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Rwanda Destinations

Rwanda Destinations: Rwanda is a small landlocked country covering an area of 10,169 square miles (26,338 square kilometers/2,633,759 hectares), which is about a third the size of Belgium. It is an East African country located in the heart of Africa, being bordered by Uganda in the North and North-East, Tanzania in the East, Burundi in the South and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the West.
Rwanda went through a period of trauma due to the 1994 genocide (known as 100 days of slaughter) whose wounds are still fresh in the hearts of the people. However the country has exhibited hope and resumption and has now become Africa’s comeback kid embracing tourism, economic development and prosperity of the country. It is a “land of a thousand hills” and known as the Switzerland of Africa (due to the hills).
Much as the country is small, she is beautiful and endowed with fascinating attractions, which makes the country a “paradise on earth”. Tourists visit most of the attractions within a short distance without going far because most of the interesting things are close to each other.
Rwanda’s tourism has revived and gone through a lot of transformations. Do not wait for someone to tell you about the beauty of this country. Visit this country and exploit one of the top interesting places in the country.

ATTRACTIONS

Volcanoes National Park:
This is a small national Park of 160 square kilometers, located in North-western Rwanda and is bordered by DRC and Uganda. It is situated around 105 kilometers west of Kigali town (2 hours’ drive). This Park is a haven of the famous and unique critically endangered mountain gorillas. Visiting this park will bring you face to face with these Giant Apes (mountain gorillas). A visit to the Land of a thousand Hills offers you fantastic Safaris in the Volcanoes national park, home to10 habituated gorilla families existing in different locations of the park. Besides the mountain gorilla, other attractions include over 75 species of mammals like Elephants, Buffaloes, and Giant forest Hogs, Bushbucks and spotted hyenas among others. The park is also a home of over 180 species of birds whereby 26 species are endemic to Virunga and Rwenzori mountains. Besides the wildlife species, other attractions include Dian Fossey grave, Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke.

Akagera National Park:
This National Park is located in the Northeastern part of Rwanda at the border with Tanzania. It covers an area of about 1,122 square kilometers. It is located around 135 km from Kigali town (2 hours 30 minutes away). The fascinating attractions that are worth visiting in this park include a network of lakes including Lake Ihema. This savanna park is widely known for game viewing because of the variety of wildlife species which include Savanna elephants, buffaloes, antelope species for example waterbucks, topi, Oribis, roan antelope, elands among others. The zebras, giraffes, leopards and spotted hyenas are also spotted in this marvelous National Park. Also more than 525 species of birds have been recorded in this Park and they include the shoebill stork, over 44 species of raptor, Albertine Rift endemic species like Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco among others. For your enjoyable and life refreshing game drives, visit the Akagera National Park and unleash your excitement.

Nyungwe forest National Park:
Nyungwe Forest National Park is located in South-western edge of Rwanda, bordered by Burundi in the South and DRC in the West and covers a total area of 1020 square kilometers. It was established in 2004 to diversify Rwanda’s tourism from over relying on gorilla tourism. The Park is about 4-5 hours’ drive from Kigali town. 75 species of mammals are inhabited in this park including 13 primate species for example the Chimpanzees (over 400 in this Park), Black and white colobus monkeys, and the park is a home of over 300 species of birds out of which 16 species are Albertine Rift endemics. Tourists who visit this park will be accustomed to activities like the fascinating canopy walk. Several hiking trails in Nyungwe forest include the Ngabwe trail, Bigugu trail, Kamiranzovu marsh trail, and Isumo waterfall trail, Source of the River Nile trail, Karamba birding trail, Imbaraga trail, Rukuzi trail and irebero trail among others. Primate safaris and bird watching are also conducted in this park.

