Rwanda’s stunning beauty and warm people will catch your heart. This country is the land of the thousand hills comprising of many volcanoes, mountain rainforests, and plains. The biodiversity in Rwanda is extraordinary! Visitors come from all around the world to see the mountain gorillas, but there is so much more to experience in Rwanda. In one week you could take a glimpse at all the highlights in this land. Here’s a guide on everything you need to know about touring the country and the Rwanda facts you should be aware of before going there.
Rwanda’s national parks are its main tourist attraction. They are very popular because of their wildlife and sceneries from trekking mountain gorillas, chimpanzee tracking to seeing beautiful landscapes. Rwanda is an inspiring destination with almost a full recovery from the genocide of 1994 embracing a beautiful future focusing on forgiveness and togetherness. Keep reading and learn about the frequently asked information when planning a trip to Rwanda, the best spots to visit, the best time to go, and more.
Top Places to Visit in Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park is the most popular Rwandan national park situated at the country’s eastern border shared with two other countries (Uganda and Congo). This park is part of the Virunga Rainforest and is the most famous spot for gorilla trekking in Africa. Within the Volcanoes Park are 5 stunning volcanoes that form part of the 8 Virunga volcanoes. There is Mount Bisoke, Gahinga, Karisimbi, Muhabura, and Sabyinyo. On the Rwanda side, tourists ably hike both Bisoke and Karisimbi and explore their crater lakes. Once there, you can also visit the Musanze Caves that are 62 million years old.
The park is also famous for being the base of the Dian Fossey Research Fund. Dian was a woman who protected mountain gorillas and other species. In 1967, she founded a research center in this park. This helped save many gorillas. Today, visitors can do the hike to her tomb and the center to learn more about her life and legacy. Now, because of the Fund’s effort, Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is the main gorilla haven in the whole world.
Akagera National Park
Rwanda’s Akagera park is close to Lake Victoria, the largest water body in Africa. It has most of the species of flora and fauna that exist in Africa. Its savannah is home to large animals like buffalos, elephants, giraffes, zebras, and others. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the government poisoned all the lions. Since 2014, the government has been buying these animals from South Africa. There is an island inside Lake Ihema that you can visit to see the hippos, birds, and crocodiles. The only way to explore this park is with a 4×4 vehicle.
Read more: Tips for your first safari
The city of Kigali
Kigali is usually the first point of all Rwanda tours as it lies in the center of the country. There are many things to do in Rwanda’s capital city. You should spend at least a day or two in the city to rest, eat, and try some sought-after Rwanda coffee before you start this adventure. Here you can buy any tour pack and all the gear you might need. If you want to learn about Rwandan history and culture, there are some spots in the city you should take a glimpse of.
In 1994 Rwanda suffered one of the largest genocides against the Tutsis. It was an ethnic minority. The whole country is full of memorials. The one at Gisozi is the biggest. Here, they buried more than 250,000 victims of this tragedy. This place serves to educate people and younger ones on how such a tragic event took shape.
On a happier note, you can also visit the Kimironko Market. There, people from Rwanda and the neighboring countries sell produce. Find fruits and vegetables, fabrics, clothes, shoes, and handicrafts. Once there you can also take a 2-hour tour with the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre. This is a local help group for women, to visit non-touristy areas of the city. It’s a chance to take see how the locals live.
Congo Nile Trail
This trail extends for 227 km, passing through many districts. Some people walk the trail while others prefer mountain biking. If you do the entire hike, it will take you about 10 days. You don’t have to do the whole thing if there’s not enough time.
Prepare for the great views of Lake Kivu – one of the best things to see in Rwanda – and the many islets. Some people continue this hike to the Nyungwe National Park and forest.
What to Know Before Visiting Rwanda
Is Rwanda safe?
Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa, especially for solo travelers. As in any other tourist destination, there are petty crimes. But current Rwanda safety reports by the Bureau of Consular Affairs of the US Department of State rate it in Level 1: Exercise normal precautions. The country has a very low crime rate and locals are very hospitable and friendly.
If you visit a crowded place, like the Kimironko market, make sure you don’t leave your things alone. Violent crimes against tourists are rare. Women should dress according to the local code to avoid any issues.
Rwanda is in the heart of Africa and south of the Equator. As it is high above the sea level, its climate is one of a nice tropical highland. And, as in any place with such climate, there’s plenty of rain throughout the year. Temperatures in Rwanda may vary depending on the area. Yet, they never go below 20 degrees Celsius. The long rainy months are from March to May. Then, from June to September Rwanda climate is drier, with more sunny days.
Arriving in Rwanda
The only international airport in Rwanda is in Kanombe, 10 km away from the center of Kigali. It is fairly modern and very secure. You can buy your visa on arrival at the airport. From there you can take a taxi or moto-taxi to downtown that will cost you around 24 USD. The ride is quite short, around half an hour.
Some interesting facts about Rwanda
Though it is the smallest country in Africa, Rwanda is quite special.
Sustainability efforts in Rwanda
To begin with, the government decided to go green in 2008. This means that there are no plastic bags! When compared to other African countries that have plenty of pollution, Rwanda is very clean. When you arrive, officials search your bags and take all the plastic you might bring. At first, you may not like it that they take your plastic things. But then you see how clean Kigali is. The streets are clean, there are no potholes or rubbish.
Strong women presence in parliament
Another great fact about Rwanda is that it has the world’s record of representation of women in parliament. Over 60% of parliament members are women.
Another great thing about Rwanda is Umuganda. The last Saturday of every month the whole country takes part in this fest. Every person stops working, closes their shop, and stop what they are doing. They come up with helping projects that last 3 hours. Like cleaning the streets, mowing the grass, building schools, etc. Umuganda started after the Genocide to help rebuild the country. This says a lot about Rwandans and their spirit.
Great roads and traffic control
As opposed to other countries, the traffic in Rwanda is quite smooth. There’s no chaos as they are very organized. Public transportation is also very good. Buses work on a prepaid card and they are always on time. Moto-taxis (called boda-boda) wear helmets and have one for the passenger. Every person respects traffic lights. Also, all the food stalls on the street have strict rules.
Certainly, Rwanda is a small country but it has it all from nature walks in its national parks and lakes, to visiting Kigali city. There are just so many things you can do! This country holds one of the most beautiful wildlife in the world. Come meet rare species of animals and plants, and marvel at its volcanoes and hills. Now that you know these Rwanda facts, what are you waiting for?