Rwanda – “Land of a thousand hills“
Rwanda is indeed a beautiful country with numerous hills, valleys, mountains, lakes, and rivers flowing through it. It is a land locked country located in the tropical region of Central Africa. The country is just a recent member of the East African Community joining in 2007 along with Burundi.
A Brief History of Rwanda
The early inhabitants of Rwanda are the ‘Twa,’ pygmy hunters and gathers who remain in Rwanda till date. Due to the genocide that brought instability in the country, some members of this indigenous group moved and settled in south western Uganda and are known as present-day ‘Batwa’. Later a number of Bantu groups migrated and settled in Rwanda between 700 BC and 1500 AD. These groups include the Hutu and the Tutsi; however, some historians believe that the Tutsi migrated from neighboring Burundi.
Rwanda was under the rule of the Belgian colonial government gaining her independence on 1st July 1962. The country’s current president is Paul Kagame who is the chairperson of the unitary party called ‘Rwanda Patriotic Front’ which came into power in 2000. Later on 18th September 1962, the country joined the United Nations.
In 1993, the United Nations set up its peace keeping mission for Rwanda in Kigali City with Belgian army forces being the leading peace keeping forces in the country.
On 7th April 1994, the Rwandan Genocide begun with the Hutu ethnic tribe leading the genocide. This resulted after the plane carrying Rwanda’s President Juvenal Habyarimana along with Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira was shot down on 6th April 1994. The Hutu tribe extremists’ main motive was to get the Belgian government to withdraw its peace keeping forces from Rwanda and ‘rid’ the country of the Tutsi. The genocide came to an end on 15th July 1994 claiming the lives of over 800,000 people in Rwanda.
A Brief on Rwanda’s Geographical, Economical and Social Background.
Rwanda covers a total surface area of 26,338 square kilometers and has a population of 11,262,564 people according to the recent population Census carried out in 2015. It is the fourth-smallest country on the African mainland following Gambia, Swaziland, and Djibouti respectively.
Rwanda is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Tanzania to the east, Uganda to the north and Burundi to the south.
Rwanda is a land locked country with its capital city as Kigali and lies just a few degrees south of the equator.
Rwanda’s longest river is called Nyabarongo, which flows north-eastwards and then to the southeast where it joins the Rubuvu rivers to form the renowned River Kagera. Its major lake is Lake Kivu and other lakes include; Ruhondo, Ihema, Muhazi, Rweru, Shakani and Burera to mention but a few. Most of these lakes are found within Akagera National Park.
Rwanda is a highland country in the tropics of Africa and has a temperate climate. The climate in the country ranges between 12 and 27 degrees Celsius, with the west and northwestern parts of the country receiving more rainfall annually as compared to the east and southeastern regions.
Rwanda has an estimated GDP of 30 billion dollars as of 2019 statistics, with an estimated per capita income of 2,444 US dollars.
Major food crops grown in Rwanda are; matooke, Irish potatoes, beans, sweet potatoes, cassava, wheat, and maize.
There are two major cash crops grown in Rwanda and these are Tea and Coffee. Other agricultural activities carried out in the country include; animal husbandry which includes rearing of animals such as poultry, rabbits, cows, pigs, goats, and sheep. Fishing is also done on most of the lakes in the country.
When it comes to the industrial sector, Rwanda’s industries are still small and still growing. The industrial sector consists of manufacturing plants for cement, furniture, cigarettes, textiles, shoes, soap and agricultural products amongst others.
Rwanda is also blessed with a relative number of minerals being mined in the country. These minerals include; coltan, gold, cassiterite, and wolframite to mention but a few.
Rwanda has a number of commercial, microfinance, developmental and cooperative banks operating within the country. These include; Bank of Kigali, I&M BANK, Equity bank, Eco bank Rwanda, Kenya Commercial Bank[KBC], NCBA bank, Urwego Opportunity Bank, Development Bank of Rwanda, Co-operative bank Rwanda and Zigama CSS among others.
The tourism industry in Rwanda has developed at a very fast rate and is among the country’s largest revenue earners. The country has three national parks namely; Akagera national park, Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest national park.
Rwandans are very social and welcoming people and any tourist visiting the country will be welcomed with gigantic, warm smiles and cheerful greetings.
