Still recovering from the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s tourism industry is yet to truly boom. That does not, however, make the country any less spectacular. In fact, now is the perfect time to visit if you’re looking to explore unspoiled natural beauty and spot rare creatures, such as gorillas and chimpanzees.
There are lots of opportunities to pay respect to the victims of the genocide in the country’s capital, Kigali. The Kigali Genocide Memorial, for example, displays sad but interesting stories about the lead up to and consequences of the genocide. You can also visit the Presidential Palace to see the remains of the plane crash that was thought to spark the genocide.
There is, however, plenty more to Rwanda than its tragic past, such as contemporary architecture. Be sure to visit the Kigali Convention Center, which opened in 2016, and the modern Kigali Heights shopping mall. For more retail therapy, head to markets like the huge covered Kimironko, or the creative Cootrac, where you can buy local arts and crafts.
Explore neighborhoods like Myambirambo and Kimihurura to try traditional food, such as akabenz (a pork dish), misuzu (sweet, fried plantain), and brochettes (the Rwandan version of a kebab). Alternatively, check out the Gikondo neighborhood for great bars and a vibrant salsa dancing scene.
The best hiking opportunities can be found in northern Rwanda. The Musanze district boasts a range of dormant volcanoes, including Bisoke, Sainyo, and Muhabaru. You can arrange single or multi-day hikes, during which you’ll get incredible panoramic views over the forest surroundings. At the foot of the Muhabaru Volcano, you can also enjoy the scenic twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera. Both have crystal blue waters, hilly surroundings, and great camping spots.
The northern Virunga Mountains, meanwhile, spread into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. It’s home to half of the world’s mere 900 mountain gorillas, so don’t miss out on the opportunity to track them and learn about conservation efforts in the thick bamboo forests. For more rare wildlife, take a game drive in the Akagera National Park, where you can see lions, rhinos, giraffes, elephants, and more.
The West of Rwanda is best-known for its coffee industry. Be sure to visit the coffee fields in and around Rubavu to learn about the growing process and taste a cup for yourself. Also located in the West is the beautiful Lake Kivu. Take a ride in a traditional wooden pirogue boat past local fishermen, out to rocky islands for a truly secluded escape. Afterwards, relax on the small and quiet beaches around the shore. If you’re feeling more energetic, walk the 227-kilometer-long Congo Nile Trail around most of the lake’s circumference. Along the way, you can stop off at coffee washing stations, tea plantations, and incredible lookout points.
If you didn’t see enough incredible wildlife in the North, head to the Southwest for Nyungwe National Park, the best place in Rwanda to spot chimpanzees. Explore the park’s 13 hiking trails (covering 130 kilometers), where you can spot up to 75 mammal and 300 bird species along the way. It’s best to book a tour with a park ranger if you want to see rare animals and getting incredible views of the misty mountains and impressive waterfalls.
You can stay in an ecolodge or on a campsite in the park itself, or book a room in the nearby town of Cyangugu. Here, you can unwind after a day spent trekking in Nyungwe. There are great bars and clubs near the main market, as well as spas and hot springs dotted in and around the center.
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Still recovering from the 1994 genocide, Rwanda’s tourism industry is yet to truly boom.