Rwanda, the fabled “Land of a Thousand Hills” is a small landlocked country in east-central Africa. The country lies 75 miles south of the Equator, 880 miles west of the Indian Ocean and 1,250 east of the Atlantic Ocean – literally in the heart of Africa.
Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is often described as “life changing” and with good reason. With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, seeing these gentle creatures in their natural habitat is a truly unique moment.
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Gorillas make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Trek to see them and you’ll be introduced by your expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, often crouching just a few feet away, whilst the gorillas go about their daily lives.
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 after seeing the gorillas!
Expert guides give a pre-trek briefing on specific protocols and rules for visiting the gorillas that live within an altitude of 2500 and 4000m. Porters are available to help carry backpacks and cameras, as well as helping you with your footing along your hike which can be hard work, but well worth it.
While it might have been the gorillas that entice you to Rwanda, it’s the people of Rwanda who will keep you coming back. Ancient traditions of honour and hospitality run strong here, and anybody who takes the time to discover Rwandan culture for oneself will find a proud and unique people, happy to welcome you into their lives and introduce you to their traditions.
Music and dance play an indispensable role in everyday life here, and performances range from dashing demonstrations of bravery and prowess to humorous songs, light-hearted dances, and rural artistry with roots in traditional agriculture.
Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga—a harp-like instrument with eight strings—while more celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members who collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.
The finest displays of Rwanda’s dynamic traditional musical and dance styles are performed by the Intore Dance Troupes. Performed wearing grass wigs and clutching spears this dance is a true spectacle of Rwanda.
Live dance performances can be seen at cultural villages, museums and as entertainment at many lodges and hotels across Rwanda. The Iby’ Iwacu cultural village in Musanze, and the National Museum of Rwanda have regular performances and daily dances occur at the RDB office at Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park.
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The genocide memorial in Kigali is included on every city tour and is a must-see. Rwanda’s painful past has haunted the country for years; however, their impressive recovery story has turned them into an inspiration. The genocide memorial acts as a humbling reminder to those present and honors those lost.
This is a worthwhile visit for travelers who want to gain insight into the history of genocide in Rwanda. It will also help travelers appreciate how far Rwanda has come. The memorial Center is open every day from 8am to 5pm, but the last entrance is at 4pm.
It opens at 2pm on Umuganda Saturdays (the last Saturday of every month when Rwandans get together for community clean up). There is no fee to enter; however, guides are available at a small fee. The Center is located in Gisozi.
While the largest memorial is in Kigali, the genocide touched all corners of Rwanda, and as such there are many emotionally charged memorials located throughout the country.
Some are as simple as a quiet garden space for contemplation, while others are larger and hold relics, remains, and exhibits on the genocide itself. Beyond the main memorial centre in Kigali, a few of the memorials that belong on any Rwandan itinerary include:
Akagera National Park is located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. Although founded in 1934, much of the park was re-allocated as farms and in 1997 the park was reduced in size from more than 2,500 sq km (nearly 10% of the surface area of Rwanda) to its current extent of 1,122 sq km. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera return to its former glories.
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.
Covering over 1000 square kilometers, Nyungwe National Park is surely one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests. It’s believed to be one of Africa’s oldest forests, staying green even through the Ice Age, which explains its diversity.
Home to habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primate species (including a 400-strong troop of habituated Ruwenzori Black & White Colobus), it’s also a birder’s paradise with over 300 species, including 16 endemics, and is home to 75 different species of mammal.
The “Parc National des Volcans” French for Volcanoes National Park (or PNV as it’s known by locals) lies along the Virunga Mountains, with 8 ancient volcanoes, which are shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences. While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor’s list, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys.
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