Gorilla trekking, Big 5 safaris, rainforest and mountains – Rwanda has it all! When deciding on the best time to visit Rwanda, you need to look at its different seasons and what to expect. The “Land of a Thousand Hills” is a few degrees south of the equator and therefore enjoys warm weather all year-round with little variation in temperature. It’s a high-altitude country – starting at 1,000m above sea level – which means cooler, more comfortable conditions than its low-lying neighbours. However, it’s also a high-rainfall country, which accounts for the lush rainforests its primates and birds love so much. But this can make gorilla trekking trickier at certain times of the year. Therefore, it’s easiest to decide when is the best time to visit Rwanda by looking at how the wet and dry seasons affect your must-have Rwandan experiences.
Unique Wildlife, Scenery and Culture
Rwanda is a lush mountainous country and famous for its endemic primates. Hiking through the forests and observing a mountain gorilla family in the wild is possibly one of the most moving wildlife encounters you’ll ever have. Yet there’s so much to this fascinating Great Rift Valley country that’s often lost to the headline-grabbing gorilla.
In addition to the primates of the western mountains, Rwanda has a resurgent Big 5 national park. Therefore, you can expect incredible birdlife rich with endemics, scenic lakes and mountain ranges crisscrossed with hiking trails. And what’s more, a turbulent past defines Rwanda’s fascinating present as one of the safest, cleanest, and friendliest nations on the planet.
In this article, we describe Rwanda’s rainfall patterns and their impact on your in-country experiences. We cover the best time to visit Rwanda for gorilla trekking as well as the best time for chimpanzee trekking and a classic Big 5 safari.
June to September: The Long Dry Season
By mid-May, the rain starts to ease off in Rwanda. And come June, the sun is out and the dry season has officially started. Lasting until September, the dry season still gets its fair share of rain, especially in the higher-altitude rainforests. However, these are usually short showers, with the sun soon returning. Judging by the slight rise in average daily temperatures, these four months are therefore akin to summer. The average maximum temperature is around 28ºC and the evenings are a cool 16ºC.
This longer drier season is the best time to visit Rwanda for its major attractions. Your high-altitude gorilla trek – which can be up to eight hours each way – is considerably less taxing as the pathways dry out and visibility improves.
Your Big 5 safari in the east also benefits from drier conditions as the wildlife congregates near permanent water sources and the bush thins out for better sightings. Elsewhere, Lake Kivu in summer is a glorious place to unwind while the birdlife is always amazing, no matter when you visit. And of course, Rwanda’s cultural and historical attractions are equally fascinating whether it’s rainy or sunny.
October and November: The Short Wet Season
The short wet season in Rwanda features spectacular thunderstorms that pass quickly to reveal beautiful cloud-studded skies, vivid forest colours and soft, saturated light. In other words, this is an excellent time for photography. Birding is also particularly good at this time as the brief rains bring many plants into flower, and migrants arrive to bolster the already impressive species count.
Gorilla trekking and primate walks can be more challenging when it rains, although the sub-surface remains firm. However, with the rain and cloud cover, your photos will come out just that bit more special. And your Big 5 safari won’t be too much affected by the rain as the showers are short and the resulting greenery is exceptionally photogenic. Furthermore, the tea and coffee plantations, dramatic scenery and cultural attractions retain their appeal regardless of the weather.
December to February: The Short Dry Season
December sees a significant drop in rainfall, ushering in the short dry season. It’s still quite wet with frequent showers but nowhere near the boggy deluges of the wet season. As a result of the ground drying up underfoot, gorilla trekking becomes easier.
Drier, warmer, sunnier conditions generally favour all of Rwanda’s incredible attractions. For this reason and because it’s less busy, we consider this short dry season one of the best times to visit Rwanda. During this season, you can enjoy the whole country, from primate trekking, Big 5 safaris, birding, relaxing by the lake and absorbing the cultural phenomena.
March to May: The Long Wet Season
Rwanda’s big rains arrive in March, peak in April and taper off in May. Provided you’ve got good rain gear – and if you’re visiting an equatorial country, that’s pretty much essential – the rainy season can be one of the best times to visit Rwanda.
Gorilla trekking continues year-round and is often at its most rewarding, with a tough, mud-bound hike making the experience much more visceral. Furthermore, gorilla permits are easier to obtain, and many lodges offer green season specials.
Chimpanzees are easier to track during this long wet season as they drop to lower altitudes to feast on the ripening fruit. Birding is understandably excellent with the national bloom, breeding and migratory arrivals. And towards the end of the wet season it’s calving time so expect to see plenty of wobbly newborns on your Big 5 safari.
And finally, Rwanda’s incredible scenery, culture and fascinating history are on full display and accessible all year round whether it’s bucketing down or a cloudless day.
Best Time to Visit Rwanda for Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla trekking continues throughout the year regardless of the rain. However, the best time to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trekking is either of the two dry seasons. The long dry season runs from June to September and the short dry season from December to February. The dry seasons are generally considered best for trekking as the pathways firm up underfoot making the hike easier and conditions generally more comfortable.
The rainy seasons also produce exceptional experiences if you’re prepared for a more difficult hike along muddier pathways. The light and the effect of the rain on the gorillas play their part for a magical experience.
Best Time to Visit Rwanda for Chimpanzee Trekking
Unlike the gorilla families that find one spot for the day, chimpanzees are much more mobile. Subsequently, they’re slightly easier to find in the wet season when they descend from the forest canopy heights to gorge on the ripening fruit in the understorey level.
During the drier months, while hiking conditions improve, it’s more hit-and-miss as they disperse into the thickly forested slopes. As a result, the big rainy season from March to May is the best time to visit Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking.
What Is Your Best Time to Travel to Rwanda?
Hopefully, you’ve got enough time to explore the whole country, not just the justifiably limelight-stealing gorillas. In fact, even when disregarding the gorilla activity, we believe Rwanda is an essential African country to visit.
The best time to visit Rwanda for a greatest-hits experience is the dry season from June to September, when walking conditions are at their best. It still rains all year round, however, so if you’re well-prepared, any time of year has its share of special sights and experiences.
Book Your Visit to Rwanda Today
If you’re sold on Rwanda and have gorilla trekking at the top of your bucket list (as it should be!), contact our Rhino Africa Travel Experts today. As the World’s Leading Safari Company, we’re in the prime position to give you the best advice and service to make the most of your time in this beautiful, amazing country.