Kigali city (city tour):
Kigali city itself is one of the top places tourists should not miss to visit when in Rwanda. The city is the gateway to most attractions (mountain gorillas, chimpanzees among others in National Parks). Kigali was declared Africa’s most beautiful city by the United Nations. It is one of the cleanest and safest places in Africa. The great weather of the city makes a relaxing place for tourists too. Kigali city tour offers an in-depth concept of Kigali and the history of Rwanda as a whole. While at Kigali city, you can visit Kandt House museum (oldest building), you will also visit the first modern building on which the city was first founded, Inema Arts center, Ivuka Arts center, Museum of National History, the Presidential Museum (where the death of the former Rwandan President sparkled the 1994 Rwandan Genocide), the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center, State house museum and the Miyo Art Gallery. For movie lovers, you can go for 5-D movies in Kigali multiplex cinema.

Kigali Genocide Memorial
Victims’ names at the Kigali Genocide Memorial | lucianf / photo modified
It’s hard to imagine that just a couple of decades ago, Rwanda was in the midst of a horrific genocide that would leave more than 800,000 people dead in just 100 days. The country has come a long way from the devastating massacre, but the impact of this relatively recent history has left its mark on the lives of everyday people and generations to come.
Tourists can learn about this horrific event at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The haunting museum dives into the timeline that led to the 1994 genocide, bringing the horrors to life through halls of photographs, artifacts, and information. The main exhibit hall wraps around poignant sculptures and features stained-glass windows that cast a hopeful glow on the space.
The museum continues with another permanent exhibit on the history of genocide around the world and intervention efforts from international communities, helping to put the Rwandan genocide into context.
The museum also includes an emotionally charged Children’s Room dedicated to the youngest victims of the genocide. It keeps their memory alive through oversize portraits of the children, some of whom were just infants when they were killed, and personal details about the victims, like their nicknames and favorite books.
While heartbreaking, visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important part of being a responsible tourist in Rwanda. Give yourself time to contemplate the experience and have a moment of silence for the 250,000 victims interred at this site at the memorial’s Gardens of Reflection.

King’s Palace Museum
The fresh milk hut at the King’s Palace Museum
If the countries impassioned conservation efforts don’t convince you that Rwandans have a reverence for animals, a visit to the King’s Palace Museum certainly will. The star attraction at the museum (one of Rwanda’s eight national museums) are the inyambo (sacred cows) and their staggeringly large horns. Throughout the day, traditional singers lull the cows into a mellow state by belting poems—a ritual that’s unique to Rwanda.
The museum itself is just as interesting as the four-legged creatures out back. It showcases a replica of a king’s palace from the 15th century with a thatched roof, royal hut, and fresh milk hut traditionally run by an unmarried woman.
Tourists can also explore the colonial-style home that was once the royal residence of King Mutara III Rudahigwa in the mid-20th century. The interior design is particularly striking, blending Rwandan patterns with European-style furniture (some of which was actually owned by the king).

Lake Kivu
Palm-lined shores of Lake Kivu and there’s no better place to relax in Rwanda than at Lake Kivu. The 2,700-square-kilometer, emerald-green oasis, surrounded by misty mountains, is Rwanda’s largest lake.
Soak it all up from Rubavu, a resort town on the northern tip of Lake Kivu. It has a lively waterfront, sandy beach, and stunning resorts (including the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel). A few days in this peaceful town will leave you restored.
Get even closer to the landscape with Kingfisher Journeys. The tour operator can arrange a stunning sunset kayak trip with singing fisherman on Lake Kivu, as well as multi-day paddling adventures that will leave you in awe.

Ethnographic Museum
One of Africa’s best collections of ethnological and archeological artifacts can be found in Rwanda’s Ethnographic Museum, located about 130 kilometers south of Kigali in the district of Huye. Belgium gifted the museum to the city in 1989 in honor of the 25th anniversary of Rwandan’s independence.
The Ethnographic Museum’s seven galleries take tourists back in time to precolonial Rwanda. You’ll see an impressive collection of woven baskets, traditional garments made from animal hides and woven grass, spears and bows, musical drums from hundreds of years ago, and old farming tools.
Tourists can step inside an authentic royal home and learn how it was constructed. The museum also hosts live handicraft demonstrations.

