Over half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population, it’s no surprise that the majority of guests visit Rwanda to track and view our highly endangered cousins. Rwanda is superb for primates in general, including the fun-loving Sykes monkey, the Golden monkey, and the boisterous chimpanzee in the Nyungwe Forest.
Rwanda is a landlocked country in East Africa that has a lot of tourist attractions in different parts of the country. With lush green hills covering the larger part of the country, Rwanda is best known for being home to the endangered Mountain gorillas and the genocide that took place in 1994 leaving many people dead and others displaced.
When the new government came into power, their aim was to create unity and this can be seen in the country many years later. The Rwandan government has also invested a lot into tourism through marketing and making sure that there are enough attractions and activities that tourists can engage in while here. In this article, we will find out some of the things that you can engage in and should not miss out while on a safari to Rwanda and these have been listed below;
- Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
The volcanoes National Park is located in Musanze village in the North-western part of the country. It is nestled between the Virunga National Park in Congo and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The volcanoes National Park is home to quite a large number of Gorillas and the main activity that is carried out by tourists in the Park is gorilla trekking. The Volcanoes National Park is a great destination for all those that are interested in gorilla trekking with about 18 habituated gorilla families with only 12 of these families available for trekking. Gorilla trekking will take roughly about an hour as tourists are divided into groups and each assigned a family to trek.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda can only be done after one gets a trekking permit and since the permits are always in high demand, it is advisable that you purchase your gorilla trekking permit 3 to 6 months before the slated date of your trip. A gorilla permit in Rwanda goes for $1500 per person. As you plan for the trek remember to follow all the instructions given to you before the start like not getting too close to the gorillas, switching off your camera flashlight while taking photos, and not feeding the primates among other things.
Gorilla trekking can be carried out all throughout the year although the best time is during the dry season which is experienced between June and September. Many of the gorilla trail tracks are accessible during the dry season which makes it easy to trek unlike during the wet season when the roads are slippery. With the rains coming in heavy during the wet season, the gorilla permits are easy to get and you also get to enjoy the park with fewer crowds although it is extremely hard to navigate through the wet trails.
- Chimpanzee Tracking in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park located in the southwestern part of Rwanda is one of the top tourist destinations in the country. It is best known for being home to a large number of primates from colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees which are the top attraction here. Nyungwe National Park has over 500 chimpanzees with 90 gorilla communities that are habituated and all these are open to the public all throughout the year. 30 of these habituated chimpanzee communities are found in the Cyamudongo forest whereas the other 60 are found in the Nyungwe forest.
Tourists are divided into different groups of not more than 8 people and each of these gets approximately one hour with the family that they have been assigned to. The chimpanzees are a little bit hard to trek since they keep on moving from one place to the next but with the habituated chimps, it is easier since they are used to having people around them. Chimpanzee trekking is normally done in the morning that is as early as 5:00 am after a briefing from the authorities on what to do and what to expect. Nyungwe has three sections from where you can start your trek from and these are the Uwinka section, the Kitabi section, and the Gisakura section.
All tourists need a chimpanzee trekking permit and these go for $90 per person per day for all foreign non-residents and only $60 for foreign residents. The chimpanzee permit can be booked through the tour operator of your choice and they should also be booked in advance. The best time for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe is during the dry season from June to around October when the trek trails are passable unlike the wet season when they are all muddy. But since Nyungwe National Park is filled with rain forest trees, it receives rainfall all throughout the year and as you plan for your trekking experience, it is advisable that you carry with you a raincoat to avoid getting wet.
- Golden Monkey Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Golden monkeys are one of the top tourist attractions in Rwanda and they are only found in the Volcanoes National Park which lies within the Virunga region. Golden monkey trekking is one of the most participated in activities in the Volcanoes National Park with gorilla trekking topping the list. The golden monkeys are a rare species that can easily be identified by the golden spots on their fur which makes them beautiful and exciting to look at. They usually feed on bamboo shoots and branches although sometimes they venture out into feeding on fresh potatoes.
It is extremely easy to trek the golden monkeys as compared to the gorillas and it will take you a shorter time to trek them down. The best way to trek after these monkeys that keep on moving from one place to the next is by following the bamboo shoots left behind by the monkeys. There are a few rules that you should try to follow while trekking and these are to shut off your shutter while taking photos as this normally chases away the monkeys and keep a distance.
