Rwanda Gorilla Trekking and Kayaking
A ROW 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, black and white colobus monkeys, a golden monkey trek and, the chance to track mountain gorillas in the wild. We also explore Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, the country’s ethnographic museum and a coffee plantation and a tea processing factory.
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 during the kayak portion of the tour.
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 visit the Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Institute, hike to see golden monkeys 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;
- Visit Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Institute and have an insider’s presentation from staff.
- Finish with the lifetime experience of walking amongst a family of endangered Mountain Gorillas in the wild and a Golden Monkey trek.
Images & Videos
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.
Whilst it is still very typically African, Kigali is undergoing a rapid transformation into a modern capital city. A morning visit to the Nyamirambo Women’s Center followed by a walk through the nearby neighbourhood provides a good introduction to some of the social enterprises that are happening as well as glimpse into daily life in Kigali.
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 lag.
South to Nyanza King’s Palace To Nyungwe National Park
We depart Kigali driving south to the Nyanza king’s palace to learn about Rwanda history and see what the royal residences once were like in the 19th century under the leadership of King Yuhi V Musinga. From here we travel to the National Ethnographic Museum in the city of Huye that houses one of Africa’s finest ethnographic collections. The museum collection was given to the city as a gift from Belgium in 1987 to celebrate 25 years of independence. It provides an excellent insight into Rwandan culture. The seven galleries are a great introduction to many aspects of Rwanda including geology, farming, music, poetry, dance, various material arts and much more.
After lunch in Huye we continue to the west to Nyungwe National Park. People come here to see some of the 13 species of primates that live here, 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.
We settle into the hotel with time to walk around the grounds and stretch legs.
Activity: Minimal walking during museum visits.
Morning forest canopy walk; Afternoon forest walk.
In the morning, we 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.
Afterwards, we visit a nearby tea plantation and tea processing plant. A major economic contributor to Rwanda’s economy, it’s astounding to see all the steps from harvest to final product.
After lunch, we walk 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.
We return to our accommodations to enjoy the lovely grounds and views over the forest.
Activity: Morning walk 1-3 miles. Afternoon 1-3 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, however 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 to the island’s summit for fantastic views along the lake.
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.
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. / Walking 2-4 miles with 300-400’ elevation gain.
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) / Walking 1 mile
To Musanze, Handspun Hope visit and Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Center
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 where over 100 marginalized women find employment and purpose producing various woven art objects. From here we head to lunch.
In the afternoon we visit the Karisoke Research Center to learn about gorilla conservation and research. There is a wonderful exhibition of Dian Fossey’s work, including manuscripts and diaries from her early days spent researching the gorillas. We have a special insider’s presentation from museum staff to learn more about the lives of the gorillas and their biology. This provides an important foundation for a better understanding and appreciation of our gorilla observation the next day.
Activity: Minimal walking
Morning Walk to See Golden Monkeys - Afternoon Hike at Lake Ruhondo – Lakeshore lunch
We rise early and head to Park Headquarters to get organized for the morning trek with 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 especially enjoy these agile forest dwellers that swing around in the forest canopy enthusiastically and may walk by us on the ground as well.
The walk through the forest usually ends by noon and we return to our lodge to freshen up and have lunch. Then we head out for a mostly level walk around the shores of Lake Ruhondo. We walk from 3-5 miles (6-10km) along the shores of the lake on a gentle trail that offers opportunities for birdwatching, seeing fishermen on the lake and chatting with locals. 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 for a late afternoon cruise to enjoy the scenery and with any luck, have views of all five of the Rwandan Virunga volcanoes!
Activity: 2-4 miles walking for golden monkey trek. Walking 3-5 miles at Lake Ruhondo
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 before 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
*Custom dates for 2+ people available year around, please inquire with an Adventure Consultant for additional details.
- 4-5 guests $6450/person
- 6-13 guests $5950/person
- 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
- Permit fee for 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.
FAQ & More
Rwanda is near the equator, so temperatures stay fairly consistent year round and can be considered pleasantly warm. Generally they range from 80-81 F during the day and 52-55 F at night. In the mountains, particularly in Volcanoes National Park, it is cooler while it can be warmer in the far west due to lower elevation.
There are also seasonal rainy and dry seasons in Rwanda. There is a short dry season from December to February. This is followed by a rainy season through May. Then June to mid-September is a longer dry season. This is followed by a rainy season in October and November.
Bear in mind there is no perfect science here and also that even during the rainy season the rains typically don’t last long and are often in the afternoon. To learn more visit: https://www.climatestotravel.com/climate/rwanda
We send you a detailed packing list prior to your adventure with us. Generally speaking, quick-drying synthetic clothing is best. Good footwear for walking is essential.
The official currency is the Rwandan Franc.
English is the second language in Rwanda and many people in the cities and tourism enterprises speak English. In small villages it is much less common.
On the gorilla trek or gorilla safari that we do, there is an almost certain opportunity to see gorillas. In Volcanoes National Park there are currently 10 habituated groups (family units that have become accustomed to being around humans). They can be within a half hour walk of the Park Headquarters, or 2-3 hours away. Usually we walk somewhere between 1-2 hours to reach our assigned family group. However, as the gorillas do move, it could be longer. The Park tries to send groups of people that are more fit to the troops that are farther away, and groups desiring less walking or hiking to those closer.
