Most tourists still come to see the famous but unfortunately highly endangered mountain gorillas, which only live here, on the steep mountain slopes that lie between Congo and Rwanda, and in the Bwindi National Park in southwestern Uganda.
At 1,500 dollars, the family visit is not a cheap pleasure.
At second glance, however, the tourists' money is extremely well invested, direct development aid, because not only does it enable the visitor to have an unforgettable experience, it is also used in the Volcanoes National Park to expand the protected area.
Obviously with success, because while all other great ape populations are declining, the number of mountain gorillas is slowly increasing again.
In the 1980s, just 242 individuals were counted in the Virunga Massif, but today there are over 1,000 again.
All this has to be financed, of course, and the gorillas in particular contribute significantly to this. The income from the sale of visitor permits to see the animals - at $1,500 per person not exactly a cheap treat - also contributes to the maintenance of the three other national parks in the country. In addition, 10% of tourism revenue is shared with the communities living around the park, and locals are employed as vets, researchers, trackers, porters and guides, while others work in safari lodges and camps.
Of course, I also want to see the famous primates.
Loyce, one of the 24 rangers in the Volcanoes National Park and our primate expert for today's expedition, gives us a detailed briefing on the behaviour and habits of our hairy relatives early in the morning at the visitor centre of the national park.
"If you make a sound like clearing your throat, for example, that means everything is OK for the gorillas."
With this important "vocabulary" in mind, we set off.
We have an hour with them once the animal trackers have located them. A maximum of eight tourists at a time are allowed to visit one of the 12 families that are used to humans.
With the jeep we bump along a washed-out, stony road a little way up the mountain. At a collection of small huts we have to get out, because from here on we have to continue on foot.
Tense, we climb up the flank of the Bisoke volcano. Here, at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, the air is cool. The early morning mist wafts between the steep mountain slopes. As soon as we leave the fields where vegetables like potatoes are grown and enter the forest with old trees and dense bamboo, our tension increases:
We feel transfered live to the film set of "Gorillas in Mist".
Reverently we hike through the dense cloud forest, our tension rising with every step: How long do we have to search? How will they behave? All the questions are forgotten the moment a stately silverback crosses our path - we follow him at a safe distance. Our gorilla expert Loyce smiles: "Welcome to the Amahoro family. Amahoro translates as peace.
In front of us lies a tangle of black-haired bodies, snuggled comfortably together. The Frieden family is having a peaceful nap. Only the young monkeys - why should they be any different from us humans - are playing tricks on us. One cub climbs up a bamboo branch and then slowly lets itself roll back down to the ground. To our happy giggles, it repeats the exercise until it too curls up for a nap.
As most visitors are keen to see gorillas, it is advisable to apply for the permit well in advance. If you haven't booked a package tour, you can do so via the IREMBO website, which, to be honest, is a bit confusing.
Here you can also book different hikes to the volcanoes, the grave of Dian Fossey and a visit to the golden monkeys - with 100$ a bargain so to speak ...
Even today, there are still strict rules when visiting: every visitor needs a current PCR test, there is a strict minimum distance of 2 metres and the masks may not be taken off for a second - not even for the quickest selfie.
General information is available at:
HOW TO GET THERE
The best connection from Frankfurt is currently offered by Brussels Airlines with a stopover in Brussels. Prices start at 420 euros, depending on the season.
www.brusselsairlines.com Rwanda is a safe country to travel and most major roads are in good condition. If you are a bit adventurous, I would recommend exploring the country with a rental car. These are available for example from Europcar.
The passport must be valid for at least six months at the time of entry. The visa can be purchased directly on arrival at Kigali airport for $50.
All vaccinated travellers arriving in Rwanda must still present a negative PCR test result that is not older than 72 hours at the time of departure. A second PCR test will be conducted upon arrival, with results delivered after 24 hours at the latest. During this time, travellers must be in self-isolation at the booked hotel. As most flights arrive in the evening, the test results are usually available the next morning.
Due to the stable weather, the months of June to September and the shorter dry season from December to February are the best time to visit Rwanda. There are fewer rain showers during these months and conditions are perfect for seeing the gorillas. The heaviest rainfall is between March to May, which can make visiting some areas a challenge.
Colibri Travel offers an 11-day package tour. More info at www.colibri-travel.de.
On the website of Enchanting Travel, you can put together your dream trip from various blocks. www.enchantingtravels.com/de.
Directly in Musanze, the starting point for the gorilla visit, there is a cheap option for adventurers: the safari tents from Red Rocks cost 25€ per person including breakfast. Here you can also book other tours to the nearby Vulcanos National Park. www.redrocksrwanda.com