Volcanoes NP trip report

We spent 12 days in Rwanda in August, in Kigali, Ruhengeri (where the official sign into the town from Kigali does still say that, not Musanze!), & Kinigi GH, climbing three Virunga peaks. Here are some of the changes we noted:

Found online, we booked a self-drive 4×4 through AZ IMPEX in Kigali, http://www.az-impex.com (in French & English), a most efficient-looking garage in the (valley) Industrial Estate, run by a Rwanda-born Belgian, one of the very few car hire outfits offering self-drive. It cost $100/day, all in, and the vehicle was in excellent condition.

ORTPN is now simply the tourism department of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), and the old name is dropped. Booking for Volcanoes NP hiking went smoothly at the RDB office Kigali but not all the starting times were correct; so best to check again at the NP Headquarters at Kinigi. RDB Kigali told us that bookings must be made at Kigali but it was clear that some people were catered for through their tour operators or booked directly at Park HQ (last minute, we supposed, if they have the guides, &c. available).

Remarkably for Africa, the value of the Rwanda franc has changed little since your ‘09 edn: says something for Kagame’s amazing post-1994 economic miracle! Money changing: some ATMs in Kigali accepted Visa, but there are only 2 in the whole country taking MasterCard, neither of them in the centre. One is at Butare, the other in Nyamirembe. We didn’t discover a valid explanation for this. Lots of forex in Kigali but, as so often, scout around for the best exchange rate. Not a single official forex bureau in Ruhengeri, just one (undercover?) gentleman, going by the name of ‘Bwana Abuba’, and found in a grimy shop along the main street near MTN. So, changing all you need in Kigali and/or taking a load of USD, &c. cash is a necessity. Many hotels add on 5% for credit card changing.

Taking your recommendation, we stayed in Kigali at Iris Guest House and can certainly also recommend it, though the food was not exceptional. At Ruhengeri, La Palme Hotel, just up from Hotel Muhabura, is modern and reasonably priced. We believe Gorillas Lodge and Impala Hotel in town have closed down, as we couldn’t find them. The Kinigi (ASOFERWA) Guest House is NOT in the best of conditions, and our rooms, in the main outsize ‘rondavel’ were becoming tatty & tacky, with the bathrooms in particular a right old mess. We assume they lack capital for a complete rehab. Food was what one might expect in a small up-country hostelry, though the breakfasts were rather meagre.

As for the hiking, which covered Bisoke, Muhabura and Karisimbi, the three currently accessible, you probably know that armed askaris (Army trainees), usually at least six are compulsory when entering the NP. They are quite discreet during the hike, in front and behind, but, especially on the 2-day Karisimbi climb, if you include the guide, the odd ranger, our porters, their porters, it sometimes feels as if you are an intrepid Livingstone or Speke!! We mentioned the radio transmitter construction cast-off litter on the summit of Karisimbi, and also the excessive use of locally plundered firewood by porters and soldiers around the camp, to somebody at the Kinigi HQ; accepted very politely, but will they do anything? May help if mentioned in a guidebook!

The overnight camp on the slopes of Karisimbi consists of a kind of dining banda, divided into two parts, and the porters’ cabin. The rest of us erected our own tents, though, if you have a warm enough sleeping bag and it is not too windy, you can sleep in the banda since it has part-walls, about 3-4ft high. As we were told, all food and cooking equipment needs to be taken up.

Also on your recommendation, and for acclimatisation, we climbed Kabuye, en route from Kigali to Ruhengeri, though we have to say we found the directions a little confusing, and were eventually forced to hire a local youth to guide us up!

We hope these comments are useful

David

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