Despite the deep scars of war and the 1994 genocide in particular, Rwanda remains a beautiful country – The “Land of A Thousand hills”. Rwanda is not only proud to call herself as one of the safest countries to be in Africa but has positioned herself a leading tourism destination in Africa with great attractions that leave visitors impressed enough to share it with the outside world. The country has great landscape characterized by lush green farmland, plantations, forests and mountains. Then there are the blue lakes, wildlife and beautiful smiling faces. While in Rwanda, do not just limit yourself to a few attractions you have known or heard of. There are many more places to visit and we shall look at each one at a time:-
The Capital Kigali
Kigali is one place you surely have to visit. Located deep in the heart of Rwanda, Kigali is the administrative, business and historic center of Rwanda. It is known to be one of the safest and cleanest cities in Africa. With its tall, well furnished and decorated skyscrapers, investors, diplomats and people from all walks of life call it home. The city has many financial institutions including forex bureaus and banks. Art lovers can visit one of the numerous art galleries like the Ivuka Arts center, Inema Arts center and the Miyo Art Gallery. There are historical places to visit such as the presidential Museum, the Museum of National History and several genocide memorial centers in Ntarama, Nyamata, and Murambi built in memory of those who were victims of 1994 genocide. Kigali city is crowded with shopping malls for the shopaholics, multiplex cinemas for 5D movie catch-ups, hotels and nightclubs.
There is no doubt Kigali is great, but then there is the fast growing and new city Huye. Once called Butare (a name that has remained with most locals), Huye was formally a Rwandan colonial stronghold. Huye stands out as one of the most attractive places in Rwanda at the moment, holding historical, cultural and political attractions that are worth visiting. It houses the National Museum of Rwanda which is perhaps the best in the East African region. The museum was built in 1987 and has seven galleries that artistically defines and showcases Rwanda’s historical, ethnographical and archeological dimensions using cultural and social facts.
The main Huye market is one other place to visit if you want to get a feel of a true African lifestyle. With shops, restaurants and bars around every corner, you will get to taste African dishes like boiled cassava, local chicken, vegetables, sandwiches, meat and fish prepared in the African way. There are many other prominent places to checkout while in the city and include the National Institute of Scientific Research, the National University and the Gikongoro Genocide Memorial which is about 15 minutes drive from Huye.
To the south of Kigali, lies the pre colonial pride, cultural and historical heritage of the country, the palace of the once powerful king Mutara III Rudahigwa. Built by the Belgium government in 1932, this palace museum gives the history of Rwanda’s monarchy in the past two centuries. The palace lost valuables during the 1994 Genocide, but has been revamped with additional traditional objects like the Inyambo and traditional cows which represent the culture of the people or Rwanda. A few meters away from the museum to Mwima hill is where the famous king and his wife Rosalie Gicanda were laid to rest.
Genocide memorial centers
The 1994 Rwanda Genocide that claimed almost one million lives was a major blow the small country. There was great fear among the people during this tragic period but the deaths of the innocent didn’t go in vain. The people of Rwanda have united and have put steps to ensure that such a thing never happens again. The genocide sites have attracted tourists across the world that come to get a feel of the terror of that time and pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.
There are numerous genocide memorial sites and among them include;
Gisozi Genocide Memorial Center: Is built on top of 250000 mass grave victims with names of the victims written on the walls. The entrance to this site is free and it receives thousands of visitors among who are close relatives, who still try to understand what really happened that fateful year of 1994.
The Nyamata church: Not much has changed about this site ever since the genocide. The bloodstained clothes can still be seen are still piled together. This sight will surely will surely help you understand the atmosphere and horrors of that time in Rwanda.
The other sites include Gisenyi Memorial site, Nyanza Memorial site, Ntarama Memorial site, Murambi Memorial site and Nyarubuye Memorial site. These sites contain the clothes, bones and even audio recordings of what happened in 1994.
Volcanoes national park
Gorilla trekking safaris in the Volcanoes national park has no doubt been the most popular activity for visitors to Rwanda. The chance of seeing one of the 10 habituated gorilla families keeps visitors coming in droves. However we shouldn’t get carried away or forget to talk about some of the other activities in this beautiful wildlife reserve. There is climbing one of the three mountain volcanos – Mount Bisoke, Mount Sabyinyo and Mount Karisimbi. Primate lovers can also opt for golden monkey trekking or visiting the grave of Dian Fossey the great primatologist who lived alone in the slopes of Mt Bisoke and Mt Karisimbi before her tragic death in the hand of people believed to be poachers. The Volcanoes national park has its own collection of bird species and about 70 species of mammals such Buffaloes, Elephants, Bushbucks, Giant forest Hogs and spotted hyena among others.