The opportunity to see the gorillas is managed by the Rwandan National Park system. Permits are limited and purchased in advance. The permit allows for one hour of actual viewing time with the gorillas. This is in addition to the time required to hike to and from the gorilla troop. The day starts early at Park headquarters where we are assigned a guide and are divided into groups of no more than 8 people. After a short orientation meeting we drive to whatever location is closest to the gorillas. Then we walk between a half hour and 2-3 hours to reach the gorillas. Once we arrive at the location of the gorillas, the one-hour clock begins. The guides instruct us where to move and stand as we observe these impressive animals. There is plenty of opportunity to take photographs.
Gorillas are wild animals and thus to a certain degree, are unpredictable. However, the Park rangers spend several years habituating each troop to be used to human visitors. Some of the groups have been habituated for over 10-15 years. Young gorillas born into a habituated troop are immediately habituated as they observe their troop interact with humans. It is critical to follow the instructions and directions given by the guides and do as they say when we are near the gorillas (and other times as well).
The other primates we observe on this trip (chimpanzees, golden monkeys, black and white colobus and others) are wild animals that move freely in their forest environment. In each case we have to walk or hike to their location. In some cases, they are on the move and we may not get very close. In general, they are much more active and mobile than the gorillas. Local Park guides do their best to provide the best possible viewing.
There are many birds in Rwanda, some of which are endemic to the area, and we see a number of these during our trip. Outside of the National Parks there are few wild animals. Classic African animals can be found at Akagera National Park. (see below)
Yes! We offer an extension to our main tour to visit Akagera National Park in the east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. The Big Five live here! Thus you can see lions, elephants, Cape buffalo, rhinoceros and leopard. You typically see giraffe, zebra and antelopes as these are all abundant. In terms of the variety of antelope, there are Klipspringer, eland, impala, Defass waterbuck, common duiker, bushbuck and sitatunga. In the lakes there are hippos and crocodiles. There are also baboons, monkeys and warthogs. Other species can only be seen at night and include genets, civets, aardvark, porcupine, bushbabies, elephant shrew and others.
We personally research all our destinations with a goal to design unique itineraries you won’t find anywhere else. Our Paddling & Primates trip is the only trip that combines primate viewing, a gorilla safari and kayaking on Lake Kivu. We choose locally-run, unique accommodations and eat in interesting, locally-operated restaurants. We know our guides and drivers personally and they in turn know our guest expectations. We do not use high-end accommodations, so our tour is an excellent value for those focused on having an authentic, wildlife-rich active vacation.
Yes, we are happy to accommodate groups as small as 1 and as large as you may wish to travel to Rwanda. If our itinerary isn’t what you are looking for we can custom design any tour you might wish.
Mountain gorillas are found in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). A number of operators offer tours that combine Rwanda and Uganda and we too are happy to design a custom tour, or an extension to our tour, should you wish to visit the gorillas in other countries.
Eastern lowland gorillas are found only in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the Kahuzi-Biega National Park near the south end of Lake Kivu. We are happy to arrange custom tours to see these gorillas, which are the largest species of gorilla in the world. We have personally experienced this and highly recommend it for the adventurous traveler.
The food on our trips is locally prepared and delicious. In Kigali there are some very innovative restaurants while those in the countryside and smaller cities are more basic. Meals consist of various ingredients including fish, meat, vegetables, nuts and tropical fruits. Typical items on menus include beans, bananas, fried plantains, sweet potatoes and cassava. There is also Umutsima which is a dish of cassava and corn, and isombe (cassava leaves with eggplant and spinach). Brochettes of lamb, goat and fish are common. A delicacy from Lake Kivu are tiny fish called Sambaza that are deep-fried.
There are some regions in Rwanda where mosquitoes that carry malaria are present. Check with your personal physician and the CDC website for details on any precautions you may want to take.
In 2018-19 another Ebola outbreak occurred in the DRC. A very few cases have crossed the border into either Uganda or Rwanda. A successful vaccine has been developed and is now in use which is changing the situation dramatically. Traveling to this area of the world is a personal choice based on your own risk tolerance.
We recommend that you drink only filtered water. We ask you to bring a water bottle and we provide clean drinking water dispensed from large containers. Of course, there are many other beverages available including soft drinks, tea, coffee, beer and wine.
You will find a wide variety of handmade souvenirs and crafts are available. On our tour we visit a couple of women’s foundations that make and sell crafts including woven items, textiles and art.
Rwanda is a poor country and gifts are much appreciated. While we include incidental tips on our tours, tipping hospitality servers and providers is always welcome and an effective way to help people. Items from your home town such as postcards, or a small picture-book of your home region can be a good conversation-starter and fun gift to connect with people. Memory sticks are always appreciated. T-shirts make for good gifts. Please do not bring cheap plastic things, or things that would require batteries as these are expensive for people.
In Rwanda you find two associated plug types, types C and J. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins as in Europe and plug type J is the plug which has three round pins. Rwanda operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz. A few hotels also have US outlets.