You will need a trekking permit which costs about $100 per person per day and note that without a permit, you will not be allowed to enter the National Park. it’s best done during the dry season and if possible, you can join the golden monkey trekking and gorilla trekking while in the volcanoes national park.
- Game Drives in Akagera National Park
The Akagera National Park is found in the eastern part of the country and was named after the Kagera River. The park covers a large piece of protected land filled with swampy Lakes and dense vegetation. Game drives are the most participated in activities in the Akagera National Park and these can be done both during the day and night.
Day game drives: these are carried out in two phases, in the morning and in the afternoon. The morning game drive usually begins at 7:00 am or 8:00 am till mid-afternoon and during this drive, you can spot the early rising animals and the numerous bird species like the Caruthers’s cisticola, Senegal Lapwing, long-crested Eagle, Rwenzori Batis, Red-throated alethe, and the black-headed weaver. The afternoon drive starts after lunch at around 3:00 pm till late in the evening.
The night game drives: these start out late in the evening after dinner and they help you see most of the nocturnal animals that hide away during the day and those that hunt at night and they are carried out in the parks safari vehicle. Favorites that are seen during the night include leopards, impalas, bushbucks, and lions among others. You will need a spotlight that will help you see the animals better in the dark and the good thing about the night drives through Akagera is that since most of the animals are resting, you get to view a large number of them which is not the case during the day when they are on the move. At an approximate fee of USD40, an experienced tour guide will take you around the Akagera night game drive while explaining more about the animal species you will see.
Some of the animals you should expect to see while on a game drive through Akagera include the lions (introduced in 2015), leopards, elephants, the black rhino (introduced in 2019), hippos, zebras, antelopes, bushbucks, elephants, and many more. The best time for game drives through the Akagera National Park is during the dry season which is experienced from June to September. During the dry season, the animals are easy to spit due to the thinned-out vegetation and many of the animals can be spotted gathering along the Akagera River during this season.
- Bird Watching in Nyungwe & Nyabarongo
Bird watching is one of the many activities that tourists who visit the country engage in and some of the birding destinations that you should check out are the Nyungwe National Park and the Nyabarongo wetlands. You will need a permit in order to be able to go for birding at these two locations and the best time to go is between July and Late March.
Nyungwe National Park is known for having dense forests which sometimes makes trekking through the Park hard but there are trek routes that are in the park which you can follow to enjoy the birding experience. The most commonly used trek trails for birding in Nyungwe include the Kamiranzovu trail, Karamba trail, Gisakura trails, and the Bigugu trails. Bird species commonly seen in Nyungwe include the Doherty Bushrike, Rwenzori Baits, Regal Sunbird, Congo bay owlet, Kivu ground thrush, Red-collared Mountain Babbler, red-faced woodland warbler, Grey crested Kakamega, Grauer’s swamp warbler, short-tailed warbler, Mountain Masked Apalis, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, and many more others.
The Nyabarongo wetlands which are home to about 50 bird species get their water from the Nyabarongo River, the longest River in Rwanda. Found in the southeastern part of the country, this protected area is home to a wide range of bird species some of which are near-extinct all over the world. The birds in Nyabarongo can be seen in their natural habitat that is the dense vegetation in the swamp and the wetland itself. The bird species that you should look out for in Nyabarongo include the papyrus canary, papyrus yellow warbler, Madagascar Squacco Heron, the white collared olive back, Carruthers’s cisticola, Northern brown-throated weaver, and the papyrus Gonolek. It is also home to the three species of the Lake Victoria Biome and the Afrotropical Biome.
- Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is found in the Western part of Rwanda near the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It is one of the smallest Lakes in the Great Rift Valley with a depth of about 485m and it is considered to have the best scenic view in Rwanda. The Lake is surrounded by beautiful beaches, hills, fishing villages and it is not so far away from the volcanoes National Park. Lake Kivu contains both Methane and carbon dioxide which can lead to eruptions when the two gases meet and although it has not yet happened in Rwanda, scientists believe it will happen and the locals living around it should be more careful.
