You could be mistaken for being in a different country when visiting Rwanda. It is unlike other African countries, maybe even unlike any other country in the world. You can forget the raw, authentic and traditional Africa. The roads are impeccably maintained, rubbish is nearly non-existent and the feeling of safety is strong.
Rwanda is refreshingly different – a progressive Africa that is quickly moving forward, that is considerate of the environment and conservation, that values the expression of arts and culture and where things are going well.
It was a long and painful road to get to this point however. A phrase commonly uttered on the clean streets of Rwanda is “love means forgiveness”. If you know anything about Rwanda’s history, you will understand the importance Rwandans place on forgiveness. Love and forgiveness have been the driving force behind the country’s astounding progress and development following the tragic events that occurred in 1994.
The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority government. Over a 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed, constituting as many as 70 percent of the Tutsi population.
Ever since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has moved forward in leaps and bounds. Not only in reconciliation and forgiveness from that fateful event, but in development and conservation. If there ever was a country that the rest of the world can aspire to, it would be Rwanda.
The name Rwanda literally means ‘expanding’, and its capital city, Kigali, takes meaning from something large, fitting for a country that has grown so much in the past 24 years and continues to propel forward.
The sense of community is strong, and everyone is involved in sustaining the country’s movement. Known as Umuganda, every last Saturday of the month everyone does community work, regardless of status, to clean and look after the environment.
Known as the “land of a thousand hills”, green is a word that best describes Rwanda. Not only green in colour, with the rich rolling hills that are ever present on the horizon, but green on sustainability and conservation.
Single-use plastic bags are illegal in the entire country and will be confiscated upon arrival. Due to this effective ban and other factors, Rwanda was ranked number three of the greenest destinations of the world in 2015. Dubbed the Singapore of Africa, you can clearly see why the moment you arrive in Kigali – it is astonishingly clean by any standards.
In addition to the environment care is the conservation of the wildlife and national parks. Famous for their mountain gorillas, Rwanda has put a lot of effort into conservation to protect these precious primates.
The mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered ape and are found only in small portions of protected afro Montane forests in northwest Rwanda, southwest Uganda and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The mountain gorilla is only one of many species unique to these forests, which are also home to many wonderful birds, primates, large mammals, reptiles, insects and plants also ensuring continued water and medicinal plant resources for the local communities.
A land of a thousand hills, Rwanda also has a thousand experiences to be had. Here are some of the must do and see experiences in Rwanda.
Today nearly half of the world’s 1000 remaining mountain gorillas live at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa. The best place to witness these mountain gorillas is during a visit to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Consisting of 125 km2 of mountain forest and the six Virunga Volcanoes, the lush forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking. A permit with set you back USD$1500, of which the money is put straight back into the protection and conservation of the gorillas. It is advisable to hire a porter (cost USD$15) for your trek, not only for the unfailing assistance as your trek and climb, but to help fund a living to the once poachers that pilfered the national park. It gives them incentive to stay on the anti-poaching path.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a better insight into Rwanda’s harrowing past. The memorial is the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the Genocide against the Tutsi. It is a place for remembrance and learning. While there are several memorials around the country, the Kigali Genocide Museum is the most popular to visit. A tour of the entire memorial takes approximately one hour and thirty minutes. The memorial is open seven days a week, however on the last Saturday of every month, the memorial is open from 1:00pm to 5:00pm due to Umuganda, when all Rwandans meet to undertake community work. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a guided experience. Visitors can choose to be guided by one of the staff witnesses or purchase the KGM digital guide which provides an audio-visual tour of the memorial. Costs start from USD$15.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
The largest tropical afro Montane rainforest east or central Africa, Nyungwe forest is probably the most preserved forest in Africa. Nyungwe Forest National Park was established as a national park in 2004 and some say it is the most important site for biodiversity in Rwanda. It is home to over 1000 species of creation after all. Nyungwe is located near Cyangugu town in South western Rwanda, about 225km and a 4-5 hour drive from Kigali. It is bordered by the Rwanda-Burundi border in the South. Lake Kivu and the Democratic Republic of Congo lie on the west side of the park. It covers an area about 1020 sq.km and has an elevation of 1600-2950m above sea level. Roads that wind over hills and through tea plantations lead you to Nyungwe forest national park. Here you can experience Kamiranzovu swamp, hiking trails through out, the forest canopy walk, birding, primate tracking and more.
