Rwandans will give you a sincerely warm welcome and an introduction into the rich culture of this tiny landlocked East African country, which has come a long way since the dark days of the 1990s. With its lush undulating landscape of hills, gardens and tea plantations plus rainforest-clad volcanic mountains and islands that dot Lake Kivu, Rwanda is home to a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas plus several other primate species, a third of Africa’s bird species and a rich variety of African wildlife.
Known as the Land of a Thousand Hills, Rwanda is most celebrated for its gorilla populations and strictly managed safaris in Volcanoes National Park. However, Rwanda’s other two national parks are also habitat havens teeming with wildlife. Nyungwe boasts chimps and other primates, and Akagera is a veritable ark. Lake Kivu – one of Africa’s Great Lakes and the sixth-largest in Africa – has wonderful views of the Virunga massif. This huge freshwater lake (the sixth-largest in Africa) straddles the country’s western border with the DRC – take a day trip here or slow down to take in this watery wonderland on your journey between Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of Rwanda and Nyungwe National Park in the south.
A real point of difference in Rwanda is the many opportunities to get active in the wilderness areas: both gorilla and chimp tracking require physical trekking through wild terrain, and there are plenty of wilderness hiking and biking trails as well as a rainforest canopy tour as well as sports fishing on beautiful Shakani in Akagera National Park.
Rwanda’s people, their history and rich culture will undoubtedly move you too. The genocide memorials in Kigali are not to be missed, while the Rwandans infectiously life-affirming culture bears testament to the resilience of the human spirit. The warmth of its people is legendary, and this sense of community is fostered in no small part by Rwanda’s unique policy of the mandatory monthly Umuganda community service – on the last Saturday of the month, shops and industry close and every able-bodied citizen (even President Paul Kagame!) heads out to clean up Kigali.
The Rwandan government’s investment in technology and infrastructure, as well as its forward-thinking, world-leading wildlife conservation management systems for gorilla safaris has raised its profile as a rewarding ecotourism destination. With its wealth of wilderness experiences, vibrant culture and charming people, this is a great country to spread your wings and explore for yourself. Hail a mototaxi and head off to explore the culture and cuisine of Kigali and its surrounds, before experiencing the astonishing rainforest national parks and a life-changing mountain gorilla safari.