Background Information

Destination Highlights
    Rwanda is a landlocked country surrounded by Uganda in the north, Tanzania in the east, Burundi in the south, and Zaire to its west and northwest. Rwanda lies on the East African plateau, with the divide between the water systems of the Nile and Zaire rivers passing in a north-south direction through the western part of the country. To the west of the divide, the land drops sharply to Lae Kivu in the Great African Rift Valley; to the east, the land falls gradually across the central plateau - its grassy highlands are the core areas of settlement of Rwanda's population - to the swamps and lakes on the country's eastern border.

Background & Facts about Rwanda

Rwanda is a landlocked East African country whose green, mountainous landscape has earned it the nickname “Land of a Thousand Hills.” Its renowned Volcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Bordering Congo and Uganda, the park encompasses 4,507m-tall Mt. Karisimbi and 4 other forested volcanoes. Kigali, the nation's sprawling capital, has a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene. Most of Rwanda is 3,000 ft above sea level, with much of the central plateau being higher than 4,700 ft. In the northwest, on the border with Zaire, are the volcanic Virunga Mountains; the highest peak, Mount Karisimbi (14,870 ft) is snowcapped. Lake Kivu, 4,700 feet above sea level, drains into Lake Tanganyika, through the sharply descending Ruzizi River. The Kagera River, which forms much of Rwanda's eastern border, flows into Lake Victoria.

The Genocide Memorial Sites: These are actual sites where mass killings occurred in 1994. These sites contain bones and skills and in some cases entire bodies still visible. Gruesome yes - but a part of Rwandan history nonetheless. Due to the sensitive nature of this experience we stress that this visit is optional.

Mountain gorillas are an endangered species only found in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda, the mountain gorillas, peaceful giants so close to man (they share 97% of our genes!) live on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes, in the Parc National des Volcans. Diane Fossey , the famous American primatologist spent several years studying and protecting the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and the movie "Gorillas in the mist" was actually shot in northern Rwanda a few years after her mysterious death.

Rwanda is home to the vast spectrum of East African wildlife and the wildlife is composed of its flora and fauna because it lies on fertile soils that support a very high animal population. Rwanda’s Akagera National Park, a savanna-dominated area in the north-east of the country that lies in the Victoria Basin, is still its largest, but has been reduced in size by over 60% in the last 10 years. Still, this area holds an interesting selection of species associated with a diversity of habitats: wetlands, woodlands, grasslands, riparian forest and bush country.

Indeed, Akagera has one of the longest species lists for any conservation area in Africa: over 525 species have been recorded, with many birds reaching their northern limit here, such as Arnott’s Chat Myrmecocichla arnotti, Purple-crested Turaco Tauraco porphyreolophus, Sousa’s Shike Lanius souzae, Tabora Cisticola Cisticola angusticaudus and Bennett’s Woodpecker Campethera bennettii.

The park is one of the best places to search for the localised Red-faced Barbet Lybius rubrifacies, which can be seen around the entrance of the recently rebuilt Akagera Game Lodge. Also worthy of special mention are papyrus associated species, most significant of which is Shoebill Balaeniceps rex, which should be searched for along the lake shore.

Butare is considered to be the intellectual center of the country with its National Museum, arboretum, and several academic and research institutions. The Butare museum is situated on more than 50 acres of land. The museum contents various types of Rwandan architecture, past ways of living and social organization, traditional clothing, adornment and recreation, prehistoric information, the chronology of the kings, traditional religious practices, marriage and music, handicraft items, geographic and linguistic information about Rwanda.

Rwesero Art museum is a museum in Nyanza, located at the top of the Rwesero hill in the area of Nyanza. It is linked to the Olympic Academy, the Cultural Center, the Sport Museum, the stadiums of diverse sports and lastly the Agora.

Kandt House Museum of Natural History was established in memory of the explorations and the discoveries of Richard Kandt. The goal of the `museum is to present a clear picture of the evolution of the ground, animals and plants, and to explain the interdependency between living beings and their environment.

Lake Kivu is the largest of numerous freshwater bodies that shimmer in the valleys of Rwanda. It lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and is in the Albertine (western) Rift, a part of the Great Rift Valley. Its shores are surrounded by three resort towns; Gisenyi, the most developed of these resorts that lies less than an hour’s drive from the Volcanoes National Park. Kibuye facilitates tourism activities which are centered on a modern lakeshore guesthouse overlooking pine-covered hills seemingly transplanted from the Alps. Cyangugu is the closest resort to Nyungwe Forest, whose more subdued tourist development is compensated for by a stirring setting of curving inlets winding into narrow valleys.

