Rwanda travel guide
2 MINUTE SUMMARY
Visiting Rwanda is a bit like doing a triathlon. It’s challenging, exciting, tiring and emotional. It also has three important aspects: people and culture, national parks and gorilla watching. It is most celebrated for its gorilla populations and strictly managed safaris in Volcanoes National Park. However, Rwanda’s other two national parks are also habitat havens. Nyungwe boasts chimps and other primates, and Akagera is a veritable ark.
It is the people, their history and culture that will make your heart skip a beat or two, however. As you find out not only in the beyond moving genocide memorials, but also by immersing yourself in the infectiously life-affirming culture. Dancing in Kigale’s music hotspots or taking a walking tour in its Nyamirambo Muslim quarter. Head out on a night trip with the fishermen of Lake Kivu, listen to their "ekiovu" songs echoing across this mountain enveloped waterscape, and you’ll get a medal if you aren’t moved to tears.
Our Rwanda travel guide has more details.
reborn. And you will feel that way too after visiting it.
just about gorillas.
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Rwanda map & highlights
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
This landlocked East African country is not much bigger than Wales, yet has one of the largest rainforest national parks in Africa, one of its Great Lakes and one of the world’s most prolific populations of mountain gorillas. Despite also having one of the world’s most pioneering and progressive wildlife conservation management systems for gorilla safaris, infrastructure is still lagging behind some other African tourist favourites, but this is part of its beauty. Be sure to get off the tourist trail from time to time. Best way is to hop on one of Kigali’s motorbike taxis and see what the city and nearby mountains have to offer. Coffee, chat and great local cuisine. All accompanied by Rwandans’ infectious charm and charisma.
Akagera National Park
On the border with Tanzania, this is game drive central although without the crowds of other East African parks. With open savanna on one side, mountains on the other and wetlands in between, the park is habitat heaven for giraffe, zebra, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and impala, with a few shy lions and elephants. The lakes and marshes make for superb bird watching too.
The first or last stop for many visitors is Kigali Genocide Museum and Memorial, en route to or from the airport. Best not make it your first stop though, but take time to absorb the country’s beauty and rebirth first. The Nyamata and Ntarama Genocide Memorials, both under an hour from Kigali, are also must visits, once churches where thousands were massacred during the 1994 genocide when over a million Rwandans were killed.
Volcanoes NP is part of a magnificent massif that minds mountain gorillas. Always book through a specialist wildlife tour operator, as you need to get a permit (up to $750) to grant a visit with a chosen ‘family’. Supervised by highly trained guides, you can only stay in their presence for one hour. Rwanda knows that gorillas are like godfathers; elusive and alluring, protection money don’t come cheap. Because family always comes first.
A busy metropolis set among lush valleys, Kigali, often left off travel itineraries, is kickin’. Jump on the back of a motorbike taxi and visit Kimironko market at dawn, the famous Panorama Ten to Two shack for lunch, go for a walking tour in the Nyamirambo Muslim quarter in the afternoon, and enjoy the music at one of the city’s various music spots, be it Rwandan rap or Congolese Rhumba, throughout the night.
One of the African Great Lakes straddling the border with DRC. Take a day trip out on the water and bask in the views of the enveloping Virunga massif. Even better, ask your tour operator to organise a night time fishing trip with the Lake Kivu fishermen in Kibuye, who light up the lake with lanterns hanging off their handmade elegant wooden boats, to attract the small sambaza fish (a Rwandan fried specialty).
Nyungwe National Park
The largest swathe of tropical rainforest in East Africa, this is over 1,000km² of primate paradise, with a colossal collection of chimpanzees, plus Ruwenzori colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys. It also has 130km of hiking trails of varying lengths. The shortest one, the Igishigishigi Trail, takes in East Africa’s highest canopy walk, and the longer Bigugu Trail leads you to the park’s eponymous highest mountain at 2,950m.
Volcanoes National Park
Dramatically beautiful, with six active and three extinct volcanoes, and home to the far from extinct mountain gorilla. The latter is the park’s biggest pull, however this Rwandan section of the Virunga Massif that straddles Rwanda, Uganda and DRC, has many other hiking trails to explore, without going in search of gorillas. Seek them out and you might spot endemic golden monkeys, forest elephants or buffalo.