Saturday, April 2, 2011

Rwanda: The land of a thousand hills

Rwanda is a land of great diversity and beauty. The characteristic spectacular volcanoes and dense tropical forests dominate the north of the country, while gentle hills and valleys, calm lakes and turbulent rivers in both savannah and dense tropical vegetation dominate the rest of the country. In addition to nature, Rwanda offers a welcoming and culturally rich atmosphere.

Prior to the infamous genocide, Rwanda attracted adventurers through its natural treasures ranging from gorillas, rain forests to big game. Despite the hard times, today the country is once again on the road to a bright future. Leading the way are those same attractions that continue to thrill the adventurer, eco-tourist and or just plain nature-lover.

Popularly known as 'the land of a thousand hills', Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of the great River Nile. The landscapes in this 'green country' are truly breathtaking.

Hoisted as Africa’s most eco-destination and the alternative safari destination, Rwanda now boasts the mountain gorilla, authentic African culture, comfortable weather and excellent year-round wildlife viewing, unparalleled scenery and great food. Among all, there is safety and reliability in Rwanda whilst most of its attractions lay undiscovered. Numbering in their hundreds, the gorillas live in a protected area, with many rangers to make sure they are free from poachers.

The Virunga National Park in northern Rwanda is home to the world’s largest number of endangered mountain gorillas.

The gorillas can be viewed in their natural mountain habitats at a fairly close range. The park is also home to a great variety of bird life. The National Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) organizes guided tours.

When visiting the Land of a thousand hills, you should not miss out on the magnificent opportunity to visit Rwanda's National Volcano Park (NVP). The park consists of 125 square kilometer of mountain forest and is home to the six Virunga Volcanoes bordering DRC and Uganda.

Best known for its mountain gorilla inhabitants, what is now the NVP was originally part of the Albert National Park, the first national park created in Africa, established in 1925. Today, the park is managed and protected by the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks.

The Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is teeming with wildlife both large and small. They range from Lions, Giraffe, Elephant and Hippopotamus to Hyena, Impala and Gazelle without mentioning the rich variety of bird life.

Although hiking and climbing the Volcanoes is currently not permitted, a gorilla visit can entail anything from a half an hour to a four hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek through the forest will not be easy, but will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate of the forest. You may spot golden monkeys swinging from the bamboo, or see wild buffalo, bush duiker and a wide assortment of bird life.

Access to the NVP begins in the lively town of Ruhengeri, situated at the base of the entrance of the park. Ruhengeri has long been the base point for gorilla visits and entertains a stunning backdrop of Karisimbi, Visoke, Mikeno, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes.

Ruhengeri is easily reached from Rwanda's capital city, Kigali, either by private vehicle or by public taxi minibus. If you intend to make a gorilla visit, you will need to organise your own transport from Ruhengeri town to the park boundaries, where you will continue your trip on foot. Vehicles can be hired for this purpose in Ruhengeri town. Ruhengeri is also only a 45-minute drive away from Gisenyi and the stunning Lake Kivu.

Rwanda also has water bodies which are ideal for water sports and fishing. Lake Kivu in the west of the country and Lake Muhazi in the east are both ideal for water sports and fishing. Lake Kivu also offers beautiful beaches, jutting peninsulas and an archipelago of beautiful islands.

The Kinigi Guest House on the foot of Mount Sabyinyo was recently fully refurbished, and is now open. It offers very comfortable accommodation in cottages for two, four or eight people. It also offers a good restaurant and bar. Hotel Muhabura in Ruhengeri town also offers comfortable accommodation in reasonably priced single and double rooms equipped with mosquito nets and a good supply of running hot and cold water. The hotel also features a reasonable restaurant and bar and is complete with fax and telephone facilities.

PKP- Safaris in Kenya desk

Natural Track Safaris

The Akagera national park

Akagera National Park is located in the east of Rwanda on the border with Tanzania near Kibungu town. The park covers over 2500 sq km of savannah west of the Kagera River, which designates the frontier with Tanzania. The park hosts, leopard, hyena, lions and more than a dozen types of antelope. Also found in and near the lake are large pods of hippopotamus as well as portentous crocodiles basking in the sun.

The park is comprised of swamps, lakes, savannah, woodland and open grassland. The lakes draw out herds of elephant and buffalo, while the savannah typically attracts giraffes and zebras. That is just the beginning! For the bird-lover, you can be entertained by majestic fish eagles and the large concentration of waterbirds. In the marshes, keep an eye out for the papyrus gonolek and the often sought-after shoebill stork.

Quoting from words of great environmental writers - “Akagera, with its complex mix of terrains, vegetation and animal life is a very special place on earth – a place to preserve at all costs for future generations".

With its perfect location, Akagera National Park could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterise much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland.

