Rwanda, one of Africa’s smallest countries and one with a painful past, is also one of the most exciting and modern. It leads the way in tourism East Africa, with plenty to offer visitors and easy accessibility compared to other places. Adventure, history, food, wildlife, and culture cross paths with one of the cleanest, safest, and most forward facing enviroments on the continent. If you’ve ever had doubts about what this little country can offer, here are 15 things to do in Rwanda that will change your mind.
1) See Some of the World’s Last Mountain Gorillas
One of the main draws to Rwanda is a once in a lifetime chance to interact with some of the last mountain gorillas in the world. Concentrated in Volcanoes National Park on the border with Uganda and the DRC, tourists come from all over the world and trek through the mountainous jungle for an up close and personal hour observing a gorilla family. There are strict rules the guides enforce about keeping your distance from them, however, some precious youngsters have been known to climb on and interact with awe-struck visitors.
2) Explore Kigali
One of the cleanest, safest, and most efficient capitals in Africa, Kigali has something for everyone. From museums and arts collectives, to international restaurants and bars, if you can’t find something to do, the problem may lie with you. With a wide range of accommodation for every traveler’s budget, hit Papyrus or Sundowner and you’ll quickly make new friends dancing the night away til sunrise. Don’t say we didn’t warn you, though!
3) Visit the National Museum
Take a bus to Butare (now Huye) 90 minutes south of Kigali and visit the National Museum which was a gift from the Belgians to celebrate 25 years of independence in 1989. The museum features artifacts and exhibits from the entire country and is a great day trip.
4) Kick Back On Lake Kivu
Take a trip to Gisenyi or Kibuye on Lake Kivu and forget all your problems with a drink as you watch the sun set over Congo on the other side. You can also rent a boat from local fishermen to take you out to smaller islands. With warm weather all year long and hills that dive into the blue waters, there aren’t many more idyllic places in East Africa.
5) Visit a Coffee Plantation
Rwanda is known for having some of the best coffee in the world. Many of the cooperatives and communities offer informative and in some cases, participatory experiences. Some even have guesthouses on the premises. If that’s not as fresh as a cup of Joe gets, we’re not sure what is!
6) Pay Your Respects to the Dead at a Genocide Memorial
Rwanda has come an incredibly long way since the genocide in 1994 that killed close to a million people. Through national reconciliation and education, Rwanda and the world wants to make sure it never happens again. There is an excellent but sobering memorial and museum in Kigali along with other sites scattered throughout the country paying tribute to those who lost their lives.
7) Visit the Hotel Rwanda
In the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’ Don Cheadle famously portrayed hotel owner Paul Rusesabagina, who saved 1,300 people from certain death during the genocide. The Hotel des Milles Collines has reopened and is now one of the swankest spots in town. Local celebrities and even President Kagame are routinely spotted. So spring for a drink and relax at the pool, if you can afford it!
8) Visit Nyungwe Forest National Park
Descend into a Jurassic Park-like world where the jungle is so thick you can’t see what’s ahead of you and a thick fog shrouds the cries of nature all around. Track chimpanzees, golden monkeys, hike to waterfalls, or do a canopy walk above the primordial rainforest at one of Rwanda’s main attractions.
9) See The Royal Palace of the Mwami
Head south to Nyanza for a tour of the former royal palace and grounds of the ancient Mwamis (kings) of Rwanda. Learn about Rwanda’s history and see the royal cows that are renowned for their beauty and horns which can reach diameters of over two meters (six feet)!
10) Tour the Presidential Palace Museum
Visit the lush and truly palatial estate of former Rwandan presidents just east of the city. You’ll get a private tour of the estate and house which featured its own nightclub and secret loft which could be used in times of national crisis. Adjacent to the grounds you can see the remains of President Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane which was shot down, igniting the genocide in 1994.
11) Visit a Traditional Village
Most of Rwanda is rural and there are plenty of opportunities to interact with locals through women’s and arts collectives. Some simple googling will lead you to different organizations that will give you an opportunity to experience what life is like for the majority of Rwandans for a small fee. Combine this with a homestay and you’ll be speaking Kinyarwanda and carrying things on your head in no time!
12) Go to Musanze
Cool down in this laid back town in the shadow of volcanoes. Don’t worry, though. None are active like Nyiragongo over the border in Congo. With opportunities to visit the nearby lake, visit a basket weaving collective, and even hike some of the volcanoes, this is another great place to relax if you’re not the sun and sand type.
13) Trek the Congo-Nile Trail
As a new government sponsored initiative spanning the length of Lake Kivu from Gisenyi up north to Cyangugu in the south, this trek can take two weeks by foot or closer to one if you link up with an outfitter and rent a bike. Pass through valleys, villages, and coffee plantations with children running after you in delight, or do sections for a day hike if you’re not in shape for longer jaunts.
14) Explore Akagera National Park
Head east if you’re looking for a safari experience as Akagera has buffalo, elephants, leopards, elephants, giraffes, and more. Take a guide through the bush and camp out in the open with the sounds of the savannah as your soundtrack. Or, opt for the luxurious and stay at a tented lodge.
15) Rent a Moto or Car
Despite its size, Rwanda has so much to offer. One of the best ways to explore the country and its magical mountains is to rent a motorcycle or car and just get out there. With some of the best paved roads in the region and so much to discover, Rwanda is the perfect place for an adventurous road trip.
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