Our arrival in Kigali was uncomplicated and easy, given what we had experienced in the neighboring country’s airports, and we were ably assisted by our driver guide Emmanuel – who was our lifeline as we travelled through Rwanda! We could not have wished for a more engaging and personable guide to look after us, and Emmanuel’s wisdom shone through like a leading light, showcasing his country so sensitively to us.
Our first evening at The Serena Hotel was very comfortable and we enjoyed a hearty well-presented meal. The suites are spacious and restful and the staff always on hand to assist. Given that Rwanda is relatively new to the tourism industry the bar is set at a very high standard, which is most admirable.
Starting our next day very early with Emmanuel, we were visibly taken by the cleanliness of Kigali and the infrastructure of the city – the traffic lights are very impressive! We visited the Kandt House Museum and of course spent a few hours at the Genocide Museum which was a solemn interval in our day.
We left Kigali and travelled towards Virunga and it was a very interesting 3-hour journey with Emmanuel answering all our many questions about what we were observing en-route. A warm welcome awaited us as we arrived at Virunga Lodge with the traditional dancers, introduction to our butlers and David gave a good orientation. Virunga has a unique old worldly charm with a particularly inviting atmosphere and we found staff members such as Jean d’Amour, JoJo and Teddy and their colleagues so helpful and their combined efforts made our stay more than pleasurable. We enjoyed a magnificent sunset on our first evening as David joined us for pre-dinner drinks, and was most informative about Dian Fossey, the lodge history and of course the area. Meals were excellent accompanied by a good wine list, and our second night we enjoyed dinner in the Dian Fossey Map Room, which was such a treat.
Our days were filled with exploration and of course the highlight was our gorilla experience and we opted for the 2 – 4 hours excursion. Emmanuel ensured we were briefed on our way down to the meeting point which was just over an hour’s drive as to what to expect and of course he had taken care of the logistics. We met up with our park rangers for the debriefing and found our porters before going in search of our gorilla family. This was the most thrilling and intense hour before we found them. Our sighting was enchanting and a life-changing encounter – words cannot suffice in expressing our feelings.
A highpoint of our journey has to be the helicopter transfer from Virunga to Nyungwe – and it took less than 1 hour and what an experience to really get to see Rwanda from the air; viewing protected forests, lakes, agriculture developments and farmlands that dot each and every mountain hence the name “land of a 1000 hills”. We only spent one night at the Nyungwe Top View Hotel before an early start to see the chimpanzees.
The chimpanzee sightings were not easy to see, but we did have glimpses and were most grateful for the opportunity to see these little human-like creatures and to hear their screams as they moved from tree-top to tree-top.
We so appreciated our time with Emmanuel who was the most consummate travelling partner and exploring Rwanda with him gave as an insight which we were not anticipating. Rwanda as a tourism destination has certainly created a buzz in the industry and will continue to grow as the National Parks develop and tourism flourishes to become the emerald gem of East Africa. We can’t wait to share more of it with you!