around the world: gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the democratic republic of Congo
By Rossana Arteaga-Gomez
My husband and I went gorilla trekking in Rwanda a few years ago and absolutely loved it so this past December we decided to see these gorgeous animals again. This time we were interested in visiting them in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During our trip planning, we were told that to get to Virunga we would need to drive through Rwanda. What better excuse could we have to visit Rwanda again! We decided to do one gorilla trek in Rwanda to reminisce about our past vacation and two gorilla treks in DRC. Both experiences were fantastic. In Rwanda, we even visited a gorilla family that we had visited the last time we went to Rwanda. We had an opportunity to see the baby gorillas we’d met during our first trip all grown up.
Rwanda is a fun-loving, laid back, scenic place. It’s called the land of a thousand hills for good reason. Everywhere you look there’s a majestic mountain in the background. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is a great city to spend some time. The people are warm and inviting. There are beautiful restaurants serving delicious food and wine to help a weary traveler unwind and settle in after a long journey. Rwanda has all the creature comforts that a traveler could want.
Rwandans also have milk bars. You read that right. Bars where the only drink served is milk. People go to these bars and sit around much like a coffee shop chit chatting and catching up. The milk bars sell patrons fresh milk and sometimes also sell sweets or doughnut-like things like the one I’m eating in the picture below. For a milk lover such as myself, these milk bars are a dream! The milk tastes rich, sweet, and delicious.
We also did a scooter tour of Kigali where the tour guide has us ride on the back of his scooter and took us around the city to see the sights. Scooters are a popular taxi alternative in the capital and a fun way to easily maneuver around traffic.
Before leaving Kigali, we visited the Genocide Museum and the Belgian Peacekeeper’s Memorial. The Genocide Museum is well-curated and, along with the Belgian Peacekeeper’s memorial, thoughtfully tells the story of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide.
Rwanda is a rich country with much to do, but the highlight of a Rwandan vacation is gorilla trekking! There are only about 1,000 gorillas in the entire world. Poaching killed them almost to extinction. Through conservation efforts backed by tourism, Gorillas increased in population from an all-time low of 254 gorillas in the 1980s to more than 1,000 today. Gorillas only live in the Virunga massif and in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. (Bwindi is my summer 2020 vacation!) The Virunga massif consists of three national parks across three separate countries – Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Virunga National Park in DRC, and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Gorilla trekking made an already great vacation one we will remember for the rest of our lives. The sight of a mama gorilla with her baby or a silverback protecting his family will not only melt your heart but stay with you for a long time.
Gorilla trekking in DRC was just as exciting as it was in Rwanda. The one advantage of gorilla trekking in DCR was that the experience was more intimate because there were fewer tourists. The lodging and food in DRC was just as spectacular as it was in Rwanda but, unlike in Rwanda, people can’t walk around alone. Much to the contrary, you’re escorted by armed guards everywhere you go. Despite this, we never felt unsafe.
After gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, my husband and I decided to hike Mt. Nyiragongo – an active volcano that has erupted multiple times, even reaching the nearby city of Goma. We had to hike for more than 11,000 feet over the course of approximately 5 hours to reach the summit. Thirty minutes from the summit were the most beautiful plants and flowers we’d ever seen. The volcanic rock is rich in minerals helping the plant’s flowers and leaves grow rich, vivid in color, and often enormous. The beauty is breathtaking.
Once you reach the summit, you’re rewarded with one of the most jaw dropping sights a person could ever see – a cauldron of hot, bubbling, fiery red lava. At night, the lava lights up the sky in an orangey red. December was cold on Mt. Nyiragongo yet the volcano kept us warm while we stood at the cliff mesmerized by the sight.
The following morning, after a hearty, hot breakfast prepared by one of our tour guides, we descended Mt. Nyiragongo and drove past the colorful houses and beautiful palm trees in DRC to get back to the Rwandan border where our tour guide awaited with the sweetest, most delicious plantain chips I’ve ever eaten.