Chances are that if you think of what to do in Rwanda, you’ll think of mountain gorillas. Sure enough, this most awe-inspiring, bucket-list-worthy wildlife encounter is what the country is most famous. But, there’s a whole lot more to be experienced behind the scenes, which is exactly why we recommend adding an extra day or two to your itinerary to explore Rwanda’s hidden gems. Linger a bit longer with our favourites below…
Hike with chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest
What to do in Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity, Nyungwe Forest National Park, you ask? Drop your bags at Top View Hill Hotel and set off on a hike with your “guides” – troops of chimpanzees who have been habituated over the years to human visits. This being primate country, encounters with other species such as black and white colobus, mangabey and olive baboons are also virtually guaranteed, as are breathtaking views over the lush, green valleys of the equatorial rainforest.
Add a stop at Top View Hill Hotel to hike with chimps.
Climb Mount Bisoke
Yup, another hike – and this one is pretty spectacular (if also hard work!). Located on the border between Rwanda and the DRC, Mount Bisoke volcano stands a proud 3711 metres tall and makes for a heart-pumping gorilla trek add-on whilst staying at Bisate Lodge. Motivation comes in the shape of your own park ranger guide, who is likely to be a native of the Volcanoes National Park, so you’ll be in knowledgeable hands. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with sweeping views of the rainforest below, as well as a rather impressive crater lake.
Enjoy a relaxing stay at Bisate Lodge after your big climb.
Kayak (or chill!) on Lake Kivu
Something slightly different on our “what to do in Rwanda” list, Lake Kivu Serena Hotel is the perfect location for some downtime following an unforgettable gorilla trek. The main draw, apart from tropical gardens and a sparkling pool, is Lake Kivu itself. One of Africa’s Great Lakes, this aqaumarine expanse of water on the Rwanda/Congo border is ideal for swimming, boating, kayaking – or simply chilling. It is also perfectly safe, without the need to worry about suddenly encountering hippos or crocs during your swim. The hotel also offers boat rides to Lake Kivu Islands and their coffee farms, or romantic ‘Paradise Island’ sundowner cruises.
Base yourself at Lake Kivu Serena Hotel for some well-deserved R&R.
Trek to see golden monkeys in Volcanoes
The famous mountain gorillas may be the star attraction, but it is worth setting time aside while staying at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge to meet their cohabitants, the rare golden monkeys. Habituated to human contact, this lustrously coloured primate is endemic to the area and lives in groups of up to 30 individuals in the bamboo forest. Set off on the golden monkey trek from the Volcanoes National Park headquarters to see them up close – probably nibbling on their preferred source of sustenance, bamboo.
For the golden monkeys, add a few nights at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.
Visit a local village
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in Volcanoes is Rwanda’s first community-owned lodge, with a focus on development projects for the local community. The lodge offers visits to various communities, such as the Iby’iwacu cultural village, where you can discover the traditional house of a local king and watch an authentic medicine man prepare herbal mixtures. Alternatively, let a Sacola guide take you on a Nyange Community Walk to observe a local banana beer brewer, mat weaver and iron smith, and be invited into a local home to watch how traditional Rwandese food is prepared (and yes, you get to taste it, too!)
Give back to the community with a stay at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge.
Take a trip to Dian Fossey’s grave
You’ve seen them up close, now walk in the footsteps of the gorilla’s biggest fan – America’s famous primatologist, Dian Fossey. In 1967 Fossey established a remote rainforest research camp between Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes at an elevation of some 3000 metres. Fittingly, she was buried onsite, alongside some of her beloved gorillas. The trek comes highly recommended for anyone interested in Fossey and gorilla conservation, but a note of caution – the 6-8 hour hike up steep slopes is no mean feat and requires a certain level of fitness.
Our top tip: make Virunga Lodge your base and start with a day of gorilla trekking, followed by this fascinating expedition.
Visit the genocide memorial in Kigali
It may not be an easy outing, but if you’re trying to put Rwanda’s history into perspective, the genocide memorial in Kigali is a must. The excellent exhibition explains how, within 100 days in 1994, an estimated one million Tutsis were systematically butchered by the Interahamwe army. Documented through personal testimonials, photographs, videos and artefacts, a walk through the exhibit is a powerful and intensely emotional experience. Reflect on the country’s past and marvel at its current progress in the tranquil gardens, before heading back to the Kigali Serena Hotel, the perfect stopover en route to the gorillas, or home.
Where to stay in the city? Kigali Serena Hotel.
Combine a gorilla trek with a Kenya safari
We know, we know, this shouldn’t really be on a list of what to do in Rwanda, but, if you’re on the continent already, you might as well combine gorilla trekking with a Big Five Safari, right? Picture yourself in the most famous wildlife reserve in the world, the dreamy Masai Mara. Then, take in the wide-open spaces of Amboseli and the views of snowy-peaked Kilimanjaro in the distance, before a short stop in Kigali and a thrilling gorilla trek in the misty mountains of Volcanoes National Park. Sounds like the trip of a lifetime, doesn’t it?
Combine Kenya and Rwanda with our route Gorillas & game parks: A bucket list adventure – mix and match the lodges to tailor to your taste and budget.