There are various activities that will keep you on your toes while on a tour to the Lake Kivu include kayaking, Mountain biking, nature walks, island hopping due to the various Islands that are found along Lake Kivu like the Nyamirundi, Munini, and Amahoro Islands, birding where you get to see bird species like the African pied wagtail, common waxbill, Tropical Boubou, the African fish eagle to mention but a few, water sports like boat cruises between the different Islands, sport fishing, enjoy the beaches and many more others.
- Tea Plantations
Tea was introduced in Rwanda in the 1950s becoming the second largest cash crop grown in the country after coffee. There are several tea plantations scattered across the hills of Rwanda some of which are owned by individuals whereas the others are owned by companies but the most commonly visited and easy to get to by the public are the Gisovu and the Gisakura tea estate and a tour through the tea plantations normally takes about 3 to 4 hours.
The highest percentage of the tea that is produced in Rwanda is exported to the different countries across the world while the rest is supplied to the local market. Note although most of the tours around the plantations are done by the farmers, you cannot book the tour with the owners of the plantations and the only way you can get a tour to the tea plantations is by booking through a tour operator.
Gisakura tea estate: this is the most commonly visited tea estate in the country and is located along the western part of the Nyungwe National Park. The tea estate covers a large area and on a tour through the plantation, you get to see the tea in its different stages, get to meet the locals, taste the tea straight from the factory, and also join in other activities carried out around the plantation.
The Gisovu tea estate: Gisovu plantation is also located along the Nyungwe forest but in the Northern part. A walk through the tea estate will give you a great view of the forest, the tea plants in their several stages; you can also go Mountain biking here and also enjoy the cupping ceremony after the tour.
The Pfund tea estate: this is known to be the largest tea estate in the country producing the largest tea productions. Located just below the Virunga volcano, it covers large hectares of land and your tour of the plantation will give you an insight into how the tea is grown, harvested, and how it is processed.
- Visit National Museums
The National Museum of Rwanda found in Butare was constructed in the year 1989 and is a favorite place for tourists who want to know more about the country’s history. The National Museum is found along the same route leading to the Nyungwe National park and s stopover here will give you an insight into the unique culture of the Banyarwanda throughout history. There are galleries here that showcase ancient tools, pottery, photos, the royal regalia and this dates back to over 500 years ago.
There will be guides who will take you around the National park explaining more about the genocide, how far the country has come since then, and also how the royal families and presidents lived before the genocide took place. You can also visit the statehouse Museum which was once a presidential palace and President Habyarimana was the last president to occupy it before it was turned into a museum. This is where the plane crash for Habyarimana took place and the wreckage is still there. Tourists visit the palace to get to know more about Habyarimana and how the genocide started.
- Kigali Genocide Memorial
Kigali genocide memorial Constructed in the year 2004, the Kigali Genocide Memorial was set up in memory of every person who lost their lives during the 1994 Genocide which saw thousands of people lose their lives. It is located in Gisozi which is north of the capital city and it has sections within it that show the outside world, survivors, and the younger generation what happened years ago and the goodness of unity. There is a garden, an exhibition of both photos and bones of the dead, and a mass grave where most of the people who are buried here have not yet been identified. Names of all those who lost their lives have been put up and more are still being added on so that they are remembered and honored by everyone who visits the memorial.
- Kigali City Centre
Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda and it has been voted as the cleanest and most organized capital city in East Africa. Many tourists see Kigali as a stopover before continuing to the different National Parks across the country but Kigali has a lot to offer and that is why it is safe to at least put in a few hours while you explore the city. Kigali is a well-organized city with good infrastructures such as roads, accommodation and a trip around will not be a waste of time.
Once you decide to explore Kigali, the first stop should be at the Kigali Genocide memorial where you learn about what happened during the genocide and also honor the dead through the viewing of the photos and names placed on the fall for those that did not survive. The other stop will be at Rwanda arts museum, take a hike up the Kigali Mountain, go horse riding, meet the locals, get entertained by the local dances, a visit to the museum of natural history, visit the famous Hotel des Milles Collines, shop at the different markets in the city and also enjoy local meals served within the different restaurants across the city.
