For the most part, travelers who arrive in Rwanda are eager for exciting experiences, to get in touch with biodiversity, to learn and approach the local way of life and culture. Rwandans, for their part, look forward to welcome visitors and make them feel at home. This is a place where urban landscapes don’t exist; instead, it leads you into the grandeur of its lush nature.
Rwanda has a lot of standout features: it’s the second fastest growing country in the African continent. The World Bank recommends it as the top nation in this region to do business; the capital city of Kigali, is considered the cleanest in the African continent; plus, women occupy 64% of parliamentary seats, which means the country is in the first place worldwide in terms of female representation in a parliament. In the last two decades, life expectancy in Rwanda has increased 20 years.
This nation has also introduced a high-speed central fiber optic network in its 30 districts; additionally, 14 of them have 4G technology. The country also took a big step by having the first drone delivery service of medical supplies, thanks to the company Zipline. On the other hand, the Project KivuWatt has managed to produce gas with methane: clean energy, extracted 300 meters deep in the waters of Lake Kivu, which comes directly from the volcanoes.
Its population is of 12.63 million inhabitants, of which only 17% live in urban areas. The entire territory has an area of 26,338 km2 and is landlocked. Rwanda is also a country free of single-use plastics, based on a law issued in January 2019. These are only a few among many other conservation efforts.
The country is listed as safe and peaceful, so visitors must only worry about enjoying its greatest trademark: the absolute richness of its nature.
Safaris for Everyone
The country has increased investments in luxury tourism. Rwanda has some of the best animal trackers, and for travelers that come to the country and prefer to experience trekking with the Mountain Gorillas, the adventure consists in a tracker and the guide—who always accompany visitors—either trying to find a group and observe it in the wild or finding a family of gorillas that is accustomed to the presence of humans.
Even though the tours offer great chances to see and approach the gorillas, this is an exclusive safari due to the limitation in the number of people that can interact with the Gorillas at a time and also because of Rwandan permit procedures—only 80 people in 10 groups are authorized daily. As of January 2020, this permit will cost USD 1,500 per person. Uganda and the Congo offer opportunities to go on this safari as well, so it’s common to find itineraries that include destinations in the three countries, located at the banks of the Great Lakes.
The second place in safaris’ top attractions is the “big five”, perfect if you want to lay eyes on the African Lion, properly proclaimed as the “king of the jungle” and which is now able to roar once more in the territories of Rwanda after having been successfully reintroduced from South Africa, thanks to the donation of seven specimens in 2015. You might expect to see the leopard, distinguished by its elegance and for being both a solitary animal and a great hunter. It’s often difficult to find them because they avoid humans and hide in the treetops, watching their prey among the branches. Elephants, the black rhinoceros (also recently reintroduced), and the buffalo, make up this wish list.
There are special itineraries where you can watch 510 resident bird species, and 183 migratory species, which, according to the African Bird Club, fly through the skies of Rwanda. With such diversity, this is a paradise for ornithologists. To appreciate all this, you have to venture into the national parks.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe was established as a forest reserve in 1933. It’s recognized as the region with the greatest biodiversity in the country: 1050 species of plants, 85 kinds of mammals, including 13 primates. There are also 310 birds, 32 amphibians and 38 reptiles. It’s also the largest forest and water reserve in the country. July and October are the best months to visit it.
A stroll through the suspension bridges stimulates the senses; from there, it’s possible to take in the utter beauty of its landscapes to a greater scale; plus, it features hiking trails. Two of the main rivers in the country cross the forest. You have to book the chimpanzee tracking safari in advance, although a permit is not required. Touring the park can last from four hours to three days, during in which you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to hike on the Kamiranzobu trails, the Uwinka ridge, and the Gisakura Tea Plantations.
KN6, Rusizi, Ruanda +250 780 870 670 https://www.nyungweforest.com
Volcanoes National Park
We could argue that a visit to this place is, for many, the main attraction in a trip to Rwanda. The Volcanoes National Park is located on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains. It’s characterized by its border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which will allow you to embark on the highly popular Nile-Congo route.
