Rwanda - Visiting Gorillas after the Genocide

Closeup Photo Gorilla

I didn't know much about Rwanda before considering coming here and doing research about it. I only knew there was a long time ago some war, but I didn't know what exactly happened or why. But while planning for the trip, I automatically was figuring out what was going on in the year of 1994, here in Rwanda. 

And it's horrible... 800'000 Tutsi slaughtered by Hutu civilians... all within three months. The genocide on a scale like never before.

May 24 - Kigali, where the Rwandan Genocide started

I came with the plane from Kenya. Glad that there was no problem with the visa on immigration as I needed some kind of special tourist visa. The so-called African Tourist Visa which is valid for some different East Africa Countries, but some of those countries deal differently with the rules behind and that doesn't make it much easier :).

to Musanze/Ruhengeri
to the Gorillas
to visiting Gisenyi

Africa Map to show where Rwanda is located

East African Tourist Visa explained

Maybe some other people intending to travel to Rwanda with the East African Tourist Visa (EATV) and surely the same questions arise. So here is my explanation about it:

Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya is no problem and one can roam around within those three countries as many times as it makes fun, assuming the visa hasn't expired.

Leaving Rwanda to Burundi = Invalid EATV
Leaving Rwanda to Burundi then to Kenya = No Invalid EATV and its possible to enter Kenya with the same EATV.

And that was the official statement that both, the Rwandan and Kenyan embassy told me on the phone, doesn't matter if it makes sense or not. I even told the Kenyan embassy what the Rwanda embassy told me and vice versa. And they just said Kenya and Rwanda handle it differently.

I have to stay within East African Community countries, meaning Kenya/RwandaUganda/Burundi Tanzania. But the EATV is valid for Kenya Rwanda Uganda.
Example: after leaving Rwanda and going to Burundi, I can go back to Kenya afterward. The EATV remains valid.
Example 2: After leaving Rwanda and going to DRC, the EATV becomes invalid, cause DRC is not an East African Community country.

However, it might be that some officers do not know the real regulations. In my case, I got a signed letter from the Kenya embassy that my EATV remains valid and that I can show this letter in case an officer doesn't know the actual regulations (2017).

The genocide left its marks, visible after already 10 minutes of leaving the airport

It was evening when leaving the airport in Kigali after coming from Nairobi. The feeling was somehow strange standing in front of the airport, knowing what happened around this airport in 1994 when people around were eliminating each other with machetes. The feeling became even more strange when seeing older people with just one leg or arm - and this within 10 minutes after arriving in Rwanda on the ride to the hotel.

May 25 - Moving around in Kigali

I slept well even the room wasn't really made for sleeping too well. But after worrying about mosquito nets and mosquito repellent before sleeping, I was too tired to worry about the sleep itself :D.
In opposite, the view from the hotel breakfast area was fantastic to get a glimpse of the whole Kigali and again imagine, how it must have been when the slaughterings happened right there all over the town in 1994.

During the genocide in 1994, outside of Rwanda barely any country was informed what was happening in Rwanda those months. No country was really interested to help and even the UN left the country, as they were not allowed to help.

There aren't too many things to see in Kigali, but the hills and valley with its houses and shelters are nice to see and walk through them.

Kigali Tourist Map

View from the hotel terrace towards a Kigali valley.
View from Kigali Downtown towards Uptown

Hotel Rwanda

My first point of interest was the Hotel Mille Collines, which lies on the top of Kigali mountain, and was the Hotel which was featured in the movie "Hotel Rwanda".

The hotel which was used by locals as the only "secure" point in Kigali, protected by UN soldiers during the genocide. The hotel itself underwent a renovation, but the pool was still the same as back then, where refugees had to drink water from.

In front of the Hotel des Mille Collines. The hotel was the semi secured UN spot during the Genocide.

Me standing in front of it

The pool is still the same as during the Genocide. Locals tried to escape to this hotel, to have some protection from the slaughtering. Due to the lack of water, they had to drink from this pool.

The pool where refugees drunk water from during the Genocide

For an African capital, Kigali is clean and secure.

By continue walking, I never have seen such an unique scenery of hills and valleys covered with barracks and basic houses, whereas on the Kigali hill, on the so-called Down Town, the expensive office towers and hotels were standing - always with the images and scenes back of the head what happened in exactly those streets back in 1994.

Kigali Park
The area on the hill is downtown and vice versa

Convention Center
Nice and modern Buildings growing in Kigali

One of many posters in the city to remember the Genocide
One of many poster in the city to remember the Genocide

Different counties, different methods of working. However, this here was a bit funny anyway, as on every construction site I walked by, out of a group of 10 workers only 2 were actually doing something. The rest of them was resting :)

Workers also need rest, a lot of it.

Street renovation

People transporting stuff on the head. Where to spot them? Everywhere.
Daily life of hard working locals.

