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Mountain gorillas, verdant volcanoes, and a country on the rebound

Known as the “Land of 1,000 Hills,” Rwanda is an exuberantly green country of terraced slopes and dormant volcanoes whose mist-shrouded heights provide habitat for the critically endangered mountain gorilla. Seeing this remarkable primate in the wild is one of Africa’s great nature experiences.  Modern-day Rwanda is also noteworthy for its inspirational recovery from its tragic 1990s history.

Rwanda’s standout attraction is Parc National des Volcans, home to one of the world’s last remaining populations of mountain gorillas. Accompanied by expert guides, park visitors enter directly into the gorillas’ habitat, climbing high into the Afromontane forest of Rwanda’s Virunga Mountains. Round a bend, and you may suddenly find yourself in the presence of an entire gorilla family or a group of juveniles playfully tumbling down the edge of a mist-shrouded crater. Travelers here can also track the golden monkey through the park’s bamboo forests or visit the grave of renowned conservationist Dian Fossey, who rests here in the company of the primates she dedicated her life to protecting.

Beyond the volcanoes, Rwanda’s highlights include the beautiful palm-fringed beaches of Lake Kivu in the Great Rift Valley, and the diverse wildlife of Nyungwe Forest and A’kagera national parks. Nyungwe’s tract of virgin rainforest is rich in orchids, giant lobelias, chimpanzees, and birds such as the great blue turaco. A’kagera’s mix of acacia savanna and wetlands supports classic African mammals—elephants, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, and antelope among them—and over 500 bird species including the rare papyrus gonolek. Avian life throughout the country is remarkably diverse, making Rwanda a favorite bird-watching destination.

Rwanda’s path towards a new beginning in the aftermath of its 1990s-era genocide has been a tremendous source of national pride. Communal efforts to heal past wounds and improve quality of life include a monthly event where every citizen right up to the president engages in volunteer work. The government has also instituted groundbreaking environmental policies—such as its total ban on plastic bags—and launched initiatives to provide all Rwandan children with shoes and laptop computers.

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Country Highlights & Attractions

  • Track endangered gorillas in the highlands of Volcanoes National Park
  • Relax on the beach beside vast Lake Kivu
  • See how many bird species you can count in A’Kagera National Park
  • Commune with chimpanzees in the jungles of Nyungwe National Park
  • Visit the grave of Gorillas in the Mist author Dian Fossey, world-renowned for her primate conservation work

Wildlife in Rwanda

Representing nearly half the world’s population, the 400 endangered mountain gorillas that roam Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are reason enough to visit; but the country’s jungles, rift valleys, and lush volcanic slopes also shelter other great African mammals, and one of the continent’s richest assemblages of birds.

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Golden Monkeys

Enjoy watching these endangered long-tailed denizens of Rwanda’s high-altitude forests frolic in the treetops and bamboo vegetation.

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Abundant Birdlife

Rwanda’s Albertine Rift is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 600 species, including the red-collared mountain babbler and the exquisite purple-breasted sunbird.

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Forest Mammals

For a deeper understanding of Rwanda’s ecosystems, look for signs of the forest elephant, giant forest hog, and shy duiker antelope as you track gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

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Mountain Gorillas

Tracking these gentle giants through the misty mountain forests of Volcanoes National Park is a wildlife experience unparalleled anywhere on earth.

Country Facts

Nicknamed “the Land of a Thousand Hills,” Rwanda’s lush mountainsides are home to nearly half of the world’s rare mountain gorillas. Straddling the watershed between the Congo and Nile basins, the country’s landscape ranges from volcanic peaks and great lakes in the west to savannahs and swamps along the eastern border with Tanzania. Top attractions for travelers include Rwanda’s national parks and the shores of Lake Kivu.

Known in colonial days as Ruanda-Urundi, Rwanda gained its independence from Belgium in 1962. The country suffered one of the world’s worst genocides in 1994, but has made enormous strides in peaceful development since then. Rwanda in the 21st century welcomes visitors to a nation of security and stability. The government is a multiparty democracy, with its capital city in Kigali.


Language & People

The official languages of Rwanda are Kinyarwanda (a Bantu language), English, and French. Among the country’s 12 million people, the Hutus, of Bantu origin, are by far the largest ethnic group with 84 percent of the population. The minority Tutsi and Twa account for 15 percent and 1 percent of the population, respectively.

Food & Drink

The cuisine of Rwanda is based on its local crops and varies by ethnic group. The harvest includes bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes, beans, and manioc root, and traditional dishes include a maize porridge accompanied by a variety of vegetable stews. Depending on the location or ethnicity, some fish, meat, or milk is also eaten. African lager-style beers are popular throughout the country, as is ubuki, an alcoholic drink of fermented honey.

Weather & Elements

A year-round destination, Rwanda enjoys a fairly uniform climate thanks to its proximity to the equator. Daytime temperatures average in the high 70s F, dropping to 50° to 60° F in the higher mountains. The dry season is from mid-May to mid-October, and the rainiest periods are March–April and October–November, with some variation by region and elevation.

