A Sea Kayak Adventures exclusive, this is an amazing Primate & Paddling journey that combines kayaking on the high mountain Lake Kivu, along with visits to National Parks, hiking to see chimpanzees, an optional golden monkey trek and, the chance to track mountain gorillas in the wild.
Weaving outdoor activity, culture and wildlife viewing into an illuminating journey, every day is a delight. The “Land of a Thousand Hills” as Rwanda is known, is also home to Africa’s sixth largest lake, Lake Kivu, situated at nearly 5000’ (1463 meters) above sea level. This clear blue lake is void of crocodiles and hippos, making it one of Africa’s most friendly kayaking locations. As we paddle along the forested and verdant shores, we meet local fishermen and learn about the lake’s unique ecosystem. We stay in comfortable lodging each night, with one night of camping.
Before kayaking, we go to Nyungwe National Park, to be immersed in the jungle on a forest canopy walkway, view a gorgeous waterfall and, walk among chimpanzees, colobus and other primates. After kayaking we head to Volcanoes National Park or Parc Nacional Volcans. We enjoy a half-day canoe paddle, some walks and then the grand finale, trekking to see the rare mountain gorilla. Few experiences in life are more powerful than being among these majestic animals.
- Trek though Nyungwe forest, home to an amazing diversity of wildlife with 310 species of birds and 13 species of primates including chimpanzees.
- Kayak on a journey of discovery on the blue waters of Lake Kivu one of the Great Lakes in the African Rift Valley; witness the beauty and yet rigours of rural life for fishing communities who paddle their traditional boats out onto the water.
- Meet amazing local people who will be delighted to welcome you to their villages and give you an insight into African life.
- Camp one night on a small, uninhabited island under the stars where your guides will prepare delicious meals for you to enjoy.
- Stop off to go on a fascinating tour to see how coffee is made: From selecting cherries off the bush to roasting the beans over a fire; its simply delicious and helping to transform a nation.
- Finish with the lifetime experience of walking amongst a family of endangered Mountain Gorillas in the wild and an optional Golden Monkey trek.
Most flights arrive in Kigali late in the day or early evening. We meet for dinner and an orientation for the trip.
Kigali Day Tour
After the long flight we have a relaxed first day visiting a few sights around Kigali. We’ll adjust our morning start time based on flight arrival times.
Whilst it is still very typically African, Kigali is undergoing a rapid transformation into a modern capital city. We visit bustling traditional markets, cultural sights and crafts or show you how entrepreneurs are setting up exciting new start-ups that are creating jobs for a new generation of well-educated young people.
Rwanda is an unprecedented modern African success story; however, we also include a visit to the Genocide Memorial, which is a reminder of this country’s history – and also highlights just how much has been achieved. Being aware of this history is important for understanding Rwanda today, and by visiting this at the start of our tour, it helps give us a sensitivity that is beneficial as we travel and meet Rwandans along our journey.
Note: You might want to consider arriving a day earlier, or stopping in Europe on your way, to better recover from jet leg.
To Nyungwe National Park
We take an early morning one-hour flight south to the city of Kamembe and transfer to our lodging in Nyungwe National Park. People come here to see primates as there are 13 species, including a chimpanzee population numbering around 500 of which we hope to see one troop of 20-30. There is also much more to see in this spectacular rainforest park. Protected in 1933, the central ridge of the Park divides Africa’s two largest river systems – the Nile and Congo - and contains the largest remaining area of montane rainforest in eastern Africa. With a wide range of elevation from 5250’ (1600 m) to nearly 9700’ (2950 m) Nyungwe is an important region of biodiversity and of the hundreds of species of plants and animals, around 15% are endemic to the Albertine Rift. In addition to the chimpanzees, other primate species include the silver, owl-faced, crowned, L’Hoest’s and acrobatic Ruwenzori colobus and more. Nyungwe is considered the single most important birdwatching destination in Rwanda, with over 300 bird species including some 27 Albertine Rift endemics. There are also amphibians and reptiles (including five species of chameleons), orchids, 100-plus species of butterflies and much more.
Late morning, we arrive at our lodge and enjoy the gardens, get settled in, have lunch and hike the Isumo waterfall trail. We pass through some tea plantations, then descend to the forest, crossing creeks thick with ferns and ending at the falls. We’re likely to see monkeys along the way and maybe some endemic birds.
Returning to our local hotel we relax and dine together.
Activity: 5 mile hike, some steep parts. About 4 hours.