Akagera comes as an exciting surprise after the steep cultivated hills and breezy climate that characterizes the rest of the country. Set at a relatively low altitude along the Tanzanian border, this beautiful game reserve protects an African savannah landscape of tangled acacia and brachystegia bush, interspersed with patches of open grassland and a dozen swamp-fringed lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River.

Akagera is, above all, big game country. Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes, while lucky visitors might lurch across a leopard, a spotted hyena or even a stray lion. Giraffe and zebra haunt the Savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala, but also the diminutive oribi and secretive bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world's largest antelope, the statuesque Cape eland.

Lining the lakes are some of the continent densest concentrations of water birds, while the connecting marshes are the haunt of the endangered and exquisite papyrus gonolek, and the bizarre shoebill stork - the latter perhaps the most eagerly sought of all African birds.

Camping alongside the picturesque lakes of Akagera is a truly mystical introduction to the wonders of the African bush. Pods of 50 hippos grunt and splutter throughout the day, while outsized crocodiles soak up the sun with their vast jaws open to cool down abit. Magically, the air is torn apart by the unforgettable high duetting of a pair of fish eagles, asserting their status as the avian monarchs of Africa's waterways.

There are accommodation facilities on the edge of the park at Gabiro, 100km (60 miles) to the north. It is best not to visit the park in the rainy season (December, March and April) since many of the routes become impassable.

PKP- Kenya Safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Tanzania – Unique and Diverse

Budget camping safaris are among the most popular options for visitors who want to explore Tanzania’s numerous game parks and conservation areas the cheapest, most adventurous way. They are a rewarding experience because you feel you are ‘roughing it’ and participating in a real African adventure, but still have all the benefits and comforts of safari drivers, guides, and a cook to take care of all their needs.

The safaris embark on a circuit of national parks and game reserves just like other more expensive vacations, and you get to feel that you are experiencing an ‘on the ground’ adventure by camping in beautiful locales.

Booking a camping safari can be done directly through the tour operator from your home country. Or, if you are travelling through Tanzania and have a few days to spare, you can book directly through the company’s office in Tanzania.

Often, individual participants find a company and book their trip, then the tour operator is responsible for finding enough numbers to fill a car, preparations are made, and the group embarks on safari. Visitors are often expected to help pitch camp and bring their own camping equipment, but the cooking and cleaning is all left to the camping staff.

‘Fly camping’ is the term for luxury walking safaris where visitors sleep out in the open with only a mosquito net between them and the African sky. For many visitors, fly camping is the height of their Tanzanian experience - the sheer vastness of their surroundings, the peaceful rhythms of nature, and the opportunity to be alone in the African bush is a stunning and memorable experience.

Guests often embark on day hikes through the bush with their private guide, and camp is set up each evening in a new locale. These mobile walking safaris give visitors a chance to see the wildlife and birds of the game reserves up close, and experience their natural surroundings without the distraction of vehicles and other guests.

Visitors learn to read animal tracks, explore the medicinal properties of indigenous plant life, and immerse themselves in the vast world of insects and bird life that sustains the vast African plains.

Hike lengths can be varied according to difficulty and length each day, and the guided walks introduce you to a living, breathing world that extends beyond the big game of other mainstream safari options.

Fly camping is fast becoming the most popular option for luxury safari guests who want to experience the freedom and adventure of camping in the African bush without the encumbrances camping often entails. At present, fly camping is only available in the Selous Game Reserve, but due to its popularity, other game reserves may include it as a safari option soon.

Camping safaris in Tanzania are in deed unique and diverse and every human being should experience it at least once.

PKP- Kenya safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

A safari in Uganda

Uganda is slowy becoming one of the top safari destinations in Africa. Its landscapes are well known with numerous waterfalls, lakes and the beautiful, snowcapped Ruwenzori Mountains as backdrop. An African safari to this stunning and friendly African country is one of the best and memorable experiences one can get from Africa.

Begin your sightseeing tour with Kampala, the capital city. The Kasubi Tombs, the National Museum, the sparkling white Kibuli Mosque, the huge Rubago Cathedral and the enormous Bahai Temple in the heart of the city. In Entebbe, the city where all Uganda international flights land and take off are the Botanical gardens which are worth visiting if you have half a day available. Established in 1901, the gardens are alongside the lake between the sailing club and the centre of Entebbe.

Outside Kampala, you will be spoilt with choice of destinations. A trip to Kibale Forest National Park, the spectacular Semliki Valley National Park or the dramatic Murchison Falls National Park is well worth a visit. If your preference is to experience the best scenic splendor, then don’t miss the charming Mt Elgon National Park, the undulating peaks of Ruwenzori National Park and the famous Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Filled with fantastic natural scenery and interesting wildlife, Uganda is making a name in Africa travel. Among many attractions, Uganda boasts of being the only safari destination with half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. It is also a unique and captivating safari destination given its wealth of attractions that a single African safari cannot be enough to discover all the natural beauty and wonders that Uganda has.