- Enjoy Rwanda Food
Rwanda cuisine trip to the country will have you eating some of the best local dishes that are prepared in the different hotels across the cities. With agriculture being one of the main activities carried out by the locals, Rwanda’s food normally consists of peas, millet, beans, maize, sweet potatoes, bananas, fish fresh from the Lakes because the locals rarely eat meat, lots of fruits and not forgetting the international cuisines that are served up in the urban hotels.
Some of the popular local dishes you should try out include Isombe consists of mashed dried fish and mashed cassava leave, Ibihaza which is a cut-up pumpkin that is boiled with beans, Matolie which is basically steamed or baked plantains, igisafuria where the dish for the day is prepared from a pot and Ugali which is made from maize flour mixed with hot water. When it comes to local drinks lookout for Ikiviguto which is fermented milk, Icayi and this is normal black tea, and Urwagwa which is a locally made beverage from bananas known as banana beer.
- Rwanda Cultural Tours
Rwanda is a country that has a unique culture that can be experienced in the different parts of the country. There are three ethnic groups in Rwanda, the Tusti who were cattle keepers, the Twa who were gatherers, and the Hutus who were hunters. A cultural trip to Rwanda will give you a chance to get to know more about the locals through one on one interactions, participating in traditional songs and dances among other things.
There are a lot of things and places that you can get to experience the Rwandan culture and these are exploring the King’ palace in Nyanza where royal regalia that was used by the former kings in Rwanda are kept, the numerous genocide memorial Centres that have been set up in the different parts of the country in remembrance of those that lost their lives, take a walk through the Iby’iwacu cultural village where you will get to learn more about the culture of the Rwanda people ranging from the day to day activities carried out in a homestead to the food and a visit to the Bugesera Reconciliation village where most of the survivors of the genocide who lost their properties were relocated.
- Canopy Walk
There are a lot of things that tourists can do while in Rwanda but one of the things that you should definitely engage in is the canopy walk as it is one of the ways that you can explore the National Park while getting a clear view of the forest and some primates flying from one tree to the next. The canopy walk is only carried out in Nyungwe National Park and it was introduced in the park in the year 2010 and it is one of the best canopy walks in Africa. Best done during the dry season, the canopy walk is raised up to 50m and is divided into three categories due to its length of 160m. The first trail stretches up to 25m and is considered to be the shortest walk; the second walk goes for about 45mlong whereas the last one is 90m long. Visitors can choose which walk category they want although there are those that choose the whole walkway.
The canopy walks are carried out in two phases: in the morning starting at around 8:00 am and in the afternoon at 3:00 pm and both take about two hours. Rwandan citizens pay 5, 000 Francs, foreign non-residents pay $150 and foreign residents pay $60 for the canopy walk. It is eligible from 6 years and above but children below the age of 15 are always escorted by an adult.
- Visit Kimironko Market
It is said that one of the best ways for one to know more about the culture of a new place is by exploring their markets and the same applies to the Kimironko market. The Kimironko market is located in Kigali in a large warehouse building where different items are sold. It is a bit hard to get through the market due to the mazes within and in case you get lost, there are people who put on yellow branded cooperative shirts that can point you in the right direction.
It is a central point where most people go shopping for those who buy in bulk and small quantities. The main entrance to the market is directly opposite the Kimironko bus station and this is where most of the household items are sold, the entrance to the left is where you will find fresh meat and fish, the right entrance leads to where the different types of kitenge are sold and the last entrance leads to the section where the tailoring is done and second-hand clothes are sold.
- Visit Lake Burera
Mostly visited in the evenings by tourists, Lake Burera is located within the volcanoes National park and is a twin Lake to the Ruhondo Lake. It is a place where you can relax after a long day trekking the gorillas and some other activities that you can carry out here include fishing, birding, canoeing, and camping along the shores of the Lake.
- Fazenda Sengha Horse Riding
Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda and there are a lot of activities for tourists to engage in, one of them being horse riding. The Fazenda Sangha horse ranch is found right at the top of Mountain Kigali from where you will get to ride the trained horses with the help of a tour guide. Horse riding is still a new experience within Kigali and one that you should not miss out on.
