We have just returned to the UK from a 10-day tour of Rwanda, taking in the three National Parks (Akagera, Volcanoes, Nyungwe) and Kigali.
We travelled with a driver/guide from African Adventure Safaris [ [http://www.gorillatrekafrica.com/index.html ]. We had an amazing time. The country is beautiful, the people are very friendly, and the wildlife experiences were wonderful.
I found the Bradt guidebook to be an excellent resource – both when planning in advance what we wanted to see, and also for ‘getting a feel’ for what to expect when we arrived. I have also found the more recent updates left by others on this website of particular use, so I’m endeavoring to do the same!
There seems to be a new rule that visitors driving in the park should (presumably only if there’s room?) have an official guide with them from the lodge. This seems a bit pointless if you already have an experienced guide with you, but as the lodge doesn’t seem to have any usable game vehicles of its own, nor offer any guided walks (despite advertising to the contrary), I guess this is an additional way for them to bring in income. The one we were given wasn’t the best and we were often pointing out the wildlife to him! I would definitely recommend that people do the one hour boat trip on Lake Ihema though – we saw hippo, a water monitor, baby Nile crocodile, fish eagles etc. There was (as with virtually every hotel we ate in Rwanda) a long wait for food to be served in the restaurant – despite there being very few (around 10) guests staying in total on the days we were there. Whilst we enjoyed our stay and found the rooms to be pleasant enough, anyone planning to stay at the lodge and drive in the park should maybe temper their expectations somewhat if they are expecting 5* service/accommodation and the world’s best ever game viewing.
Splendid experiences with the gorillas. Well worth doing two or more (if you can afford it!!) visits as each of our experiences was very different. Day One – great hike uphill for two hours to find family group of 11 (Ugenda) mainly resting/sleeping. Day Two – more like a 20 minute walk on pretty flat terrain to find 16 individuals (Agasha) really active all around us.
Two places (not currently mentioned in the guidebook) in the area local to Musanze/the Park Headquarters for the gorillas which are well worth stopping in at are the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project [www.gorilladoctors.org/], and the local school for deaf children and children from child headed households. Both welcome visitors and we were really impressed by the fantastic work they each do for animals and people respectively.
We were lucky to see (3) chimps on our trek – apparently some aren’t so fortunate. However, we didn’t actually go into Nyungwe itself to do the trek, but instead had to drive around 90 mins west to a separate small area (4km2) of fragmented forest (so a 3 hour return drive in total, none of it on paved roads). It wasn’t what we were expecting but once there the experience was good. There is a second group they sometimes trek who are in the main Nyungwe Forest, but when we visited, these animals had recently moved to more than a 5-hour hike away and so were pretty much inaccessible to tourists. It also meant that I think there were only 8 permits available, for a larger number of expectant visitors. The walk to see the Colobus Monkeys was about 200 metres from the main road, next to a tea plantation, and whilst nice, at around $70-80 per person, was a bit overpriced in my view.
We also stayed in some great new-ish accommodation – Top Hill View Hotel http://nyungwehotel.com/v1 ] less than 5 mins drive from the Park reception at the western border to the forest. Fantastic rooms (individual huts with large bedroom, bathroom, living room with open fire and balcony), great views, good service, and a reasonable 3-course dinner for $15 (lunch is the same price).