The magical gorilla safaris are a must-do activity. Most of these safaris are designed to cover comprehensive gorilla tracking as well as sampling other Uganda’s interesting wildlife, a variety of fauna and its climate that is all friendly through out the year. Go on a Gorilla Safari to Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

If culture and crafts catch your fancy, take a trip to Sanga where the Ankole people have created the Lake Mburo Cultural Village to tell people about the customs and history of their land. At Ntandi, the home of the pygmy tribe, various traditional handicrafts are sold. The 400 years old rock paintings at Nyero, near Kumi, are another paradigm of the heritage of the Ugandans.

While on safari, consider to sample the beautiful Uganda lakes and enjoy their unique attributes. Look for Lake Bujuku in the Queen Elizabeth national park. The lake is about 13,000 feet and is the eastern gateway to the icy peaks of Rwenzori Mountains. Take in the sight of the spectacular Lake Bunyoni, the deepest lake in Uganda, 6km from Kabale. Lake Nkuruba, 25km south of Fort Portal, is a beautiful crater lake that is reportedly safe from bilharzias, thus great for swimming.

For any safari however, reading up and finding out before your trip is a good idea. You may also check other destinations in Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania including the scenic rural countryside, historic places, magnificent wild lodges and walking through the stunning rainforest can be included in your trip.

A unique experience on these adventures is exploring and comparing the remote outback of the countryside areas of the African people while enjoying scenic viewing of the rolling hills and unsurpassed sceneries. East Africa has so much to nature on offer. It is worth every moment and penny.

PKP-Kenya Safari desk

Natural Track Safaris

Gorilla experience in Rwanda

It is now official that the number of one of the world’s most charismatic and endangered species is out and its good news to the world today especially the enthusiastic conservationists. This is according to the partial report posted by the African Wildlife Foundation in Kigali, Rwanda.

The analysis of the census conducted in last year indicates that there were a total of 480 mountain gorillas, (Gorilla beringei beringei), in 36 groups along with 14 solitary silverback males in the Virunga Massif.

Along with the 302 mountain gorillas censured in Bwindi in 2006 and four orphaned mountain gorillas in a sanctuary in DRC, this brings the new total world population to 786 individuals. The last census undertaken in the Virunga Massif was in 2003, when the population was estimated at 380 individuals.

The current figure represents a 26.3 % increase in the population of mountain gorillas in this area over the last seven years, which is a 3.7 % annual growth rate. This increase in the population occurred despite the killing of no less than nine mountain gorillas, in four separate incidents, during this time period.

Of the 480 mountain gorillas censured, 352 (73%) were habituated (349 in groups and three solitary males) and 128 were unhabituated (117 in groups and 11 solitary males).

Virunga massif includes three contiguous national parks namely; Parc National des Virunga in DRC, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The only other location where mountain gorillas exist is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

The goal of the census was not only to assess the population level of the mountain gorillas, but their level of health as well. Analyses conducted on fecal samples will contribute to one of the most comprehensive health screenings of any wild ape population.

The results will also be extremely valuable in order to make comparisons between populations, and between habituated and unhabituated groups. These results will not only serve as a baseline for understanding the health status of the mountain gorillas, but may also provide insights into past and future exposure to human pathogens.

The census itself was an exercise in collaboration, and IGCP played a lead role in attracting support for the census and coordinating all participating institutions and organizations. Over 1,000 kilometers were systematically walked by six mixed teams of seventy-two people from DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda.

Teams covered the entire range and meticulously documented fresh signs of mountain gorilla groups. Genetic analysis of fecal samples collected was analyzed to identify and correct for any double-counting of individuals or groups, ensuring the most accurate estimate for the population.

Although habituated mountain gorillas are continuously monitored, periodic census of the population is a necessary step in conservation. The census not only recorded the presence of mountain gorillas, but also the presence of other large mammals and illegal activities like bamboo cutting and snares.

While the incredible increase in this population of mountain gorillas is clearly a good thing and cause for celebration, the threats to their existence are persistent. Recently, a coordinated patrol discovered and destroyed just over 200 snares in the Virunga Massif over a five-day patrol. Although poachers typically do not target mountain gorillas, the snares they set are a threat nonetheless.

The Virunga Massif mountain gorilla census was conducted by the protected area authorities in the three countries: L’Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature, the Rwanda Development Board and the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

The census was supported by the International Gorilla Conservation Programme (a coalition of the African Wildlife Foundation, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Fauna & Flora International), the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund – International and the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project.

The census was funded by WWF-Sweden, Fair Play Foundation, and the Netherlands Directorate General for International Cooperation (DGIS) through the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration.

The full report of the census, which will be available in 2011, will include details on population dynamics and distribution of the Virunga gorilla population as well as population structure and genetic composition. These details will provide a scientific basis from which IGCP and other conservation institutions and organizations will plan collective conservation efforts.

PKP-Kenya safari desk

Natural Track Safaris