Morning Forest Canopy Walk and Afternoon Forest Walk.
A real treat awaits today on the Igishigishigi Trail that includes a spectacular canopy walkway. Perched 100-120’ (30-40 meters) above the forest floor and about 600’ (200 meters) long, the walkway is suspended between massive trees, giving superb birds-eye views of the surrounding topography. There’s the chance to see various birds and monkeys including colobus monkeys as well as expansive vistas.
In the afternoon we take another walk with a specialist park guide to see the black and white Ruwenzori colobus monkeys. There is a semi-habituated troop of some 350 of these here, thought to be the largest troop of arboreal primates in Africa. They are a sociable and acrobatic primate, swinging in the trees with adept agility. It’s a highlight to see these beautiful animals.
Activity: Morning walk 2-3 miles. Afternoon 2-3 miles.
Chimpanzee Viewing. On to Lake Kivu.
We rise very early to hike with a specialist guide and view some of the Park’s chimpanzees. Mostly likely we will first hear their loud call, which Jane Goodall called the “pant-hoot” and is used by the chimps to identify each other through the thick forest foliage. The chimpanzees tend to move quickly through the forest, so this can be an active hike as we try to keep up. There is a real thrill to see these animals that share 95% of our DNA!
After an exhilarating morning we drive a couple of hours or so to the shores of Lake Kivu. Surrounded by mountains, blue and deep, it’s a beautiful site and ideal for kayaking with its crenulated shoreline, verdant surroundings and sandy beaches. It is among the world’s 20 deepest and most voluminous freshwater lakes.
After lunch at our lodge, we walk along the lakeshore Congo Nile trail, meeting locals along the way and admiring agricultural fields set beneath the impressive mountains. We return to our lodge to rest and prepare for the start of tomorrow’s kayaking.
Activity: Morning walk 2-4 miles. Afternoon 2-3 miles.
After an orientation and safety talk on kayaking, we start paddling north along the lake’s shore. Our distance is moderate and while the kayaking portion of this trip doesn’t require any experience, you are more likely to enjoy it if you do have some experience. We stop as we wish, and enjoy a picnic lunch along the way. The pleasantly warm, fresh water and fantastic scenery are sure to rejuvenate.
Activity: Kayaking: 8 miles ( 13 km) (This can be extended to 22 km if some wish to paddle more.)
Lake Kayaking North in the “Bay of Islands”
A beautiful day of paddling along the shore and among islands on the lake. We keep our eyes open for African fish eagles that dip in the lake to catch fish and monkeys jumping in the trees. If lucky we may even see the Congo clawless otter. We lunch on one of the islands and take a short nature walk.
Late afternoon we arrive at our island camp, set up in advance of our arrival and providing a natural way to experience the tranquillity of the lake. In the early evening we paddle out on the lake to hear the singing fishermen that are a magical part of life on Lake Kivu.
Activity:10.5 miles (17 km) kayaking
Paddle North to Kinuni
We have a shorter paddle today as we continue along the lake’s shore and enjoy the scenery. We arrive in time for lunch at our evening accommodation. The afternoon is spent on a walk with a local guide, visiting some of the nearby villages and talking with the villagers to learn more about life in Rwanda.
Activity: Kayaking 5 Miles (8 km). This can be extended to 13 km by looping around Bugarura Island instead of heading direct to the next lodge, should we have some paddlers looking for more mileage.
Kayaking to Village of Cyimbili, Coffee Plantation Tour
Our last morning of kayaking takes us to the small village of Cyimbili. Along the way we may optionally stop off at the market village of Nkora, where there is a small market and on Fridays a bustling centre of local traders. Cyimbili was originally established as a planned community and in the past decade has become a center for coffee plantations. We have lunch in a village home then take a tour of a coffee plantation to learn about the entire process from soil to cup.
We return to the lake for a motor boat transfer to the north end of Lake Kivu and the town of Rubona, a small satellite town of Gisenyi, just a few miles away. While Gisenyi is the largest port town on the Rwanda side of the lake, Rubona is a lovely fishing village and beach resort area. An evening stroll around the town is delightful and perhaps a stop at the local brewery will attract you.
Activity: Kayaking 7.5 Miles (12 km)
To Musanze, Handspun Hope Visit and Afternoon Canoe Trip on the Mukungwa River.
We leave our lovely beach resort for a one and a half hour’s drive to the town of Musanze, considered the gateway to Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda’s third-largest city with around 65,000 people, situated at 6000’ (1850 m), it has a very pleasant climate and a dramatic backdrop formed by three of the mountains of the Virunga chain. We visit an inspiring weaving project called Handspun Hope before moving on to lunch.
