Rwanda is the small, sunny country of one thousand hills, but also the country with a recent horrific history. Many people immediately connect Rwanda to the genocide of 1994, but the country is much more than that! More and more tourists are discovering Rwanda these days, but nevertheless it is still a relatively quiet country which is wonderful to explore. Let’s take you back on a trip we made two years ago already, but which was one of the most beautiful trips ever!
We started off in Kigali, the fascinating capital city which never bores. Heleen has been here two times before and every time she came back it developed enormously! Economic growth is one of the main goals of Rwanda, and they succeed in that – although the gap between rich and poor is still big. The country is also clean, relatively safe, and for African standards very structured.
There are many nice neighbourhoods and markets to explore in the capital, and everywhere you will find bars, restaurants, hotels and swimming pools popping out of the ground. We spent one afternoon at the pool of the famous Hotel des Milles Collines, well-known from the impressive movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’.
However, to learn about the genocide you need to visit the impactful Genocide Memorial Centre. Here they explain how the genocide of 1994 began, what happened, and how the country tried to restore and develop itself again afterwards. It is an incredibly sad story, and it is unbelievable how this massacre has affected everyone in the country in only such a short period of time. Nowadays the Rwandan government focusses on unity and forgiveness, though there is still grief and anger among some people which you will not easily notice as an outsider. On the contrary: most people you encounter are happy, curious, proud, caring, and friendly!
Travelling through Rwanda
As we only had one week in Rwanda we had to choose which part of the country we wanted to visit. In the north, you can for example visit the majestic mountain gorilla’s, but as our budget was not that big (gorilla trekking costs approximately 750USD per person, though people say it is really worth it!) we decided not to go there. Instead we headed south, towards Nyungwe Forest.
Travelling through Rwanda is a joy itself. The country is incredibly green, and the roads meander through the many hills, passing small villages and dozens of people walking along the streets. As a foreigner, you are often greeted by warm smiles, enthusiastic waving hands, or a loud ‘Abazungu’!
Halfway we made a stop at Butare, where you can visit the National Museum and (a copy of) the King’s old palace. It is a very nice place to learn more about Rwanda’s history before colonization. Butare itself is not a very noteworthy city, as it is mostly dominated by students from the National University, though there are several nice bars and restaurants where you can eat and drink.
We did not stay in Butare, but headed on towards Nyungwe Forest. The road from Butare to Nyungwe is not an easy one. Even though they were renovating it, the biggest part of the route was still very dusty, bumpy, and full of put holes. The landscape changed slowly from agricultural land and meadows to jungle, where many monkeys were staring at us from the side of the road. After driving through the jungle for two hours, we suddenly found ourselves in the middle of beautiful green tea fields!
Where to stay in Rwanda?
We stayed at Gisakura Guesthouse, which is located just outside the forest and next to the the Nyungwe ranger station where you can arrange hiking trips. We have done a small, but very impressive canopy hike. This canopy is located 60 metres above the ground and from there you have a breath-taking view across the forest! Besides hiking trips, it is also possible to watch monkeys (chimps if you are lucky!), go birding, or visit the tea plantations. Even though Nyungwe is a big forest, there are not many facilities so make sure you bring enough food and drinks when you go hiking.
If you have more money to spend, consider staying at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge. This lodge is located on the border of Nyungwe forest in the middle of the tea fields, and the accommodations are beautiful.
From Nyungwe we drove towards Cyangugu, which is a small city that borders Congo and lake Kivu. We stayed at the fantastic Emeraude Kivu Resort, which is set right on the lake. From our balcony we enjoyed the most beautiful sunsets over the Congo mountains, and in the evening and early morning we could hear the fishermen singing while they rowed back to shore with their catch of the day. We also made a nice boat trip on the lake, whereby we sailed between small islands and could see the life of islanders. If you have more time, try to hike/bike/drive (a part of) the Congo-Nile trail, which runs along Lake Kivu from Cyangugu to Gisenyi, whereby you will pass small villages, coffee plantations and washing stations. It is a beautiful way to explore Rwanda!
Unfortunately, we had to go back to Kigali too soon. Even though Rwanda is a small country, there are many things to see and do: jungle, lakes, volcanoes, wildlife, savannah, beaches, small villages and modern cities. We definitely recommend to visit the country for at least two weeks, or include it in a round-trip through East-Africa!