Gorilla Guardians Village
Volcanoes National Park isn’t just a place to see gorillas-it’s also a prime spot to immerse yourself in Rwandan culture at Gorilla Guardians Village. Run by reformed poachers, the non-profit cultural village gives tourists the chance to try their hand at Rwanda’s most famous crafts and activities.
You’ll learn how to carry a basket on your head (like the Rwandan women do), weave your own baskets, shoot an arrow, and grind grains with a heavy stone. The enthusiastic guides make the entire experience feel like a big party.
It’s worth sticking around for the intore dance recitals at Gorilla Guardians Village. The traditional dancers, decked out with long straw wigs and skirts, put on an exciting show to the beat of rhythmic drumming. You’ll be up and dancing with them before you know it.

State House Museum:
The State House Museum is the former presidential palace. The last president to occupy it was Habyarimana. Habyarimana’s plane crashed in the palace compound after being shot at. The shooting down of the presidential plan is what sparked off a genocide that had already been planned but not fully implemented. The palace is now a museum where visitors can go to learn about the events leading up to the genocide and kind of life lived by president Habyarimana. The plane wreckage can still be seen in the compound.

Local Dance Performances:
One of the fastest way to understand the culture and traditions of the people of Rwanda is to watch a performance by one of the Intore Dance Troupe. All the good hotels organize evening dance performances for guests as they relax and end the day. The quality of the Intore Dance is measured by the excitement, energy and grace of the performer. The dance may be interrupted by folk stories or other narrations related to the Kinyarwanda culture. Observers are always encouraged to join in at some point.

Kimironko Market:
One of the quickest ways to understand the kind of life lived by people in a new place is by visiting their main central market. Kimironko market is where everyone goes to for cheap fresh fruits, vegetables and food. There are many different products that shoppers simply visit the different stalls and get what they feel is best. An extension of the market specializes in quality second hand clothes, shoes, handbags and suits. If you are wondering where to get good local fabrics or Kitenge at a good price, then Kimironko is the place to go to.

Inema Art Center:
This Art Center was started by two brothers with the aim of supporting and promoting local artists. The Center has got some of the best contemporary artisan products in the country. You can find displays from some of the finest artists in the country and abroad. The center organizes workshops and training sessions for upcoming artists and especially those who are less privileged such as orphans. On a typical visit, tourists are shown around the facility as they shop for souvenir from the different galleries. There are also dance performances from a resident Intore cultural group. The art pieces at the Inema Art Centre can be bought online as you wait for shipment. After visiting Inema, you might also wish to go to Ivuka Arts Centre to learn about their community projects and shop for more art pieces.

The King’s Palace Museum in Nyanza town:
In the past, Rwanda was ruled by a King with the last being King Rudahigwa Mutara III and his replacement King Musinga Yuhi V. Lack of acceptance by all tribal groups and conflicts with the Belgium colonizers led to the abolishment of the kingdoms. What now remains is the palace in Nyanza. The palace has been turned into museum for visitors who are interested in learning about the country’s past. The palace was built during the reign of King Rudahigwa Mutara III and with support from the Belgium government. If you are visiting the southern part of Rwanda or are on your way to Nyungwe National Park, ensure that you stop at the Museum. The Museum has artifacts and information dating back to over 200 years ago. Unfortunately, many of them were stolen or destroyed during the 1994 genocide. King Mutara and his wife Rosalie Gicanda (Killed during the genocide) are buried on a hill close to the Museum.

Mount Kigali.
It is not actually a mountain but a prominent hill offering one of the highest points in the country. Reaching the top of the hill will reward you with amazing views of the city. The route to the top of the hill rewards hikers with beautiful scenery too. While at the top of Mount Kigali, visitors can also visit recreational facilities at the top which have bars and restaurants.

