I travelled back to Rwanda for the first time in five years and was eager to see what had changed. There had been a couple of new lodges built in the Musanze area (formerly Ruhengeri) catering for gorilla tourism and a few hotels in the capital, but the main purpose of my trip was to re-visit that gem, Nyungwe. This beautiful montane forest, situated in the south-west of the country, has two new properties which looked very promising.
We started in the north of the country, visiting Parc des Volcans, where we trekked for both gorillas and golden monkey. Unfortunately for my co-travellers, initial impressions of the country were rather clouded as the entire three hour journey north from the airport had been taken in a ‘wall of water’! The rain was so heavy that the thought of trekking the following day was a foreboding one. However, the clouds disappeared that evening, the volcanoes emerged from the mists, and we were blessed with splendid weather on the following days and consequently, we enjoyed reasonable sightings.
The next part of the journey was new to me, as we travelled south along the eastern shoreline of Lake Kivu, via Kibuye and onto Nyungwe. I had longed to do this for a while, as I had heard it was an incredible journey, but that was putting it mildly. I’ve always said the 13 hour drive from Fort Portal to Murchison Falls in Uganda was the most spectacular I had experienced in Africa, but this route could possibly top it. Leaving Gisenyi (on the border of the Congo) behind, we left the tarmac and within 100 yards, realised that this was going to be some journey. However, the ragged road improved as we left ‘suburbia’ and wound through forested hills and vales, across mountain streams and through friendly villages for the next eight hours (split over two days). The beauty of the countryside, the deep natural forest green set against vivid tea or banana plantations, and the happy people are my key memories. Although there was also the surreal sight of bright yellow ‘access’ pipes along the entire route, earmarking the fibre optic cable the Government has put in to bring the internet to even the most remote village; it’s just a pity that the electricity has not been connected yet!We arrived at Nyungwe Forest Lodge in the midst of yet more rain. Certainly this property ranks as the best hotel or lodge in the country, and we were met with the usual Rwandan warmth and hospitality.
I love Nyungwe. The primeval forests drenched in mist have something truly mysterious. We trekked for chimpanzee and enjoyed an excellent bird walk. Trekking here is very different to that in PNV as you travel along fairly well-kept tracks, rather than struggle through the undergrowth. The authorities have also built a new aerial walk-way although, with my fear of heights, I was not going to check it out – I’ll tell you it’s there, you can have the pleasure! The second new property in Nyungwe was not yet open so the jury is still out but, with Forest Lodge offering an exceptional base from which to explore the forest, I came away thinking that more of our holidays should include this part of the country.The 1994 genocide is part of Rwandan life and you come across many genocide sites throughout your travels. It is remarkable that even after that chaotic and horrific period, the people remain some of the most friendly anywhere in the world. They, together with the spectacular scenery, are reason enough to visit.