Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes

Ever since Stanley emerged from the jungle on his epic trek across the continent, the Congo has held a special place in the western imagination.  It has been seen as Africa’s ‘dark heart’ – a land of thick rainforest, surging rivers and isolated hostile tribes.

The undisputed giant of Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the most challenging countries to travel through. But, those that make the step will be rewarded with incredible and memorable experiences.

Starting in the Rwandan capital Kigali, our Congo holidays concentrate on the far east of the DRC. This is possibly its most beautiful region and home to an impressive wealth of often unique wildlife.

In the vast Virunga National Park, we track mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. The more energetic can ascend the active volcano of Nyiragongo with its bubbling lava lake – an amazing sight to behold when illuminated against the night sky. We then spend time with pygmy communities on the idyllic island of Idjwi, and meet local fishermen on Lake Kivu.

A second gorilla encounter takes place in the forests of Kahuzi-Biega. Here we trek to meet rare eastern lowland gorillas, the largest of all primate species. Returning to Rwanda we venture into the forests of Nyungwe to look for chimpanzees and colobus, before ending the trip back in Kigali.

This two-week trip shows you the best of Congo and Rwanda’s natural world, as well as giving ample opportunity to meet and interact with local people, gaining insights into their often challenging lives.

The Congo is all too often portrayed as Africa’s ‘heart of darkness’, a foreboding and chaotic failed state with danger around every corner.  For those prepared to look beyond the headlines and learn for themselves, our Congo holidays show you another side to this often misunderstood nation.

Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes

Highlights

  • Track mountain gorillas in the Virungas
  • Climb Mount Nyiragongo
  • Meet pygmies on Idjwi Island
  • Eastern lowland gorillas in Kahuzi-Biega
  • Track chimps in Nyungwe Forest

Day 1 - Kigali

Arrive in Kigali and transfer to the hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight tourist class hotel.

Kigali

Spread out over hills and valleys, fringed with lush vegetation, Kigali is one of Africa’s most attractive capitals, with a lively but relaxed atmosphere that puts visitors at ease. Founded only in the early twentieth century, the population today stands at around a million, around 10% of the country’s total. Kigali suffered enormously during the genocide of 1994, but since then has rebuilt itself and is now renowned for being a safe and friendly place. It’s also incredibly clean – a result of the country having recently banned plastic bags, one of the scourges of African cities, as well as the fact that each month residents come together to embark on a number of community projects including cleaning the streets.

As anyone familiar with African capitals might expect, Kigali is fairly short on actual tourist sights, but the Genocide Memorial is a poignant reminder of the country’s tragic history and an essential stop for all visitors.

Day 2 - Kigali – Goma

Spend this morning exploring Kigali. On a walking tour organised by the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre we meet local people and learn about their everyday lives – a good opportunity to see beneath the surface of Kigali. We also visit the Genocide Memorial, a harrowing reminder of the troubles Rwanda has faced. After lunch we cross into the Democratic Republic of Congo and continue to the city of Goma. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 3 - Goma – Kibumba

Explore Goma, visiting the Turunga Cave for panoramic views over the city. We then continue to Kibumba, our base for visiting the mountain gorillas. Overnight tented camp. (BLD)


Day 4 - Virunga National Park – Gorilla tracking

Accompanied by trackers, we head out into the forests to meet a family of mountain gorillas – one of the most unforgettable wildlife experiences that Africa can offer. After time spent observing these gentle giants, return to Kibumba where the rest of the day is free to take walks in the surrounding area or visit nearby villages. Overnight tented camp. (BLD) 

Mountain Gorillas

Mountain gorillas are found in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, with around half the total population living in the DRC. Critically endangered, the population has risen over recent years to a total of somewhere near nine hundred, due largely to enhanced conservation efforts.

Mountain gorillas live in family groups dominated by a large silverback, with an average of about ten gorillas per group, although larger groups can have thirty individuals. Like all gorilla subspecies, they are primarily herbivores, eating leaves, shoots and stems as well as fruit and sometimes small invertebrates. They can generally be distinguished from other subspecies by their long thick fur, which enables them to keep warm in the higher altitudes that they inhabit. Mountain gorillas were only ‘discovered’ as a separate subspecies in 1902.