Hotel des Mille Collines:
This 5-star hotel was made famous by the movie “Hotel Rwanda” in 2004. The movie is based on the true story of a Hotel Manager who hid over 1200 people in the hotel rooms during the 1994 genocide. Tourist love visiting the prestigious hotel not only because of the role it played during the genocide but also because of the quality of services offered. It has 112 luxury rooms, a swimming pool, restaurant, a fitness center and more. Visit the hotel and count yourself among those who have visited the most famous hotel in Rwanda

Kigali Convention Center:
This Center is one of the most prominent buildings in Kigali. Its architecture is very impressive but what makes it well-known is that it is where most of the major conferences/meetings are organized. Apart from the conference hall, the facility also has a 5-star hotel known as Radisson Blue and large shopping centers. The Kigali Convention Center is excellent for photography, shopping or as a place to have lunch. The Center lights up during the night in a way that is second to no building in the country.

Coffee and Tea Plantations:
Rwanda is known for exporting some of the finest tea and coffee in Africa. In fact, tea is the leading export of the country while the quality of the coffee has won many international awards. Coffee and tea farming is aided in part by the fertile volcanic soils, high altitude and good weather in the country. Coffee and Tea plantation tours can be organized for tourists who are interested in learning about how the two cash crops are grown and processed. The tours involve observing how the workers plant the crop, pick, select, wash, dry and turn them into final products ready for consumption. Every tour should end with tasting locally prepared coffee- also known as African tea (Coffee or tea mixed with milk and other flavors). Contact Pfunda tea plantation if you are interested in one of their tours.

Musanze Caves:
These ancient caves are found in Musanze district, outside the Volcanoes National Park. The caves were opened to tourism in 2013 after undergoing rehabilitation which involved building staircases and paved trails/paths. The caves are about 2 kilometers long and where formed from lava flows over 60 million years ago – That was the time when the East African Rift Valley was also formed. There are about 32 entrances with main entrance about 10 kilometers wide. The Musanze caves are a popular attraction for those interested in geology or adventure. The bat-filled caves were once hiding grounds for the Batwa pygmies and other tribal groups in the area.

The National Museum of Rwanda
Now known as the Ethnographic Museum, the site was built in 1989 and is found in Butare, A town found 80 kilometers away from the capital Kigali. It is a favorite stop for tourists visiting Nyungwe Forest National Park. The Museum offers opportunities to learn about the culture of the Banyarwanda. The museum’s 7 galleries showcase artifacts, photos, cultural tools and ancient artifacts (pottery, instruments, traditional regalia and woodwork) dating over 500 years. After checking out what is in the gallery, you can watch Intore dancers entertaining guests.

Local Food:
Rwandan food may not be top of anyone’s list of key attractions in the country but still worth noting. The popular local cuisine is a combination of the best that East Africa has to offer. Apart from the fresh cow milk already discussed earlier, you can try grilled meat, Isombe, somboza, akabanga and a variety of local brochettes. Urwagwa is a popular type of banana beer which the locals take after work or on weekends. All the high-end hotels and restaurants prepare local food but Repub Lounge is a favorite for expatriates living in the area.

Nyamata Church:
If you want to learn more about what transpired before, during and after the genocide in Rwanda, you must visit this church. About 10,000 Tutsi’s sought shelter in the church hoping that they would be safe but where all killed by the merciless Interahamwe. The Hutu extremists used grenades to open the church doors and before killing all who were inside. Visitors to the site can still see human bones, bloodstained clothes and bullet holes in the church. About 50,000 people are buried in a mass grave outside the church.

Lake Burera and Ruhondo:
These beautiful twin lakes are found in the Volcanoes National Park. Most tourists visit the lake in the afternoon/evening hours and after completing activities within the park – like gorilla trekking. The lush landscape is home to birds and an amazing plant collection. One can go for nature walks, canoeing, birding, camping or visiting the local fishermen. Honeymooners and couples will find the beautiful scenery very calming and refreshing especially after the tiring activities at the Volcanoes National Park.

Nyamirambo Women’s Center:
This non-profit center is found in Nyamirambo district (part of Kigali). It was founded to train women so that they can acquire skills to create their own jobs or become gainfully employed. The women at the center are taught how to create quality clothing using local fabrics. The women also produce home decoration products, beautiful beads and other souvenirs. The center also organizes walking tours around the neighborhood for visitors who want to mingle with the local population. When you visit this center, ensure that you purchase something to support the women.

