Rwanda is a land of great diversity and beauty. Popularly known as ‘the land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of the great River Nile. The landscapes in this ‘green country’ are truly breathtaking.
Many a visitor to Rwanda has remarked that the physical beauty of the country is without equal on the African continent. Spectacular volcanoes and dense tropical forests dominate the north of the country, while gentle hills and valleys, calm lakes and turbulent rivers in both savannah and dense tropical vegetation dominate the rest of the country.
Rwanda boasts a wide variety of wildlife. The Virunga National Park in northern Rwanda is home to the worlds largest number of endangered mountain gorillas. Numbering in their hundreds, the gorillas live in a protected area, free from poachers. The gorillas can be viewed in their natural mountain habitats at a fairly close range.
The Virunga National Park is also home to a great variety of bird life. The National Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) organizes guided tours.
The Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is teeming with wildlife both large and small. They range from Lions, Giraffe, Elephant and Hippopotamus to Hyena, Impala and Gazelle. There is a rich variety of bird life at Akagera as well.
Rwanda also has water bodies which are ideal for water sports and fishing. Lake Kivu in the west of the country and Lake Muhazi in the east are both ideal for water sports and fishing. Lake Kivu also offers beautiful beaches, jutting peninsulas and an archipelago of beautiful islands.
When visiting the Land of 1000 hills, one should not miss out on the magnificent opportunity to visit Rwanda’s National Volcano Park (NVP) consisting of 125 Km2 of mountain forest and home to the six Virunga Volcanoes bordering DRC and Uganda.
Best known for its mountain gorilla inhabitants, what is now the NVP was originally part of the Albert National Park, the first national park created in Africa, established in 1925. Today, the park is managed and protected by the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN). You will find a visit to the NVP and the Virunga Volcanoes one of the highlights of your stay in Rwanda, for residing deep on and around the thick vegetative slopes of these volcanoes are the famous mountain gorillas.
Access to the NVP begins in the lively town of Ruhengeri, situated at the base of the entrance of the park. Ruhengeri has long been the base point for gorilla visits and entertains a stunning backdrop of Karisimbi, Visoke, Mikeno, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes.
Ruhengeri is easily reached from Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, either by private vehicle or by public taxi minibus. If you intend to make a gorilla visit, you will need to organise your own transport from Ruhengeri town to the park boundaries, where you will continue your trip on foot. Vehicles can be hired for this purpose in Ruhengeri town. Ruhengeri is also only a 45-minute drive away from Gisenyi and the stunning Lake Kivu.
The Kinigi Guest House on the foot of Mount Sabyinyo was recently fully refurbished, and is now open. It offers very comfortable accommodation in cottages for two, four or eight people. It also offers a good restaurant and bar. Hotel Muhabura in Ruhengeri town also offers comfortable accommodation in reasonably priced single and double rooms equipped with mosquito nets and a good supply of running hot and cold water. The hotel also features a reasonable restaurant and bar and is complete with fax and telephone facilities.
Although hiking and climbing the Volcanoes is currently not permitted, a gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1/2 hour to a 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek through the forest will not be easy, but will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate of the forest. You may spot golden monkeys swinging from the bamboo, or see wild buffalo, bush duiker and an wide assortment of bird life.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+). Then of course, nothing could be more of a privilege than to spend an hour watching the gorillas as they go about their daily routine, feeding, playing and resting, as you question your primeval existence and relive the wonder that kept Dian Fossey living in the forest for almost 18 years.