Day 5-6 - Nyiragongo

Transfer to the base of the active Nyiragongo volcano. Climb up to the summit to see its breathtaking lava crater, and spend the night here for stunning views as the night falls. In the morning of Day 6, watch the sunrise between the Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes, then return to the base. From here transfer to Goma and continue to the small island of Tchegera. Overnight simple chalets and tented camp. (BLD)

Please note: The hike up Nyiragongo is strenuous and requires a good level of fitness. If you would prefer not to do this, we will arrange for you to stay in Goma on Day 5 instead, where you will be able to visit some local community projects aimed at improving the lives of local people.

Nyiragongo

Located within the Virunga National Park, Nyiragongo (3,740 metres) is an active volcano and one of the few places in the world where you can see a lava lake. It is in fact the most active volcano in Africa, and most recently erupted in 2002, its lava flow destroying much of the neighbouring town of Goma; since 1882 it has erupted 34 separate times.

Days 7 - Masisi

Return to Goma and from here continue to the pretty alpine region of Masisi, with its landscapes of rolling hills and rural settlements. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)


Day 8 - Goma

Spend the morning exploring the area around Masisi, visiting a local farm and villages for a taste of rural life in this part of the continent. Return to Goma for the night. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Days 9-10 - Idjwi Island

Travel to Idjwi, the largest island on Lake Kivu with its traditional pygmy villages and laid back atmosphere. We spend our time here visiting local settlements and sailing out on the lake with fishermen. Overnight local guesthouse. (BLD)

Pygmies

‘Pygmy’ is a term used to describe a number of different ethnic groups living throughout central Africa, from the Batwa of the Great Lakes to the Ba’Aka and Badgeli of the western forests. Most Pygmy communities are partially hunter-gatherers, living on the wild products of their environment, but many also trade with neighbouring farmers to acquire cultivated foods and other material items. It is estimated that there are between 250,000 and 600,000 Pygmies living in the Congo rainforest.

The pygmies are masters of the forest, traditionally relying on it for most of their daily needs, although in modern times many have become more settled and are adopting the customs of the larger populations around them. They have been much discriminated against in recent times, with African governments attempting to ‘modernise’ them and seeing them as something of a throwback. However, we feel that spending time among these groups of people, with their encyclopaedic knowledge of the natural world and unique customs is one of the more special experiences the continent can offer.

Day 11 - Bukavu

Travel by boat on Lake Kivu to the town of Bukavu, with impressive views along the way. This afternoon visit the Lwiro centre, a sanctuary for orphaned chimpanzees and other primates. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 12 - Kahuzi-Biega National Park

Venture into Kahuzi Biega National Park, one of the last strongholds for the endangered eastern lowland gorilla. Trek through the rainforest to observe one of the families in their natural habitat. Return to Bukavu in the afternoon. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)

Eastern lowland gorillas

The eastern lowland gorilla – also known as Grauer’s gorilla – is the largest of the four gorilla species and only found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Like all of the gorillas, it is under huge threat from habitat loss and poaching, with the current population estimated around 4,000, compared to around 100,000 for the western lowland gorilla. However, they tend to form larger family groups than their western counterparts and occupy a greater range of habitats, from mountains to lowland forests.

One of the main threats to their survival is the encroachment of small scale mining operations – this part of the DRC is rich in minerals, and not only does this lead to habitat loss but the killing of gorillas by miners for food.

Day 13 - Nyungwe

Cross the border back into Rwanda and continue to Nyungwe, an area of primary rainforest rich in primate species. In the afternoon we walk into the forest to look for colobus, one of the most striking primates in this region, with groups up to 50 strong residing here. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)


Day 14 - Nyungwe

Return to the forest, this time to track chimpanzees – our final primate encounter of the tour. After lunch we explore the rainforest further on its canopy walkway for a different view of this incredible region. Overnight tourist class hotel. (BLD)

Chimpanzee tracking

Humans’ closest living relatives, chimpanzees are spread among 22 African countries, from Senegal in the west to Tanzania in the east, and have become extinct in four countries where they once lived. they are among the largest-brained, and most intelligent of primates; they use a variety of sophisticated tools and construct elaborate sleeping nests each night from branches and foliage. They live in large social groups of several males, females, juveniles and infants, dominated by an alpha male usually between 20 and 25 years old.

Day 15 - Butare – Kigali

Return to the capital, stopping at Butare on the way to visit the National Museum. Later transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)


We arrive in Kigali in the afternoon of the final day and you should not book any departure flight before the evening.

Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes
Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes
Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes

What's included?

  • Airport transfers

    We include arrival and departure transfers regardless of whether you book flights yourself, or we book them for you. If you’re booking them yourself, then please let us know the details so that we can arrange the transfers. Please note though that if you arrive earlier than Day 1 of the tour, and leave after the final day, we may need to make an additional charge for an airport transfer.

