Gorillas and Reflection in Rwanda

Our agents travel to some pretty awesome destinations. When they return, our excitement to hear about their adventures is almost as great as their excitement is to share them. In ON LOCATION, they talk about the little nuances that make each place special. From Peru to South Africa, Switzerland, and Croatia, experience a fantastic second-hand journey and maybe take away some travel inspiration while you’re at it.

 

Rwanda is not a country you think of when considering international travel, why

choose it?

We were offered an opportunity to visit Rwanda and see the gorillas. It has always been something my wife and I have both wanted to do!

Maybe we should address the elephant in the room first, how has the country recovered after the Rwandan Civil War?

Rwanda is the cleanest country in Africa, especially in Kigali, the capital city. It is peaceful and united as far as I understand and witnessed while we were there. They are VERY open about their past. We visited the genocide memorial/museum and learned all about it from a guide who was a child during the genocide and lost his family. Education is an important tool to help prevent tragedies like this one from happening in the future. Where did you decide to stay in Rwanda?

We first stayed in Kigali at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Center, Kigali. It was a conference hotel, so the building was large with lots of rooms, meeting space, etc. The hotel had nice amenities too, but not everything was open due to COVID.

Next, we stayed in the One&Only Nyungwe House in the south west part of the country. This was an incredible 5* all-inclusive resort set in the middle of a tea plantation. It was high-end as can be. The hotel had everything from outdoor infinity pool to spa, to gym, and so on.

We followed that experience up with One&Only Gorilla’s Nest up in the north west part of the country. That resort was even more high-end and luxurious. It offered every amenity you can think of. The food was also incredible and the rooms were one of the nicest I have ever stayed in. The service was unlike any other. When you returned from your gorilla trek, and you were all muddy and dirty, the staff at the hotel would take off your muddy boots for you, remove your socks, put your feet in clean sandals, give you a 1-minute welcome back shoulder/neck massage, and then clean your boots for you that night and deliver them to your room the next morning! Unbelievable!

How does it differ from other African countries? What is the environment like? What are their cultural priorities?

As I mentioned earlier, it is the cleanest country I have ever seen in Africa. Everybody seems well dressed. Homelessness doesn’t seem to be a problem, and there was no sign of beggars. I think there is an extra effort to have unity and peace in the country after what happened during the genocide. It is also the greenest country ever - so gorgeous!

What were some trip-defining experiences?

The genocide memorial was emotional and touching, and then we had lunch at the actual “Hotel Rwanda” that you learn about in the Hollywood movie. That was a pretty defining experience. Also, seeing the gorillas and watching them in their natural habitat was unlike anything I have ever done before!

If a large group were to travel there, what would be some ideal activities to do?

Rwanda is not a destination for a large group. It would be great for a smaller group of up to 50 people. That is my opinion. I would do a couple nights in Kigali doing the genocide memorial and city tour and hotel Rwanda, etc., and then I would head up to the north part of the country and do a gorilla trek or two! That is the highlight of the trip hands down!

What as your favorite dish?

At the One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, the welcome lunch they served us when we arrived was incredible. They had delicious tacos, beef sliders, tempura zucchini, and mushroom eclairs. It was the best tasting (and prettiest looking) food ever! Nobody would not love it!

How did you reach the country? Is there a big airport nearby or did you need to charter a smaller flight in?

We flew from SLC to AMS to Kigali! It was a super slick flight. Pretty long, but there is no getting around that since you are traveling to the other side of the world. Then, on the way back, we flew out of Kigali, did a quick stop in Uganda (didn’t even exit the plane) then stopped in AMS and then to SLC. No small chartered flights needed!

What season is the best time to go?

We went during the long rainy season (Mar – May). The short rainy season is Sept – Nov. The long dry season is June – Aug, and the short dry season is from Dec – Feb. I didn’t mind the rain. It felt nice. The country is hot and humid during the days. Any time of the year would be great and the gorillas are going to be amazing all year!

What languages are spoken in Rwanda?

Kinyarwanda is the main official language, but almost everybody I met spoke English, so it was super easy to communicate with everybody! That might not be the same in the local villages, but we didn’t talk to any of those people or spend any time there really.

Anything else you would like to add?

Speaking on group travel, I think Rwanda would be a great add-on program to a three or four-night safari program in Kenya or Tanzania. It may not be the best option for a stand-alone program, because it is expensive. The main thing to do there is see the gorillas, and that can be done in a day or two. So, three days is probably plenty in Rwanda, maybe four.