Akagera National park
Taking the 2 1/2 hour drive to the Akagera National Park in North Eastern part of Rwanda is one thing you surely won’t regret. The Akagera National park provides you amazing scenery of wildlife, water bodies and about 1200 Sq Km of savanna plains. A game drive through the park will allow you spot a variety of mammals like Giraffes, leopards, zebras, Elephants, Buffaloes, Antelopes, and the spotted Hyena. The over 500 bird species makes Akegera National park a birders paradise. Moreover, you can take a boat ride across Lake Ihema for great attractions such as Crocodiles, Hippopotamus other water birds. Several other park animals come to drink by the Lake such as antelopes, buffaloes and many other animals. There is a grand plan to introduce Lions soon.
For those who might be concerned about lodging, Akagera National Park offers fantastic lodging facilities such as Akagera Game Lodge and Rusizi Tented Camp – all providing quality services.
Nyungwe forest National Park:
Covered by thick and dense mahogany trees canopies in the south western part of the country, lies one of the few remaining montane forests in Africa. Nyungwe forest is bordered by DR Congo to the East and Burundi to the north, and is a 5 hours drive from Kigali. The forest has forest mammals, nearly 300 bird species and numerous flowers. What makes Nyungwe forest attractive are the 13 species of primates living in the forest. They include 400 Chimpanzees, L’Hoest’s Monkeys, Mangabey monkeys and Colobus monkeys. Chimpanzee trekking is the most famous activity carried out in Nyungwe forest although forest canopy walks follow closely. There are several hiking trails such as the Isumo waterfall trail, Ngabwe trail, Kamiranzovu marsh trail, Bigugu trail, Rukuzi trail, Ngabwe trail, Irebero trail, source of the River Nile trail, Karamba birding trial and Imbaraga trail.
Rwanda is blessed with a variety of water bodies. There is Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo (The twin Lakes of Rwanda), Lake Muhazi with its beautiful Rwesero and Jambo beaches for a sunbathing. However, for a really wonderful summer holiday, you need to spend time on the banks of Lake Kivu.
Lying in the western arm of the Great Eastern Rift Valley and stretching to about 100m along the western border between DR Congo and Rwanda, Lake Kivu is the largest fresh water body in Rwanda. Cycling through the famous Congo Nile Trail gives you picturesque sights of this beautiful lake. A boat cruise along the lake gives you the wonderful view of Mt. Nyirangongo in Congo. Boat cruises aside, one can also get involved in activities like swimming, canoeing and beach sports along the white sandy beaches. The hot springs in Rubavu known by locals as Amashyuza are also worth experiencing. Locals even believe the springs posses magical healing power.
There are several high end lodges and hotels along the shores of the Lake and in the nearby cities/towns of Gisenyi, Rusizi, Karongi and Kibuye. Some of them include Waterfront Resort Lake Kivu, Lake Kivu Serena Hotel and Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel.
Iby’iwacu cultural village
The Iby’iwacu cultural village is found within the Volcanoes National Park in the district of Musanze. Iby’iwacu is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “Treasure of our home”. The place is considered the cultural home of Rwanda with the Batwa, Tutsi and Hutu tribes all sharing the same place to showcase the beautiful Rwanda culture. A day at this cultural hub is a day well spent as you will visit the different communities to enjoy traditional foods, dances like the Ikembe, Intore, Ingoma, and the Amakondera among many others.
The Musanze caves
The Musanze caves are found in the northern province of Rwanda in the district of Musanze which forms the largest part of the volcanoes National Park. The caves are covered by thick green lushy vegetations on the foot of Mount volcanoes that were formed millions of years ago through eruption processes that also led to the creation of the great East African Rift Valley. The Musanze caves has been promoted by the Rwanda Development Board to become one of the must visit places in Rwanda. The caves are 2km long and are home to millions of Bats. These caves served as meeting and hiding places for people during times of unrest and stores for food in preparation for the wars.
That was just a quick look at some of the great things you can do while in Rwanda. Remember you can also decide to go hiking one of the Mount volcanoes like Bisoke, Sabyinyo and Karisimbi or visit the Karisoke Research Center to learn about the work of Dian Fossey. Golden Monkey Trekking and a visit to the former coronation ground of Rwanda’s are also great things to do.