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Any way to visit Rwanda affordably in a short period of time?

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I'm trying hard to get to Rwanda, just for a week. I understand the costs of the gorilla permits are going to be $500 each day, and I'm comfortable with that. But why are companies like Volcanos, for a four day/3 night trip with two gorilla treks charging upwards of $2800? Where is that other $1,800 going? The transport and lodging just can't be that expensive can it?

I'm wondering if anyone here has any experience doing the trip for less, or do I need to resign myself to such costs if I can only go for a short period of time, thereby not being able to take the risk of figuring it out when I get there.

Any advice is appreciated.

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    Hi gsah,
    It is relatively easy to plan and book a trip independently - we did just that last July. Transport, can be extremely cheap if you use local transport (bus) or fairly expensive if you go for a vehicle plus driver (probably over $200/day). Each has advantages and disadvantages. We booked a driver and vehicle and it was a lifesaver. If I was going again I would DEFINATELY opt to do it that way again but others here used public transport and that worked out fine too. The guy we had driving us was FANTASTIC. We booked him through ITT but he can be booked direct. I have posted a trip report on our trio, just search my name and it's under Imelda & Decks's African Adventure (I think).

    Imelda

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    HI Imelda. Thanks for the info. Can you tell me what ITT is, and also how I would go about booking your guy directly?

    Doing the trip independently, assuming I got a driver/venhicle, what could I be budgeting per day in Rwanda (not including gorilla permits)?

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    We did a four night trip with 2 treks (am in the midst of a trip report in another thread) and paid substantially less than $2800 per person.

    I do know that the Volcanoes Lodge is more expensive (and supposedly much nicer) than the Gorillas Nest - so that might account for some of the difference. It can't hurt to shop around though.

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    Hi gshah,
    ITT is a tour company in Kigali - I think it stands for International Tours and Travel. I dealt with Joyce there and she was nice. They can organise gorilla permits etc but really it is just as easy to do it direct with ORTPN as one way or another you have to wire money and if you go through a TO you have to pay a fee (normally $50).
    Richard, our drivers e-mail is richaniy at yahoo dot com. He is a FANTASTIC guy and absolutely adores his work. He can help you with transport and will most likely be a little chaeper than going with a TO. If you e-mail him tell him Imelda gave you his address!! I can honestly say that Richard made our trip to Rwanda ... and I swear I'm not connected :).

    I'm not too sure what amount per day you should budget per day, I suppose it all depends. We didn't spend very much other than for the permits and accomodation and a little for meals. Gorillas Nest charges around $100 per night. I know the Volcanoes accomodation is about 3x that price and is a fair bit further away from the park. You should also allow for tips for the guides on your trecka and porters if you use them (I highly recommend that you do - they charge only $5 to carry your backpack per treck and it is local employment). In Africa in general, but especially in Rwanda we found we tipped WAY more than we had initially intended but that's the effect those fantastic people have / had on us. You really are in for an amazing trip. If I can help in any other way feel free to ask and if you want to e-mail me at im_civil at hotmail dot com feel free, just put Fodors or something in the title.

    Imelda

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    My wife and I flew from Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda in January 2006. It was easy. The planr is modern, on time, and like any scheduled airline. The flight left from Wilson Airport in Nairobi

    The plane fare was about $200 per person one way and total was around $800.00 usd

    We used the Brandt travel Book because we could NOT get any response from any travel agency anywhere nor the ORPTN office. They never answer the phone and only one person speaks English.

    I finally had reached the ORPTN government agency that books the gorilla treks in June, 2005 and booked two people for $375 each. I gave them a mastercard and they charged us $50 per person to reserve and said no problem not paying the rest. I never received a confirmation number or any written or e-mail reply.

    By September 2005 I was concerned and finally connected with a local travel agency in Kigali. While I cannot remember the name of the agency - it may have been ITT or Kigali Travel. It is owned by an American-Israeli and his wife and he was wonderful. Look in the Brandt book for their ad.

    The ORPTN office had no record of the permit the week before we arrived so I sent a copy of the masterchard charge and the travel agency argued for us. We were finally given tickets because of our proof. But there is obviously corruption there in that office.

    We were met at the airport by the travel agency, taken to their offices, spent two hours discussing the next two days, then driven that afternoon to Gorilla Nest Lodge. Gorilla Nest is modern but could use a good scrubbing. The concrete shows stains in the rooms from many years. The food is ok but I developed a bit of food poisioning on the second meal - breakfast - the next morning. It did not get severe enough to stop me.

    At 6am the next morning we awoke and went to eat. The van picked us up at 7am and drove us the 5 miles to the ORPTN lodge where the treks occur.

    We milled around fro 45 minutes until there were 40 people there. Then the guides come out with flags on posts and you go to whatever group you want to visit.

    There were 5 families to visit on 5 different mountains. About 8 people per group. Some groups were a bit larger and some a bit smaller. Ours was the Amahoro group and we had 8 people. The group has 14 gorillas and one silverback (included).

