Trip Report: Rwanda Gorillas & Golden Monkeys: July 2016

Staff Members: Robin Paschall & Dean Paschall
Travel Dates: July 30 – August 3, 2016
Destinations Visited: Kigali and Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda

Rwanda is best known for gorilla trekking, but there is so much to see and do there!  We did a 5-day trip that included the gorillas, golden monkeys, and the genocide memorial in Kigali.

DAY 1 – July 30- Arrive Kigali

Arrival at Kigali Airport:

Upon arrival at the Kigali Airport, there is a line to get your Rwanda Visa.  It is $30/person, and they take USD or credit cards.  Then, you get in line for passport control.  If you got your visa ahead of time, you can go right to the passport control line.  There are people at the airport to help you. You will want your yellow fever certificate handy as well.

After passport control, you will collect your luggage and go through customs.  There are free carts to help you carry your luggage.

When you exit security, look for a driver with a sign that says “Adventures Within Reach” and your name.

Mille Collines Hotel:

We stayed at the Hotel des Mille Collines (“thousand hills”), also known as Hotel Rwanda.  It is a high-rise, modern hotel on top of a hill in central Kigali.  It has great views of the city, a large swimming pool, nice outdoor bar and dining area, fitness center, free WiFi, and the Panorama Restaurant on the top floor.

We arrived at night, but the bar and outside dining area were still open, so we were able to enjoy the evening outside as our other travel companions arrived.

DAY 2 – July 31 – Kigali City Tour and Genocide Memorial

Today, we spent the morning doing a Kigali City Tour and visiting the Genocide Memorial.  We had lunch back at the Mille Collines Hotel, and the afternoon was a 3-hour drive to the Volcanoes National Park area.

Genocide Memorial:

This is a must-do in Kigali.  The tour starts with a short video, and then you have an audio guide tour through the museum.  You finish with the outside burial area for the victims.  A very powerful experience.

Mountain Gorilla View Lodge:

We spent 2 nights at the MGVL.  This is our mid-range accommodation, but it is quite nice.  Each room is a separate cottage, which is very spacious with a separate sitting area, fireplace, outdoor patio, and large, if rustic, bathrooms.

All the meals are buffet but with a good selection.  There is also an espresso bar.

At 5:00pm every day, a local dance group performs Intore style dancing for tips, which our group joined in.  They also offer massages, rental gear for trekking, WiFi, and free shoe cleaning after trekking.

DAY 3 – August 1 – Gorilla Trekking

Gorilla Trekking

From the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, it is a 20 minute drive to the national park headquarters.  We left about 7:10am and got there about 7:30am.  The national park seems to be both organized and disorganized at the same time.  It is quite an effort to get all the groups organized, but it also takes them a while before they get the groups together.

Upon arrival, there is a local dance group that performs Intore style dancing for tips.  There is also coffee, tea, toilets, and free WiFi.

After 30 minutes or so, there is a briefing with the gorilla guide in your group of 8 trekkers. Our group was the Amaroho group.

All the groups head out to different parking areas.  Ours was about a 40 minute drive.  The last part of the drive was on one of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced.  Children ran alongside the car trying to sell their drawings of gorillas.  It was very cute, but our guide says that if the kids make money, then they don’t want to go to school, so he discouraged us from buying them.

At the trailhead, you get a walking stick and can get a local porter.  The local porters are $10 and are a good way to help the local community.  They carry your day pack and also help you on the steep and slippery sections.

We started hiking at 9:00am.  It was about 1 hour of walking through farm fields with views of the volcanoes until we reached the edge of the forest.  It was another 1 hour of hiking on a well-traveled trail until we reached our gorilla group.

The 3 trackers bushwhack a trail into where the gorillas are, so the trail is rougher.  All packs are left on the trail with the porters before going to the gorillas (just cameras).

You get exactly 1 hour with the gorillas.  Our family had babies, females, young males, and 2 silverbacks.  When we first approached them, there were 2 youngsters chasing each other in the trees, some adults were laying around, and 1 silverback was just beyond.  They started to move up the hill, so we followed.  There was a mother with a very young baby just cuddling and playing.  We followed the rest of the group further up the hill where they were eating.  They spread out a bit, so we would go from one to another just watching them.  The trackers were great at finding them in the bushes.  This part was on a steep hill and slippery.  The hour went by so fast!

