This is Africa’s High Country, the famed land of a thousand hills. Rising spectacularly from the ashes, 20 years after the brutal Rwandan Genocide, the country is now one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, optimistic about the future, and warm and welcoming to tourists.
Rwanda is truly beautiful, its lush hills and valleys covered with a patchwork of agricultural plantations, and its jungle-covered volcanoes home to the largest and most accessible mountain gorilla populations.
While the gorillas are the main attraction, venture deeper into the country, and you can find the tropical rainforests of Nyungwe in the south, home to a sizeable chimpanzee population and the wide-open plains of Akagera to the east.
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK & THE MOUNTAIN GORILLAS
There is no other wildlife experience quite like an encounter with mountain gorillas. Only found in the Virunga Mountains bordering Uganda, Rwanda and DRC, are the majestic and endangered mountain gorillas, we feel gorilla safaris in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is probably the best. That precious hour spent in their company, watching their social interactions, is extraordinary.
Trekking to see the golden monkeys is another highlight of Volcanoes National Park. A local subspecies of the widespread Sykes Monkey, golden monkeys are endemic to the high altitude forest of the Volcanoes National Park.
CHIMPANZEES OF THE NYUNGWE FOREST
Located in the southwest corner of the country, Nyungwe is a vast, untouched tropical rainforest. Tall ancient mahogany and ebony trees tower above, and closer to ground, it’s a primate haven, with 13 different species calling the forest home. Chimpanzees tend to be the highlight, but treks to see the Grey-Cheeked Mangabeys, Angola Colobus and L’Hoest’s Monkey are equally rewarding.
Bordering the western side of Rwanda, Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake. The real joy of the area is meandering slowly from town to town and taking in the stunning landscape. It also makes for a lovely stopover option for the overland journey between Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest.
Once close to being decimated, Akagera National Park is now being brought back to life by African Parks, one of the most successful park management operations on the continent. Named after the Akagera River, the landscape changes from open savannah plains in the north to rolling hills and valleys further west. Although still a peripheral safari destination, a lion re-introduction project is set in motion for 2015, and the park should grow in leaps and bounds under the management of African Parks.
KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
In the span of 100 days, an estimated one million Tutsis and Hutus were systematically butchered by the Interhamwe and the army. The Kigali Genocide Memorial, perched on a hill above the city, honors those who lost their lives and families. It is an intensely powerful and moving memorial that should be given half a day at the very least. Along with the Memorial in Kigali, there are also eight other memorial and burial sites around the country, which are highly recommended if you are passing through the area.