Kigali Downtown vs. Kigali Uptown

On top of the hill is called Kigali Downtown :). In Kigali Downtown are the new, big, modern buildings. The lower towards the valley, the poorer the houses.

Genocide Memorial

In the center of Kigali finally was the Genocide Memorial, which the mass grave of all dead bodies found in Kigali and these graves are huge. The other part of the memorial is the museum that intensively shows visitors the whole story of the genocide, without sparing any details of the horror that happened back in 1994. This stuff is heavy.

Entrance to Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Until the Genocide, every local of Rwanda had to carry such a passport, which stated if the person is Hutu or Tutsi.
If Hutu or Tutsi is determined based on physical look like nose or ears or height of an individual.

Photos of some of the victims.

Skulls of the slaughtered. There were about 800'000 of them all over Rwanda. Killed within three months!
Skulls of slaughtered people in Rwanda

The mass graves

There was one woman which I spoke to and asked about her genocide-story, where her mother was taken and killed, brothers and sisters taken and killed, with machete and gardening tools, by their neighbors. She was the only person of her family who survived, as she was not there in the house when it happened.

The mass graves. Carrying murdered people from and around Kigali. These in Kigali only contain a small amount out of all the 800'000 killed people.

No car?  No Uganda, no Gorilla permit. Disaster incoming!

I only had two days to visit Kigali. Now I'm waiting for 30 minutes in the hotel restaurant on the roof terrace for my pasta carbonara :), while I'm also waiting for the rental car to be delivered - which is now delayed for two hours.

And this freaks me out a bit because I need this car to start driving tomorrow to Uganda. It is one major important point of this whole East Africa trip, cause a) if having no car, I cannot drive to Uganda, cannot drive back to Rwanda, not visit the Gorillas, and b) the car rental company also has my Gorilla permit, which was nearly 800USD and it's impossible to get a new one for my desired date of the Gorilla visit.

Now I'm going to try reaching the rental company by skype.

May 26 - 4WD delivered. Time to drive to Uganda

One hour after I called the car company yesterday evening, they delivered the car :D. And somehow, what I couldn't believe until I held it in my hands, the gorilla permit with the correct date of visit is mentioned ..haha! So I was able to start driving towards Uganda in the early morning :)

Nice and not too long ride from Kigali to Uganda.

Only about 120km from Kigali to Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda

Down in the streets of Kigali it is very busy.
Busy as probably in every other African Country

Construction is ongoing everywhere.

Leaving Kigali shows different scenery.
Out of busy downtown

There is nothing those people cannot transport with a bicycle.

Who needs an electro bicycle when there are trucks to hold on?

At this point i crossed the border to Uganda at Gatuna Border Post. Its a busy border crossing and permits, license and passport all will be checked several times at several offices. However, many friendly people around who help finding the right office and help skipping the line for some little tip :)





Border Crossing back from Uganda to Rwanda

Bikes are used like trucks. African heavy transportation.

Also heads are used like trucks

Could also serve for protection of falling coconuts.

I don't know whats going on here

Heavy use of streets from pedestrians

May 27 - Back to Rwanda. Officer wants a watch as a bribe.

Drove back this morning from Uganda, went visiting the border to the Democratic Republic Congo and now I'm already in Rwanda :D Everything went fine and no problems at the border from Uganda to Rwanda, only the customs officer joked that I don't have a required paper for the rental car to come back to Rwanda and it was obvious that he wants some cash...or a watch .. or simply something, and so I gave him a bottle of water :)

Arriving in Musanze, where the Gorillas are not far anymore

Now I'm in Musanze or also called Ruhengeri, which is the closest and most convenient city to prepare for the gorilla trekking tomorrow. Musanze isn't big, but they are prepared for tourism and there are shops and restaurants for tourists.

Map of Musanze / Ruhengeri
Best areas to stay and where the restaurants area are located

IKEA starts delivering everywhere, directly to your home in Rwanda.

Big market with absolutely no fake products :)

Was it like that in my home country 100 years ago, on a nice summer day?

May 28 - The ultimate Gorilla trekking day

This was the day of the mountain gorilla trekking :). I relieved that I made it to this place at the right time and with the correct gorilla permit. The permit is just a paper that needs to be ordered weeks in advance, and because I bought it together with the rental car, payment has to be done to the rental company with some dodgy Ugandan bank account.

Rwanda or Uganda for Gorillas?

The reason why I didn't wanna go to visit the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda was that there it requires much more time to get to. A one day visit to the apes is would be stressful and driving long distances.

In the end, it doesn't matter which Gorillas are there to see, as they almost all look the same in the area of Uganda, Rwanda, and the DRC.

That's why I went to visit those apes in the Volcanoes National Park.

How does gorilla trekking work?