Religious Background of Rwanda: Rwanda is known to be a religious country with its largest religious sect being Roman Catholicism, followed by the Anglican Church and Islam being the minority group in the country.
The Currency of Rwanda: Rwanda’s national currency is the Rwandan Franc; however, in case one wants to exchange their money for the local currency or vice versa, it can be done from any bank in the country or at a foreign exchange bureau like western union.
Languages Spoken in Rwanda: The official languages spoken in Rwanda include; Kinyarwanda, French, English, and Swahili.
Places to Visit
There are quite a number of tourist attractions in Rwanda and these include;
1. Volcanoes National Park: For any tourist planning a gorilla trekking safari to Rwanda, this is the place to be. This national park is famous for its mountain gorillas, with an estimation of about 480 gorillas living within the park. There are 17 gorilla groups living in Volcanoes national park with only 10 gorilla groups available for tracking by tourists, while the other seven are for research purposes. Other attractions within the park include; Dian Fossey grave site, Karisoke Research Center, Mountains Karisimbi and Bisoke, Musanze caves, golden monkeys and lakes Ruhondo and Burera which are twin lakes. Volcanoes National Park has its Headquarters based in Kinigi which is a small village located in the town of Musanze [formerly called Ruhengeri].
Activities done in Volcanoes National Park
While in Volcanoes National Park, there are plenty of activities that you as a tourist can enjoy. These include;
- Mountain gorilla trekking: As earlier mentioned, there are 10 gorilla groups in the park, with the Susa group being the most tracked gorilla group by tourists. Gorilla trekking permits cost USD 1500 dollars in Rwanda.
- Golden Monkey Trekking: Volcanoes National Park has two habituated groups of Golden monkeys that tourists can visit. Both these groups comprise 80 members and tracking activities also commence at 7am. Permits for golden monkey trekking cost USD 100 and this price cuts across Rwanda and Uganda.
- Volcano Climbing: This activity consists of hiking expeditions on either Mount Karisimbi or Mount Bisoke. Tourists embarking on a hiking trip on Mount Karisimbi can enjoy pleasurable sights like a bird, wildlife like mountain gorillas and forest elephants, and insect species. While tourists hiking mount Bisoke can view attractions such as the Crater Lake on the mountain’s summit.
- Hike to Dian Fossey Grave Site: Tourists visiting Volcanoes National Park can enjoy a hike to Dian Fossey’s tomb and also pay a visit to Karisoke Research Centre; both located within the park. Please do refer to our article on Dian Fossey for more information.
- Caving: Whilst visiting Volcanoes National Park, visitors can also pay to go on a hike to Musanze Caves that are located within the national park. These caves were created as a result of volcanic eruption about 65 million years ago. Musanze caves were opened to the general public and tourists in 2013 by the Rwanda Development Board. The lushly and green rocked caves run for about 2km and are home to cave bats. Tourists visiting the caves are provided with equipment like; gloves, knee caps, boots, face mask, helmet, and head cap.
- Cultural tour: One cannot visit Volcanoes National Park without visiting the nearby local communities. Tourist on a cultural tour can pay a visit to Iby’iwacu community village where you can interact with the local people, be entertained by the local intore dance group and take a walk around the village. Guests are also taken through the cultural history of the village as well as the process of making the local banana brew, riding a wooden bicycle, grinding millet and sorghum, shooting bows and arrows.
Accommodation Facilities in Volcanoes National Park.
In case you have decided to visit Volcanoes National Park, you can get accommodation in the following lodges; Bisate Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Mountain gorilla view, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Kinigi Guesthouse and Gorilla Volcanoes Lodge. These accommodation facilities offer budget, midrange, and luxury suites.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park: Volcanoes National Park can be accessed by road from Gisenyi town or Kigali City. The drive to Volcanoes National Park is 2 hours hence making it a convenient option for tourists to do gorilla trekking and return to Kigali on the same day.
2. Akagera National Park: Apparently this is the only national park in Rwanda where you will get to do a game drive. It is located in the north eastern part of Rwanda on its border with Tanzania. Akagera national park is blessed with over 480 species of birds, 10 lakes, over 100 elephants and over 8000 large wildlife mammals living within the park.
