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In:sight on Rwanda: Amongst the wilderness

Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills', it is impossible for Rwanda not to amaze event delegates with its picture-postcard landscapes and hypnotising views.

Home to three National Parks, five volcanoes, 23 lakes and 670 species of birds, Rwanda’s diverse landscape is a dazzling combination of rainforests and savannah, all within easy reach from the capital city.

BI WORLDWIDE’s Event Professionals Katrina Rannard and Teresa Allen were able to spend some of their time in Rwanda experiencing the countryside with its natural charm and beauty laid bare, checking out the type of activities and accommodation available that could wow delegates even more!

Virunga Lodge

Located in the north of Rwanda, close to the Volcanoes National Park, Virunga Lodge became ‘home’ for Katrina and Teresa during their stay. Perched on top of a hill with an almost 360 degree panoramic view of the twin lakes and Virunga volcanoes, the eco-lodge with its ten individual rooms is famed for its breathtakingly beautiful location and triumphed at the 2016 World Boutique Hotel Awards for the Best Romantic Retreat.

The lodge is also recognised for its minimal environmental impact through the use of solar hot water systems, harvested rainwater and its support for the local community. The lodge has initiated many successful projects, from providing every family in the nearby village with a sheep, to donating and installing large water tanks for families to collect rainwater for daily use. In addition to this, the lodge provides work for 32 locals and supports the local school with supplies and donations.

Teresa comments: “Whilst you need a 4x4 vehicle to navigate the last ten minutes of the journey up to the lodge, you can tell you are on the way to somewhere very special. Arriving in the dark, we had absolutely no idea where we were but the surprise we got in the morning when we opened the door was simply jaw-dropping. ‘Wow’ was the only word that sprang to mind.”

Katrina comments: “Our stay at the lodge was made all the more perfect by the wonderful, friendly staff and the impeccable presentation and quality of the food. We were certainly looked after very well.”

Alternative Lodges

During their trip, Katrina and Teresa had the chance to inspect a couple of alternative lodges located closer to the monkey and gorilla trekking base.

Katrina comments: “There are a number of lodges in the area suitable for groups, which vary in budget and size from 12 rooms to 29 rooms. They are tastefully decorated with local craftwork, from gorilla wood carvings to beautiful landscape paintings and have stunning outdoor spaces with views of the local volcanoes. There are rumours that some new lodges might be in the pipeline for the near future, one of which being a luxurious international brand suggesting it will have 50 rooms. It’s definitely worth watching out for these exciting developments.”

Golden Monkey Trekking

Rwanda offers a rare opportunity for visitors to trek and view golden monkeys in their natural habitat amongst the rich bamboo forests. Listed as an endangered species, the golden monkeys are only found in the Virunga Mountains which span the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Groups of 15 visitors are allowed to spend up to one hour with the monkeys.

Teresa comments: “The trek provided a fantastic opportunity to be amongst Rwanda’s natural environment passing through farm land and muddy footpaths until we finally reached the bamboo forest. Whilst the terrain wasn’t too strenuous, the hardest part was trying to avoid the mud and boggy parts! Our guide was in constant radio contact with the trackers that had gone ahead to locate the monkeys so we didn’t have to go on a ‘wild monkey chase’.  We were told that there were 150 monkeys in the troupe, but they were all spread out so we only got glimpses of half a dozen at one time. It was easy to hear the rustle of the monkeys as they sprang about the trees and ate the bamboo shoots, but the vegetation was fairly dense so it was sometimes difficult to see them in detail. I’ve certainly learnt that wildlife photographers need to be patient and very quick!”

Katrina comments: “The monkeys were great fun to watch as they jumped about the forest and walked towards the end of the bamboo canes in order to make them bend down so that they could spring on to the neighbouring cane for more food. We were also privileged to see a herd of buffalo on our way back down the mountain path. Unfortunately, the buffalo were not too friendly, which resulted in us having to take a rather large detour on ‘the path less travelled’ a.k.a. ‘off-track’ through vegetation that was as tall as our shoulders at some points. It was an unexpected but exciting adventure to add to the list of experiences.”

It was utterly magical and one of the best moments of my life.

  • Teresa Allen
  • Events Project Executive

Gorilla Trekking

And finally onto the biggest draw to Rwanda…gorilla trekking!

With less than 900 mountain gorillas left in the world, the critically endangered species is protected in the Virunga Conservation Area. Twenty families live within Rwanda’s mountain range, with ten being observed for research purposes and ten being tracked for tourism. Permits must be obtained to visit the gorillas and in order to reduce any stress on the animals, group sizes are limited to eight people per gorilla family and visit times are limited to one hour. Gorillas are not territorial so the families move all about the mountain range, which makes tracking a little more of a challenge. Teresa and Katrina had the privilege to visit the gorillas within their natural habitat. 

Katrina explains: “We headed out to the edge of the forest along an extremely bumpy off-road track that shook us from side to side. As we walked through the farming area to get to the forest entrance, our guide shared some background information about the gorillas. We had porters to assist us with our bags and to lend a helping hand when the incline increased and the vegetation grew dense as it was easy to lose your footing. As we approached the ‘Hirwa’ family of gorillas, there was a sudden commotion from our guide and the trackers and we turned around to see a mother gorilla with her baby walk within inches right past us! It was a pinch-yourself moment and we felt instantly at ease as the gorillas didn’t seem bothered with us being there and it didn’t feel intrusive.”

Teresa comments: “It was utterly magical and one of the best moments of my life. It was amazing to watch the gorillas so candidly and at such close quarters. The silverback gorilla was sat within metres of us munching away on shoots, we saw youngsters play fighting and rolling all over the floor and a baby climbing and swinging about from a small tree branch, which ended up snapping from its playful antics. It was everything you would want to see from a family of gorillas in the wild, and the baby adorably beating its chest was the icing on the cake.”

Katrina and Teresa both agreed that whilst the experience is expensive, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that is worth every penny and an activity not to be missed. So, whilst another tick has been added to the box in Rwanda’s favour, there is still the most surprising side of the country to be explored…the rapidly modernising capital with its new construction of upscale hotels and state-of-the-art Convention Centre. Read our next blog to find out more about the future of Rwanda for the MICE industry.

Check out Katrina and Teresa's pictures on our Pinterest board.

In:sight on Rwanda: Looking at the past to understand the future

In:sight on Rwanda: Community spirit and culture

In:sight on Rwanda: What it has to offer for the MICE industry



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