The park functions as a refuge for the Mountain Gorillas, and it’s also the region where Dian Fossey lived until her death, studying and protecting the gorillas. On the slopes of its hills you’ll find five volcanoes: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. It’s said to be the best guarded natural park in the world. Additionally, it’s the oldest location in the continent to have been denominated as National Park.
Volcanes 962, Kigali, Ruanda,
Compañía No. 101499679 -
Akagera National Park
Akagera is the largest wetland in Africa, significant for being the place where the eastern black rhinoceros recovered. It’s home to the lions that were successfully introduced in 2015 and that have already reproduced. Maasai giraffes, zebras, tsessebe, Nile crocodiles, hippos and leopards run through their savanna. Poaching has been stopped with drastic and effective measures: a large part of the area is protected by a 120kW fence; on the other hand, an armed patrol controls the entire perimeter. Among the park’s main benefactors, we can mention Warren Buffett, Phinda Game Reserve and Tembe Elephant Park, among others. You may plan a visit to this place throughout the year—the only Big Five park in Rwanda.
On the banks of Kivu Lake we find Karongi, a beach retreat, as well as Rubaku, distinguished by its tranquility, red sands and clean water; all surrounding areas have cultural and recreational interest, at all levels.
Congo- Nile Trail
It’s located on the shores of Lake Kivu and it covers around 227 km on a route that spans from Gisenyi City—which has paved streets, a variety of hotels, three beaches suitable for water sports, a brewery and a shopping center—until you reach the Cyangugu district. This journey takes about seven days if you want to travel alternating walks, cycling or motorcycling, although you can also sail or fly in with the airline RwandAir: many safaris are organized using these forms of transport directly from the city of Kamembe, where you’ll find the Emeraude Kivu luxury resort. Additionally, the route boats countless spots that serve international food and traditional recipes, as well as places to have a drink with live music.
Its trails are a must for hiking and mountain biking enthusiasts. These roads are well defined, although they aren’t exclusive for pedestrians and cyclists. Local bicycle renting services are available, and throughout the route there are towns where you can get food and water, with the advantage that the villages aren’t more than 10 km apart from each other. There are also several options for camping and lodging. This route’s altitude ranges from 1400m to 1800m. Enjoying the Cimerwa Hot Springs, swimming in the rivers and lakes, venturing in chimpanzee treks, among other attractions, are only a few among the great possibilities the Congo-Nile trail has to offer.
When embarking on a safari adventure in the savannah, the forest or the jungle, you should try to travel light, but don’t forget to bring a sleeping bag, a change of clothes, avoiding bright colors, since they can scare animals away; the best colors are gray, kaki and green. Most importantly, clothing and footwear should be considered comfortable. Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses, toiletries, sunscreen, bug repellent, a first aid kit, a flashlight, a blanket and coat, because at night temperature drops considerably. You may also bring something to snack on, like nuts.
Different hotels and companies offer the opportunity to visit a neighboring village, aiming to get immersed in the inhabitant’s daily life. During this visit, the artisans teach pottery workshops, weaving of natural fiber hives and candle preparation. You can also experiment what it’s like to sow, harvest and sleep in a village, and when dawn comes, you’ll know what it’s like to participate in the roasting, grinding and tasting of organic coffee, to then learn the traditional construction techniques; the recipes and ingredients of the native food, and relish the rhythms and instruments, sing their songs and learn some dances such as intore, ikembe, amakondera and ingoma.
Little is documented about the history of the original settlers and their forms of government. The first known texts were written after the arrival of the Europeans, in 1878. However, the Rwandan history is present in the rites, songs, dances, myths and stories protected in the oral tradition.
The available information, gathered through time, suggests that the first known settlers were the Pygmies of the Batwá or Twa people (6th century BC); later on, the Tutsis and Hutus arrived. The descendants of these three peoples continue to inhabit the region and share the same language: Kinyarwanda, as well as beliefs and customs, but were separated by an ethnic and economic caste system in an extremely radical way until the end of the 20th century.
