What kids can do when adults go gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Planning an African safari that will include the famous gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a big challenge for families, or parents that will be traveling with children/kids. This is because the gorilla trekking in Rwanda has an age limit, that is, only persons aged 16 years and above can do the trek. There is no exception as long as an individual is not aged 16 years and above, she or he would not be allowed to track the gorillas in Rwanda.

One may ask, why are children not allowed to participate gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

Children (below 16 years) are not allowed to go tracking the gorillas for reasons such as;

  • they may not have the physical energy to climb the mountains. The trek can be physically demanding as it can take many hours or even a full day of climbing the mountains to find the gorillas.
  • children are susceptible to communicable diseases such as cough which can easily spread to the gorillas, and
  • there is also the fear that children do not have the maturity to remain calm or behave appropriately around the gorillas in situations when the gorillas become agitated or moody. Children may also not have the discipline to adhere to the trekking rules…because kids are kids!

So, parents who will be traveling with their children are always concerned about what their kids will be doing when they (parents) are away for a full day trekking in the mountains to see the gorillas.

Some parents want an activity the kids will enjoy to compensate for missing out on the exciting gorilla adventure. Other parents are concerned about who will manage or take care of their children in their absence and if they can trust those people.

In this article I discuss what options are available for children when adults are tracking gorillas in Rwanda.

Nature walk in Buhanga forest

Buhanga forest is a small patch of forest not very far from the Virunga mountains in Musanze district. The forest has a huge cultural and historical significancy to Rwanda. It is said to hold the origins of the nation Rwanda. The forest provides a nice nature walk through several species of trees. A child, say 10 years old and more, can learn so much from the nature walk including the different types of trees, birds, geography of the area and also the historical traditions attached to the forest. The walking trail also goes through a cave which offers a nice ancient experience.

Village walk near the park

A child can be taken for a guided walk in the village to see rural Rwanda and learn how other people live, see gardens and about how different crops are grown, etc…

Biking in the villages

For biking enthusiasts, bikes are available even for kids as young as 10 and can go on a guided biking adventure through Musanze to the villages and enjoy the views of the rolling landscape. Neat village paths and paved roads that are safe are available in Musanze. One can take a biking trip to the twin lakes, Mukungwa river or a wetland.

Play kids games at the lodge

Kids can be kept busy at the lodge by engaging in kids’ games, painting and drawing challenges. Most upmarket lodges do have these options available to kids.

Cancelling a gorilla trekking ticket/permit in Rwanda – Can I be refunded?

You need a gorilla trekking ticket or permit to do the gorilla tour in Rwanda. Without the ticket you cannot do the trek. The permit costs a whooping USD 1500 (fifteen hundred US Dollars) and you need to get it in advance because a small number is available per day. Only 8 people can track one gorilla group and there are 12 habituated groups for gorilla trekking in Rwanda.

You therefore need to book the gorilla permit well in advance so that you do not miss your preferred dates. More so, if you are planning to do the gorilla trekking during the high tourism season which is from June to mid-September.

After booking and buying the pricey Rwanda gorilla permit, one wonders what happens in case one cannot make it for the tour or trek? The covid 19 pandemic has made this question the more relevant after travel was interrupted and many people cancelled their travels or postponed them.

So, can you be refunded when you cancel a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda?

No!

Unfortunately, the gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda is not refundable after purchasing it.

Can the gorilla permit/ticket be postponed?

Since the start of the covid pandemic till the end of 2022, the government of Rwanda allows postponing a ticket/permit to another date two times.

Can I resell my permit/ticket?

Yes, you booking agent/tour operator can resell your permit to a new client or another tour company (if there is one inquiring to trek on your dates). This may be the best option for tourists that cancel and have no plan of visiting any time soon. However, to easily sell the permit your agent may discount it hence you may not get the full amount of the permit. This is something you would agree with your tour operator.

How difficult or hard is the mount bisoke hike?

Mount Bisoke volcano is the most popular hiking destination in Rwanda, with 10s of hiking enthusiasts taking on the challenge every day. Mt Bisoke is found in Volcanoes National Park in the north of Rwanda and is one of the five volcanic cones that make up the park, the others being mountains; Karisimbi, Gahinga, Sabyinyo, and Muhavbura.

