‘twitchers’ but had treated ourselves to new binoculars for Christmas and with help from our guide we spotted 70 bird species. As we floated along through bloats of hippos, fish rippled the surface of the water and Nile crocodiles sunned themselves. The bushes along the lake were alive with fish eagles, kingfishers, weaver birds hanging upside down and brightly coloured birds that looked like someone had coloured them in with a highlighter pen.

Lions sleeping


Finally, it was back to the Kigali, the cleanest capital city we’ve ever visited and enjoyed Michelin quality food at Meza Malonga, an amazing experience. The capital also has an increasing number of art galleries and craft workshops to explore.

We couldn’t leave without learning more about Rwanda’s challenging back story. The family stories we had heard from our guides and our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial will stay with us – it’s hard to believe it will be 30 years this year since the 100 day genocide. It is a very young country because of this, 45% of the population is under 18, and they spoke a common language (English premier league football) and loved knowing where were came from. Nottingham Forest perhaps now has some new supporters!

Rwanda is at the heart of Africa and is a tiny country, but it made us smile a thousand times.

Liz and Ian Wilding

You can view Lizzy and Ian’s incredible two week itinerary here and read about the other primate safaris we can organise.

What Next?

The Aardvark Safaris team has lived and worked in Africa, many have done a gorilla track in Rwanda and can help get you in the right place at the right time to maximise the enjoyment and diversity of wildlife. All you need to do is email us or call us and tell us what you’d like to see and we’ll do the rest, giving tips and advice, and then putting together a full detailed itinerary.

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