When the opportunity came to join a Volcanoes Safaris ‘educational’ to their lodges - Uganda - I grasped it with both hands. To be given the chance to get up close and personal with the Mountain gorilla, one of the most awe-inspiring things you can do in Africa, was not something I was likely to pass up!
Gorillas apart, both countries wildly surpassed my expectations. Kigali is one of the cleanest cities I’ve seen anywhere and, although I knew that the undulating landscapes were green, lush and very beautiful, nothing could have prepared me for quite how stunning they really are. So stunning in fact, that the two very long driving days I was not greatly looking forward to were absolute highlights, the road passing through dense forests filled with monkeys and by beautiful mountain lakes. Huge clouds of butterflies would also erupt occasionally from the puddles on the roads.
But the gorilla was not to be upstaged by its habitat! After a relatively straightforward trek - something of a relief as you can walk for hours - we emerged through thick bamboo to catch our first glimpse of a massive silverback and his family, although there was a worrying moment when herds of forest elephant and buffalo briefly blocked our path.
Our group was able to get really close and we spent a magical hour with the gorillas, watching them groom, play and eat. The two newest members of the family (twins!) were particularly enchanting as they rolled around with each other under their mother’s watchful eye.
The rest of the trip was wonderful too, with time to enjoy Ishasha and its tree-climbing lions, an amazingly adventurous day’s chimpanzee tracking in the Kyambura Gorge (we didn’t find them, but that didn’t make it any less fun), and the elephants, buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles and incredible birdlife on a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel.
Both of these countries have very poignant histories of course, and so I would also recommend a visit to the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, if only to be reminded of the progress that has been made in just a few years since the troubles mercifully ended. The gorillas are a must of course, but find the time if you can to stay longer as there is so much to see in these very special and beautiful countries.