The “Land of 1,000 Hills” packs robust diversity of life and terrain within its day-tripper borders, much of it found in a modest few protected conservancies.
Akagera National Park, Rwanda’s savannah-clad nod to its eastern neighbors, has gotten by with a little help from its friends. A gift of giraffes from the Maasai of Kenya, and recent donations of lions and black rhinos from South Africa and European nations, have reintroduced long-absent denizens to their homelands. While tourists can now cheer Rwanda’s only claim to the “big five” of safari, the world will celebrate the gifts that keep on giving: the returned populations are growing.
Further inland, hundreds of species of tropical birds flit through an equal variety of tree types in the rainforests of Nyungwe Forest National Park. If you’re feeling daring, dance among the treetops yourself on the canopy walkway, suspended some twenty stories off the forest floor. Nearby, Lake Kivu offers soothe-seekers sandy inland beaches, as well as tranquil waters to kayak and swim, with neither crocs nor hippos to worry about.
You’re probably waiting for us to talk about the elephants in the room, which, in this case of course, are the mountain gorillas in the mist. The bamboo-forested slopes of the Virunga range are the only habitat for these critically endangered primates. Here, in Volcanoes National Park, lucky visitors (permits are neither plentiful nor cheap) can trek out for a priceless rendezvous with the great apes.
It’s also worth mentioning that Volcanoes National Park comprises five mostly extinct volcanoes. Mount Bisoke might still have a trick up its sleeve. Classic Bisoke.
Between its wild ranges and its frequent role as an add-on to larger trips, Rwanda is a kind of safari wild card. And though its draw has increased handily in recent years, tourism numbers are still relatively low, tempting us to declare that right now is the best time to swing through this jungle—but we have to admit: it’s getting better all the time.