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Eight of us, including my dad, clung to tangled vines to steady ourselves against the slippery undergrowth along a slope in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. We were there to spot gorillas, and the forest was eerily quiet while we waited.
Roger Amani, one of our guides, looked at us with a finger to his lips, reminding us that we couldn’t make a sound. If we did, we might scare the primates away.
We scanned the thick vegetation of African redwood trees. We knew from our trackers that the family we had hiked three hours to see, the Agashyas, were in the vicinity.
One of my fellow hikers, an older gentleman from Boston, looked at me and whispered, “You know that movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’? I feel like we’re living it.” A few minutes later, there he was: the silverback Agashya, the head of the family, sleeping underneath a redwood and surrounded by a half-dozen gorillas. I grabbed my dad’s hand and squeezed it so hard that his skin turned deep red.
This moment was why I had come to Rwanda.
Itineraries to Rwanda tend to include only a two-night stay in the Volcanoes National Park region. Travelers do one gorilla trek and leave. But there is plenty more to appreciate.
Dad and I moved on to Virunga Lodge, where we would spend another two nights. I had met Virunga’s owner, Praveen Moman, a few months earlier, when he visited New York, and he had said that a walk to Sunzu village from the lodge to watch Rwandese women cook traditional food like beef stew with steamed cassava was a must. We were also keen on doing the steep two-hour climb to Dr. Fossey’s tomb in Volcanoes National Park, next to the original Karisoke Research Center.
Travelers shouldn’t miss the chance to see the photogenic apes with their round faces, long tails and thick, reddish-gold furs. Three families, with a total of around 80 monkeys, live in the forest. Although the groups to find them can reach up to 20 people, we had just six others in ours.
We spotted our family a half-hour into our fast-paced walk. Although there was no restriction on how close we could get to the primates, they wouldn’t stay still. They jumped from tree to tree and swung on branches. Occasionally, we were lucky enough to glimpse their faces.
We didn’t have to cling to vines to see them, and it wasn’t as dramatic as our encounter with Agashya. But it was a delightful coda.
Where to Stay
Virunga Lodge A 45-minute drive from Volcanoes National Park headquarters, this 10-room property is built on a ridge and has spectacular views of the Virunga volcanoes. Nightly rates begin at $1,000 for two people, inclusive of meals, alcohol and several activities, such as a guided visit to the local village. Book by emailing [email protected].
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.