Unexpected Rwanda
Gorillas, Chimps, Monkeys & More

When it came to organising her husband’s 50th birthday celebration, Abi’s thoughts immediately went to a long weekend away somewhere exotic – Paris just doesn’t cut the mustard when the family business is thrilling long-haul travel, but where to go? Conveniently it transpired that One&Only – one of our favourite hotel brands, had recently opened two brand new lodges in Rwanda. A radical departure from their other properties, it was a sign Rwanda was meant to be. Throw in a dose of bucket-list gorilla tracking, some chimps and monkeys and it was a done deal. So we saw Abi and Jim jetting off to Kigali – no kids in sight – a rare thing indeed! Here’s her take on their Rwanda adventure:

My feelings about visiting Rwanda were tinged with trepidation; thoughts of ‘darkness’ came to mind, both figuratively and metaphorically. Whilst we were incredibly excited at the prospect of being able to spend time with the mountain gorillas, would we still sense the pain of the tragic genocide of 1994? We were leaving our children behind, would we be safe? In fact, the contrast between my concerns and reality could not have been greater. We arrived in cheery Kigali – impressively spotless thanks to the day a month that everybody sets aside to enhance their community (yes – really!), which clearly helps foster a sense of unity and pride.

 This inspiring country has clearly not just turned a corner, but is speeding ahead to a brighter future, thanks to the determination and dedication of its welcoming people, combined with good governance. It’s interesting to note that over half of their parliamentarians are women – something not achieved in any other nation in the world….just saying! Crime is low and we always felt safe as the security you see is pre-emptive. There is mandatory education and good healthcare – the new Rwanda is clearly being built on a foundation of opportunity and prosperity for all.

The journey to this little gem in Africa, a similar size to Wales, is straightforward. We would recommend a direct flight on RwandAir from London, or you could do as we did and fly Kenyan via Nairobi with a brief touch down in Burindi, a reminder of where Rwanda could have been in 2020 without the drive to improve. To reach the home of the mountain gorillas, visitors then embark on a windy, lush and fascinating journey of 2.5 hours to the Volcanoes National Park. A number of very high quality lodges offer a base for your once-in-a-lifetime experience. As big fans of One&Only properties in the Indian Ocean, Middle East and South Africa, we opted to base ourselves at One&Only Gorilla’s Nest as we wanted to experience gorilla trekking. This is not a budget trip, especially once the permit fee is taken into account, but it is certainly an unforgettable one. And, due to the simple journey, it could even be a long weekend adventure to celebrate a special event as we did, although we can’t wait to return with the kids to visit Nyungwe and trek to see the Chimpanzees (min age 12 vs 15 for the gorillas) as well as the Big Five in Akagera.

The trek into the Park to visit one of the 12 family groups of mountain gorillas is uphill but not too strenuous, just boggy. We definitely recommend a porter – not just to carry your day pack but more to guide your footing! For anyone who might find this too much of a physical challenge, there is provision for you to be carried up on a stretcher. How ever you arrive, you spend about an hour with your group, and whilst you are asked to keep 20 feet away (not for your safety, more to protect them from human diseases) even the silverbacks came within touching distance as they went about their business. I had imagined fluffy babies rolling around in a jungle clearing but our group was in fact very feisty. Nothing like being caught in a gorilla family dispute!

We would also recommend returning the next morning to spend time with the habituated golden monkeys, watching them play and chomp their way through an impressive quantity of bamboo.

Like the gorilla numbers, Rwanda is going from strength to strength with the opening of its fourth National Park, Gishwati Mukura next year. We anticipate the opening of yet more new lodges as word gets out that Rwanda is making a name for itself on the tourist map. With such a breath-taking and unique wildlife experience on offer we’ve no doubts whatsoever that it will become a firm favourite on travel bucket lists. It’s never been easier to access this incredible destination, so if it’s on your list we recommend you go sooner rather than later and help shine a light on this unique and extraordinary destination.

About the author

Bushbaby was founded by Abi in 2004, with the aim of helping families experience authentic and memorable long-haul holidays, whilst not compromising on style and comfort when travelling with young children in tow! Abi has travelled to over 60 countries with her husband Jim (who proposed at Everest base camp) and lives in Surrey with her 3 children.

Abi Shaw - Bushbaby founder and avid explorer!

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