Activities Done in Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park has a range of activities to offer its visitors. Some of these activities include;
- Guided Game Drives: Akagera National Park offers both day and night game drives, with the night guided game drives giving tourists a chance to see nocturnal animals like lions, bush babies, leopards, and civets. While on a day guided game drive, you are likely to spot wildlife such as; antelopes, zebras, elephants, buffaloes, and gazelles among others. However, due to the fact that the park is dominated by swamps, it is not easily navigated and it’s not 100% certain that a tourist will get to see all the park’s wildlife. The game drives in this park last between 1- 2 hours and costs USD 40 per person with an extra cost of USD 25 for a park guide.
- Fishing: Fishing activities are conducted on Lake Shakani were tourists can catch fish species like tilapia and cat fish. Fishing competitions are conducted on this lake every so often and tourists who are lucky to visit the park during this time can take part in the catch- and- release fishing tournaments.
- Boating: Tourists visiting Akagera National Park can enjoy a boat cruise on Lake Ihema which is well known for its impressive populations of hippos, crocodiles and numerous water birds. This activity is a must-do for any bird lovers.
- Guided nature walks: While in Akagera National Park, tourists interested in taking nature walks can do so with the guidance of a well-trained park ranger. While on a walk, get to view the various plant, insect and bird species in Akagera National Park.
- Birding: Akagera National Park is home to over 750 bird species including marabou stocks, egrets, crowned cranes, and herons. Bird lovers will find this national park a good destination for bird watching while on a Rwanda safari.
Accommodation Facilities in Akagera National Park.
Accommodation facilities in Akagera National Park include; Magashi Safari Camp, Akagera Game Lodge, Ruzizi Tented Lodge, Akagera Resort and Country Club, Nyagasambu realm beach hotel, Vintage Cottages, Karenge Bush Camp.
How to get to Akagera National Park: Akagera National Park can be accessed by road from Kigali City. It is about 110km From Kigali which is roughly a 2 and half hour drive. Akagera National Park can also be accessed by air from Kigali International Airport. Akagera Aviation offers chartered helicopter flights to the national park.
3. Nyungwe National Park
The national park is part of the famous Nyungwe forest which is the largest tropical rain forest in East and Central Africa and has been in existence for thousands of years. The park is located in the south western part of Rwanda in the district of Butare, covering a total surface area of 1020sq km.
Nyungwe national park is home to over 300 bird species and 75 mammal species. There are quite a number of attractions in the national park and these include; Isumo Falls, Nyungwe Canopy walk, Gisakura Tea estate, primates such as the Rwenzori colobus monkey, the Chinese golden monkeys and many more; as well as chimpanzees.
Activities Done in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe national park has a wide range of activities carried out within the park and these include;
- Chimpanzee Trekking: Due to the high cost of tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, tourists are opting to track chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest and later track mountain gorillas in Uganda which cost almost a fraction of what it costs in Rwanda [USD 600 for a gorilla tracking permit in Uganda, USD 400 in DRC and USD 1500 in Rwanda]. Chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe national park costs USD 600 and starts at three major centers which are; Uwinka, Kitabi, and Gisakura. There are about 500 chimpanzees living within Nyungwe Forest.
- Bird watching: The national park is home to over 300 bird species that tourists can sight such as; Archer’s Robin-Chat, the Strange weaver, Chapin’s Flycatcher and Rockefeller’s sunbird amongst others.
- Hike to Isumo waterfalls: These falls are 17 meters high and elevated at 100 meters. They lie at the bottom of Kamiranzovu marsh. The water from the falls has a tea-colored tint which is a result of tannin content in the waters of the swamp.
- Gisakura Tea Estate: The tea plantation safari offers tourists a chance to tour tea farms. Tourists are taken through the whole process of how tea is grown, harvested and processed. This is a great tour to embark on with friends and family.
- Colobus Monkey Tracking: Nyungwe National Park is home to the largest group of black and white colobus monkeys on the African continent. Tracking activities start at exactly 8 am and last 2- 5 hours with an hour of direct contact.