Akagera National Park
Located in North Eastern Rwanda, at the country’s border with Tanzania, is Akagera National Park. A common view around Rwanda, the mountainous scenery surrounding Akagera National Park is quite simply beautiful. The landscape inside the park ranges from low, wide, plains dominated by grass and cactus-like Euphorbia candelabra shrub that morphs into both thick and thin forests amongst rugged terrain that is so characteristic of Rwanda. It is here you can experience the Big 5, and more, in Rwanda. The game drive experience is a scenic one, with wildlife like elephants, rhino, buffalos and antelope species including; elands and topis. There are also Maasai girafffes, monkeys, savannah birds, civets, leopards, hyenas, as well as serval cats. While you can self-drive around the park (staying on the designated roads), it is recommended you hire a guide who is so knowledgeable about the flora and the fauna that is found in the park.
Where to stay
Rwanda has a varied array of accommodation offerings ranging from budget and backpacker to five-star luxury. When travelling around the country, here are some suggested hotels to consider.
Kigali Serena Hotel
On a boulevard in the heart of Kigali, Rwanda, in a secure location just a five-minute walk from the CBD, lies Kigali Serena Hotel. The 5-star property boast features you have come to expect from the Serena Hotels Group mixed with a rich blend of Rwandan heritage, art and culture. The 148 sophisticated rooms and suites at Kigali Serena Hotel provides a private and peaceful retreat with a host of leisure amenities. Location is key at the Kigali Serena Hotel, in the city’s business and social epicentre. The hotel is a five-minute walk from the Central Business District and ten kilometres from Kigali International Airport. It is a short walk into the town centre which is a buzz with shopping, restaurants and bars.
Akagera Game Lodge
Akagera Game Lodge stands on a hill at the southern tip of the Akagera National Park elevated above the savannah with exceptional views of the forest-fringed Lake Ihema. One of the original and only lodges in Akagera National Park, the lodge is the perfect place to base yourself to explore the lake and national park. The lodge is basic and slightly dated but has everything you need. Ideal for families, couples and solo travellers, the lodge also offers 24-hour reception for guests that arrive early or late evening.
Moriah Hill Resort
Away from the city hustle, where you can sit back and relax in your own quiet space is the Moriah Hill Resort. Located in Rwanda’s west in a town called Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu, the resort is about 200 kilometres from Kigali and at only 1 kilometre from Karongi town. Perched on the hillside overlooking Lake Kivu, the hotel utilises the space well, so the views and surrounding scenery compliments the property. The Moriah Hill Resort makes a great base to explore the lake via boat, Karongi town and beyond. Enjoy swimming in Lake Kivu or take a wooden boat out on the lake at sunset for a cruise. Take a walk around the lake or for the extra adventurous, climb the hill, before coming back to relax in the private sauna. Nearby, guests can enjoy the Gisovu tea plantation, which is one of the biggest tea plantations in Rwanda, or climb Karongi mountain, the highest in Karongi district.
How to get there
Kigali International Airport, but sometimes referred to as Kanombe International Airport, is the main airport serving Kigali, the capital of Rwanda. Air access from Australia can be tricky with lengthy connections. Most popular routes from Australia are with South African airways via Johannesburg, Qatar airways via Doha and Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi with limited transits. Other airlines like Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and the national airline Rwandair fly from East Africa into Kigali.
For more on Rwanda visit www.visitrwanda.com
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