You need to however be prepared for the hike up the mountain which will lead you to the ranch from where a perfect view of Kigali is seen while horse riding. The horse riding at Fazenda takes roughly an hour and bottled water will be provided during this exercise. You have to book in advance for the session and make sure you opt for pants in order to have the best experience.
- Hot springs in Rwanda
Boiling water to almost 100 degrees Celsius is what you will see when you visit the numerous hot springs which have become a favorite for tourists in Rwanda. No one for how long they have been in existence but most of the local communities who live around the springs hold them in superstitious and spiritual regard. There are different levels of hotness in the springs where parts of them have water that can boil an egg and is harmful to the human body and other parts which are lukewarm and support swimming. Some of the hot springs that you can check out while in Rwanda include:
The Nyamyumba hot springs: are found in the Rubavu district. The hot springs are referred to as ‘magical waters’ by the surrounding community since they are believed to have a spiritual connection. The water is extremely hot in some areas and it can even boil an egg whereas, in other parts, swimming can easily be done. The springs are also believed to have a healing touch for a lot of diseases and infections.
The Bugarama hot spring: Bugarama hot springs are located in the western part of Rwanda in Cyangugu town, Rusizi district. They are found at the bottom of a limestone quarry and from a distance, the springs look like just any other water body covered with green but the closer you get to them, the more beautiful the scenery gets. The hot springs are also believed to have healing water that cures diseases, removes curses from people, and helps with proper blood circulation.
The Gisenyi and Kinigi Hot springs: both the Gisenyi and Kinigi hot springs are found near Lake Kivu and like the other hot springs found in the country, they are also believed to have water that cures diseases like flu, headaches, wounds, and joint pains.
- Umuganda Volunteering Rwanda
Umuganda which is loosely translated as ‘coming together with a common purpose to achieve an outcome is an activity that I carried out in the country every last Saturday of the month throughout the year. After the Rwanda genocide that left the country in chaos, the Umuganda was set up so as to keep the communities together and the country clean and that’s why every last Saturday of the month everyone from the age of 18 to 65 years is expected to get all their cleaning supplies and head down to the streets to clean.
The Umuganda activity is considered a civic duty and all citizens are expected to take part in it. However, tourists and expatriates are exempted although they are invited to also take part in the activity. Volunteering for the Umuganda will give you a chance to meet the locals and at the same time, tour the numerous streets where the activity takes place.
- Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming Ceremony
The Kwita Izina is a traditional naming ceremony in Rwanda where babies are given their names immediately after birth. It was adapted to the naming the new Mountain gorillas in the country and from the time it was introduced in 2005 about 240 gorillas have been named during the ceremony. The names of the gorillas which are normally chosen by the trackers always mean something significant that happened at that specific time when they were born and a list of three names is drawn up and during the ceremony, each one of these is chosen for each gorilla. There are a lot of people who celebrate this day in Rwandese, neighboring countries, and international countries. It is also attended by the president of the Republic of Rwanda.
- Glamping in Rwanda
Glamping experience is also known as glamour camping. The country has adapted to the new trend of camping where instead of traveling with your tents, you will find an already made tent for you with all the luxurious facilities that you will need. It is a beautiful and diverse way in which tourists get to enjoy the country and all it has to offer and some of the places that offer Glamping in Rwanda include the Inzu lodge in Gisenyi, Macheo Ecolodge, Nyungwe Nzizi lodge, and the vintage cottage.
- Visit the Milk Bars
An exploration of the milk bars is one way for tourists to enjoy Rwanda as the locals do. Cows and milk are an important aspect to the citizens of Rwanda who can be seen with cans of milk with words like ‘Amata Meza’ taking them to the milk bars so that it is made safe for drinking and improving on its quality. Right in the heart of Kigali is one of the most popular bars in Rwanda and the only thing it serves is milk. The Kiruhumba milk bar is one of the last milk bars in the country and the one place you should look out for while in the country. It is found right after the market and when you ask the locals, they will gladly direct you to the right place where you get a taste of the Rwandan milk.
In conclusion, Rwanda might be small in size, but it is such a beautiful place to visit. The land of a thousand hills is a perfect safari destination for those looking for a new and rich African experience. Its treasures are numerous and the scenery is breathtaking. One visit and you will want to come back over and over again.