By Annelieke Huijgens
Sharing time with the gorillas of Rwanda is an experience I’ll never forget. Rwanda is a small land-locked country located in east/central Africa. It’s just south of the equator and enjoys a subtropical climate which offers a wild diversity of landscapes from mountains in the west, savannas in the east, to lakes and national parks scattered around the country.
Upon arrival in the capital Kigali, we visited the genocide museum, an emotional experience and a stark reminder of the atrocities that took place in 1993. Nowadays, the locals live in harmony and are very welcoming to tourists wanting to discover their country.
One of the major attractions for this region is visiting the famous gorillas of Rwanda in Volcanoes National Park. From Kigali, our driver-guide took us through the beautiful hilly countryside of Rwanda to Ruhengeri. This small village, with a back drop of extinct volcanoes, was to be our home for the next two nights. In the lodge you could sense the excitement building for the next day as we prepared to visit the gorillas. The following morning we were split into groups of 8 and briefed on the adventure ahead. We learnt there are currently 10 resident gorilla families in the park. We then drove to the bottom of the Park to meet our ranger and additional guides who were former poachers. They helped carry our daypacks and assisted with trekking through the National Park.
Our trek took about 1 ½ hours before we finally had to leave our bags and walking poles behind and follow the ranger. Ten minutes later a magical hour unfolded in front of us. We all found a spot – just 7-10 metres away from a gorilla family. The silverback was munching away on his breakfast, two juveniles were playing with each other, and a couple of females were just lazing around. They all were completely disinterested in the humans around them. The sheer joy and excitement I felt watching this family go about their daily life was just exhilarating.
You need to put your camera away, and just look and listen. Of course, the hour went past all too quick, and we slowly made our way back to where our guides were waiting for us. Our walk back was subdued as we enjoyed the scenery and re-lived the past hour just spent with these incredible animals. Although the photos I took can’t fully capture this amazing experience, they’ll be an everlasting memory of an hour I’ll never forget.
The next day we visited the famous golden monkeys in another part of the National Park. The golden monkeys live in groups of 30 to 40 and spend their days swinging from tree to tree and running around on the ground.
It was great fun, an interesting contrast to our previous days, and the perfect end to a very memorable experience in Rwanda.
For those planning a trip to Rwanda, I recommend you bring gloves, gators, a cap, trekking shoes and a good camera!
If you would like to visit Africa then check out our range of exciting small group tours here.