  • Accommodation

    Accommodation as listed in the dossier. The nature of the destinations that we operate may sometimes mean that we need to change hotels, but we’ll always endeavour to keep the same standards. Please be aware that as we operate in many countries where tourism is in its infancy, hotel standards may not be the same as you’re used to elsewhere.

  • Guides

    You will be accompanied by English speaking guides throughout the tour, but will have different guides for different sections of the trip, to take advantage of their local knowledge.

  • Meals

    As listed within the itinerary / dossier (B-Breakfast, L-Lunch, D-Dinner). These will vary from trip to trip – in some areas it makes sense to include all meals while in others there is a good choice of restaurants and we feel people might like to ‘do their own thing’ now and again.

  • Entrance fees

    Entrance fees are listed for those sites that we mention within the itinerary. If there are any other sites that you’d like to see, these would be at your own expense.

What's not included?

  • Visas

    We don’t arrange visas for our travellers, but if an invitation letter is necessary then we will arrange this for you. If you need any advice with visas then just give us a call, or alternatively, a visa agency such as Travcour can assist.

  • International flights

    Many of our travellers arrive from different destinations and so we don’t include international flights in the cost of our tours. If however, you would like us to book flights for you, then just give us a call and we’ll be happy to discuss your options.

  • Travel Insurance

    If you need any assistance with this, then let us know – although we can’t arrange it ourselves we can point you in the direction of a reputable provider that can assist.

Visas

Most travellers will require a visa to enter both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For Rwanda, most nationalities can obtain these upon arrival for US$30-50.

We can arrange for the visa for Democratic Republic of Congo to be issued locally for you. If you would like us to do this you MUST let us know at the time of booking as we will need to send you some forms to enable this. There is a charge for this of £100. Your passport must also be valid for a minimum of twelve months after completion of the trip.

Health and vaccinations

We are not medically qualified and so we recommend that you speak to your doctor or nearest health professional for advice concerning recommended vaccinations. For more advice on vaccinations, you can also visit www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk.

A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry to the Democratic Republic of Congo and you must bring this with you.

Insurance

It is a condition of joining our tours that you have suitable travel insurance in place, and we cannot accept travellers without insurance. All policies differ in terms of what they will cover, but as a minimum you need medical and health cover, which will cover you for the whole time that you are away. Most policies will also include cancellation cover, which will cover you if an unforeseen circumstance obliges you to cancel your trip. We recommend that you obtain your insurance as soon as you book your trip.

Please note that government travel warnings often affect the validity of your travel insurance, and you should check this with your insurance company.

Money

The local currency in Rwanda is the Rwandan franc and in the DRC it is the Congolese franc.

It’s not difficult to change money here, but only in the larger cities – once you leave these your opportunity for changing funds is slim to non-existent. Your guide will be able to assist with this. ATMs exist but are not always reliable and so it is best to think of them as a back up rather than a main means of obtaining money.

However, US dollars are accepted almost everywhere in both countries.

Credit cards are accepted in larger hotels and better restaurants (usually in Kigali) but are not commonly accepted elsewhere.

Local conditions

When travelling to some of the destinations we offer you need to bear in mind that things won’t always work here as we’re used to them working at home. Travelling in underdeveloped and untouristed destinations requires both patience and a sense of humour. There may be problems with infrastructure, attitudes may be different, and maintenance may not be as high a standard as we would always like, but this is very much part and parcel of travelling in such a place. We aim to resolve any issues as quickly as possible, and thank you for your patience.

Travel advice

We keep a very close eye on the travel advice issued by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office so that we can keep you up to date with any warnings. At the time of writing the FCO advises against travel to all parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

We work very closely with our local team and are fully confident that we can operate tours safely in the DRC. Should you have any concerns over safety please do not hesitate to contact us and we can address your concerns.

This relates to advice from the British government – other nationalities need to check the stance of their own governments.

Please note that the information contained above is highly susceptible to change, and while we endeavour to keep up to date we recommend that you use this as a guide only. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Updated May 2019

Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes
Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes
Gorillas, Chimps and Volcanoes
Date(s)
Price (PP) Exc. Flights
Single Supplement
Trip Status
Date -
06 June 2020
Price (PP) -
£4,899
Single Supplement -
£500
Trip Status -
Available
Date -
05 June 2021
Price (PP) -
£4,999
Single Supplement -
£500
Trip Status -
Available