Webare Kwija! Murakoze Kuza! Asanteni Kwa Kuja!
Rwanda is in many ways an exemplary country: orderly, clean and rapidly developing. Its northern neighbour Uganda has been dubbed the “Pearl of Africa” for good reason. The Democratic Republic of the Congo that borders both countries to the west is a land that simply evokes adventure. Together they make a destination like no other, the real essence of the continent, the Gorilla Highlands.
Travellers from all over the world come to the Gorilla Highlands region for the epiphany of staring into the eyes of our giant relatives. Yet our region offers much more: vibrant cultures bubbling through the surface and a landscape that opens your heart to adventure.
The Gorilla Highlands Initiative unites people far beyond the volcanoes and rainforests. Our wider area of interest is western Uganda, Rwanda and eastern DR Congo.
The region is defined by the Virunga volcanoes — some of them still active — and the ancient rainforest of Bwindi that represent the last home of the mountain gorilla. From the countless islands of Lake Bunyonyi to the seaside feel of Lake Kivu, water bodies are sprinkled all over the valleys, interrupted by beautifully terraced hills.
To reach the Gorilla Highlands, you can fly to Rwanda’s capital Kigali, Uganda’s Entebbe near Kampala or Congo’s Goma (see distances on the left). Numerous attractions are lined up on the way but Queen Elizabeth NP with tree-climbing lions and Akagera NP with the Big 5 undoubtedly top the list.
VISA INFORMATION: The East African Tourist visa covers Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya and costs USD 100. If you wish to include a visit to Congo, prepare for your East African Tourist visa to be voided — do it at the beginning or at the end of your journey, in combination with a single-entry Rwanda visa (USD 30).
Batwa “Pygmies” are one of the oldest peoples in Africa. For centuries they roamed the forests looking for fruits and honey, and hunted with bows and trained dogs. As the woods were cut down by the Bantu, Batwa numbers dwindled. In the 1980s and 1990s they were evicted from national parks in Rwanda and Uganda without compensation; recently the authorities have shown more understanding and progress has been made. Please be cautious when offered to “see the Pygmies” and avoid exploitation of the Batwa.
The rest of the people of the region — the Bantu — are primarily mixed crop and livestock farmers. Their traditional settlement was a compound with separate houses for wives and their children; each wife had her own livestock and fields. Nowadays high population density and land fragmentation has led to heavy migrations.
Mountain gorillas evolved with the rise of the volcanoes half a million years ago, adapting to the terrain by becoming larger than western gorillas and with thicker, darker fur. They are herbivores who sometimes eat ants and termites. Only about 1,000 mountain gorillas exist in the world but thankfully the number is increasing. They can be visited in four parks: Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP, Uganda’s Bwindi and Mgahinga NPs and Congo’s Virunga NP.
Eastern lowland gorillas (also known as Grauer’s) are even bigger than mountain gorillas. Today there are estimated to be 3,800 of them; Congo’s Kahuzi-Biega NP is the only place where they are habituated.
Golden monkeys share the same environment and are also endangered but are much less researched. They spend much of their time in the bamboo zone eating bamboo shoots. You can see them in Mgahinga, Volcanoes and Virunga NPs.
Also present in the area: elephants, buffalos, chimps, baboons, blue and red-tailed monkeys, zorillas (skunk-like creatures), otters and many other animals.
On Planet Earth there are few destinations with over 600 bird species: Queen Elizabeth NP is one of them. Together with Akagera’s 490 species, Bwindi’s list of 350 species and 295 different birds recorded in Volcanoes NP, it makes our region among the richest birding areas in the world.
Bwindi with 24 Albertine Rift Endemics and Mgahinga NP with 13 are the most accessible sites for endemics such as Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco and the highly localised African Green Broadbill. Volcanoes NP is one of the best sites to see Ladgen’s Bush-Shrike, together with 16 more endemics.
Akagera has many birds reaching their northern limit here, such as Arnott’s Chat, Purple-crested Turaco and the Sousa’s Shrike. Also worthy of special mention is the Shoebill, which should be searched for in Queen Elizabeth and Akagera.