Ex­plor­ing: Rwanda

One of Africa’s small­est coun­tries is now one of its big­gest stars, thanks to stun­ning land­scapes, its leg­endary moun­tain go­ril­las and more, says Lau­ren Jarvis

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I’m sit­ting eye-to-eye with a brood­ing, 150kg black mass of wild moun­tain go­rilla, crouched in a thick tan­gle of for­est in Rwanda’s Virunga Moun­tains.

Be­hind him, baby go­ril­las tum­ble and play as their moth­ers lan­guidly strip bam­boo. It’s taken three hours to reach the Susa fam­ily, one of 10 go­rilla groups that can be seen on a guided trek in Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park.

For their pro­tec­tion, we can only stay for an hour, and must keep a dis­tance of seven me­tres. But mighty Manzi has other ideas. Break­ing our face-off, he sud­denly ‘bluff’ charges a ranger, be­fore squat­ting hairy-back-to-back against my alarmed, al­though ex­hil­a­rated, travel com­pan­ion.

With close-up enoun­ters like this, it’s no sur­prise that go­rilla trekking tops so many trav­ellers’ bucket lists.

Kings of the jun­gle

Go­ril­las are also found in Uganda and the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo but they're the jewel in Rwanda’s crown and the coun­try has done much to pre­serve them.

In July 2017, the govern­ment dou­bled the cost of a tourist trekking per­mit from $750 to $1,500, to boost rev­enue for con­ser­va­tion and com­mu­nity projects. The price hike has not de­terred trekkers, with the num­ber of UK vis­i­tors up 21% last year. Al­most 25 years af­ter the dreadul geno­cide (1994), Rwanda is now a sta­ble and ex­cit­ing des­ti­na­tion and one bent on a sus­tain­able fu­ture (plas­tic bags are al­ready banned).

Its cap­i­tal, Ki­gali, is a clean, mod­ern gate­way and busi­ness hub, with sev­eral big-name ho­tels, in­clud­ing Radis­son Blu, Mar­riott and Dou­bleTree by Hilton; a ris­ing num­ber of smaller, bou­tique prop­er­ties such as Heaven (heav­en­r­wanda.com) and some top-notch res­tau­rants and bars.

Ad­ven­turer’s par­adise

Be­yond the city, ’The Land of a Thou­sand Hills’ is an ad­ven­ture play­ground, with miles of moun­tain-bik­ing paths, in­clud­ing the epic Congo Nile Trail; im­mense Lake Kivu and croc-free rivers for ca­noe­ing (king­fish­er­jour­neys.com); and the pend­ing launch of paramo­tor­ing, which will of­fer a bird’seye view of Rwanda’s vol­canic peaks (rdb.rwor email paramo­tor­ing@rdb.rw).

Africa’s largest pro­tected wet­land, Ak­agera Na­tional Park (african­parks.org), has been home to the ‘Big Five’ since black rhi­nos and lions were rein­tro­duced in suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion pro­grammes, while Nyungwe Na­tional Park (rwanda­tourism.com) is a hot-spot for chim­panzee trekking. Golden mon­key trekking is a cheaper al­ter­na­tive to see­ing go­ril­las in Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park (vol­ca­noes­na­tion­al­parkr­wanda.com).

Here vis­i­tors can also hike to the grave site and former re­search camp of renowned pri­ma­tol­o­gist, Dian Fossey, at Karisoke (go­ril­la­fund.org).

The Cul­tural Her­itage Cor­ri­dor in­cludes the King’s Palace Mu­seum and Ethno­graphic Mu­seum (mu­seum.gov.rw); a his­toric Catholic mis­sion, Save; and the mov­ing Ki­gali Geno­cide Memo­rial Cen­tre (kgm.rw). Learn about tra­di­tional Rwan­dan life at Kinigi’s Go­rilla Guardians vil­lage (cb­tr­wanda.org).

What’s new

One&Only Re­sorts’ Nyungwe House, near Nyungwe Na­tional Park, will open its doors next month. Go­rilla’s Nest, in the foothills of the Virunga Moun­tains, will fol­low next sum­mer (one­an­don­lyre­sorts.com).

Fol­low­ing the launch of Bisate Lodge near Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park in 2016, Wilder­ness Sa­faris will open its lux­ury, six-tented Ma­gashi Camp this De­cem­ber in Ak­agera Na­tional Park (wilder­ness-sa­faris.com).

Sin­gita Kwitonda Lodge will open in Vol­ca­noes Na­tional Park in late 2019.

da.sin­gita.com), while Gov­er­nors’ Camp’s Sabyinyo Sil­ver­back Lodge was ex­ten­sively re­fur­bished this year (gov­er­norscamp.com).

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