Whisper it, but Rwanda is hotly tipped as the next top destination in world travel. Unfairly overlooked, its rolling hills, wildlife-filled rainforests and welcoming peoples are only just starting to garner the international attention they deserve. The just-opened ultra-luxury accommodation doesn’t hurt, either. And, there’s the small matter of it being one of only two visitable countries where you can meet the mighty mountain gorillas face to face.
Following years of stable governance, it’s a real African success story. Rwanda has the world’s highest representation of women in parliament. You won’t see a single piece of plastic rubbish; bags are banned. And, with gorgeous roads leading between pretty lake beaches and a rainforest-covered interior, it’s become one of the best-connected countries in the continent. That’s not to say, however, that Rwanda has lost touch with its roots. As you round each bend, you’ll be treated to spectacular views of truly humble villages and mist-clad slopes terraced into modest farms. Verdant throughout, Rwanda really does live up to its moniker – “The Land of a Thousand Hills”.
And, with smiling encounters abounding, the tragic events of the nineties live on only in superb genocide memorials. A visit to any is a profound experience, not least as you may just find yourself the only tourists there, being shown around by the passionate curator. However, it’s the wildlife encounters that might just linger longest in your memory. In Nyungwe, chimpanzees swing from the rainforest canopy, while Volcanoes National Park offers the chance to embed yourself in one of the last remaining families of mountain gorillas. Then, cap it all off with some beach relaxation and nights spent in some of Africa's finest accommodation, backdropped by virgin jungle.
Put simply, Rwanda offers perhaps the ultimate in wildlife experiences; it’s one of the last remaining countries that you can visit mountain gorillas. Hidden among dense rainforests that cloak the slopes of its millennia-old volcanoes, you’ll be led by expert trackers, through the dense jungle, to come face to face with an entire family. You’ll be mere feet away from 30-stone silverbacks rippling with muscle, while mum lazily teaches her impossibly cute baby to climb.
Rwanda is also home to plenty of other great primates. Tucked away in the country’s remote southwest, Nyungwe is the best-preserved rainforest in central Africa. On jungle hikes and canopy-level walkways, you can expect to spot everything from colourful reptiles to colobus monkeys whose distinctive capes billow out at every jump. However, it’s perhaps the chimpanzees, our closest relatives, that impress the most. Tracking these great apes as they swing and whoop from the vines up high is a truly unforgettable experience.
However, there’s plenty more to Rwanda than monkey business. Moving out from modern Kigali, the country’s buzzy capital, a tribal past lives on in the thatched King’s Palace and the excellent Ethnographic Museum, housed in Butare – a welcoming university town. Then, although Akagera National Park offers a Big Five safari that’s delightfully rough-and-ready, you’ll also want to rest up on the shores of Lake Kivu. Here, palm-fringed beaches are the perfect rest bite from a hard day’s gorilla trekking.
In terms of accommodation, there has never been a better time to visit Rwanda. Indeed, the appearance of two brand-new One&Only properties is perhaps the greatest testament to the country’s emergence as a luxury destination. Split between Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park, they offer boutique indulgence in truly privileged settings. Expect private timber villas, infinity pools and fine-dining experiences set to jungle views animated by the local wildlife. Then, there are city-slicking classics in Kigali, while Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu, offers the chance for some beach-side relaxation.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
A stylish addition to Rwanda’s burgeoning luxury lodge scene, this stunning and intimate retreat is delightfully nestled among the foothills of Volcanoes National Park.
This delightful, eco-friendly lodge offers spectacular views from its hillside perch on the edge of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, around a 40-minute drive from the park headquarters.
Lake Kivu Serena
Perched right on the shores of Africa’s sixth-largest lake, and with its own private beach, this modern hotel combines first-class accommodation with an unmatched location in one of Rwanda’s most spectacular regions.
Thanks to an equatorial climate, Rwanda is delightfully temperate year-round, with the thermometer rarely wavering out of the twenties. It’s only the rains that you need to worry about. Thankfully, there are two dry seasons. The first is from late December to the end of February, and the second is between June and the beginning of September. Summer is a little drier and hotter, so if you’d prefer something in the early twenties – look to winter. Our tip? Focus your efforts in the middle of each dry season. This is when the ground has hardened up, making that all-important gorilla trek that bit easier underfoot.
Rwanda: A Mountain Gorilla Adventure
9 days from £5,630 pp incl. flights
Experience the wildlife encounter of a lifetime on this luxury journey through Rwanda. Staying at the country's finest hotels and lodges, you'll track chimps, seek out golden monkeys and meet gorillas in their remote jungle home.