Date of stay: 05/05/2011 – 08/05/2011
Where you stayed: Kigali Serena Inn & Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Travelled with: Girlfriend
Tour or pre planned: Pre planned – Gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Link to our tour - Rwanda Gorrilla trekking
For those of you that are nature lovers who are travelling to Africa, Mountain Gorilla trekking is a must. Initially, we hadn’t planned to visit the Mountain Gorillas but these amazing creatures may not be around for much longer so we decided that we couldn’t possibly miss out. We would strongly encourage anyone visiting Africa to make sure you include a trip to Rwanda, Uganda or DRC to visit the Mountain Gorillas. There are trips available that suit all budgets and you will take away memories that will last a lifetime. If possible, try and visit them out of the wet season as trekking can be challenging in the wet.
For this particular section of our trip, our main criterion was time. I was already taking more leave than I had accumulated so we wanted to do the Gorilla’s in a short space of time. We did a real thorough search of the brochures and for us, the best available trip was with Bench International and it was visiting Rwanda for 3 days/2 nights.
Initially I was a bit sceptical about visiting Rwanda due to their well-publicised past (1994 genocide – see Hotel Rwanda or Sometimes in April for films on this topic) as well as the Australian government’s recommendation to avoid visiting areas of Rwanda bordering the DRC (where the Mountain Gorillas live) but the Gorillas proved to be too appealing.
Ok, so the trip itself was not cheap. We spent 5 weeks in total in Africa and this 3 day section of the trip was about half of the total cost (including flights). Our total travel time from our home in Adelaide, Australia to Kigali (pronounced Chigali), Rwanda was 50 hours (due to terrible connections once we got to Africa). We also were unfortunate enough to spend our final 6 hours of transit at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, where there is nothing to do but drink (it is cheap though so maybe not so bad if we weren’t afraid we would fall asleep and miss our connection). We could possibly have made the connections slightly better but our travel agent recommended that we not fly with Rwandair, who aren’t the most reliable and that we stick with Kenya Airways (great airline!!)
But, even with all of this trouble getting there, would we do it again??? Definitely!
We would happily spend 100+ hours in transit to have the chance to experience the Mountain Gorillas again.
Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport at midnight, we were picked up by our personal guide Sura (who was with us from start to finish) and driven to our hotel in the centre of Kigali, the Kigali Serena Inn. Even at midnight, the city was busy with people walking around, completely safe. After finally getting to our hotel, we settled in to our room and got a sound 6 hour sleep in prior to our journey the next day to Sabyinyo Silverback lodge – Mountain Gorilla Country.
The next morning we were driven across Kigali to the Gisozi Genocide museum for an emotional visit to one of the countries memorials to the 1994 genocide. The word highlight can’t be used here due to the events this memorial commemorates but a visit to a genocide memorial is a must to fully understand not only the atrocities that were committed during this period, but also to understand the amazing advances that Rwanda has made since 1994.
Following our trip to the genocide museum, we began the 3 hour journey to the eco-friendly Sabyinyo Silverback lodge at the boundary of the Parc National Des Volcans where we were greeted by 7-star treatment (amazing food, complimentary beer and wine, staff to stoke our rooms fire and the best service we have ever experienced at a hotel). As this hotel is very close to the borders of Uganda and the DRC, we also had escorts to and from our rooms in the evening.
After an amazing sleep, we woke early the next morning and headed to the park headquarters for a briefing on the morning ahead. Whilst these Mountain Gorillas are wild, they are habituated and will go about their day to day business and basically ignore humans who are observing them. Each troop of Gorillas will only be visited by one group per day for a maximum of 1 hour. The location of the Gorillas are known thanks to the efforts of gorilla trackers who head out early each morning to locate the Gorillas and radio this information back to park headquarters so you head out with a good idea of where the troop of Gorillas that you are visiting are.
Other than the guides that accompany you, visitors have the opportunity to ‘employ’ a porter for the trip. It only cost us $10USD for a porter and we strongly recommend this as it makes life so much easier when trekking through what can be quite difficult terrain. Also, these porters are former Gorilla Poachers who now use this opportunity to support their families.
After the briefing, we had the opportunity to choose what type of walk we wanted to do. We chose the ‘short walk’ with the Gorillas which basically meant that we would visit the group of Gorillas that was closest to the park boundaries on that day. This short walk can range from 30 minutes to 4 hours depending on where they have travelled so be prepared for a decent walk. Luckily for us, our group of Mountain Gorillas decided to meet us at the edge of the park boundaries. For the next hour, we followed the Gorillas and were able to get almost within touching distance of a number of Gorillas including the silverback of the group. Fortunately for us, the weather was perfect (only a little rain during wet season) and we were able to get some amazing photographs and memories which will be with us for the rest of our lives. After the trekking, we headed back to Sabyinyo Silverback lodge for a beautiful lunch prior to our departure back to Kigali.
After another night at Kigali Serena Inn, Sura took us on one last tour of Kigali and a visit to local markets prior to dropping us off at Kigali Airport for our next flight onwards to Nairobi and our next amazing trip – Livingstone’s Africa with Kumuka.
Points to highlight:
Pre-book your trip before you go. Gorilla permits are expensive and during high seasons, it can be difficult to obtain one without planning ahead as numbers are strictly limited per group. Make a visit to a genocide museum to understand the countries recent history – and also to understand how western countries did nothing about these atrocities. Try travelling during the dry season if possible to make trekking and gorilla spotting easier. If you are willing to spend a little more, stay at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. It helps support the local community and even though we were working on a tight budget, we did not regret it.
Take a good camera/video camera! You don’t want to get there are realise that your camera isn’t up to scratch and you can’t get all of those amazing photos you have been dreaming of.
Although it isn’t mentioned in the blog, have US dollars prior to getting in the country. At the time of our visit, Rwanda was still a cash based society and only certain hotels can accept credit cards. There were NO eftpos machines in Rwanda during our visit so we had all the cash we needed prior to arrival.
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Would you recommend this destination: Yes
Would you recommend your tour: Yes
Would you recommend your hotel/hostel: Yes
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 (highly recommended)
By: John & Ang
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