  1. Getting up very early and drive to Headquarter.
  2. Do the check-in with the passport and the permit. Both will be taken by some Rwandan guard and one hour later they bring it back :)
  3. Get assigned to a trekking group based on your stamina. Groups differ in the gorilla family to be seen and on walking time, between 1 and 5 hours each way.
  4. Drive to the foot of the mountain. The guide jumps into your car without asking :)
  5. Walking up the mountain for a few hours.
  6. See gorilla.
  7. Drop the guide and go home :)! Sounds simple and easy, yes it actually is, except.. it feels strange to suddenly see some big wild animal that looks so human and which has teeth like Dracula when it screams. That's the only "uncomfortable" thing, but the rangers have riffles and machetes so nothing can happen, they said:)!

Map of Kingi and the Headquarter for trekking check-in. (1) Headquarter (2) Parking at the foot of the mountain (3) Hiking

Rwanda Volcanes Nationalpark Area with Kingi Headquarter and the place where to start hiking.

Ceremony for all the visitors at the base camp "Volcanoes National Park Headquarters"

After driving another 20 minutes we started walking. Gorilla Ranger explained some rules.

The further up on the mountain, the more dense but nice the forest became.

We don't know how long or far we have to walk. It could be between 1 hour or 3 hours. Depends where they hide :)

Gorilla Visiting Hiking takes some hours

Volcanoes NP

Video: Gorillas ISAUKURU of Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

After 1.5 hours of walking through the jungle, they suddenly sit there.

The big silverback gorilla is the boss of the family.

It seems everybody else is scared of him.

Papa Gorilla not happy. We were told if this happens, to not look at it, turn away and kneel down if it gets worse.

In case one Gorilla comes closer, we had to make us as small as possible, not looking it into their eyes and not trying to show the face to them, always look in a different direction. They can come very close and even try to touch and move the person to check what happens. However, in no way and under no circumstances standing up and try to run away (except you won't show up on a news channel..haha).

This one was a bit upset as well

What is there that they dont like and get angry about?

Time is up, back to reality. After exactly one hour with the gorillas we had to leave them alone.

Time to leave the monkey mountain, time to drive to Gisenyi

Even it was still morning the heat was coming up quickly and after walking down the monkey mountain I took time to relax, having lunch and then depart towards Gisenyi. Gisenyi is on the very west of Rwanda and the last city before crossing into Democratic Republic Congo (DRC). It was nearly two hours from the Volcanoes National Park.

Driving from Ruhengeri to Gisenyi is nice too. Got once stopped by the police as I probably drove to fast, but they waved at me to continue because for them I was probably an "English-only" speaking tourist :)


Unique techniques for carrying things

The yellow canisters are supposed for drinking water. These are visible all over Rwanda and Uganda.
Villages have these waterholes with drinking water

May 29 - The border between Gisenyi and DRC

No idea why I was so curious about the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo :). Maybe it was because I was considering crossing the border to DRC when planning for the trip, but unfortunately, it was not that easy, as visa regulations don't allow it. Instead, I went close to the border to have a glimpse into the DRC take some photos :).

The rest of the day I was roaming around in Gisenyi, watching locals doing their daily life and in the evening hoping that not too many power breaks will happen, while the restaurant cooks my meal.

When coming from the DRC, this is the border to pass into Rwanda.

The DRC seems busy today.

They build bricks without machines, but they really didn't like me taking photos. The blue one was angry!

These people are fish dealers and are arguing with each other about prices of the fish they will sell later on the market.
Gisenyi downtown

Photo from Rwanda across the border. This is DRC from far:)

DRC far behind in the background.

May 30 - Roadtrip through Rwanda

This morning I had to drive back 3 hours from Gisenyi to Kigali, drop off the rental car at the airport and fly to Bujumbura.

Donating my shoes

While driving back I was remembering my running shoes which I was wearing for the gorilla trekking and that I actually don't need them anymore. There in Africa were so many people without shoes and so I was spotting for one of those many hard warking bicyclists, which had to walk up their bikes with heavy load every day many times and due to lack of good breaks, stopping the bikes with their bare feet ..haha.. yes. So I stopped one of them, gave him my shoes and he was super happy :)

Driving from Gisenyi back to Kigali and then to the airport for the flight to Burundi.

Transport food on the head

Arriving back in Kigali. View towards Kigali downtown.

1 comment:

  1. Morgan Christopher6 April 2018 at 03:16

    Beautiful country, but I'm glad you mentioned the atrocities there. I am overwhelmed by the thought of the scale of violence that took place there, i.e. a genocide. Thank you for not discarding this when you talked about your visit to Rwanda. The countries of Rwanda and Kenya are gorgeous and your photography truly captures the beauty of the land. I can see why Africa has fascinated people for generations. Beautiful photographs of the gorillas. I look forward to reading your other blogs.