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Rwanda Gorillas and Volcano Photography Workshop & Photo Tour



Rwanda Gorillas and Volcano Photography Workshop & Photo Tour

13th to 20th October 2021

For 8 days you'll experience the true African wildlife experience all under the expert guidance of Master Photographer Tom Putt and Australian wildlife ecologist Clinton Schipper.

This 8 day Virunga adventure includes 2 highlights of Virunga National Park, ticking off some unique and bucket list items:

  1. Trekking through the Virunga rainforests to find the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat
  2. An overnight stay on the Nyiragongo volcano summit, with a spectacular view of the world's largest lava lake
  3. Visit conservation projects and the only Mountain Gorilla Orphanage
  4. Visit the unique Congo-hound Anti-poaching Unit

INTRODUCTION

The first thing that springs to most people’s minds when thinking of Rwanda is its turbulent political history. But today’s Rwanda is a far cry from the nation it was in the mid-90s: the country has emerged from the shadows and has much to offer visitors, most notably the tracking of endangered mountain gorillas in the lush Virunga National Park, which extends across the peaks and jungle-covered slopes of the volcanic Virunga Mountains. Other major tourist attractions include expansive Lake Kivu, ancient Nyungwe Forest with its rich population of primate species, and the game-rich savannah lands of Akagera National Park.

Quick facts

  • Official Name: Republic of Rwanda
  • Population:        12,159,586
  • Area:                      26,338 km2
  • Capital City:       Kigali (population: 745,261)
  • Major Religion: Christianity
  • Currency:             Rwanda franc (RWF)
  • Time Zone:          GMT +2
  • Country code:   + 250
  • Altitude:               Ranges from 1000-4500m above sea level.

Geography

Known as the 'Land of a Thousand Hills', Rwanda rests just below the equator and its small size has a rich geography with mountains, volcanoes, savannas, and many lakes. Rwanda is a landlocked country in East-Central Africa, surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi. 

Language

The national language is Kinyarwanda. French, English and Swahili are the other official languages. French is widely spoken throughout the country. In the capital and other tourist areas, many people speak English.

The People

Rwanda is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. Rwandans are drawn from just one cultural and linguistic group, the Banyarwanda, although within this group there are three subgroups: the Hutu (84%), Tutsi (15%) and Twa (1%). The Twa are a forest-dwelling pygmy people descended from Rwanda's earliest inhabitants.

Economy

Rwanda has a presidential system of government. The president is Paul Kagame of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), who took o­ath in 2000. Rwanda's economy suffered heavily during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, but has since strengthened. The economy is based mostly on subsistence agriculture. Coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner.

KIGALI

Rwanda’s capital and biggest city stretches across undulating lush hills surrounded by towering mountains, the largest of which is Mount Kigali, rising 1850 metres above sea level. Kigali is the country’s financial, commercial and cultural hub, served by an international airport and featuring a wide range of accommodation options, restaurants and points of interest, including the Kigali Genocide Centre, an atmospheric market and numerous craft shops. With its interesting architecture, busy streets, meandering boulevards, and green hillsides, Kigali is said to be one of the most attractive cities in Africa and is definitely worth a visit.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO

Long wracked by political strife, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (previously known as Zaire) is slowly beginning to stabilise and welcome tourists across its borders again. Virunga National Park has had more than 5,000 tourists since 2010. It’s an intense country to travel, but those intrepid souls who dare to explore it will be richly rewarded with pristine tropical landscapes, magnificent wildlife and a memorable cultural experience. Congo’s highlights include its exceptional National Parks and Wildlife reserves, five of which are World Heritage Sites. Arguably the premier tourist attractions are the guided treks that offer travellers the chance to experience primates in their natural habitat - including mountain and lowland gorillas, chimpanzees and endemic bonobos.

VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Virunga National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, on the border of Uganda and Rwanda. Virunga is Africa’s oldest national park and is also the continent’s most biologically diverse protected area. The park’s 7,800 square kilometers includes forests, savannas, lava plains, swamps, erosion valleys, active volcanoes, and the glaciated peaks of the Rwenzori mountains.

Virunga is home to about a quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. The park’s two other Great Ape species, eastern lowland (Grauer’s) gorillas and chimpanzees, make Virunga the only park in the world to host three taxa of great apes. Another prominent inhabitant of the park is the okapi, an endangered species that resembles a zebra but is more closely related to the giraffe. Large colonies of hippos, forest and savanna elephants, lions, and numerous rare bird species can also be found in the park.

Virunga National Park is comprised of three sectors. The northern sector’s defining feature is the Rwenzori Mountains that border Uganda. At over 5,000 meters, the summits of the Rwenzoris are permanently snow-capped. Snowmelt from the Rwenzoris is one of the primary sources of the Nile River. Okapis can be found living along the Semliki River valley below.

