Rwanda…Land of a Thousand Hills

By Staff Writer

 On a map Rwanda is just a tiny little speck, almost dead centre in the middle of Africa. But spread over more than a thousand forest-covered hills and lakes, it is a country of exquisite beauty, reborn with a dynamic heartbeat out of a tragic past. Today Rwanda knows peace and prosperity and has established herself as one of Africa’s thriving success stories. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism to this beautiful landlocked country was booming, and its sure to pick up in leaps and bounds again soon. Of course, one of Rwanda’s main attractions that draws people from all over the world, is its population of mountain gorillas, with half the world’s remaining gorillas living here. But trekking into the forested parks and mountains, you’ll also find a number of other fascinating primates here, such as the funny and fun-loving Sykes monkey, the magnificent golden monkey and the playful chimpanzee of the Nyungwe Forest.

To find the world’s largest population of wild mountain gorillas, however, you’ll have to hike up through the wet rainforests and bamboo that cover the slopes of the Virunga Massif in the Volcanoes National Park, with a knowledgeable guide leading the way. However, you’ll be thoroughly rewarded for your hard effort with an experience of a lifetime, coming up close and within breathing distance of these gentle giants. It is here where Dian Fossey carried out her ground-breaking gorilla research and introduced the world to the plight of these great creatures so closely related to us human beings. While in the area, you can also visit productive coffee plantations or engage with locals and their culture in nearby communities.

 

A country reinvented

About the same size as Lesotho, or less than half of the Free State province of South Africa, Rwanda is truly a country reinvented. The country and her people have fully recovered from their tragic past – a civil war followed by Africa’s worst genocide. Today, however, her people live in harmony and the country is safe, clean and prosperous.

Known as the land of a thousand hills, Rwanda offers visitors stunning scenery and the hospitality of her warm, friendly people. A variety of unique experiences make Rwanda one of the most remarkable countries in the world. Here one finds the most extraordinary biodiversity, incredible wildlife, lakes and mountains, volcanoes, montane rainforest, sweeping plains and in the middle, Kigali, the capital and a bustling commercial centre.

Rwanda finds herself being the guardian of many iconic wildlife species, and as such is fully committed to responsible tourism in her four national parks as a source of income to protect and study these animals while also developing the surrounding communities. The country and its government are strongly focused on maintaining a harmonious relationship between her people and nature. For instance, Rwanda banned plastic bags back in 2008 and is probably one of the cleanest, most rubbish-free countries in Africa. The government also spends ten per cent of all income derived from tourist permits and park fees, in partnership with local communities, for their development and improving their lives.

Rwanda is ranked as the second easiest place to do business in Africa by the World Bank and has been awarded for its leadership in tourism and economic competitiveness by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) and the World Economic Forum respectively.

Explore by car, on foot or on water

Located just south of the Equator, in the very heart of Africa, you can experience within a single week an extraordinary range of wildlife, landscapes and experiences here thanks to the country’s relatively small size and its wonderful biodiversity. But top of your agenda must be the gorillas, as an experience with them is like no other. You can watch them foraging, playing, taking care of their little ones, teasing each other, eating or napping, all in an astonishing reminder of ourselves. You’ll immediately see the sense of close-knit community and love that they have.

When not trekking for gorillas, you may want to spend a morning traversing the rich vegetation at the foot of Mount Sabyinyo in search of one of two habituated groups of golden monkeys, one of them a troop of more than 80 members.

Rwanda has a good road network and is easy to explore by car, with a popular circuit between the various national parks that passes through magnificent scenery. And when you are done driving, the country fully lends itself to be further explored on foot, by cycle, or in a kayak. As if that’s not enough, for the best aerial views there is a canopy walkway across the rainforest, helicopter tours and even tandem flights by paramotor.

Four national parks

Volcanoes National Park

Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of a magnificent mountain range that gives it its name – a chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif of Karisimbi, the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura. These slopes are the home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.

Tracking the mountain gorillas takes one through the mysterious and enchanting intimacy of the rainforest, alive all around you with the calls of 200 species of colourful birds and the excited chattering of the rare golden monkey. Within the boundaries of Volcanoes National Park are Buhanga Eco-Park, an ancient forest that is the home of Rwanda’s most intriguing folklore and the Musanze Caves, formed 62 million years ago after the last estimated volcanic eruption. Here hiking, canoeing, mountain biking and village experiences offer something for everyone to enjoy.

Akagera National Park

The relatively warm and low-lying plains of Akagera comprise savannah, woodland, wetland and a dozen lakes. In partnership with African Parks, lions and rhinos have been reintroduced here, which means visitors can once again hope to see the Big Five on safari drives through the park.

Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe National Park boasts one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, rich in biodiversity and spectacularly beautiful. The mountainous region teams with wildlife, including a small population of chimpanzees as well as 12 other species of primate.

Gishwati Mukura National Park

The fourth of Rwanda’s beautiful national parks is Gishwati Mukura, made up of two separate forests – the larger Gishwati and smaller Mukura. It is home to chimpanzees, golden, blue and L’Hoest’s monkeys as well as many bird species and smaller animals.