Kigali: The Rebirth of the Capital
Kigali is a modern city, where skyscrapers rise among other avant-garde design buildings as part of an ambitious sustainable urban project that, so far, harmonizes with the green landscape, taking into consideration architecture, colors, materials and traditional designs. Impeccable order is a standout feature. Throughout the year, many festivals and artistic encounters take place, which include the contemporary music scene, as well as other expressions of art, among which cinematography stands out.
Kigali is the central point to begin a tour in Rwanda, and it’s worth exploring its countless adventures, go shopping, visit museums, taste good food, stay at the best hotels, and hire tour companies that offer services in all kinds of attractions.
This site goes by the motto: remembrance and learning. It’s a cemetery and at the same time Kigali’s most visited cultural center. The Rwandans come here to honor their loved ones. The historical archive is located on its premises; it features three permanent exhibitions, an amphitheater, workshops, educational programs, plus mediation and peace festivals.
Rwanda is healing from the scars from the dark days in 1994. It has been reborn from its ashes during the last 25 years, because the country’s youth has performed the feat of creating miracles, not only in the aspect of economic development. 60% of its inhabitants were born after the genocide. It’s important to highlight the effort they have made on the grounds of conciliation and justice: a thin and fragile line that, at the moment, the Rwandans firmly hold.
The Ethnographic Museum is the right place to safeguard the culture of the country. It’s located in the city of Huye (132 km from Kigali). Other museums in the country are the Natural History Museum, King's Palace Museum, Butare National Museum, Art Museum and Museum of the Environment.
KG 14 Ave, Kigali, Ruanda. +250 784 651 051.
Kigali Convention Center
This is one of the most emblematic buildings of the country. Here we find the Radisson Blu Hotel, winner of the Travel Award 2019. The convention center has 18 rooms with capacity for 5,500 people. It also features a museum, an office complex, technology, shopping, business, leisure and events of different kinds.
Among the art galleries in Kigali, the best known are: Niyo art Gallery, Kigali Arts Center, Kigaly Arts Gallery and Inema Arts Gallery. In addition to the collections, as part of their activities, they offer thematic exhibitions, workshops on contemporary African arts, debates and sale of plastic arts.
KG 2 Roundabout, Kigali. Ruanda.
+250 252 253 253.
Shrine of Our Lady of Kibeho
As of November 28, 1981, after the apparition of the virgin, this temple has become a world pilgrimage site for Roman Catholics.
A Destination That Inspires Celebrities
Naomi Campbell participates in various solidarity projects and collaborates with fashion designers in the country to create a platform that connects them universally. Bill Gates supports health service programs in Rwanda through the “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation”. Ellen DeGeneres is an activist in the conservation of the Mountain Gorillas, and is currently building a shelter for them. She is also involved in opening a research center for the Dian Fossey fund.
Rwanda joins the African goal of turning continental wildlife into its greatest asset. The African Leadership University (ALU) network of institutions, with a presence in Mauritius and Rwanda, teaches a program aimed at the preparation of specialists, and aims to develop an environmental investment plan: a reward from conservation, which is a gold mine for the new African leaders. The founder of this university, Fred Swaniker, is one of them.
Environmental investment is the central dialogue at the ALU 2019 Business Conservation Conference, which takes place on September 2019 in Kigali. Rwanda is an example to follow, but it’s a movement that involves the rest of Africa as well, where there is a network of 6,000 innovative young people, willing to take a 180° turn to generate solutions, well-being for their communities and economic flow.
Text: Maruchy Behmaras ± Photo: Karen Foley / shutterstock / RWANDA DEVELOPMENT BOARD / travelage west / © Rwanda De-velopment Board © 2019 / CNN / looney planet / Lake Kivu / Africa Business Directory / looney planet / CNN Travel / looney planet / CNN Travel / British GQ / GORILLA TIMES / GORILLA DOC-TORS / Yellow Zebra / JB's World Travel Consultants / media3 / heart style / RADISSON HOTELS / Inema Art Center / Courtesy Visit Rwanda / pnt / Kigali Convention Center / enkosi Africa / ne-ma Art Center / world side / CULTURE TRIP / PTY