The number one aim of the hike on Mount Bisoke is to see the large beautiful crater lake at the peak, which is the largest of the crater lakes in the Virunga mountains with a diameter of 400 meters. While there are also many travelers who want to experience the volcanoes but cannot afford the expensive gorilla trekking and so decide to go for the mount Bisoke hike knowing there is a chance to see the gorillas on the hike.

The Bisoke crater lake hike is a one-day tour meaning hikers climb to the top of the volcano and return to base in one day. There is no camping or overnighting on the volcano.

The hike from the base to the peak of the Bisoke volcano takes on average 4 hours, depending on one’s pace and weather.

The seasoned hikers and mountain climbers can reach the summit in 2 hours or even less, while hiking newbies who endure can take up to 6 hours to get to the peak.

However, there are also many of who sign up for Mount Bisoke hike that give up within 30 minutes after starting the trek. This begs the question, how difficult or hard is this trek and who can do this hike?

How difficult is the Mount Bisoke hike?

The level of difficulty of the Mount Bisoke hike can be put at challenging to difficult.

The perfect conic shape makes a difficult hike

Mount Bisoke has a perfect conic shape with a steady rise from the base to the peak. This means you continuously are climbing up, and faced with the fast dropping oxygen levels as you go higher, the muscles will tire quite fast. And, as much as you will be encouraged to trek at your own pace, you are still under pressure to reach at the peak within a particular time limit to avoid the sudden change in weather at the peak. The peak of Mt Bisoke is constantly shrouded in a cloud of fog which can generate a thunderstorm at any time. This normally happens later in the afternoon and so the guides want everyone to get to the peak early enough to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms and poor visibility from the cloud cover.

The dense forest and vegetation cover

The Bisoke volcano is also fully covered with mountain vegetation of varying types in the different altitude zones. The lower zones have the forests and thick vegetation and these areas present the biggest challenge of the hike. It is no wander many hikers give up from the lower levels of the mountain. As you get to the higher altitudes the vegetation cover is less and the hike is easier.

Hiking in the wet season is an extreme adventure

Hiking during the rainy season presents the most difficult Mount Biske hike. The rainy seasons are from March to April and October to November. During the rainy or wet season the mountains receive almost daily rains. This makes the trail very muddy and slippery. If you have to trek during the rainy season, expect a hard trek and be prepared for it.

Your fitness will determine how difficult the hike will be

Many who think they will simply rely on their strong will without any fitness to make it to the crater lake are rudely awakened when their legs cannot climb any higher after 30 minutes of ascending up the mountain.

Altitude sickness

As you climb higher the oxygen levels drop. And, if come from a low elevation or altitude your body is used to using a lot of oxygen. When faced with the dropping oxygen elevations the body will tire very fast and you will be faced with a difficult hike, even with a degree of fitness. Acclimatizing to the high altitude with less oxygen will improve your ability to hike. You stay in Musanze/Ruhengeri in the foothills of the Virungas for a few days before taking on the hike.

Mount Bisoke hike is a physical challenge as much as a mental challenge

If the Bisoke hike is your first real mountain hike, your mental strength will be as important as your physical strength. After 2 hours of hiking and past half way the hike, your brain will start telling to give up but you must overcome these thoughts and declare that you must see the crater lake. That you are not a quitter or failure!

Can I do an easier hike in Volcanoes national park?

Lake Ngezi hike on Mount Bisoke

Dian Fossey tomb trek

Tour to book if you are ready for the Mount Bisoke hike

2 days Mount Bisoke hiking tour

Guide to tipping in Uganda

Should you tip in Uganda?

Tipping is not a tradition that has picked up in Uganda and therefore most people in the service sector do not expect a tip after offering a service, neither do those who receive a service thinking about tipping.

For a tourist visiting Uganda for a safari vacation and are wondering about tipping in Uganda, you should know that there is no where in Uganda it is mandatory to tip. Tipping it is left to your discretion, to decide if you want to tip and how much you can tip.

But should you tip? Yes, it is absolutely encouraged to tip when you can. Why? Because most people on your service chain earn a very small wage that can barely sustain their lives. A tip goes a long way in supplementing their incomes and bettering their lives and those of their immediate dependents.