Lake Edward, the Ishasha river valley, and the Rwindi plains are the dominant geographical features that define the park’s central sector. Lake Edward contains over 50 species of fish, as well as numerous bird species. The lake and the adjacent Ishasha river valley are home to the park’s recovering hippo population – once the world’s largest. The park’s highest concentrations of elephant, buffalo, warthogs, and topi are found on the Rwindi plains of the central sector.

Virunga’s southern sector is best known for the mountain gorillas that live on the flanks on the dormant Mikeno volcano. Dense forests cover most of southern Virunga, which also make it ideal habitat for chimpanzees and numerous species of monkey. Another highlight in the south is the active Nyiragongo Volcano, which is home to the largest lava lake in the world.

ITINERARY

Day 1 - Arrive Kigali International Airport, Rwanda

On arrival in Kigali, you will be met by Tom & Clint who will transfer you to Retreat by Heaven for your overnight stay.

STAY - RETREAT BY HEAVEN

 

Day 2 - VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

After a relaxed breakfast, pick up by an Inspired Journeys driver/guide, drive 3.5 hours through the hillsides of Rwanda.

On arrival in Gisenyi (Rwanda Border crossing), an Inspired Journeys representative will be there to assist you into Goma (D.R.C Border crossing). The border crossing usually takes 0.5hrs to 1.5hr.

You will arrive at Grande Barriere border crossing at 10:00am and check - in with Virunga tourism office by 11:00am.

*The tourism office is conveniently located in the Grande Barriere border post building, opposite passport control.

You will receive your gorilla and volcano trek permits at check - in, where you will need to present them at the start of each trek. Once check - in is complete, you will transfer with Virunga shared transport to Mikeno Lodge.

On arrival to Mikeno Lodge, a late lunch will be served and the afternoon can be enjoyed at leisure, including exploring Rumangabo’s several nature trails,  bird watching or paying a visit to the Congohounds Anti-poaching Unit.

STAY - MIKENO LODGE

 

Day 3 - VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

After an early breakfast at Mikeno Lodge, you will set off for the first gorilla trek at Bukima Ranger Post. On arrival to Bukima, you will meet the Ranger guides and local pisteurs to receive a briefing before starting the gorilla trek. Treks usually require 1 - 2.5 hours of hiking each way, depending on location of the group being trekked and the difficulty of the terrain.

After spending 1 hour with the gorillas, you will return to Bukima camp where a late lunch will be served, where you will have the rest of the afternoon off to explore Bukima, including bird watching and visiting the Park’s bamboo project.

STAY - Bukima Tented Camp

 

Day 4 - VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

After a relaxed breakfast in camp, head down the hill at 8:30am for the start your second gorilla trek. After spending 1 hour with the gorillas, you will return to Bukima camp where a quick lunch will be served at Bukima, and once all gorilla trekkers have returned, guests will be transferred together back to Mikeno Lodge. On arrival to Mikeno,  you have the afternoon at leisure, free to explore the Park Headquarters  or cosy up with a nice book by the fire.

STAY - MIKENO LODGE

 

Day 5 -  VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

This is a day to relax, explore and enjoy the peaceful surroundings of Mikeno Lodge, and visit some of the amazing conservation & community projects based at the headquarters as follows:

  • The Senkwekwe Mountain Gorilla Orphange
  • The Congo-hound Anti Poaching Unit
  • The Widows of Fallen Rangers Project
  • Rumangabo Village Orphanage

STAY - MIKENO LODGE

 

Day 6 -  VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

After breakfast at Mikeno Lodge, transfer to the Kibati Ranger Post, which is the departure point for the Nyiragongo volcano trek. On arrival at Kibati, you will receive a briefing where you will have the opportunity to hire porters. 

There will be a cook that accompanies you, who will prepare all your meals and snacks on the trip. It’s about a 4-7 hour hike to the summit, where you will spend the night in the rustic shelters looking at the biggest lava lake on the planet, one of the most spectacular sights in the world. A true once in a lifetime experience!

After our last morning drive. We will head back to camp, pack our bags and travel the short distance to the Seronera Airstrip. Here, we will board our internal flight to Kilimanjaro Airport in time for our international flights home.

Day 7 - KIGALI

Wake up and watch the sunrise; a fantastic experience and photographic opportunity, followed by a simple breakfast on the summit and a last look at the lava lake, start your descend down the mountain around 6:00am.

This will take between 2 -4 hrs depending on your group’s level of fitness.

