The things to do in Rwanda are not many, but very unique. The country is long passed its war torn days and now is one of the safest countries to visit in Africa. I was blown away when I first arrived in the country because it didn’t feel like Africa at all, it felt like Germany. Unlike other Eastern Africa countries there is strict law and order, there isn’t any garbage on the streets, and lawns are manicured to impossible perfection.
The country is extremely small and there is one thing that everyone knows you can do in Rwanda, gorilla trekking.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s biggest tourist attraction – and tops many a nature lover’s bucket list. Permits must be booked in advance (only 80 are issued daily) and cost $750, which does price many people out of the trek, alas. Those lucky enough to obtain permits are assigned guides and armed guards (to protect them from marauding buffalo) and get to spend an incredible hour observing one of the habituated gorilla families.
Located on the limpid shores of Lake Kivu, this idyllic resort is a perfect place to unwind. It’s also unremittingly beautiful: steep, forested slopes rise from crystalline waters, which are dotted with canoes and fishing boats. The town itself is full of character, with a lively market, and there are a number of hotels and restaurants right on the shore. It’s a great place for swimming, kayaking or just kicking back.
Far from being haunted by its tumultuous past, Kigali is quietly getting on with it. Rwanda’s capital is abuzz with hip new bars, restaurants and hotels. Clean and composed, Kigali is very safe city and its rising skyline reflects the country’s lofty ambitions. Head to Hillywood, where talented moviemakers are helping shape Rwanda’s burgeoning film industry, and visit Nyamirambo, where colourful shops sell second hand gear and offer an authentic slice of local life.
National Museum in Butare
The intellectual capital of the country, Butare is home to Rwanda’s national university. The most prominent tourist attraction here is the superb National Museum, which houses perhaps the finest ethnographic collection in East Africa. Absorbing displays of traditional artefacts are illuminated by a selection of turn-of-the-century monochrome photographs, providing insight not only into pre-colonial lifestyles, but also into the subsequent development of Rwanda as a modern African state. Butare also boasts craft shops and a botanical garden.
Rwanda may be landlocked, but you can still hit the beach in Gisenyi: a pretty market town on the edge of Lake Kivu. As well as fine slithers of golden sand, the town lays claim to a large brewery, which proudly produces Rwanda’s celebrated beer: Primus. Bustling Gisenyi is on the border with neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo (the frontier is an attraction in itself) and boasts hot springs nearby.
Golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is best known for its mountain gorillas, but visitors can also go in search of golden monkeys, which are also endangered. These elusive creatures hang out quite low down in the vertiginous national park, so are a good warm up for their loftier-living cousins. A permit to see them is also considerably cheaper than it is for the gorillas.
Genocide Memorial Centre
In 1994 approximately one million Tutsis and scores of Hutus – the two main groups in Rwanda – were murdered during the ghastly Rwandan Genocide. The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre pays tribute to these victims (many of who are buried in a mass grave outside), and chronicles the events that led to the slaughter. It’s heart breaking, of course, but there are uplifting tales amongst the bleakness.
Chimpanzees and colobus monkeys in Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the largest remaining high-altitude rainforests in Africa and is home to the world’s largest troop of colobus monkeys, which have a distinctive black and white colouring. A trek to spot them could have you surrounded by hundreds of the pretty primates, as well as chimpanzees, which are often perched high up in ficus trees. If you’re really lucky, guides might even show you the local mona monkeys too.
Akagera National Park
After the genocide Akagera National Park was overrun by returning refugees and much of the wildlife was wiped out. But the Rwandan government, with the help of Africa Parks, has reformed these displaced people and begun restoring Akagera to its former glory – its biggest success to date came in 2015 with the reintroduced of lions. Big cats are the star attraction, but visitors also have the chance to see elephants, leopards, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes, apes and some 500 species of bird.
Dian Fossey’s grave in Volcanoes National Park
Perhaps nobody has done more to conserve mountain gorillas than Dian Fossey, an American zoologist who gave up her life to study the primates in Rwanda. Fossey moved to Volcanoes National Park in 1967, where she fought tooth and nail to protect the critically endangered species. She succeeded, but was murdered in the process by an unknown assailant. Her gravestone has become a pilgrimage site for naturalists, who trek four-hours through the steamy forest to pay their respects. Guides are essential.
Canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest.
Opened in 2010, this lofty canopy walk is the first of its kind in the region. Hovering a hair-raising 50m (164ft) above the forest floor, this swaying walkway is not for the faint hearted, but it does offer superb views across the rainforest canopy and, if you’re lucky, you might come face to face with rare birds and monkeys.