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For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni
For other destinations and types of holiday, visit Kuoni 
Witness extraordinary Rwandan creatures like this mountain gorilla when you take a tailor-made holiday with Alfred&. Inspiration

Just Back From Rwanda

By Daniel Heatly
Senior Product Executive for Alfred&

One of our team, Dan Heatly, spent 10 nights in Rwanda. He gives us the downlow on navigating untrammelled national parks, meeting mountain gorillas and the country’s growing reputation as a Big Five destination…

Where did you go and why this route?   

I took 10 nights to tour Rwanda – interestingly the size of Wales but relatively unknown and ripe for exploring. Starting at the capital of Kigali where I absorbed some historical context, I then visited Akagera National Park to hopefully glimpse the Big Five (and other remarkable game) via jeep safaris and lake cruises. Heading southwest, Nyungwe National Park was the next stop for dense jungle and chimp sightings, then Lake Kivu to relax in an unspoiled watery paradise. The excitement peaked at Volcanoes National Park – THE place to witness mountain gorillas via an adventurous jungle trek.

What are the misconceptions around travelling to Rwanda and how can Alfred& help?

Rwanda has indeed experienced a tumultuous history, but today anyone who visits will most likely agree that the country feels worlds away from its past. On the first Saturday of each month, everyone comes out as a community to clean the streets. In Kigali I didn’t see any litter! Akagera National Park, which was once a battleground and badly poached, has transformed entirely over the years thanks to innovative conservation and investment into the local infrastructure. Now people come here to see the magnificent Big Five, basking crocodiles and pods of hippos on land that feels wonderfully unspoiled. Alfred& expert guides, local knowledge and high-quality vehicles (including wireless routers I found out!) are a game changer when it comes to the experience.

The great news is that there are now direct flights six days a week from London starting this month making it even easier to access this beautiful country. Now is certainly the time to go.

Why are gorilla trekking permits so expensive?    

There are very few places in the world where you can find yourself metres away from these incredible primates. With only 96 gorilla trekking permits released a day you can understand why they’ve become a bit like gold dust. From what I’ve seen, Rwanda devotes a considerable amount of research, development, conservation and protection to its mountain gorillas and its efforts have paid off. I spent a whole hour with a family of 30 gorillas including a silverback cradling a five-day old baby and youngsters playing in their nest. I had goosebumps! Other than the fact that they’re so similar to humans, I was struck by this feeling of overwhelming fortune to be within touching distance of such massive, awe-inspiring creatures (although of course you’re not allowed to actually touch them). The experience feels totally unique and one that focuses on the preservation of wildlife over anything else.

You could even splurge on a second trek. It’s double the price but it may just be worth it – to see another gorilla family situated on a different volcano, and in this case a slightly more active group with plenty of young.

How fit do I have to be?  

Most of Rwanda’s highlights will involve a certain amount of trekking through challenging terrain. If you have walking difficulties then there are other options but if you’re just incredibly unfit like me, then it will be tough but absolutely worth it! The porters, specialist guides and trackers know exactly how to read people and the terrain. Not only will they help you up the mountains but also offer invaluable knowledge of the local culture.

Did anything surprise you?

I always knew seeing the mountain gorillas would blow me away however I discovered that they are just one of many highlights in this eye-opening country. What really caught my curiosity was the King’s Palace, a quick stop off on the way to the Nyungwe Forest. It’s a mock-up of the king’s court in the shape of gigantic, thatched huts. Outside it were ‘inyambo’ cattle which are considered almost sacred to the locals. They have these giant fairy-tale like horns and glossy coats – it was just so unexpected and very cool and interesting to gain an insight into Rwanda’s pre-colonial history which I didn’t know anything about before.

Then there’s the chimp trek in Nyungwe National Park which felt like exploring The Land That Time Forgot. You’re trekking through deep, dense virgin forest in search of these mischievous creatures and surrounded by the sounds of the rainforest. I then traversed this canopy walkway, enervating shall we say, along a 70-metre-high suspended cable bridge. I was rewarded for my endeavours with the most incredible views and bumped into a few colobus monkeys!

Don’t miss…

The Kigali Genocide Memorial. This exhibition sensitively conveys how this terrible episode in Rwanda’s history initially unfolded, why the situation became so inflamed, and then the horrors of those 100 days of bloodshed and tragically, the inaction of the outside world.  It’s not fun but interesting and essential for context.

Best hotels?   

In the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, One & Only Gorillas Nest blew me away… but it is definitely for really deep pockets. On a more realistic budget,  Sabinyo Silverback Lodge is a lovely colonial-style country mansion with stone cottages, crackling fires and verandas that look out to the Virunga range. On the edge of the mist-shrouded Nyungwe Forest, there’s nowhere more befitting than One&Only Nyungwe House, an upscale outpost giving you access to chimpanzee trails, waterfall treks and hikes up volcanic slopes.


Spotlight on…

The porters who went above and beyond to help make the jungle treks a once-in-a-lifetime experience. While they lead us to chimpanzees and mountain gorillas, they also had smiles on their faces every step of the way which made such a difference to the journey.

To follow in Dan’s footsteps, call us on 0808 239 0555, contact one of our experts or arrange a phone or video appointment. 

Alfred & Daniel Heatly

Upon leaving university, Daniel blindly placed a pin into a map (we kid you not!) to select South Africa as the first destination he ever travelled to. This was the beginning of a 23 year love affair with African travel. Subsequent adventures have taken him to Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia, meeting new people and discovering new experiences along the way.


Your journey will start with one of our UK team – someone like Malcolm, who's travelled extensively in your chosen destination. They’ll shape your ideas into the trip of a lifetime. But they won't do it alone. They'll draw on the expertise of our contacts on the ground, connecting you to the people who'll make your holiday one you'll always remember - guides who can give you genuine insights into local life and culture, chefs who can teach you how to rustle up the local cuisine and safari rangers who'll ensure you'll spot the best wildlife.

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