Gorilla Guardians Village.
Formerly known as the Ibyiwacu Cultural Village, the Centre was founded by Edwin Sabuhoro (a former warden at the Volcanoes National Park) to showcase all that is great about the Kinyarwanda Culture while also providing employment for ex-poachers. Visitors are first taken for a tour of the Centre before settling down to watch cultural dances, learn how to prepare local food or hunt like the Batwa people. You may be invited to wear traditional royal clothes and experience what it was like to be a cultural leader.

Mamba Club in Kigali. Mamba Club is a very popular recreation center for an evening of fun and mingling with the middle and upper class of Kigali. They organize different recreational activities like swimming, foosball, volleyball, billiards and Ping-Pong. Mamba Club has the city’s only bowling alley. Go with your family, colleagues or friends to Mamba Club and have an amazing time till late in the night. The food is excellent and drinks are served from a well-stocked bar.

Activities to engage in while on Rwanda safari
Gorilla Trekking in the Volcanoes National Park: The Volcanoes National Park is arguably the most visited wildlife conservation site in Rwanda. Each year thousands of international visitors go to the park to see mountain gorillas alongside other popular activities in the park. The park has 10 habituated gorilla groups and only 8 people may track a group in a day. Gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park starts with a briefing at 7am from the park office in Kinigi. From there visitors are taken out to track one of the gorilla groups in the company of armed Guides. Gorilla trekking is one of the most unforgettable experiences while visiting Africa. Because it involves an encounter with creatures that resembles us humans. Gorilla permit in Rwanda cost $1500 per person.

Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe National Park: In Nyungwe forest, Rwanda has one of the oldest afro-montane forests in Africa. This Forest is found in the South Western part of the country and is home to 13 species of primates including chimpanzees. Nyungwe forest is also one of the last strongholds of the Angola Colobus and Golden Monkeys. While exploring the forest, visitors have over 15 trails to choose from for a nature walk. If nature walks are not your things, you can choose to go for chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe forest or the very popular canopy walk. Regardless of which particular activity you register for, you will be rewarded with amazing sites of birds (310 species), primates (13 species), butterflies (120 species), plants (over 1,000 species), amphibians (32 species), reptiles (38 species) and ancient trees.

Canopy Walk in Nyungwe forest: Apart from chimpanzee trekking and nature walks, one of the best canopy walk trails are organized in Nyungwe Forest. This activity was introduced in 2010 in an effort to diversify tourism activities in the country. The canopy walkway is 50 meters high hence offering an aerial view of the forest and the creatures therein. The walkway sways left and right as one moves from one point to another hence requiring some confidence to complete the walk. You need to be warned in advance if you have a fear for heights.

Bird watching: Rwanda is an excellent birding destination with over 640 species of birds, 30 of which are endemic to the country. Birding in Rwanda is organized at Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park, and the Volcanoes National Park and around Lake Kivu. Other birding spots include the suburbs in Kigali and the various smaller water bodies, wetlands/swamps, marshlands and agricultural plantations. The main species to look out for are those endemic to the Albertine Rift and the Virunga ranges. The intriguing Shoebill stork can also be sighted in wetlands and marshes of Akagera.

Game drive in Akagera National Park: With all talk focused on mountain gorillas, it is easy to forget that Rwanda is also excellent for game drives and standard wildlife safaris. Akagera is Rwanda’s only savannah park covering an area of 1,085 square kilometers. It was established in 1934 but the park lost a significant number of wildlife during the 1994 genocide. Thousands of fleeing citizens used the park as an escape route to seek safety in neighboring countries. When the genocide ended, many chose to settle in parts of the park leading to uncontrolled poaching and encroachments.

Milk Bars: The Banyarwanda have a long history of raising cattle. Their long-horned cattle are similar to the one seen in Ankole (Uganda). Drinking fresh milk for breakfast is very popular in Rwanda and some even suggest that it is the reason why Rwanda has so many beautiful women. There are milk bars in every part of the country. The milk is got from cow farms in city suburbs and the countryside. Kigali Milk Bar is excellent for those who want to enjoy the milk fresh or hot.