Entry Requirements & Visas

U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days.

For most up-to-date visa information, and for non-U.S. citizens, see the Embassy of Rwanda website: www.usa.embassy.gov.rw.

For visa and passport assistance, we recommend Travel Document Systems: www.traveldocs.com.


Rwanda uses the Rwandan franc (RWF), which is divided into 100 centimes. As of November 2014, $1 US = 1 RWF. For up-to-date exchange rates, see www.oanda.com.

Foreign currency can be changed at banks and exchange offices in larger towns. ATMs are available in Kigali only. Credit cards are accepted only at travel agencies, major lodges, and hotels. Departure taxes ($20 US) can be paid in local or foreign currency. U.S. dollars are preferred in large-denomination, clean bills issued after 2006.

Immunizations & Health

Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required for all travelers nine months old and older for entry into Rwanda. Malaria medication, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are also generally recommended for all travelers. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: www.cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.


Alternating current of 230V/240V and 50Hz is used in Rwanda. Plugs typically have 2-pin (round) prongs and will be type C or J. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you need the adapter plug but not a converter.

Phone & Internet

Rwanda country code: +250
International access code calling out of Rwanda: 00

  • Cell-phone coverage throughout Rwanda is extensive, but cannot be guaranteed at all times, especially in remote areas.
  • Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages, but less reliable elsewhere, especially in parks and reserves.

For more information about Rwanda, see the national tourism board website: www.rwandatourism.com.

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Paul Ruganitwali

Paul is Rwandan and has been a safari guide for nine years. He speaks French and English, among other languages. His most memorable encounter on safari was seeing a silverback and a female “flirting” before the male pretended not to be interested. The female wandered out of his sight and started playing with another male. When the silverback heard her grunts of delight, he ran down to find out what the noise was about and, boy, was he jealous!

Charles Kawooya

Charles is from Uganda and has been a safari guide for 16 years. He speaks four languages (English, Luganda, Runyankole, and Swahili). He loves spending time in the rainforest in the company of rare gorillas, whose remarkably human behavior he finds fascinating. His favorite location is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, not only for the gorillas but also because it’s one of the best bird-watching sites in the whole of Uganda.

Francis Kiwanuka

Francis grew up in Masaka, Uganda and has been a guide for over 20 years. He speaks a number of languages including English, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, and Luganda. Francis’ favorite place to take guests is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where he enjoys seeing the gorillas hanging around Bwindi Lodge and eating the lush vegetation that surrounds the bandas.

Vincent Katwire

Vincent is from the Bushenyi District in western Uganda, but he is most at home in the rich, green rainforest of the towering Virunga Mountains, the natural habitat of the mighty mountain gorilla. He has been a guide for 10 years and loves how mountain gorillas seem to care for each other like humans do. Although he can’t speak gorilla (at least, not yet), Vincent does speak five languages (English, Runyankole, Luganda, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili) that he regularly uses on safari. His most precious memory is escorting a visually impaired guest on an incredible journey to visit the mountain gorillas.

1 Rwanda Safaris

Rwanda Extension

Rwanda: Virunga Mountain Gorillas 4 Days / 3 Nights

Activities: Guided Walks, Cultural Visits, Gorilla TrackingSet off into the verdant wilds of Volcanoes National Park to discover one of the last strongholds of the endangered mountain gorilla.

Highlights & Departures
Safari Extension from $3,698 USD per persontrip details


  • Experience face-to-face encounters with one of the world’s rarest primates as you trek through clouds in the exuberant greenery of Rwanda’s volcanic highlands
  • Thrill to the jangling rhythm of colorfully clad, spear-wielding Intore dancers
  • Relax with a complimentary massage
  • Share gorilla-watching stories and spectacular vistas over sundowners at your luxurious lodge

Departure Dates

This Safari Extension is available on request in combination with any of our Scheduled Group Safaris.


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Dry Season

Grass is short, so it’s easy to spot wildlife that is concentrated near waterholes.

Temperate Season

Ideal Safari season – wildlife is easy to track, and the weather is temperate.

Rainy Season

Tropical downpours mean an ideal season for birding and photography.

Light Rains

Cooler weather & nighttime rains mean animals are more active during the day.

Dec, Jan, Feb & Jun, Jul & Aug: The dry season is the most popular time to track gorillas, as it is less likely to rain, making the trails easier to manage. The skies are clear and the sun is shining. It is important to secure your gorilla-tracking permits as early as possible. Average high: 77-81. Average low: 61-64.

Mar, Apr & May: The wettest time of year, with most days clearing to see sunshine as well. Gorilla tracking (and road travel) during this season can be treacherous and best suited to visitors looking for a challenge. Average high: 77-81. Average low: 64.

Sept, Oct & Nov: The light rains begin by October, making these months ideal for birding – and the dramatic skies and scenery provide excellent opportunities for photography. The trails will likely be wet but generally manageable. Average high: 81. Average low: 63.

All seasonal temperatures noted are Fahrenheit.

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