Other attractions

Lake Kivu

This beautiful lake with its tranquil waters and misty mornings forms part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Lake Kivu is dotted with islands, covesand inlets along its forest-covered shoreline, with charming beach resorts, spectacular vistas and plenty of opportunities for hiking and cycling. A few days spent on the shores of this lake will have you never again wanting to leave.

Rubavu – previously known as Gisenyi – is a large town on the northern edge of Lake Kivu, an hour’s drive from Volcanoes National Park and the perfect place to relax after gorilla trekking. Once a colonial beach resort of note, Rubavu’s waterfront is lined with fading old mansions, hotels and trendy bars on the lakeshore, ideal for sundowner cocktails.

Karongi, halfway along the lake, is a popular beach resort with hillsides covered in pines and eucalyptus that serve as a backdrop to the sparkling lake. At dawn and dusk, the sound of local fisherman singing can be heard across the water as they paddle their boats.

From Rubavu in the north, the Congo Nile Trail extends 227 kilometres through breathtaking landscapes all the way to Rusizi on the south of Lake Kivu. The trail winds gently through hills and mountains beside around the lake with eucalyptus trees and banana plantations abounding. For the more adventurous a kayaking tour on Lake Kivu is very popular. Or you can go mountain biking or hiking one of the 6 off-the-beaten path stages of the spectacular Congo Nile Trail.

Other lakes

There are a number of other water bodies in Rwanda, namely Lake Muhazi, Lake Ihema, Lake Bulera, Lake Ruhondo, and Lake Mugesera.

Ethnographic Museum

The Ethnographic Museum was a gift from Belgium’s King Badouin to the people of Rwanda in the late 1980s. It now houses one of Africa’s finest ethnographic collections and, together with 5 other museums, make up the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda.

At the Ethnographic Museum, seven galleries display historical, ethnographic, artistic and archaeological artefacts accompanied by visual aids, giving visitors a rich insight into the Rwandan culture. The exhibits open with geographical and geological displays, moving on to items used in hunting, agriculture, animal husbandry, pottery, weaving and woodwork.

Traditional clothing and architectural methods are also illustrated, as well as the social importance of cattle. Descendants of the royal herd can be seen to this day at the King’s Palace in nearby Nyanza. The final room reveals traditional customs and beliefs, history, culture, poetry and oral tradition and cosmology. There’s also a highly regarded craft centre on site.

A thriving capital and other cities

Kigali

Conveniently located right in the centre of Rwanda, Kigali has developed across several hills and valleys, that gives it a beauty and charm second to none. Here the old and the new exists side by side in splendid harmony. The city is clean, safe and vibrant, yet pleasantly low key and laid back, with good road links to the rest of the country. It is home to just over one million people. Visitors always remark how unbelievably clean the streets are, which is a matter of pride in communities across the country who all do their part to keep it that way.

Kigali is a relatively young city, founded just over 100 years ago as an administrative outpost in 1907. It became the capital of the country at independence in 1962, shifting focus away from the previous administrative centre of Huye. The city’s wide tree-lined boulevards and immaculate squares are safe to stroll. There is a burgeoning art scene, as well as a growing number of pleasant options to dine out or pubs where one can enjoy a few drinks, many with astonishing views. The Kigali Cultural Village offers a dedicated space for local artisans and food vendors to exhibit and trade their goods.

Kigali is developing rapidly, with new shopping malls, office buildings and a world-class convention centre built in the style of the King’s Palace of olden days, which lights up the night sky atop of one of the many hills.

Rubavu

This is a lovely waterfront town situated on the shores of Lake Kivu, with red sandy beaches, warm clean water and an easy-going tropical character.

Karongi

A popular beach retreat on the shores of Lake Kivu, the town offers majestic vistas, a tranquil atmosphere and easy access from Kigali.

Musanze

Close to the Volcanoes National Park, Musanze you’ll find this hassle-free and buzzing city, with plenty of choice for eating out, ATMs to withdraw cash, vibrant nightlife, markets and artisanal trades.

Nyanza

This is a town steeped in history and tradition. It is home to a reconstruction of the King’s Palace – a traditional royal residence and beautifully-crafted thatched dwelling shaped like a beehive.

Rusizi

Rusizi is a small town on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the closest town to Nyungwe National Park. Budget accommodation here will appeal to self-drive visitors on their way to the National Park.

Huye

This is a peaceful and compact centre that owes its founding to the early colonial era. Today it is a centre of academia, as well as housing the Ethnographic Museum.

Kibeho

Kibeho Parish has been a global pilgrimage destination for Roman Catholics since the Virgin Mary appeared here on 28 November 1981.

 

  • Information courtesy of Rwanda Development Board
  • Handy Information

 

Official NameRepublic of Rwanda
CapitalKigali
CurrencyRwandan Franc (FRW)
Time ZoneUTC +2 (Central Africa Time)
Size26,338 Km²
Population12.3 million
Climate & weatherTwo rainy seasons, March – May and October – November, with an average rainfall of 110-200 mm per month. The average temperature ranges from 24.6 to 27.6 degrees Celsius, with the hottest months being August and September.
Per capita GDPUS$787
Average Altitude1000m – 4500m sea level
Getting ThereAirlines servicing Kigali International Airport are RwandAir, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, KLM, Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines.
ContactRwanda Development Board (RDB) – Tel +250 727 775 170

(or 1415 from within Rwanda)

RDB Websitewww.visitrwanda.com