Golden Monkey Tracking: Rwanda is one of the last strongholds for golden monkeys. These beautiful monkeys thrive in the Virunga ranges (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) and Golden monkeys are endangered and because of that are highly protected. Although eagles prey on them as their natural prey, humans are their greatest threat. Tourist love golden monkeys because of their beautiful gold coats and playful nature. Golden monkeys in Rwanda starts with a briefing at 7:30am. It is less tiring than gorilla trekking because the monkeys don’t move too far off in the forest. Golden monkey permits cost $100 in Rwanda.

Visiting the Tomb of Dian Fossey: Dian Fossey is one of the greatest primatologists of the 20th Century. She was a pioneer in gorilla research and conservation having received funding from the National Geographic. Fossey studied the behavior of mountain gorillas extensively for 18 years and discovered many things about them including how to habituate them. Without her findings, what we now know as gorilla trekking and habituation would not be possible. As time went on, Fossey changed focus from research to gorilla conservation in order to protect the primates from extensive poaching. This won her many enemies and she was found dead in her room one morning (1985). Her killers have never been identified to this day.

Nature Walk, birding and Primates tracking in Gishwati-Mukura National Park: Gishwat-Mukura is the newest national park in Rwanda. It was formed by joining the two forests of Gishwati and Mukura. The park is found close to Lake Kivu and is an excellent of Rwanda’s conservation efforts. During and after the genocide, refugees encroached on forested land leading to severe deforestation and land degradation. The government with support from partners like the World Bank have rejuvenated the entire landscape in the two forests by re-planting trees and resettling encroachers elsewhere. Tourists can visit the park for nature walks, bird-watching and tracking primates like Chimpanzees or Lhotse’s monkeys.

Hiking Mount Karisimbi: Mount Karisimbi is one of the tallest mountains in Africa. It is over 4,500 meters high and is found in the Volcanoes National Park. The mountain is one of the 8 volcanoes within the wider Virunga ranges of mountains in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Hiking Mount Karisimbi takes two days. Though challenging, the hike rewards participants with beautiful views of the Virunga ranges, the lava-spewing Nyiragongo volcano national parks in Uganda and Congo. Hiking mount Karisimbi is usually combing with gorilla and golden monkey trekking in the Volcanoes National Park.

Climbing Mount Bisoke: Rising 3,711 meters high, Mount Bisoke isn’t the tallest volcano in Rwanda. What makes it the most popular volcano is that it is an easier climb. It takes only one day to get to the summit and back. Getting to the summit rewards hikers with an opportunity to explore a giant crater and also gaze at the other Virunga volcanoes and the volcanoes National Park. If you are lucky, you might encounter a gorilla or golden monkey group as you climb the lower slopes of the mountain.

The Congo Nile Trail: The Congo Nile trail is a new addition by the government of Rwanda as it diversifies the tourism attractions in the country. The Congo Nile trail is 140 miles long and can be traversed by a motorcycle, bike or on foot. If one decided to walk, it may take 10 days to cover the entire trail. The Congo Nile Trail is one of the best biking trails in East Africa. The trail rewards bikers with amazing scenery and all that is good about the Rwanda countryside – beautiful rolling hills, tea plantations, rural villages, Lake Kivu and Nyungwe National Park. By the time one completes the trail, they would have got an understanding of how the locals go about with their lives. Accommodation is not a problem along the way as there are many campsites and hotels to choose from. You could even move with your own tent and set it up outside churches or schools. You can hire a bike and someone to accompany you from a tour operator.

Relaxation along the shores of Lake Kivu: With a surface area of over 2,700 square kilometers, Lake Kivu is the largest water body in Rwanda. It is the 6th largest lake in Africa and spreads all the way to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tourists enjoy exploring the lake because of the beautiful shorelines, resorts and islands. Lake Kivu is excellent for swimming, bird watching, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, windsurfing, paddle boarding other water sports. The Congo Nile trail was built along the shores of the lake hence offering bikers a chance to explore the Rwanda countryside on a mountain bike or on foot. There are no hippos or crocodiles in Lake Kivu.

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