The afternoon’s highlight is a 3-hour canoe trip on the Mukungwa river. This is a gentle float through lovely farm lands with good birdwatching and a chance to talk with the local people along the way.
Activity: Gentle 3 hour canoe trip.
Hike at Lake Ruhondo – Lakeshore Lunch
Today there are a couple options. Included in the tour is an easy hike ranging from 4-6 miles (6-10km) along the shores of Lake Ruhondo. This gentle trail offers opportunities for birdwatching, seeing fishermen on the lake and chatting with locals along the trail. It’s a delightful walk and the distance is completely flexible because when we feel like we’ve had enough we’ll be picked up by a motor boat and taken to a lakeside restaurant and views of all five of the Rwandan Virunga volcanoes!
Another option for those who wish, is a trek to see golden monkeys. An endangered species that is native to Africa, this is one of the few places they can be viewed. The hike is a good warm up for the next day’s trek to see the gorillas. Primate enthusiasts will want to see these agile forest dwellers that swing around in the forest canopy enthusiastically. After the morning activity, we head to lunch at a nearby Virunga Lodge, set in a spectacular location, to enjoy lunch. After lunch there’s an optional walk near Lake Brulera for birdwatching, and then we return to Musanze for the evening. (*Note, this option entails an extra fee detailed below.)
Activity: Walking 4-6 miles at Lake Ruhondo; or 2-4 miles walking for golden monkey trek.
Tracking the Mountain Gorillas and Return to Kigali
The story of the conservation of mountain gorillas in Rwanda is an uplifting success story. If not for the development of gorilla-watching tourism, its unlikely there would be many mountain gorillas left in the world. Numbering around 1000 individuals, there are around 500 in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park and 500 in the Virunga Volcano area that straddles the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The generally peaceful gorillas spend much of their day on the forest floor eating bamboo and other plants. Being in the presence of these magnificent animals is truly a highlight of any African wildlife experience.
Our day starts early when we meet at Park Headquarters. Soon we start our trek to see one of the groups which might be relatively close, or a more distant group, making for a more challenging hike. The local Park guides have a good sense of where the troops are, made somewhat easier by the fact that the gorillas generally don’t move more than a half mile a day! Once we arrive at the gorillas, we have one hour for our visit, a practice designed to protect them from too much habituation with humans among other considerations.
We return late morning or early to mid-afternoon, depending on the distance hiked. If we have time, we also visit a community project called the Gorilla Guardians Village. Then we drive on to Kigali for a festive farewell dinner and overnight.
Free day in Kigali.
Transfer to airport on your own for your flight home, or on to other travels.
Dates & Rates
- Private transfers with a knowledgeable English-speaking driver guide.
- Qualified, experienced, English speaking and government-registered activity leaders in various locations.
- All accommodation
- All meals except as indicated
- National Park entrance fees and National Park guides.
- Single kayaks for the duration of the activity.
- Qualified, experienced, English speaking paddlesport leaders
- Camping equipment for the one-night camp on the island, including three-person tents (sleeping two), sleeping pads, camping pillows and (optionally) sleeping bags.
- Helicopter emergency medical evacuation service insurance policy within Rwanda (compulsory).
- All drinking water from reusable containers* (Except where unavoidable, single use plastic bottles will not be used, so all group members must carry at least two 1-litre reusable or filter water bottles. A filter water bottle works especially well whilst kayaking as the water in Lake Kivu is safe to drink after filtering or treating. Filter suggestions will be provided.)
- All Local taxes.
- International travel insurance (compulsory),
- International flights
- Visa fees ($30 fee payable on arrival at the Kigali airport).
- Drinks beyond water such as soda, beer, or other alcoholic drinks
- Items of a personal nature such as laundry, miscellaneous tips when you are on your own,
- Memorial photography fees, medical evacuation or treatment costs apart from helicopter evacuation to Kigali, international calls, any hotel Mini bar and Wi-Fi charges applicable.
- Permit fees for the gorilla trek
- Fees for Optional activities such as the golden monkey trek
- Gorilla Trek Permit - $1500
- Golden Monkey Permit - $100
Note on Travel: At some point in 2019 Rwanda Air is planning to start a non-stop flight from New York to Kigali. Other options are Rwanda Air flights from London and Brussels to Kigali which go several days a week. It’s also possible to fly other routes through other African countries.