Day 1: Genocide Memorial and Museum. Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial with a Tutsi guide. Almost one million Tutsis were murdered over about three months, wiping out 70% of the ethnic group. The Memorial holds the remains of a quarter of a million of those victims in mass graves. Listen to the testimonials and witness the exhibits of machetes used in the massacre. Then, ask your guide to tell his own personal story. Our guide described how his family had been tipped-off that the Hutus were coming to their home. The men fled into the forested hills above Kigali while the women and children took refuge in a Catholic church. Unfortunately, the church was no refuge. Hutu attackers came inside and hacked hundreds of parishioners to death. All of the guide’s brothers and sisters perished. Only his mother survived, badly wounded. Even after she recovered from her physical injuries, she remained catatonic, in permanent shock from the horrors. Drive around Kigali, to see the real hotel featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda and the Catholic church.
Day 2: Drive to the Volcanoes. Volcanoes Safaris will pick you up in a Land Rover and drive you a few hours north of Kigali – through beautiful, lush hills – to its Virunga Lodge. The Lodge sits on the top of a high peak, overlooking Lake Bucera in one direction and the Parc National des Volcans in the other, with the volcanic peaks forming a line across the horizon. When we were there, the park glowed orange at night as one of its distant volcanoes erupted. With only 10 villas, the Virunga guests drink and dine together overlooking the stunning views. Before you even set eyes on a gorilla, you feel like you’re in the movie King Kong.
Day 3: Gorillas. Virunga Lodge specializes in gorilla safaris. These trips are highly regulated affairs, limited to a small number of people each day. As such, it is essential to plan well in advance and procure the licenses to visit the gorillas. As the gorillas live on the side of the volcanos, the hike to reach them is rigorous, steep, and slippery.
Day 4: Golden Monkeys. Also residing in the volcanic forest is another rare primate – the golden monkey. The striking creature sports a blue face with a reddish-blond furry head. The hike to reach the golden monkeys is even more challenging, as they move through the trees with considerable speed.
Day 5: Goma & Lake Kivu. After hikes to see the gorillas and golden monkeys, it is worth spending a day touring Goma and Lake Kivu. Cross the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo, where United Nations peacekeepers struggle to contain multiple rebel groups. Visit the colorful markets, full of the bounty from the region’s rich soils. Have lunch at the Serena Lake Kivu hotel and gaze out at Lake Kivu – widely regarded as the most dangerous lake in the world. It is 1590 feet deep, but around 250 feet down, there’s more than water. Dissolved methane and carbon dioxide are trapped, waiting to bubble to the surface. Earthquakes or even powerful storms can free the gas, sending it to the surface in giant bubbles like a bottle of champagne. Small eruptions happen on a regular basis, which create a suction effect. A few swimmers die every year, sucked under by these bubbles. If drive along the lake, visiting its hot springs. A similarly saturated lake in Cameroon emitted a larger eruption of gas, which rolled onto shore, instantly suffocating and killing a village of 2,000. After driving along the lake, head back to Kigali and the Serena Hotel.
Day 6: Rwanda’s Serengeti. Most flights out to Europe leave late at night. This creates an opportunity for a quick drive through Rwanda’s Akagera National Park (about 2.5 hours from Kigali). Akagera borders Tanzania and is home to 8,000 large mammals (including lions) and 500 bird species. It’s a nice safari before catching the plane home.
Recommended Hotel: Kigali – Serena (Arrival and Departure)
Recommended Hotel: Virunga Lodge (National Park)
Photo Tip: With the Gorillas