Western Rwanda

lake kivu Lake Kivu

Rwanda’s main tourist attractions are concentrated in the far west of the country, and are mostly associated with the Albertine Rift, the well-watered arm of the Rift Valley that runs along the Congolese borders with Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The dominant geographic features of western Rwanda are Lake Kivu, a vast inland sea set on the Rift Valley floor, and the range of magnificent volcanic mountains known as the Virungas. Further south lie two important relicts of the lush montane forest that once covered most of the Albertine Rift escarpment: the immense Nyungwe Forest National Park, which extends over an area of 1,015km², and the altogether more modestly proportioned Gishwati-Mukura National Park, which was gazetted in 2016.

nyungwe forest Canopy Walk, Nyungwe Forest

The forests of the Albertine Rift are some of the most ancient anywhere in Africa, since they were unaffected by the drier conditions that afflicted many lower-lying forests during the last ice age. As a result they support a large number of species that occur nowhere else in the world and are generally referred to as Albertine Rift Endemics. The most celebrated of these local specials is of course the mountain gorilla, whose total global population of around 1,000 individuals is split between the Virungas and one other mountain range in the Albertine Rift. Other primates endemic to the Albertine Rift include golden monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey and Ruwenzori colobus, all of which are quite easily seen in western Rwanda. In addition, all but 10 of the 37 bird species regarded to be Albertine Rift Endemics can be seen in Nyungwe Forest.

Highlights

gorillas volcanoes national park

The spectacular Volcanoes National Park is Africa’s premier gorilla-tracking destination. It protects the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of steep forest-swathed volcanoes that run along the border with Uganda and the DR Congo. Home to a dozen habituated gorilla groups, for which a total of 96 tracking permits are issued daily, this scenic park also offers a range of other exciting activities. These include tracking golden monkeys in the bamboo zone, a morning walk to Dian Fossey’s tomb at the abandoned Karisoke Research Camp, a day hike up 3,711m Mount Bisoke to see its beautiful crater lake, and an overnight ascent to the 4,507m summit of Africa’s sixth highest mountain Karisimbi.

lakes burera and ruhondo

Separated from each other by an ancient 1km-wide lava flow, Lakes Burera and Ruhondo are both erratically-shaped freshwater bodies whose shores follows the contours of the tall steep hills that enclose them. The lakes and their environs offer some fine birdwatching, whether you explore by car or boat, and the setting is particularly dramatic at sunrise and sunset, with the perfect volcanic cones of the Virungas standing tall on the western horizon.

musanze

The main urban tourist hub in the northwest, the medium-sized town of Musanze (formerly Ruhengeri) is a popular base for gorilla tracking in nearby Volcanoes National Park and visits to Lakes Burera and Ruhondo. Other activities include canoe trips on the Mukungwa River, birding in the pretty Buhanga Eco-Park, and a two-hour guided tour through the impressive Musanze Caves.

nyungwe-forest-national-park-chimpanzee

One of East Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots, the 1,015km² Nyungwe Forest National Park offers visitors to track a habituated group of chimpanzees and hike to East Africa’s only suspended canopy walkway. A dozen other primate species are present, while a checklist of 310 bird species includes 27 Albertine Rift Endemics and numerous other rarities.

The closest thing to a seaside resort in landlocked Rwanda is the pretty port of Rubavu, which lies on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, 60km from Volcanoes National Park. Situated on the floor of the Albertine Rift, Kivu is one of the world’s 20 deepest and 20 most voluminous freshwater bodies, and the lovely lakeshore setting of Rubavu is overlooked by the the distinctive outline of Nyiragongo, the most active of the Virunga volcanoes.

lhoests monkey L’Hoest’s monkey

The recently gazetted Gishwati-Mukura National Park protects two relict forest patches that support chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey, golden monkey and 120 bird species.

Practical advice

  • All the main attractions in Western Rwanda are connected to the capital Kigali, and to each other, by a good network of surfaced roads. Most visitors arrange to be driven around in a 4x4 on what is effectively a private safari, but public transport is available. Either way, distances are not that great, so you can get between any two points of interest in less than a day.

