Rwanda, a small, landlocked country in Eastern Africa, has arisen from its recent war-torn past to become a beautiful, intriguing tourist destination. Its citizens take great pride in rebuilding their homeland and preserving it for themselves and the multitudes of creatures who live among the expansive hills, forests, and lakes. "Africa's Switzerland" is especially famous for gorilla and chimpanzee trekking and birding. The opportunities to immerse yourself in nature are endless, as well as chances to soak in traditional and contemporary culture. In Rwanda, you can satisfy your hunger for adventure in many ways.
When you visit Kigali, you'll understand why the United Nations called it Africa's most beautiful city. It's among the safest and cleanest places on the continent. The temperate weather makes the city an attractive destination all year. Kigali is centrally located in Rwanda, making it the gateway to culture, arts, and nature. There's even a 5-D movie theater for a truly immerse entertainment experience.
If you want to break away from the big city or wind down between hiking and gorilla tracking, head up to Africa's highest lake. Sitting almost a mile up, Lake Kivu offers beaches for swimming and some of the most spectacular views of the Virunga volcanoes. There are three major port towns around it that range from extremely remote to highly developed.
Follow mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park, a small wildlife refuge about two hours west of Kigali. You will likely encounter over 70 other kinds of mammals, including spotted hyenas, buffaloes and elephants. Bird watchers could see 180 or more species of birds, 26 of which are native to this area. You can also visit the grave of Dian Fossey, American conservationist and author of the book-turned-film Gorillas in the Mist. Take a rigorous trek around the rim of active volcano Nyiragongo and look straight into a seething pot of lava.
See a bat colony in the Musanze caves located just outside of Kigali at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park. These caves formed as lava flows joined and created the Albertine Rift Valley. They are over one mile long with 31 entrances, the main entrance being over 6 miles long. You can see unusual colored light shafts through the roof collapses as you walk through what looks like a house with rooms and stairs. This attraction is a little pricey but well worth the unique experience.
See live enactments of Rwandan culture at the Iby'iwacu Cultural Village, also near Volcanoes National Park. Iby'iwacu, which means "treasure of our home," presents customs of the Hutu, Batwa, and Tutsi, the country's three major tribes. Try your hand at preparing traditional foods and pottery and move to traditional dances. You can also go on a community walk to visit traditional herbalists and the former king's palace.
About a 4-5 hour drive from Kigali, Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to over 400 chimpanzees and over 70 other species of mammals. More than 300 bird species nest here as well. A canopy walk leads you over the lush terrain while hiking trails take you deep into the park, closer to waterfalls, marshes, primate safaris and more.
The Rusumo Falls, Rwanda's largest waterfalls, flows between the Rwandan and Tanzanian border posts. The best time to see them is during the wet season. You can get the best views from the bridge between the border posts, and you are allowed to drive or walk there. While the falls aren't that tall, they still produce a dramatic display.
The birth of gorillas is a cause for massive celebrations throughout Rwanda. If you are fortunate to attend the country-wide Kwita Izina, the Gorilla Naming Ceremony, you'll see how Rwandans introduce baby gorillas to their local communities and give the babies formal names. The event includes galas all over Rwanda, which shows how much they value these amazing wild creatures.
Every May, thousands of runners from more than 20 countries participate in the International Peace Marathon. This event is always bustling with excitement and unity. It's a challenging race that offers an opportunity to explore the lovely hill country. You might want to get some altitude training before this race as the altitude reaches almost one mile.
While you’re in the Land of a Thousand Hills, shop like the locals at Kimironko Market in Kigali. This busy marketplace has vendors selling everything from groceries to electronics to handmade clothes and woodwork. You may even be able to have someone make an outfit just for you. If you know how to bargain and stand your ground, you’ll be right at home here.