    The guide piles into our private car along with a couple of other people that have no planned transportation (we had paid for the car and driver who was the same person who had met us at the airport, transported us to the travel agent, driven us two hours north to the Gorilla Nest, and stayed overnight to drive us the next day). I wondered what would have happened if we were not there with our car and driver.

    After an hour we aprroached a mountain -dense with vegetation. The road was a 4 wheel trek across farms and grassland and into and then out of light forest. We got out, assembled our treking clothes, and hiked as a group for about 1/2 mile along the edge of a farmers field. The mountain loomed in front of us.

    As we finished crossing the field, we approached a stone wall. There was an opening in it. We all went through and we were at the beginning of three very clear trails - each going up to the top of that mountain.

    Fron nowhere appeared three men with machettes and rifles. They were part of a security patrol that had been on the mountain hours earlier and were busy locating that gorilla family for us to visit. They pointed to the trail on the right and we went that way. Later we found there were at least 8 government guards on the mountain with us trying to stop poaching and making sure we found the gorillas.

    The path was firm and not very steep. The jungle was stunning. The vistas kept getting better and better. The cloud cover lifted and bright sun shone. The ORTPN guid was wonderful and stopped frequently to describe the fauna and flora.

    As we ascended from 6,000 feet at the base to the top -18,000 feet - we kept getting better and better views of other volcanos and lush valleys dotted with farms and forests. Very green and pretty. Also quite quaint....

    After an hour of upward hiking, a patrol person appeared out of the forest and spoke with our guide. He motioned upward to the left. We all waited - frozen in our tracks. I estimate we were at 8,000 feet.

    Our guide said the gorillas were up there and there were 14 in the Amaroto family (the name and spelling are probably way wrong because I am not looking at any note - it is all from memory).

    We were told to put down any daypacks and prepare to go up there - single file. Seemed challenging - but ok.

    So my 64 year old "fit" wife took up first in line and I hung back in the rear with only a guard behind me.

    The slope was about 15 degrees steep and filld with sword ferns and bushes growing out of the hill. There were trees but not in great abundance. The sun was shining brihgtly and it was getting hot. The ground beneath me was slippery from all the vegatation underfoot as well as the rain forest we were in. As we pulled ourselvess up hand over hand - grabbing onto the vegetation to use as handles, I was feeling the strain. Step by step and handhold over handhold we steady and slowly climbed and there were steeper and a little less steep slopes. My wife and I had brought gardening gloves which proved to be perfect. You see, there are stickers and sharp fern edges and the raw hands do not do well. Others had a lot more trouble. Also unprotected legs for those wearing shorts was a disaster. But we all kept climbing for about 30 minutes. I thought my lungs would give out at 63 years old. I was about to call it quits due to out-of-breath exhaustion when the line stopped and a hand was raised by the front leader. We all climbed up to the same level and the guide said move single file slowly to the right on the hillside. Very slowly we made our way over to the right. After about 100 feet we found ourselves standing about 3 or 4 feet above a group of sleeping gorillas. They were complete content and not scared by us.

    The silverback was a bit lower on the hill. He was sleeping on his back with a massive stomach. There were at least four females asleep in a reclining and/or sitting position. There were at least 6 babies scurrying all over the area. they were not sleeping. One ran up and over my wife's foot a couple of times. It was dramatic.

    It seems the group always sleeps from 10 to 11am and we had arrived more than half way through. After about 10 to 15 minutes of watching this sleeping group just a few feet away (and lots and lots of photographs) - a female awoke and stared directly into my eyes for a very long time. Then the silverback woke and the group started to stir. They started to move on the mountain and our guide showed us how to follow and photograph. We watched them play, swing from trees, feed on vegetation, and tussle each other for about 45 minutes.

    Almost as fast as it had started - it finished. Our guide motioned us to not follow any longer and we started back down the mountain to our gear. For some reason this was far easier.

    We all assembled below in a clearing by the trail and each person was on a high. We compared our powerful visual experiences. Two Danes, one German, two Japanese, one other American, and us from Washington state.

    The rest of the decscent was trance-like because we saw - but really we did not see much - on our downward trek. We kind of sauntered down on the path in a sort of semi-satiated state. We piled back in the autos and went back to ORPTN headquarters by 1pm, dropped them all off, and were back at the Gorilla Nest Lodge about 2pm. The drive back is a repeat of an hour on a rutted long dirt road for an our to the main highway and back to Kigali. That total trip is 2+ hours. The amin highway is beautiful and balcktoped. It would equal any road in the USA.

    People in Rwanda werewalking along the roads everywhere. We passed a lot of corn planted on both sides of the road.
    They told us Rwanda is the most heavily populate country in Africa. All during our visit people told us about the Tutu and Watusi bloodbath in the early 1990's. The stories were gruesome. The memories were powerful. The world turned a blind eye and nobody internationally intervened in the massacre.

    Kigali was a disappointment. We did visit the Hotel Rwanda and found it was not anything like the movie version. Smaller and muc more in disrepair. Our booked hotel was supposed to be one of the best but it disappointing too.

    we slept overnight and the evening meal was also poor at one of their better restaurant. The country is not really set up for tourist willing to pay for a visit. I do know that there are now newer hotels - but we had not know that until we returned home. I really had searched and searched.

