Best Of Rwanda: Tips For A First-Time Visitor
Just a few degrees south of the equator and bordering Tanzania and Uganda, Rwanda is a jewel of a land, from the deep emerald of its forests to the brilliant sapphire of its lakes. Known as the land of a thousand hills, for wherever you look you will find hills, mountains and volcanoes towering above, it is also the place where Dian Fossey fought off poachers and politicians to save the deeply endangered African Mountain Gorilla. Most visitors do come to see the gorillas in the Volcano National Park, however, there is much more to Rwanda than just these remarkable creatures. We've compiled a short guide to help ensure you make the most of your visit to this extraordinary country.
Visit the Genocide Memorial
The first thing that most people think of when you mention Rwanda is the terrible genocide, which claimed the lives of over a million people in 1994. It may be over twenty years since the horrific events unfolded, but a trip to Rwanda would not be complete without a visit to the genocide memorial in the country’s capital Kigali, which is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims. The Kigali Genocide Memorial includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. There is also a children’s memorial and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The education centre, gardens, and Genocide Archive of Rwanda contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished and provide a powerful educational experience for visitors.
Track Gorillas in Volcano National Park
Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live. They make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Gorilla tracking in Rwanda is often described as “life changing” and with good reason. With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, to see these gentle creatures in their natural habitat is a truly unique moment. Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours + depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas!
Spot hippos, elephants and giraffes in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is located in the northeast of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. It is named after the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. The forest fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains and rolling highlands combine to make Akagera amongst the most scenic of reserves anywhere in Africa. It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms the largest protected wetland in central Africa. Akagera combines well with Nyungwe and the Volcanoes National Park to offer a great safari element as it is home to many large plains game species like elephants, giraffes and lions as well as species restricted to the papyrus swamps such as the Sitatunga and the sought-after Shoebill Stork.
Dip your toes into Lake Kivu
One of the African Great Lakes (the sixth largest in Africa), Lake Kivu is stunningly beautiful and an incredible place to visit on your Rwandan adventure. The water in the lake has a cool temperature and there are beautiful beaches along the lakeshores with fine sand where one can relax in the sun after having a paddle or indulging in some water sports like kayaking or wind surfing. At only an hour away from Volcanoes National Park, Lake Kivu is also a great place to unwind after your gorilla trekking adventures.
Spend a day with the chimps of Nyungwe Forest
These cousins to humans can be found and tracked in Nyungwe National Forest. A beautiful guided hike through the forest will lead you to these fascinating creatures where you can watch them play and interact up close. Chimpanzee tracking can be done year-round in Nyungwe Forest, rain or shine, and while it is never guaranteed that you will see them, sightings are very common and guides are skilful in tracking them. The experience differs from gorilla tracking as the chimps are running around, so the sightings are a bit more sporadic and rushed, but worthwhile nonetheless.
Try a cup of Rwandan coffee or tea
Tea is Rwanda's largest export. The fertile volcanic soil and temperate climate are perfect for growing the plants that create this popular drink. Tea leaves can be seen covering the mountains – creating a stunning contrast to the blue skies, dirt roads and sunshine. Visitors can discover how tea is harvested, processed, and even get to taste the results. Tea may be Rwanda’s number one export, but the lush, rolling hills of the Rwandan countryside are equally suited to coffee production, and the beans coming out of Rwanda today are in serious demand all around the world. The coffee-covered hillsides shimmer bright green all throughout the year, but when the harvest is ready (usually between February and May), the coffee cherries themselves blush a deep cranberry red to say they’re ready to be plucked.
Advice and tips:
- The best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September
- Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc but we'd recommend bringing US dollars (post-2003 bills only) or Euros in cash. Credit cards are accepted in some hotels, but not in many other places
- Fly direct from London Gatwick to Kigali with RwandAir. The service is not daily, but it does mean you don't have to change in Amsterdam or Brussels
- The range of accommodation available in Rwanda is still fairly limited, however, there are a number of luxury hotels and lodges available such as Bisate Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Kigali Serena Hotel and Lake Kivu Serena Hotel
If our blog has got you interested in visiting Rwanda then call us today on 020 7843 3500. Our experts will be more than happy to tailor-make an itinerary to suit your exact requirements.