A Virunga National Park vehicle will meet you at the bottom of the volcano, transfer you back to Goma on a 0.5hr drive, where an Inspired Journeys representative will assist you with your border crossing back into Rwanda.

After the border crossing (0.5hr – 1.5hours), you may choose to stop in Gisenyi for lunch at Calafia Restaurant or in Ruhengeri at the Bamboo Restaurant, where you can visit the Karisoke Museum (Dian Fossey Museum), and then transfer for 3.5hours back to Kigali, and if you feel up for it, you can visit the Genocide Memorial before transferring to Retreat by Heaven for your overnight.

Day 8 - End of Workshop

Depending on your departure flight, take a full day or half day city tour.

Check out  and transfer to Kigali International Airport for your flight out of Rwanda.

ACCOMMODATION

THE RETREAT BY HEAVEN | KIGALI

Town & Country and The New York Times call The Retreat in Rwanda one of the top new hotels in the world in 2019. The American owners of Heaven Restaurant created The Retreat, an 11-room luxury boutique hotel located on a tree-lined street steps from Kigali City Center and 20 minutes from the airport. It is Kigali’s first eco-friendly resort and features solar electricity, organic toiletries, locally-crafted furniture from a Tanzanian sustainable teak farm, outdoor showers, private terraces, a yoga and meditation room, spa, large heated saltwater swimming pool with jacuzzi and diving rocks, and an open-air fitness center. Fusion Restaurant and its Swahili-inspired bar, located at The Retreat, offer delicious farm-to-table international cuisine, while Heaven Restaurant (reached through the Retreat’s “Stairway to Heaven”) offers an innovative modern African menu. The Retreat is the perfect choice to host guests for 1 night or several days as it offers innovative, curated cultural experiences and exciting activities in and around Kigali.

 

MIKENO LODGE | VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Mikeno Lodge is the perfect base to start your Virunga adventure from, with mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and volcanoes all within reach. Not only is it a beautiful lodge located in a pristine (and primate filled) forest, it also offers some great activities.

Five minutes walk from the lodge you will find the Senkwekwe centre, is the only facility in the world that cares for mountain gorilla orphans. The Senkwekwe centre and its care takers feature in depth in the much acclaimed 2014 Netflix documentary 'VIRUNGA'.

The lodge is located on the grounds of the headquarters of Virunga National Park, and as such it offers a unique opportunity to get a brief insight into the workings of a National Park. You can get a tour of the grounds and meet some of the rangers and staff responsible for the management and protection of the park. In the evening some of the senior park staff might join you for a drink at the bar.

The forest around the lodge offers spectacular birding with over 100 species to be found, a prized sighting being the great blue turaco. Primates are abundant, with blue monkeys, l'hoest's monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys and olive baboons running amock. The lucky visitor might even spot wild chimpanzees around the lodge.

 

BUKIMA TENTED CAMP | VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

Just outside the Virunga National Park boundary lays the Bukima Tented Camp, which is one of the main starting points to the Virunga mountain gorilla treks. The camp was originally built for researchers, but is now used primarily by trekkers. As the name suggests, overnight guests at Bukima sleep in platform tents, but by camping standards they are quite plush. Each tent is equipped with a nicely appointed bed and dresser for clothes. The views from the tent sites – or anywhere in camp for that matter – are spectacular. To the south, the view is dominated by Mount Mikeno, whose 4,437m summit towers over the gorilla sector. Across the valley is Nyiragongo volcano, whose lava lake colours the night sky with a red glow. Every few years, Nymulagira volcano erupts and steals the nighttime show by spewing hot lava hundreds of feet into the air.

Occasionally, the mountain gorillas themselves wander into Bukima Tented Camp. Although this is highly frowned up by park staff, it never ceases to impress the guests.

The gorilla treks start directly from camp, so no further transfers are needed, making Bukima the perfect spot to be the first in the forest in the morning.

 

NYIRAGONGO SUMMIT SHELTERS | VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

There are twelve simple, rustic shelters at the summit of the Nyiragongo. Each of the shelters contain two single mattresses on which visitors can put their sleeping bags on. Although these shelters aren’t plush, they offer a welcome escape from the elements. The cost of staying in a summit shelter is included in the permit fee.

Make sure you bring warm clothes as it gets very chilly at night! Temperatures at the summit are routinely below freezing. Although most people arrive at the summit sweating from the steep climb, this sense of warmth quickly gives way to cold. A complete change of base layers is a must. Failure to bring proper gear will lead to hypothermia. Please do not endanger yourself and others by coming unprepared for these conditions.

From the summit shelters the rim is only a few meters away. The Nyiragongo summit has spectacular views. From the rim, you can peer down into a churning lava lake as well as see and hear hot gases exploding up though a mosaic of molten lava.

