The moment you first encounter Rwanda’s entrancing mountain gorillas, the strenuous hike through humid cloud forest is all but forgotten. Watching these fascinating primates leisurely grooming each other as the young ones roll around playing is one of the world’s most extraordinary travel experiences. And it’s one you can have when you travel to Rwanda by private jet with TCS World Travel.
Until a few years ago, Rwanda wasn’t on anyone’s bucket list. But things have changed—drastically—for the better. The country has recovered from its troubled past, the economy is booming, and the number of locally-owned businesses keeps increasing. Gorillas are still the main draw, but there’s a lot more to experience. Before you go, learn a couple key words in the local language, Kinyarwanda: “hello” is muraho; “goodbye” is murabeho; “thank you” is murakoze. Then gear up for a great adventure. Here’s what to see.
Meet the Mountain Gorillas
Lush, mountainous Volcanoes National Park is one of the few places on earth where you can see habituated gorillas in the wild. The gorilla trekking industry has not only pulled these gorgeous creatures back from the brink of extinction, but it’s also a source of employment for communities around the park. In fact, many of the rangers are former poachers, and you’ll follow them as they bushwhack their way through thickets of fern and bamboo with machetes. Over the course of the hike (which could take anywhere from one to several hours), you’ll hear some of Rwanda’s 700 bird species chirping above you.
Once you find the gorillas—which live in groups of up to 30—you’ll spend an unforgettable hour with them as they gnaw contentedly on bamboo shoots or nurse their babies. A silverback might strut proudly past, reminding you to keep respectfully low and avoid eye contact. Make sure to put down your camera at some point and immerse yourself in the experience of being just a few meters away from one of our closest cousins.
Greet the Golden Monkeys
Gorillas aren’t the only species you can encounter in Volcanoes National Park. Endangered golden monkeys—with their telltale puffy cheeks and golden fur—call a different area of the park home, and you can trek to see them as well. Much more active than the gorillas, these enchanting creatures love to interact with their human visitors, even sometimes using people as jungle gyms.
Soak Up Culture in Kigali
Just over two hours from Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, is much more than a jumping-off point for gorilla trekking. Built over several hills, it’s a spotless city that sees its streets cleaned by residents on the last Saturday of every month: a country-wide day of community volunteering known as Umuganda
There’s lots to do: head to Inema Arts Center and meet some of the creatives at the forefront of the Rwandan art movement; visit great fashion boutiques, like Rwanda Clothing; and spend an evening at hilltop Pili-Pili for cocktails, live music, city-wide views, and a chance to mingle with Kigali locals.
The city is also a good place to learn about the country’s history. The Kigali Genocide Memorial can be harrowing, but it provides context to understanding Rwanda today and how the country has healed itself through forgiveness. Most Rwandans have stories; while some may be open to talking about their experiences, remember that many may be uncomfortable discussing this deeply traumatic time.
Go on Safari
A couple hours from Kigali, on the border of Tanzania, Akagera National Park is a beautiful swath of rolling hills, wetlands, and savannah. Thanks to a rewilding program, it’s also now a thriving safari destination that’s home to the Big Five (lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants, and buffalos), plus many more animals and birds, such as the rare shoebill stork.
Dog lovers can call in at the anti-poaching K9 center to fawn over the puppies in training and learn about the park’s conservation efforts. For accommodations, camping is resoundingly popular: After an evening game drive, sit around the crackling campfire and share tales with fellow travelers.
Wind Down by Lake Kivu
On the northern banks of beautiful Lake Kivu—56 miles long and up to 31 miles wide—lies the tranquil town of Gisenyi. Rwandans head here for some downtime, and it’s the perfect place to relax after an invigorating gorilla trek. Explore the open market, with its stalls of bright fabrics and tropical fruit. Spend your time snoozing on the sandy shore, swimming, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding (don’t worry—you won’t find crocs or hippos here).
Order a basket of Lake Kivu’s tiny tilapia fish, sambaza
, which are fried and served as a delicious salty snack; they’re especially tasty with a dash of Akabanga, Rwanda’s favorite hot chili oil. They go well with cold sundowner beers at one of the casual beachside bars, where you can watch the dying light glisten on the still, clear water and catch the sounds of fishermen singing as they row out onto the lake.Learn more about Rwanda and all the incredible destinations you can experience via private jet with TCS World Travel.