A GoPro or other video was handy.  A long lens was not necessary as we were very close to them.  Long pants and shin-high gaiters were nice as there are stinging nettles.  It was dry on our hike, so hiking shoes were fine.  If it is wet and muddy, hiking boots would be a necessity as well as a rain jacket.  Layered shirts to adapt to different temperatures was helpful.  The lodges rent rubber boots, pants, and jackets.

After our time with the gorillas, we went back to our packs for a snack.  It was nice to have some extra snacks to share with the trekking group as well as the guide, porters, and trackers.

It was another 2 hour hike back down to the parking lot.  We saw an elephant in a meadow at the bottom of the hill.  Our guide said that in 16 years of gorilla trekking, that was the fourth time he saw an elephant.

You need exact change for the porter.  You don’t have to tip the porter or guide, but I think it’s nice.

We reached the parking lot at 2pm, and it was a 15 minute drive to the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.  The lodge serves buffet lunch until 3pm, and it has a nice outdoor dining area.

See Rwanda Day Pack Packing List >>

DAY 4 – August 2 – Golden Monkeys, Village, Kigali

Golden Monkeys

The Golden Monkeys trek starts at the same national park headquarters with a similar orientation process.  There is currently no limit on the number of people that go to the Golden Monkeys, they split us into 2 groups of 20+ people.

The Golden Monkeys are fun because they are very animated, jumping from tree to tree, swinging up in the trees, and running on the ground.

We got to the parking area around 9:00am.  It was a 1 hour hike in, 1 hour with the monkeys, and 1 hour hike out.  There are hiking poles at the trailhead, and you can get a porter for $10.  Similar to the gorillas, you leave your backpacks with the porters before going into the monkeys.  We had a short break after seeing the monkeys for snacks, which we shared with the guide, porters, and 3 trackers.

They are further away than the gorillas, so a long lens was important as well as video with zoom.  The GoPro wasn’t as useful.

You need exact change for the porter.  You don’t have to tip the porter or guide, but I think it’s nice.

Iby’Iwacu Traditional Village

After the Golden Monkeys, we went to the Iby’Iwacu Traditional Village.  This is a local village project that was created to help stop poaching by giving ex-poachers an alternative income.

There is a king’s house where you can see how the old kings used to live and how they ruled.  Then you see a medicine man with traditional medicines.  A blacksmith demonstrates how they worked with metal.  A woman shows how she ground grains and made dough.  There is a small shop to buy handicrafts.  Finally, they perform local drumming, singing, and dancing.  It is a nice cultural experience.

Heaven Restaurant

For our last night in Rwanda, we had dinner at the Heaven Restaurant.  The food was great, it was a fun atmosphere, and there is a cute art gallery next door.  It is a short walk from the Mille Collines Hotel.  Your guide can drive you, or it is safe to walk in Kigali at night.

DAY 5 – August 3 – Depart Kigali

Departing Kigali Airport

As we drove into the Kigali Airport area, we stopped at a security checkpoint, which was searched by dogs.  One car had to remove all it’s luggage and people, but the other car did not.

There is a line outside the airport to check tickets, passports, and yellow fever certificates.  It helps having a copy of the e-tickets to get through the line faster.  There are luggage handlers, who can help with your luggage all the way to the ticket counter (for a tip).

All luggage and travelers have to go through an x-ray/metal detector to enter the airport.  Computers and iPads out, shoes off.

Then, you check in at your airline counter and check luggage.  RwandAir has a 60 lb. luggage limit for checked bags, which can be in 1 or 2 bags.  Carry-on has a limit of 10kg.  All carry-on luggage gets a tag (except purses).

Next is passport control, where they look at tickets, passports, and yellow fever certificates.

The waiting area has 2 shops, snacks, and toilets.

Then, you go through a final security checkpoint to get to the boarding area.  You are given a color-coded boarding card.  You wait in the boarding area until your flight is called.  There are no services in this area.

You will take a bus to the airplane where you hand in your color-coded boarding card.

The RwandAir flight to the Kilimanjaro Airport is only 1.5 hours long on a Dash 8, but they offer a hot meal and free wine/beer.

See all Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda >>


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