  • Luxury lodges are available at Nyungwe ad in the vicinity of Musanze and Volcanoes National Park. Decent upmarket accommodation can also be found at Rubavu on Lake Kivu. At the budget to midrange end of the scale, there is a lot more choice at these places, as well as in Musanze Rusizi and Karongi.

  • Most activities in Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Park can be arranged on the spot, but the number of chimpanzee and gorilla tracking permits is limited, so book as far in advance as possible.


Our Recommended Itinerary

The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 1

Entebbe, arrival
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 2

Your drive to Kibale is well worth it
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 3

Full day with the Chimps
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 4

Onwards to Queen Elizabeth
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 5 to 6

Witness the unusual tree climbing lions
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 7

Bwindi National Park all to yourself
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 8

Gorilla trekking, enjoy every minute
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 9

Buhoma Village walk
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 10

Drive via Kisoro to Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 11

Visit the Dian Fossey Tomb
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda
  • The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

day 12

Fly Home

View Full Itinerary

You might also like

Rwanda in February

Highlands and medium-altitude regions, for instance Kigali, Lake Kivu and Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, are warm to hot by day, and comfortably cool by night. Low-lying Akagera National Park is hot by day, and warm by night. February falls towards the so-called short dry season and most parts of the country receives a medium to high precipitation (around 80-100mm). February…

Family travel in Rwanda

Credit: Mini Travellers Rwanda is not a particularly family-friendly destination. It has no attraction that caters specifically to youngsters, and gorilla tracking, the most popular activity for adults, is off-limits to children aged less than 15. In addition, the threat of malaria might be deterrent for families with young children. Most children will enjoy a few days on safari in…

Rwanda in March

Highlands and medium-altitude regions, for instance Kigali, Lake Kivu and Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, are warm to hot by day, and comfortably cool by night. Low-lying Akagera National Park is hot by day, and warm by night. March marks the start of the main rainy season and most parts of the country receive rainfall in excess of 100mm precipitation. March is not an optimum…

Photography in Rwanda

Rwanda offers some superb opportunities for wildlife and scenic opportunities. The mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park are wonderful laidback photographic subject and the speeds attainable by modern cameras mean you would have to be very unlucky not to come back with some awesome pictures, even in gloomy conditions. The more restless chimpanzees of Nyungwe National Park tend to…

Rwanda in January

Highlands and medium-altitude regions, for instance Kigali, Lake Kivu and Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, are warm to hot by day, and comfortably cool by night. Low-lying Akagera National Park is hot by day, and warm by night. January falls into the so-called short dry season and most parts of the country receives a medium precipitation (around 50-100mm). January is a good…

Walking safari in Rwanda

Rwanda is well-suited to organised walking holidays as all the most popular and iconic activities are undertaken on foot. This includes gorilla tracking and hikes the 4,507m Mount Karisimbi and the 3,711m Mount Bisoke in the Virunga mountains, as well as chimp tracking and other forest walks in Nyungwe National Park. For dedicated walkers, the 227km Congo-Nile Trail, which runs roughly…

Popular Rwanda Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

The Uganda Hills | The complete East Africa experience (EA 13 days)

The complete East Africa experience

Enjoy East Africa's most celebrated highlights, from a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, to sailing above the Serengeti in a hot-air balloon and meeting mountain gorillas...

Chimpanzee | The Primates of Uganda & Rwanda

Primates and wildlife of Uganda and Rwanda

See mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys and tree-climbing lions, take a boat cruise and visit Rwanda's genocide memorial ...

Gorillas | Gorillas and the Migration Combined (EA 11 days)

Rwanda gorillas and the migration, both sides of the Mara River

Enjoy two of Africa's most magnificent wildlife experiences – mountain gorillas and the Great Migration – on one unforgettable safari...

Elephant Herd | Best of Africa Safari (EA 16 days)

Best of Africa safari

Experience the best of Africa, from the Okavango Delta – one of Africa's Seven Natural Wonders – to the endangered mountain gorillas and East Africa's Great Migration...

 | Nature, Romance, Exclusivity and Luxury - A Complete African Honeymoon

Nature, Romance, Exclusivity and Luxury - A Complete African Honeymoon

This exclusive African honeymoon through East and Southern Africa is the perfect way to celebrate the start of your new journey together...