Q&A with Grosvenor Tours/Explorer Safari CEO, Peter-John Mitrovich
Why go to Rwanda?
I think there is a stigma that makes you believe that all of Africa is the third world and that South Africa is the only country that has this first world presence about itself. But arriving in Rwanda, my opinion was utterly changed. Besides the fact that it has a modern airport, and Kigali is a very vibrant, immaculate city. It is the same throughout Rwanda, with its excellent road infrastructure, beautiful people and pristine scenery. This is something that I’ve genuinely never experienced before in Africa.
For many people, gorilla trekking is a bucket list activity. Other than gorilla trekking, what makes Rwanda a must-visit destination?
Gorilla trekking is indeed a bucket list item, and that is very much the lure that attracted me to the country. But looking back at my experience of the country, I had made memories that will stay with me forever.
Rwandans are incredibly proud of their country, this against the backdrop of the terrible genocide they had back in 1994. I don’t think there is one mile of road that does not have a bend in it, because it’s such a mountainous country with a scenic beauty that is difficult to describe, from rain forests to tea and coffee plantations.
The experiences are authentic, such as visiting what was once a poacher’s village and hearing the community share their story. Of course, the gorilla tracking is beyond expectation. I, however, have fond memories of the beautiful drive from Volcanoes to Nyungwe, surrounded by a community tea plantation. An afternoon walk in the Rain Forest, and the spectacular views from the expansion bridges that hang over the rainforest roof, and then our last day of shopping at the local market. Indeed, Rwanda is not a two-night stop; there is more than meets the eye
Tell us about your gorilla trekking experience. Did you have to trek far? How did it feel to see the gentle giants in their natural habitat?
Following an early morning coffee at Sabinyo Silverback Lodge, we climbed into a comfortable 4-seat land cruiser waited for a 15-minute drive to the National Parks HQ. We were introduced to our ranger, Francois, who would lead our track. As a child, he lived with Dian Fossey and shared with us many stories, including that of her untimely passing.
Francois briefed us on the hike and made sure we were appropriately attired. Walking shoes, trousers with gators around the ankles, long sleeve shirts, a hat, a walking stick and most importantly, gloves. After another short transfer to the foot of the crater, we were welcomed by the local villagers, where we each received a beautiful walking stick (which you can buy afterwards for 5 USD, a steal, and a great souvenir).
Depending on which gorilla family you visit, the hike differs in duration. You are not chasing a fixed attraction, so you moved as they move. We were given an estimated 2-hour hike but took only 90 minutes as the gorilla family moved closer to us. I do recommend you pay for a porter at the start of the trail. They ask a small fee but make the hike much more comfortable.
As we hiked, Francois stopped intermittently to give us some insight into the Titus family, one of 20 gorilla families that live there. He imitated certain behaviors that we needed to be aware of so that we were not frightened by the Gentle Giants. The trail rose steeply, as did our anticipation! Suddenly, Francois asked us to retire our bags and loose items (except for your wallet and passport) to the porters. And within a short walk, we stepped into an open clearing with more than 12 gorillas made up of playful youngsters, a few relaxed black backs, and the reserved leader of the pack.
The hour we spent with them felt like a minute, with Francois moving between our group to ensure we all got a photo opportunity with the gorillas in the background. If I could give one bit of advice, if you can afford, have a Go-pro for video, and a camera with a good lens for the images because that is all you take back with you – these gracious creatures remain, leaving lasting memories. After an hour, we took a slow walk to the base, and from there, we were transferred directly to our lodge.
What should visitors know before they go gorilla trekking? Fitness, permits, rules, etc.
If you can’t hike a trail that ascends and descends for 3 hours, then this is not for you. Nobody can carry you up, nor down.
Where did you stay during your time in Rwanda? Tell us a little bit about the accommodation, service, food, wine, views and more…
Rwanda is no New York. We spent our first night at the Serena in Kigali; it was perfect for an overnight, then two nights at Sabinyo Silverback Lodge and two nights at Nyungwe Forest Lodge (now One & Only). The food all round was very good, catering for all dietary preferences in our group of twelve.
When is the best time to go to Rwanda?
You can visit any time of year. The climate is equatorial, but the weather is moderate to cool all year round because of the surrounding mountains.
Rwanda is a fantastic option for a post-COVID safari. No crowds, wide-open spaces, a maximum ten guests on a gorilla trek and only 4 – 6 guests per vehicle makes for natural social distancing.