    The next morning was wasted because there was not much to see and then the plane flew us back to Nairobi in the early afternoon.

    Plan to lose a day each side for the traveling. You cannot come in the same day you see the gorillas and you cannot fly out the same day your gorilla visit is done. There is simply no air flights that connect.

    As for the actual experience.

    The gorilal visit is powerful. We have trasveled to about 40 countries and this is one of the highest things we will ever do in our lifetime. It is worth any price because I think it will not be available in future years. All it takes is one incident and the event will be stopped. An illness or an uprovoked attack. Who knows what?

    The price will rise and rise and eventaully they will charge $1,000 a person a visit for one day. So any price now is a bargain. The whole visit thing really only started in the late 1990's so it is fairly new as an eco-adventure trip.

    You will probably not get to know anyone there during your visit. Others in the group are really on their trip, the guides do a trip a day, 7 days a week, and our guide - Chris _ was doing this for the last 8 years. The guides are wonderful and easy to talk to but tomorrow tey will forget you as they get a new group.

    It probaly took over 20 people in the Rwandan gvernmetn to make our trip possible. several at headquarters, and our guide and his assistant. And then there are the many trackers that follow the group and virtually live on the mountain as security. So it is a large governemnt activity.

    But do not miss it. We opted to miss the Vulcanes Lodge experience because of the high cost and the fact that they are much further away from the trek and we would lose valuable days in Africa.

    The Brandt book from England can be bought on the web. It saved us and made the whole affair doable.

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    gene -

    Great report.

    Question, however? You indicate flight from Nairobi to Kigali, out of the Wilson airport, the domestic small aircraft for internal flights. Can you advise which air carrier? Usually, for country-to-country flights one flies from international-to-international airports. Maybe you departed from Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport/NBO? Thanks.

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    You asked if we flew from Wilson or
    Jomo Kenyatta Intl airport in Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda.

    I think you are right. I think it was Kenyatta Intl in Nairobi. I get confused a bit because we flew a day later from Wilson Airport to Tanzania and returned to WILSON - but I only was in that airport on the Tanzania leg of the trip.

    So I think we did fly from Nairobi International by Air Kenya/Air Rwanda to Kigali and return. The thing I recall is the requirement to pay the entrance fee for the second time and the lady at the desk said it was renewed entrance fee was waived and we did not ask any questions. I know it was a pure favor since the rules are to pay the fee each time we come back into the country.

    That is why I think we flew from the International airport by Air Kenya with a 15 minute stop on the outbound leg in a large city in the western Congo located on Lake Tangayika. We could only see the Congo city out our windows. The flight total time was about 2 hours each way - perjhaps a bit longer - but very comfortable on a vey good sized modern plane.

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    You asked the cost of the Hotel. It was about $125 a night and food was fairly inexpensize. The driver and car were a package so I cannot tell you - but I think we paid about $350 for the car and driver for 48 hours. That sounds a bt high but there really is no other way to get there and back. Just pretend theair tickets cost a bit more and it become cheap....

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    As for tips, we were told it was a 5% item for the guide and his trackers - I had a $50 bill eating a hole in my pocket so I gave it to our guide - Chris - on or return ride. He was ecstatic and I think it probably was way over the amount expected.

    He told me what they earn but I can't remember. I think I gave him about a months income because his income might have been around $1 per day.

    But he has a wife and children and that money really made a diference to him. I probably never missed it.

    That is the world we are in - amazing!

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    gene -

    Thanks for clarifying. It can become confusing when not familiar with an area - one airport can look much like another.

    Note - there are flights via Coastal Air from KGL into the Serengeti, Tanzania (a few stops) before actually reaching Kilimanjaro Intl. It's an option rather than flying via NBO and then to Tanzania to the Serengeti. But comes with a heft rate... does save time though.

    Rwandair, a few days per week, flies KGL/JRO, much less $$$.

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    Sandi

    We flew to Kilimanjaro Intl and then had a driver/car take us to Tarangire Park for several days. The trip from the airport is about 3 hours on a good road. A few days later the the car drow us to Ngorongoro Crater for a couple of days. Then back to the airport and Nairobi. Although we had booked from a local travel agent in Nairobi - the actual car and driver were from Leopard Safari which is the giant firm in Tanzania - and maybe the only actual firm doing the final drives. I suspect Leopard can be booked directly at a lower cost.

    We were also in a park called Abedares Park west of Mt Kenya and north of Nairobi a couple of hours. It was probably our best park/wildlife experience because this park is extremely lush, green, forested, meadowed, and resembled Scotland.

    At every turn we saw animals. The trip through the park was a day trip from Nairobi - although we arrived home around 11pm that night. We did dwawdle and take a zillion photos. But this park gave us a total contrast to other parks we visited which are more open savana, small flowing rivers, and balboa trees and Serengeti-like. There the guide MUST have very sharp eyes and in Abedare Park we simply turned a corner and saw another unusual animal. QUITE EXCITING.

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