Who should I tip?

The people who you should tip are those that really deserve it, and these are people who you will interface with a lot, and people who visibly put in the effort to see that you are receiving a great service.

Here are the people you should consider tiping:

  • Tour drivers: If you are on a guided trip, the tour driver is your closest confidant, if I may say. This is the person who will make you have a great trip. He or she shares a lot of information about places, things, and the local people. He or she also ensure you travel safely.
  • Activity/destination guides: at several destinations you shall visit you will be received by a guide who will take you through an activity or destination, sharing information and ensuring you enjoy the activity or experience. For example, you will have a guide during gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking and all active experiences. You will also find guides at museums, monuments, art galleries, and local sites.
  • Waiters, waitresses: These are a constant throughout the trip, at your hotels and at restaurants during transit.
  • Porters: During trekking there are porters available for hire at $15 for those who need one to carry their backpacks and offer some support in difficult situations. At the end of the activity you can tip the porter an extra fee.
  • Security personnel: You will find security personnel at accommodations manning the gates, and you will also be assigned security personnel during trekking activities in the park. Security personnel are some of the most overlooked people when tipping because there isn’t a lot of interfacing with them, but they do a great job ensuring your safety. They are also some of the least paid.

Who not to tip?

  • Company owners and managers – These are somewhat high up on the food chain and therefore do not need a tip
  • Chefs – After managers, the next better paid personnel are chefs. You may not tip these. However, if a chef prepares the best meal you have ever tested then there is no harm showing your appreciation by a tip.

How much should I tip?

Now this it the most important question for most travelers, more so those coming from a tripping background and know that they have to tip.

You can tip any amount that you feel is worthy and that you can afford.

You can follow the following formular when tipping the persons listed above.

Tour drivers

These take the biggest tip

$10 – $15 per day per tourist in the car

Activity/destination guides

$15 – $20 per tourist

Waiters, waitresses & other hotel support staff

$5

As these are many, and many are in places where you they cannot easily exchange foreign currency. You can change some foreign currency to Uganda Shillings at the start of the trip in Kampala or Entebbe. You can then tip Uganda shilling 5,000 – 10,000 which is in fact less than $5 but is valuable in local currency.

Porters

$5 – $10

Security personnel

$5

You can also tip these in Ugandan Shillings (5,000 – 10,000)

When to tip

Tip after consuming a service or at the end of the activity.

Rwanda beyond gorillas – what can one do in Rwanda apart from gorilla tracking?

Rwanda is famous for the gorillas, and many if not most tourists visiting the land of a thousand hills have only the gorilla trekking as the only thing to do in Rwanda. Many tourists do not know that Rwanda offers many more interesting activities that can be done in addition to the gorilla tours and in this article, I shall highlight many of them.

There are also many travelers who plan on visiting Rwanda and are not willing to spend the hefty $1500 for the Rwanda gorilla tracking permit pass or ticket, but would like to explore Rwanda. This article will give you great alternatives to the gorillas that you can do memorable experiences in Rwanda.

Big five safari in Akagera National Park

Did you know you can see the famous big five (Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Buffalo, Elephant) in Rwanda? Yes, Rwanda has the big five in Akagera National Park. So, you do not have to fly first to the Serengeti or Masai Mara to combine the big five safari with the gorillas in Rwanda. You can see both the big five and gorillas in Rwanda. And Rwanda being a small country, you can do a safari trip to Akagera park and see the big five in one day and the following day travel to see the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

Chimpanzee trekking/tracking in Nyungwe national park

The chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda is one of the most exciting wildlife adventures after the gorilla trek. The chimpanzees are man’s closest relatives sharing more than 98% DNA, so an encounter with them in their natural environment is very revealing as you will observe their unique characters, their community organizations, classes, and leadership structures. There is a lot of similarities between chimp and human society organization.

Canopy walk and monkey tracking in Nyungwe national park

The canopy walkway in Nyungwe forest national park has become one of the iconic attractions of Rwanda that features a lot in promotional magazines and tv adverts. It has also been rated as the best walkway in Africa. The walkway gives you incredible views across an ancient forest, and a chance to see monkeys and birds at eye-level as you walk in the canopy of trees. The canopy walk is a short tour of about 2 hours and is often done as an add-on to the chimpanzee tracking or monkey tracking and nature walks in Nyungwe national park.

