While the name Rwanda resonates for many with images of the 1994 genocide, the last 20 years have seen this landlocked country transform into one of Africas best-kept travel secrets. The Land of a Thousand Hills may not boast the big-game wildlife safaris of its East African neighbours, but the astounding natural beauty of its landscapes and quiet resilience of its people captivate those who visit. Here are five of Rwandas most alluring destinations to get you inspired.
For many their Rwandan journey starts or ends in the capital Kigali. This neat city, set over a cluster of hills, comes as a surprise to many travellers accustomed to the chaos of African capitals. Its wide, leafy boulevards, excellent restaurants and rubbish-free sidewalks exhibit Rwandas future direction, while its violent past is not forgotten at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. The museum not only poignantly details the 1994 genocide of nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus within the country, but also serves as a place for survivors to remember loved ones and move forward.
For a glimpse into Kigalis vibrant street-life, dont miss a visit to the Nyarmirambo district where Muslim porters from Kenya and Tanzania first settled, creating a colourful community offering some of the citys best photographic opportunities.
2. Virunga volcanoes
Straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Virunga Mountains are not only home to the charismatic mountain gorilla, but also offer some of Rwandas most stunning trekking. Explore the spectacular trails along the slopes of Virungas eight volcanoes to take in the dramatic scenery, ancient forests and abundant birdlife, or take to the air on a scenic flight to stare straight down into their craters. It was here that Dian Fossey carried out her gorilla research at the Karisoke Research Centre, set deep within the mountains, and her grave now lies alongside and can be visited on some trekking routes.
3. Lake Kivu
While Rwanda cant claim a true ocean water beach, it does have Lake Kivu. This magnificent body of turquoise water is one of Africas great lakes, nestled within rolling hills patch-worked in crops and small villages. The town of Gisenyi boasts a beautiful waterfront location on Lake Kivus shores, just a short drive from Volcanoes National Park, with plenty of resorts where you can rest your weary trekking muscles, as well as hot springs just outside of town. Kibuye further south is another idyllic spot where dug-out canoes slowly ply the waters and island excursions take you to remote villages set within the Lake where life moves at an enticingly sleepy pace.
4. Congo Nile Trail
Gisenyi marks the beginning of the legendary Congo Nile Trail which extends 227 kilometers south to Rusizi. It takes in stunning lakeside agricultural scenery, including coffee and tea plantations, and is a great way for the adventurous to delve deep into the rural heart of Rwanda. The entire route can be completed over a ten day hike or five day cycle, but shorter sections are equally rewarding for those short on time, offering a taste of this off-the-beaten path adventure.
5. Nyungwe National Park
Located in Rwandas southwestern corner, the Nyungwe National Park covers 1,000 square kilometers of lush, untouched rainforest, home to an impressive biodiversity. It is believed to be one of the continents oldest rain forests, traversed by hiking and biking trails that take you through its cool, misty interior to gushing waterfalls. A birders paradise, it is home to more than 300 avian species, together with chimpanzees and Ruwenzori black and white colobus monkeys. Its famed canopy walk is perhaps the parks highlight, offering visitors a birds-eye view of the forest canopy, set 50 meters above the ground.
From the jungle-clad slopes of the Virungas to the countrys rural heart surrounding Lake Kivu and the immaculate streets of its cosmopolitan capital, Rwanda is a country firmly moving forward. While the past is never forgotten, the optimism of this country is infectious and its beauty will remain in your memory well into the future.
Javier Luque is a Co-Founder and Director of Your African Safari.
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