Lakes Burera and Ruhondo provide waters for fishing to the local people lliving around. The locals use traditional fishing methods at the twin lakes and the work is carried out either from the lake shore or from self-made traditional canoes that consist of a single piece of wood.

Lake Nyarakigugu is an outstanding lake with good fishing and birding opportunities. Lake Karago is a beautiful lake located between Rubavu and Musanze districts.

Sabyinyo Group Sabyinyo is one of the groups closest to the park’s edge with 8 individuals: 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 1 non adult female, 2 juveniles and 1 baby. This name was got after the Sabyinyo volcano which means “old man’s teeth”. This group contains, Guhonda, the largest silverback of all the groups, who is well known for his massive physical appearance. Guhonda has kept his main challenger, Ryango, out of his group as a lonely silverback.

Kwitonda Group This gorilla group has 10 individuals located on the Sabinyo volcano, sometimes in Democratic Republic of Congo and thus off-limits.

13 Group This group is named simply for its original size of 13 individuals when it was discovered, it has since maintained the name, with 21 individuals: 1 silverback, 10 adult females; 1 sub adult female; 1 juvenile and 8 babies.

Susa Group This group got its name from the Susa River within their home range. This is the largest gorilla group one can visit. The group has 38 individuals: 4 silverbacks, 4 black backs, 10 adult females, 3 sub adult females, 1 sub adult male, 1 non adult female, 2 juveniles and 13 babies. It is known for its surviving gorilla twins. Please note that when you reach this group, the first thing you note is that there are gorillas everywhere

Amahoro Group This means a “peaceful group”, Amahoro, is the most peaceful of all the gorilla groups. The group has 17 individuals: 1 silverback, 2 black backs, 5 adult females; 2 sub adult males; 2 juveniles and 5 babies. However, peace comes at a price. Ubumwe, the group’s silverback is so peaceful and calm; he has lost group members to Charles in the Umubano group.

Hirwa Group Meaning “lucky one”, Hirwa has 9 individuals: 1 silverback, 3 adult females, 2 sub adult females and 3 babies. Hirwa came into the lime light on the 17th of June 2006 when trackers witnessed its formation. Two gorilla transfers from group 13 and Sabyinyo joined the then very small Hirwa group. As luck would have it, other gorillas joined them as well and created the group. Despite being the newest group on the block, Hirwa exhibits strength and holds its own amongst all the other established groups.

Umubano Group Meaning “neighborliness”, Umubano has 9 individuals: 1 silverback; 1 sub adult male; 3 adult females and 4 babies. Led by Charles, the dominant silverback, Umubano was formerly a part of the Amahoro group. As Charles matured into a silverback of the same rank as Ubumwe, he could not stand being given orders and decided to stage a fight and challenge Ubumwe. The fight went on for weeks and then months. Finally, Charles managed to snatch from Ubumwe a few females and formed his own group. Since then, he has commanded respect and recognition from Ubumwe. We have observed, on various occasions, interactions between the two silverbacks, but no fighting has been seen since the great battle ended.

These can be arranged by a travel operator, or can be purchased directly through the Office Rwandaise du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN) / The Rwanda Office of Tourism and National Parks, at the headquarters in Kigali, or at their office in Musanze. Currently the viewing permits cost $750 per person, per day, and the cost is included in your safari cost.

  • No flash photography is allowed. Do not leave anything in the park, if you pack it in, pack it out!
  • One hour is the maximum time supposed to be spent with the gorillas, however if the gorillas become restless or tense the guide will finish the visit early.
  • Do not touch the Gorillas – they are wild animals
  • Keep a minimum of 7 meters from the gorillas thus limiting them from being infected with diseases
  • Obey the local guide instructions at all times, for the safety of the gorillas and visitors.
  • If you are feeling ill, or are carrying a contagious disease, please volunteer to stay behind. An alternative visit will be arranged for you, or you will be refunded your viewing permit money.
  • Do not remove anything from the park e.g., flowers, fruit, porcupine quills, and many more
  • Do not eat or drink when close to the gorillas – this is a disease risk.
  • Do not spit in the park and go to the bathroom only as instructed by your guide.
  • Keep your voices down at all time
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