Golden monkey trekking in Volcanoes National Park

If you cannot afford the expensive gorilla trek, the golden monkeys trekking is a good excuse for you to explore the incredible Virunga mountains in Rwanda. The strikingly beautiful monkeys live in the lower areas of the volcanoes and a troupe of more than 100 monkeys is habituated for an amazing tracking experience. The monkeys are very attractive and exciting to watch and photograph.

The monkey trek is also a great addition to the gorilla trek

Birding in Rwanda

Rwanda has been off the birdwatching grid for a long time, but birders are now discovering what a gem it is. This small country boasts more than 700 bird species meaning you can tick off as many birds in the shortest time possible. The mountain forests in the Albertine rift valley, that run through the western part of the country, host many endemics of the Albertine rift and are the biggest pull for birders to Rwanda. These are supplemented by several other biomes and rich diverse habitats in Rwanda.

Hiking in the volcanoes

Rwanda does not have high mountains for mountaineering and multi day hiking, but it has a share of 5 of the 7 major volcano mountains of the Virunga Mountain range which sprawl along the borders with Uganda and the D.R. Congo. The volcanoes provide some of the best day hiking you will ever do. The most popular of the volcanoes is the Mount Bisoke (3711m) which has a large beautiful crater lake at the summit. You can make an early transfer from Kigali to the park for a one-day hike in the Virunga mountains and get back to Kigali on the same day.

Water sports and activities

If you love water, Rwanda has many rivers and lakes in some of the best settings.

One of the best ways to explore Rwanda’s breathtaking landscape and lush countryside is by taking a boat/canoe trip down a stream on River Mukungwa in the foothills of the Virunga mountains. The canoe trip is a great addition to any tour to Volcanoes National Park, such as to the gorilla trekking, hiking, and golden monkey trekking.

For those who yearn for a vacation with many activities and water adventures, Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s biggest lake offers a kayaking, paddleboarding, boat rides, fishing, farm experiences, hiking, etc…

Biking along the Congo Nile trail

If you love biking, Rwanda is one of the best places for biking/cycling experiences. The amazing rolling landscape, cool weather, nice tar roads, a safe countryside, strict speed rules for motorists, many beautiful viewpoints and many interesting activities do and places to see along the way.

The most popular biking/cycling trail is the Congo – Nile trail in the mountainous western part of Rwanda that runs from Nyungwe Forest National Park in the south, going along the Lake Kivu and winding up in the foothills of the Virunga mountains in the north. You can also safely bike in the well-organized capital City Kigali.

Community & Cultural experiences

Rwandan have a rich culture with many traditions. You can experience these traditions by visiting an organized local community in the countryside. You learn about their folklore, traditional dances, farming, artisanry and month others. You can also visit several museums in the different parts of country that display and tell the history and culture of the Rwandan people. Such a museum if the Kings Palace museum on the way to Nyungwe forest National Park that you can make stopover at on the for the chimpanzee trekking tour.

Genocide museum tours – reconciliation village

Rwanda and the genocide feature in the same sentence a lot of times. It is almost impossible to separate the two because this infamous phase in the history of Rwanda is what it is most known about it. As a visitor to Rwanda you almost obligated to learn about the tragic events of the genocide in order to appreciate the strides Rwanda has made in the last two decades. There are several genocide museum tours you can add to your visit to Rwanda, one of them is the Kigali Genocide Museum. You can also visit the Reconciliation Village outside Kigali where genocide perpetrators and survivors live side by side, learn their story of the road to reconciliation and see the projects that carry out together to uplift their community.

Tea & coffee plantation tours

Are you a tea person? Or a coffee person? Rwanda is a major producer of these two crops. You can visit a tea or coffee plantation & processing factory for an experience of plant to cup. You see and take part in the tea or coffee growing, harvesting and processing and finish up with a cup of tea or coffee of your own harvested plant.

The tea and coffee tours can be added in your chimpanzee trekking and gorilla trekking trips.