  

By booking a trip to Virunga National Park, you are directly contributing to the protection of this World Heritage Site and providing a brighter future for the surrounding communities.

ALL money spent on Virunga accommodation contributes in funding the parks’ running costs. ALL Park permit fees are distributed as follows:

  • 20% to park operational costs
  • 30% to local community development projects

(For more information: https://virunga.org/virunga-alliance)

  • 50% to the Congolese Wildlife & Nature Authority ‘ICCN’

(Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature)

There are many members of the Virunga Team doing great work, who are not part of the tourism division. If you would like to make a donation to help support them, please follow this link: https://virunga.org/donate

Includes:

  • All transfers mentioned in the itinerary 
  • Accommodation as outlined in the itinerary
  • Border assistance at Goma/Gisenyi border on arrival and departure
  • D.R.C. visa fees & facilitation
  • Shared transfers in Virunga National Park in a 4x4 Land Rover
  • 2 x Mountain gorilla permit per person
  • 1 x Chimpanzee habituation experience
  • 1 x Nyiragongo permit per person
  • On the Nyiragongo hike:
    • All meals, snacks, tea, coffee, water and juice
    • A cook that accompanies you and prepares all your snacks and meals
    • Proper trekking rucksack including;
      • Thermal sleeping bag
      • Rain poncho
      • Waterproof cover for backpack
      • Fleece liner for the sleeping bag
      • Inner long sleeve shirt
      • Fleece
      • Warm jacket
      • 4.5 Ltrs of water

Excludes:

  • Rwandan visa fees US$ 30 per entry.

(2 x single entry visas per person are required for the trip)

  • Any other transfers other than those indicated in the inclusions
  • All drinks other than those indicated in the inclusions
  • Optional porter fees for the gorilla treks, payable direct

(US$ 10 per porter, carrying maximum 15kgs) 

  • Recommended porter fees for the Nyiragongo trek, payable direct

(US$ 24 per porter, carrying maximum 15kgs)

  • Any additional activities not included in the itinerary in Rwanda.
  • Gratuities to camp/lodge staff, guides, rangers, drivers and porters
  • Any personal purchases
  • International flights
  • Personal travel insurance
  • Any unforeseen increases in governmental fees and permits

 

Please make sure you:

GROUP SIZE

  • 8 participants only

TRAVEL INFORMATION

  • Book your own flights to Arrive and Depart Kigali International Airport, Rwanda
  • A private 4WD collects you from the airport to your hotel.   

EXPERIENCE / DIFFICULTY

  • Beginner, Amateur, Enthusiast, Semi-professional, Professional.
  • Busy schedule.
  • Travel by 4WD.
  • 4 hotels across 7 nights.
  • All our workshops require a good sense of balance and a good level of fitness in order to fully enjoy all the experiences. We regularly walk to fantastic locations for up to an hour at any a time but in one day you could be walking up to 3 to 4 hours in total. This may require walking over uneven ground, rocky surfaces, soft sand, deep snow, up and down hills, rock hopping, hiking to lookouts, etc. Some walks are steep and strenuous, others are on uneven surfaces. To get the best photographs you will be carrying your own backpack with your camera gear, tripod, water and lunch. Whilst we do not look to exclude anyone, being fit is essential to participate fully in the workshop.

    TERMS & CONDITIONS

    • Full payment required upon booking to guarantee your place. 
    • Terms & Conditions - CLICK HERE. 

    YOUR LEADERS

    Hi I'm Tom Putt and I'll be leading you on this AMAZING Rwanda Photography Workshop. A little bit more about me - I am passionate and wildly enthusiastic about photography, having spent the last 20 years exploring all parts of Australia to photograph landscapes.

    I first fell in love with photography at age 13. I photographed wildlife, following my love for ornithology, before leaving university to pursue a career in sports photography. In 1998, I was fortunate enough to take the eye of Australia's leading sports photography agency, Sport the Library. From 1998 to 2001, I covered over 300 events across Australia and the world, including the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

    But my passion has always been in landscape photography. My first shoot was walking the Overland Track in 1997. Since then, I have travelled extensively across Australia to capture the beauty of this great land.

    I am a Master of Photography and have won over 100 Awards in both International and National Competitions. In 2014, I was awarded the International Landscape Photographer of the Year Runner-up.

    CLINTON SCHIPPER

    Clint and I met 30 years ago and grew up birdwatching together.

    Having traveled the world, Clint has spent the last 10 years running his own safari company in Africa, guiding clients through the stunning landscapes.

    I'm super excited to be partnering with Clint to run this unique workshop. Clint is an exceptional biologist with a great sense of humour.

    Everyone on this workshop will have a great time to Clint.



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