Valerie Wilson Travel

Rwanda & Kenya

with Laurie Medvinsky

About Laurie

Laurie’s love for travel sparked during her time studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France while at Union College. After graduating, she began a career on Wall Street at Lehman Brothers before earning her MBA from Columbia Business School. Transitioning to Institutional Sales at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America, Laurie pursued her love for travel by planning trips for family and friends.

Retiring from Wall Street, Laurie joined VWT in 2021 as an Independent Travel Advisor, specializing in adventure trips for families and couples alongside Cynthia Fisher. Drawing from their extensive travel experiences, they offer personalized itineraries across the U.S., Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, Central America, and the Caribbean. Their recent East Africa journey included gorilla trekking and safari experiences in Rwanda and Kenya.

In December, my family, along with Cynthia Fisher’s family, embarked on a life-changing journey to Rwanda and Kenya, meticulously planned by Abercrombie and Kent (A&K). This unforgettable itinerary included gorilla trekking in Rwanda and two special safari experiences in Kenya. A&K provided phenomenal guides who not only showcased the beauty of these destinations but also became like family to us. Despite time constraints, A&K ensured we didn’t miss any must-see attractions. From encountering majestic gorillas in Rwanda to witnessing breathtaking wildlife in Kenya, every moment was orchestrated to create lasting memories. This journey was more than a vacation; it was a transformative experience that left an indelible mark on our lives.

First Stop – Rwanda

Our journey began in Kigali, Rwanda, where we stayed at the centrally located Kigali Serena Hotel. Kigali’s cleanliness and modernity left a lasting impression. A poignant highlight was the Genocide Museum, a somber yet enlightening tribute to the victims of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. The museum is situated within the Kigali Genocide Memorial and provides a solemn reminder and is an important educational resource. Following the museum, we traveled to Volcanoes National Park, a scenic three-hour drive from Kigali, enjoying breathtaking views of the landscape and Virunga mountains along the way.

At Bishop’s House Hotel, our base for gorilla trekking, the warm and welcoming staff set the tone for our two-night stay. This charming boutique hotel resembled a colonial mansion infused with Rwandan style and provided impeccable service and delicious cuisine. The hotel manager even offered us a tour of the surroundings, where we were introduced to local village children engaged in an after-school program. Their spirited performances of dance, song, and drumming made for an unforgettable experience.

The Gorilla Trek

Early the next morning, the hotel staff helped us prepare for our gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park. December, the start of the dry season in Rwanda, was an ideal time for the trek. At the park’s welcome center, we received a briefing on the trek options — short, medium, or long — varying in duration from 30 minutes to 4 hours, based on gorilla family locations and group preferences. Opting for the medium trek, our physically fit families were assigned an experienced tracker to lead us through the lush forest. Local porters carried our backpacks filled with essentials, easing our navigation through the muddy and steep terrain.

Guided by park rangers with machetes, we trekked through the forest while receiving tips on gorilla encounters. When we finally encountered the gorillas, we followed protocols to safeguard them, including wearing masks and maintaining silence. Observing the magnificent silverback gorilla and his offspring, we were captivated by their interactions. A moment of tension arose when we inadvertently entered the male gorilla’s territory, leading to a display of dominance captured on video.

After our hour with the gorillas, park rangers escorted us safely out of the forest. We visited the Dian Fossey Museum and learned about her pioneering work and tragic death that is attributed to gorilla poachers. Returning to the hotel, we were greeted with soothing foot massages and ensured our gear was cleaned for the next day’s adventures.

On our second day, we trekked to observe the playful Golden Monkeys at the base of Volcanoes National Park. We were captivated by their antics, including witnessing a mother monkey nursing her baby.

For those with more time and budget, options like One & Only Gorillas Nest and Singita Kwotnda Lodge offer world-class amenities and access to Volcanoes National Park.

Next Stop – Kenya Safaris

Our experience flying with Kenya Airways from Kigali to Nairobi was very pleasant, and I recommend their direct flight from JFK-NY to Nairobi, especially in business class. Upon arrival in Nairobi, we stayed at the beautiful Fairmont Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi’s grandest and oldest hotel. Here, we met our A&K guide, Cosmos Maluki, who became a part of our family over the next five days.

The next morning, we flew in a small 12 seat plane to Laikipia – Ol Pejeta Conservancy, known for its black and white rhino populations. The 40-minute flight was easy, followed by a transfer to Kicheche Laikipia tented camp nestled within the heart of the conservancy. During our game drive from the airport to the camp, we were greeted by sightings of buffalo, rhinos, zebras, hyenas, and more off-road exploration.

At Kicheche Camp, we were warmly welcomed by the manager and witnessed elephants drinking at a nearby permanent waterhole before enjoying a delicious lunch and an afternoon game drive. We encountered giraffes, elephants, and a pride of lions feasting on a buffalo, witnessing a territorial dispute with another pride and hyenas waiting nearby. We ended the day with cocktails and snacks, arranged by our guide Cosmos, against a stunning sunset.

On Christmas Day, we had a gourmet bush breakfast and went on a walking safari where we spotted elephants, giraffes, buffalo, and gazelles. Our day concluded with a special Christmas dinner and handmade gifts from the camp staff.

Two nights glamping at Kicheche tented camp in Ol Pejeta Conservancy was the perfect amount of time to immerse ourselves in the wilderness. On our last morning, we were transferred back to the airstrip for our second small flight, this time to the vast expanse of the Masai Mara in Kenya.

Last Stop – Masai Mara Kenya

Our journey concluded in the majestic Masai Mara, where we landed amidst herds of elephants dotting the expansive landscape. This renowned reserve spans 580 square miles of savannah, teeming with diverse wildlife and over 600 bird species, forming one of Africa’s most vibrant ecosystems alongside the Serengeti.

We were welcomed to A&K’s Exclusive Mobile Camp, crafted exclusively for our two families, where we experienced authentic luxury in sturdy, spacious tents with ensuite facilities replenished by dedicated tent butlers. Positioned strategically for wildlife sightings, our camp provided optimal views for thrilling game drives over three exhilarating days.

During our stay, encounters of wildlife included the iconic Big 5, with sightings of lions feasting and numerous other species like cheetahs, giraffes, and hyenas. Personal chefs catered to our individual tastes during mealtimes, while nights were serenaded by the sounds of lions and elephants, guarded by Masai warriors for our safety.

A unique cultural experience awaited as we visited a local Masai village, engaging with families, exploring traditional homes, and immersing ourselves in their customs and traditions. We participated in traditional rituals that deepened our connection with the community, complemented by supporting local artisans through crafts purchases.

Our final evening was a fitting farewell, with cocktails against Masai Mara’s vast plains and a special dinner within the camp, complete with traditional performances. The genuine warmth of everyone we encountered, from camp staff to local communities, left a lasting impression, filling our hearts with a profound love for Africa.

Ready to plan your dream safari?