What not to miss in Rwanda
Set a little off-the-beaten track, Rwanda is not high up on a lot of people’s bucket lists. However, this land of a thousand hills and a million smiles, bursting with cultural history and natural beauty, is quickly becoming the next big tourist destination.
One of the most notable (and noticeable) aspects of this country is how highly Rwandans value social and environmental responsibility. Plastic bags are banned and each month residents take part in community projects aimed to cultivate a safe, clean and inclusive environment.
As a visitor, you can look forward to a welcoming and hospitable response from locals and find businesses that are dedicated to supporting the communities around them. And with its dense rainforest, towering volcanoes, unique culture and so teeming with biodiversity, Rwanda breathes a richness and vibrance that begs to be experienced.
There’s so much on offer, how do you choose what not to miss? Here we’ve outlined just a small handful of what you could discover.
The beating heart at the centre of the country, this thriving capital city is the perfect introduction to Rwanda. Set high up in the hills and surrounded by thick wild rainforest, you’ll be surprised by how modern and progressive this city is. Following extensive economic and social regeneration since the devastation of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Kigali has emerged as one of the cleanest and safest capitals of Africa. A mecca of business and creativity, Kigali is a place to immerse yourself in culture.
Begin the day with a visit to the Nyagatova district where you will find the busiest market in town, Kimironko market. Locals flock here each day for day to day wares, ingredients, herbs and spices for the week’s meals, as well as textiles.
A short taxi ride away in the region of Kamatamu, art lovers can discover contemporary Rwandan art at the Inema Art Centre – renowned as one of the best art galleries in East Africa, this gallery houses a huge collection of art comprised of art from artists all over the continent.
It’s impossible to go to Kigali without visiting the Genocide Museum in the Gasabo district. This terrible and devastating event is an integral part of Rwandas contemporary history and has had a huge role in shaping the current political and social atmosphere of the country. Taking the time to understand and gain an appreciation for the event is an absolute must for anyone visiting.
We recommend staying at The Retreat, which is only a short taxi stop away from the Gasabo district. This small, luxurious boutique hotel is Kigali’s first eco-friendly solar-powered resort and offers a cosy, personal retreat within the centre of the city. Built by local craftsman and featuring locally crafted furniture throughout, this hotel also offers an authentic Rwandan experience.
Rwanda is one of the only places in the world that you can trek to come up close with gorillas. Each day, tours starting at 7am from Kinigi travel deep into Volcanoes National Park to find one of the twelve habituated gorilla family groups that live there. Permitting just eight groups of eight a day, these tours are highly exclusive, but for good reason. Once you have tracked a group, you may spend up to an hour in the presence of one of the most endangered animals in the world. What’s more: all proceeds from trekking are reinvested into the conservation efforts which have helped to led to Mountain Gorillas status being downgraded from critically endangered to endangered. A truly unique experience, that can help to make a difference.
To get a good night’s rest before your trek, we recommend staying at the Sabyino Silverback Lodge. Set within the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes, surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, this lodge offers the opportunity to stay in outstanding surroundings in private cottages. All revenue from this lodge goes towards driving local socio-economic projects.
Nyungwe National Park
One of the few remaining patches of primary forest in the world that is believed to be ones of the oldest forests in Africa. Step inside this majestic forest, and you’ll immediately understand the meaning of biodiversity. Surrounded by giant, ancient trees draped in the webbed roots of strangler figs, with the gentle whir of cicadas overhead – this forest is home to over 300 species of which 12 are primates, including the endangered owl-faced monkey and the golden monkey.
Many who visit Nyungwe come to experience the canopy walkway. Suspended 60 meters above the forest floor, this walkway is the only one of its kind in the country and gives a rare opportunity to experience the unique array of life that survives high up in the tree canopy.
This forest is also home to East Africa’s last intact populations of chimpanzees. Many visitors also come to join the daily trekking tours led by expert guides in the hopes of catching a glimpse of these incredible animals. This is a challenging expedition because chimpanzees move fast, meaning that if you have a hope of finding them you’ll have to move quickly through the tough terrain of the rainforest. But when you find them, you are rewarded dividends. Unlike the gorilla tour, you may spend as long as you like with the chimpanzee troupe.
Your best chances of seeing chimpanzees is if you start early in the morning, so staying close to the forest is a must. You cannot get much closer than One&Only Nyungwe House. This ecological retreat is set right on the edge of the forest, and provides chic, luxurious lodging that is surrounded by the forest.