Encounter the classic safari Big Five, plus one more important resident…
Fully emerged from the dark shadow of its past, Rwanda’s diverse and beautiful landscapes tempt visitors with a fantastic array of wildlife and adventure. One of the main draws of this tiny country is a visit to the endangered Silverback Mountain Gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park – an incredible experience not to be missed. There’s much more to explore under these African skies, from the capital of Kigali to the sandy shores of Lake Kivu. Rwanda’s rolling patchwork of hills make for some great cycling and hiking terrain, while a string of volcanoes rise up in the north and rainforests shelter bountiful wildlife.
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Top three things to do in Rwanda
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this jungle-clad nation. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top three things to do in Rwanda.
Spot gorillas and other primates
Some of the world’s few remaining mountain gorillas make their home in the bamboo forests of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Coming face to face with these gentle giants and seeing the playful tumbling of their young is a profoundly moving experience. Head south to Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park to meet a troupe of other colourful characters, including chimpanzees, as well as owl-face, mangabey and golden monkeys. The Igishigishigi Trail leads through Nyungwe, with its thrilling 50m high canopy walk.
The Virunga Mountains in the northwest provide one of East Africa’s most majestic panoramas. This string of eight volcanoes rises up along Rwanda’s borders with the DRC and Uganda. Mount Bisoke has a stunning crater lake to entice you to its summit, or you might embark on a two-day trek to the country’s highest peak, Mount Karisimbi. Rwanda is known as The Land of a Thousand Hills, so if the volcanoes are too lofty, there are plenty of more gentle paths to tread.
Take a little time in Kigali
While the capital of Rwanda buzzes with a sense of forward-looking optimism, the events of its recent troubled past are ever-present. Visiting The Genocide Memorial Centre is an important if difficult stop - an emotive experience that highlights the courage and resilience of the Rwandan people. The city lives on though, transforming itself as cities do, with a thriving art scene and coffee culture, sparkling skyscrapers and a lively ‘Old Town’.
Lesser-known things to do in Rwanda
While there are many well-known things to do in Rwanda, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Rwandan adventure.
Follow the coffee trail from bean to cup
Rwanda’s third city, Huye (also known as Butare) is worth a visit for its insightful Ethnographic Museum of Rwanda which focuses on the country’s cultural history. The surrounding area is coffee country, where several plantations invite visitors to experience coffee production for themselves in a verdant countryside setting. Once you have seen the processes that are involved in cultivation and preparation of the beans, enjoy a delicious coffee right there at the source.
Feel the community spirit
Umuganda Day is a monthly community day that takes place on the last Saturday of the month. ‘Umuganda’ roughly translates as ‘coming together to achieve a common goal,’ and often involves tasks such as improving erosion control or general cleaning and environmental management. The programme has had some wonderful successes, including building schools and clinics, and fostering a shared national identity. Visitors are encouraged to get involved.
Safari adventures in Akagera National Park
With numerous lakes in the east, hills in the west and savannah inbetween, Akagera is a scenic slice of Africa located near the border with Tanzania. As well as classic African landscapes, the major attraction is the wildlife. Principally known for its abundance of antelope, you are also likely to see elephant, giraffe, zebra and buffalo. Since recent reintroduction of black rhino and a handful of lions Akagera is officially a Big 5 park, and though sightings of lion and rhino are still rare, your chances are increasing as their populations grow.
When is the best time to go to Rwanda?
Most come to Rwanda for the gorilla-trekking, which is technically a year-round activity. The optimum hiking conditions however are the dry months from mid December to early February, or the warm summer months from June to September. Though it's fine to visit outside of this time, rain can make steep paths slippery; the malaria risk is also markedly higher.
If seeing chimpanzees are your priority, the rainy seasons are preferable; these fall mid-February to early June, and mid-September to mid-December. In the dry season, chimps travel further into the forest to find food and are therefore harder to find.
Weather-wise, temperatures vary depending on altitude, but averages at around 21 degrees C in the capital, Kigali. Rain is heavy and persistent March to May, but then dry during the summer months of June to mid-September. As these are also prime gorilla-viewing months, the summer is deemed the best time to visit.
Interesting facts about Rwanda
Rwanda is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
Rwanda’s most alluring geographical features include 23 lakes, five volcanoes and countless rivers and forests. It has a very green and attractive landscape.
The Volcanoes National Park has the highest number of rare mountain gorillas anywhere in the world, and the highest number of habituated groups.
Women hold 64 percent of the seats in the Rwanda parliament, making it the single house parliament with the highest percentage of women anywhere in the world.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to the largest arboreal troops of primates anywhere in Africa - huge groups of up to 400 colobus monkeys roaming the treetops.
Rwanda has been ranked the second safest country on the African continent by Gallup, who collate the rankings using extensive surveys of the population as well as other statistics.
Plastic bags were banned in Rwanda a decade ago, making it a trailblazer for environmental safety. Use of plastic bags or packaging is punishable by fines, and even jail for large scale import or distribution of plastic.
What to read before you go to Rwanda
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Rwanda, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Road Trip Rwanda: A Journey Into the New Heart of Africa' by Will Ferguson
A story of friendship, adventure and compassion as the author travels through Rwanda as it forges forward into the modern world. Touching and insightful.
'Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust' by Immaculée Ilibagiza
The author lived through the truly harrowing times of the Rwandan genocide, in which many of her family members were slaughtered. This incredible book is testament to strength, faith, and the power of forgiveness.
'A Thousand Hills to Heaven' by Josh Ruxin
Against the dark history of Rwanda's great tragedy, this memoir shines a light of hope. The account of Josh and his family to set up a restaurant near Kigali is full of love and struggles but overall it is an inspirational tale of success.
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