Q & A with Gregory Bakunzi, Founder, Amahoro Tours, Kigali, Rwanda.
A fully-licensed local tourism operator since 2003. Specializing in mountain gorilla treks, hikes in the Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, and agricultural and cultural tours in the “country of a thousand hills.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN BUSINESS?
I myself have been in the tourism field for 21 years and with Amahoro Tours for about 15 years. “Amahoro” is a greeting, it means “peace/hello.”
We support wildlife conservation, and also our strength is community-based tourism where visitors from other countries get to see the “real” Rwanda, and the locals get to meet and also learn from these visitors.
YOU WERE FEATURED ON A CNN TELEVISION PROGRAM?
Yes, it was a series on CNN called “African Startup.” I was among those selected because I am an entrepreneur with a small but successful business here in Rwanda. Being on this program helped me to realize how many features of my country are of interest to tourists, and from that point I began to develop tour options that enable
visitors to stay in Rwanda longer and to see more things.
Of course, but not everyone can go on the gorilla treks. You cannot just show up and say “I wish to go and see the gorillas.” There are many restrictions imposed by the wildlife authorities. Mainly, it is a matter of time and money. You must first obtain a permit, and the government only provides so many, and they are expensive, for example, it is $750 USD for one person. Also you have to purchase these permits well in advance of your trip. If you plan to come here during the busiest seasons, you must request very long in advance. Amahoro Tours can obtain these permits for you with reasonable notice. Another restriction is size of the group; we are only allowed a total of 8 people for a single gorilla trek group.
WHY IS GORILLA VIEWING LIMITED TO ONE HOUR?
All the conservation programs agree to these limits. This reduces the chance for any harm that might come to the animals. We do not want to interfere with their health, safety, or normal behaviors in the wild. We are required to stay at a distance of at least 7 meters while in their presence. You can take photographs, but no loud talking, and no touching!
WHAT OTHER WILD ANIMALS CAN ONE SEE IN THE NATIONAL PARKS?
You can see Elephants, Golden Monkeys, Lions, Chimps , Giraffes, and Zebras.
These tours go back to our roots. We will show you how the Rwandan people used different local plants before modern medicine arrived. We still have many people who use these natural remedies today. For example, a tea made from stinging nettle can be used to treat diarrhea. Barks of certain trees can be mashed into a salve that reduces inflammation.
YOU ALSO OFFER TRIPS TO ORGANIC FARMS.
Organic farming is a sizeable movement throughout the world. Here the local farmers will show you how they grow crops without any chemical fertilizers or pesticides. It is very interesting to watch and interact with these people. Organic farming improves the quality of the soil in many ways, it increases yield, and it also helps reduce poverty and hunger. In the food markets you now see lots of organic bananas, plantains, beans, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and cabbage for sale. Also many visitors do not realize that we grow tea leaves and coffee plants in Rwanda.
WHAT CLOTHES DO YOU RECOMMEND TO WEAR?
You should wear long pants and thin long shirts for the mountain hikes and gorilla viewing because that way you protect your legs and arms against scratches from thorny plants or bites from insects. You need good hiking boots because the climbing paths tend to get muddy from the frequent rain and cloud mists.
They have many choices of hotels and guest houses, depending on their budgets, here in Kingali or in one of the popular resort destinations around Lake Kivu. Most typically offer breakfast along with the rooms.
IS THERE A "HIGH" SEASON?
Visitors come throughout the year, but I would say from mid-May until end of October is the most popular time.
Some people enjoy the chance to visit one of our local grade schools and interact with the kids. Many like to go to the Red Rocks hostel to watch the basket weavers perform their craft. Others may enjoy a boat ride on Lake Kivu or to simply relax by the shore. We have plenty of shopping opportunities if you want to buy handmade gifts to bring home.
This is a non-profit organization out of the USA; they work with quite a few countries in Africa. I am pleased to be one of five Rwandan tour businesses to be associated with Pack for a Purpose. Their programs are very interesting, and I have seen first-hand how these benefit our schools. They give us guidelines as to which schools need certain supplies, and we pass this information on to future visitors. Visitors can bring along a few supplies in their luggage - or they can ask us to buy the items for them in advance of their arrival. Small things like colored paper, pencils, rulers, and flash cards. You can find out more about this group on my website or here - http://www.packforapurpose.org
GREG, IT HAS BEEN GREAT SPEAKING WITH YOU.
The same and all the best to you and your audience.
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