- Hiking in Nyungwe Forest: Nyungwe National Park has 13 hiking trails with over 130 kilometers of hiking trails through and within the forest. Hiking expeditions can take between 1- 8 hours and offer visitors a chance to experience the wildlife, primate, bird, flower, plant, tree and butterfly species present within the forest.
- Nyugwe Canopy walk: The canopy walk in Nyungwe National Park is one of the highlights of a visit to the park. The canopy walkway is 90 meters long and 60 meters high above the forest floor and hangs 200 meters across a steep and deep valley. This gives tourists the adrenalin rush as they walk along the bridge with epic scenic views of the forests and its inhabitants like the different bird species, monkeys, butterflies and so many more.
Accommodation Facilities in Nyungwe National Park.
When visiting Nyungwe National Park, visitors can find accommodation in the following facilities; Nyungwe Forest Lodge, Gisakura Guesthouse and Nyungwe Top View Hotel.
4. Genocide Memorial Sites: Rwanda has got a number of genocide memorial sites that are dedicated to the thousands who lost their lives in the Rwandan genocide that took place in 1994. These include; Nyamata Genocide Memorial Site, Kigali Genocide Memorial, Nyanza Memorial Site, Ntarama, Camp Kigali Memorial Site, Gisenyi, Burambi and Nyaruhuye Genocide Memorial Sites.
5. Mountains: Tourists who are interested in exploring Rwanda’s mountains can find a range of mountains to hike and these include; Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Huye, Mount Bisoke, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, Mount Nyiragongo and Mount Nyamuragira.
6. Lakes: Rwanda has a number of lakes that tourists can explore and even do some fishing in some. These include; Lake Kivu, Shakani, Ihema, Muhazi, Burera, Ruhondo, Rweru and Cyohoha to mention but a few. Also, note that boat rides on these lakes can be arranged for upon a tourist’s request.
7. Local Markets and Craft Shops: A Rwandan safari is not complete without a tour to the local markets and craft shops in the Kigali City and other parts of the country. Local markets and craft shops that a tourist can visit include; Kimironko Market, Caplaki Craft Village in Kigali, Azizi Life Boutique, Nyamirambo Women’s Centre and Haute Baso to mention but a few. Don’t forget to get yourself a souvenir while you are visiting any of these places.
8. Hangouts in Rwanda: In case you are in need of a fun spot to relax, chill and socialize with the locals in Rwanda over a cold drink or coffee, here are some places in Kigali that any fun-loving tourist can unwind from; Le Bourbon Coffee, Planete Club, Republica Club, K- Club, Legacy Lounge & Wine Bar and Coco Bean Night club among others.
9. Beaches in Rwanda: Rwanda does not have many beaches given that it is a landlocked country; however, there are some beaches in the towns of Gisenyi, Cyangugu, and Kibuye which are located on the shores of Lake Kivu. Some of the beaches include; Tam Tam Bikini Beach in Gisenyi, Palm Beach Resort, Ruhondo Beach Resort, and Nyagasambu Realm Beach Resort.
Note the following:
- Domestic Airports in Rwanda: Rwanda has a couple of airports around the country and these can be used by tourists who travel to and within the country. Some of these airports include; Bugesera International Airport in Nyamata province, Kigali International Airport in Kigali and is the country’s main entry and exit hub; Butare Airpot in Butare, Kamembe International Airport in Cyangugu, Gisenyi Airport, Nemba Airport in Nemba and Ruhengeri Airport in Ruhengeri.
- Rwanda Visa: For any tourists visiting Rwanda, you will be required to have a visa and this will be asked for at Kigali International Airport and all border points in the country. In case you don’t have one, you can purchase a visa at the airport in Kigali. Rwandan visa costs USD 50 and USD 100 for an East African VISA in case you are planning to visit Uganda as well.
- Best Time to Visit Rwanda: Tourists can visit Rwanda all year round; however, mid-May to mid- October is a great time to visit the country as this is the dry season and it is a great time to go mountain gorilla trekking.
Rwanda is indeed a ‘Land of a thousand hills’, endowed with beautiful hills, valleys, lakes, rivers, and wildlife. In case you are planning a tour of this beautiful country, do get on a tour with our tour operators for the best deals on tour packages as well as get advice on which activities you can engage in while in the country.