One of Africa's Top Wildlife Destinations Is Reopening in August — Here's Why It's So Important

After four months of lockdown, Rwanda is ready to welcome back wildlife lovers. "A decision to return to Africa is vital for the survival of the local people and wildlife that rely so heavily on tourism," said one East and Southern Africa specialist.

Animals seen on Wilderness Safaris in Rwanda
Photo: Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

One of Africa’s most compelling destinations will begin welcoming back commercial flights and tourists starting on August 1. Rwanda had, like so many other destinations, curtailed inbound flights in March to slow the spread of COVID-19. But since then, the country has been largely successful at limiting the impact of the pandemic, with fewer than 2,000 cases of COVID-19 reported, according to aggregated statistics compiled by Google.

Now, the country says, it’s time to welcome people back to places like Volcanoes National Park for encounters with mountain gorillas — not to mention other highlights, including Nyungwe Forest National Park and Lake Kivu.

Gorilla lounging, see on Wilderness Safaris in Rwanda
Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

Of course, the reopening comes with restrictions, which the Rwanda Development Board summarizes: “All passengers, including those in transit through Rwanda, will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test from a certified laboratory, taken within 72 hours of arriving in Rwanda. For passengers entering Rwanda, a second test will be conducted upon arrival, with results delivered within 24 hours during which time travelers will be required to self-quarantine in a designated hotel at their own cost.”

“All tourism activities, including primate trekking within Rwanda’s national parks, have now resumed in line with enhanced COVID-19 prevention measures,” the agency also states. (The full rundown of new guidelines is available online.)

Grazing animals in a field seen on Wilderness Safaris in Rwanda
Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

That includes gorilla trekking, which is probably the country’s biggest draw for U.S. travelers. One ideal home base for those interested in seeing the primates is Bisate Lodge, which sits just outside Volcanoes National Park and was recently named one of the best safari lodges in Africa. It ranked fourth in Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards 2020, thanks in part to its incredible architecture and views of mist-shrouded mountains nearby.

“These have got to be the sexiest volcanoes on the planet,” said James Currie, the brand ambassador for Wilderness Safaris, the company that operates the lodge.

Mother and baby monkey see on Wilderness Safaris Rwanda
Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

The reopening of the country is critically important to conservation efforts that depend on tourism, experts told Travel + Leisure. “A decision to return to Africa is vital for the survival of the local people and wildlife that rely so heavily on tourism,” said Deborah Calmeyer, an East and Southern Africa specialist on T+L’s A-List. In Rwanda, Calmeyer recommends seeing mountain gorillas, of course, but also exploring Akagera National Park, where visitors can spot “golden monkeys and an abundance of iconic wildlife on safari at Magashi Camp,” another Wilderness Safaris lodge.

Still, as Rwanda reopens, one big question mark remains the difficulty of getting there: There are no nonstop flights to the country from the United States, meaning travelers will not only face a long time in the air, but also at least one connection, whether in Europe, the Gulf, or in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While travelers are allowed to transit through European airports despite an EU ban on most nonessential trips, it remains to be seen if Americans are ready to embrace super-long-haul flights as they did before the pandemic, experts have said.

While there’s nothing to be done about the distance, one Africa travel pro has a suggestion for airlines like Ethiopian, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, and Turkish Airlines, all of which serve Rwanda from the U.S. “I’m hoping that on international flights — when you’re on a plane for 16 or 17 hours [total] — airlines would look at social distancing,” said Currie.

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