Rwanda: What to See and Do
When you hear about Rwanda, what do you envision?
It’s tough to imagine what it’s like if you’ve grown up in America, as there haven’t been a lot of movies or other media about the country. Until people go there themselves, they often base their ideas off of movies such as Hotel Rwanda, which concentrates on dark moments and events in Rwanda’s history. It’s tough to get a good, realistic grip on what really happened in Rwanda during that dark period, what current affairs are in Rwanda, what the landscape is like, and what there is to do.
In real life, once you enter the country, you’ll discover rolling hills, farmlands, and tea plantations. These turn into thick jungles, large lakes, and massive volcanoes that are snow-topped. Rwanda can in fact be among the greenest and most beautiful places you’ll ever see. Every place you travel to in the country is filled with new and incredible experiences. The surroundings can be a lot cleaner than other places in Africa and even the world. Have you been anywhere else that not only offers beauty but does things such as ban plastic bags and require that all its citizens perform hours of community service once every month?
Overall, Rwanda is very impressive. If you’re interested in traveling there, it’s good to know that it’s filled with things to do, places to see, and people and animals to meet. These are among the best activities to do while you’re enjoying your time in Rwanda.
Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is filled with street lights (a rarity in East Africa), cafes, and cosmopolitan cuisine. It’s bursting with a cool design and arts scene as well. You could spend days in this city simply eating, such as at RZ Manna, a salad bar, and exploring Kigali’s history.
Hotel des Mille Collines
This four-star hotel was used as a place of refuge during the 1994 genocide for almost 1,300 people. It’s the famous inspiration for Hotel Rwanda, and currently is the place in Kigali to “see and be seen.” You can easily make a reservation to stay here, and it’s free to come into the lobby to look around and take pictures. Grab a Virunga Mist beer by the pool, which costs $5/day to hang out at, and you don’t have to be a guest in order to swim.
The Nyungwe Forest National Park
Trekking for chimpanzees is something you absolutely have to do when you’re in Rwanda; unfortunately, the number of chimpanzees in the wild is diminishing, and they’re only located in west and central Africa. For $90 you can spend the day with a guide who will take you through the national park to look for them, and this is a relatively cheap activity compared to some other treks you can do in the country; for example, trekking to see gorillas will cost you $1,500.
You’ll begin at the Uwinka visitor’s center outside the park at 5 am, where you’ll meet your guide and drive through tea plantations as the sun’s rising. You should have water, a snack, a walking stick, and long-sleeved clothing as well as thick socks to protect against bug bites as you begin your hike into the jungle. Trackers, people who track the chimpanzees, will have already been in the jungle searching. They’ll contact your guide via radio about where the chimps are as you enter the jungle.
When your group finds the chimps, you’ll see them running around, swinging from trees, and calling out to one another. It’s a sight you’re not likely to forget for the rest of your life. Your group will have to keep moving, and quickly, in order to stay with the chimps, but it’s worth the effort when you see a chimp family hanging out, chattering, and eating fruit.
Again the trekking costs $90 for each person, and in order to get to the visitor center from Kigali you’ll need your own car. If you don’t, you’ll have to book a ride. It’s also a good idea to book the trek ahead of time by visitingyour tour operator or calling the tourism office located in Kigali to make sure you get a spot on a trek; it’s a very popular activity, among tourists and locals alike.
There are campsites near the national park that you can stay in for $30 per tent. Each site has a covered camping area and you can cook over an open fire.
For many people, visiting Lake Kivu for several days is often a treasured aspect to visiting Rwanda. There are spectacular sunrises and sunsets here, you can take boat tours, and it’s incredibly beautiful and relaxing. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something you don’t love at Lake Kivu.
The best activity you can do while you’re in Kibuye is to take a boat tour, which will bring you around the various islands of the lake in a 5 hour period. You can stop at some of the islands and swim, or go hiking through the guava trees. Some boat tours organize bat watching as well, which is an incredible experience. And you can do all of this while admiring the gorgeous lake.
Prices will vary according to the exact boat tour you book and all the activities that tour has to offer, and you can very easily find tours; they vary from professional, official tours, to people simply offering to make extra room for another person or two on their own boat. Sometimes other tourists at a hotel or guesthouse will invite you to join them on their boat tour and will make extra space. The tours are easy to come by, just be careful so you aren’t duped into paying for a tour that isn’t actually happening.
If you’re interested in getting amazing views of the lake to wake up to and don’t mind more of a social stay, Home Saint-Jean is a great place to stay during your time at Lake Kivu. A basic ensuite room costs about $27 per night (which is a good price by Rwandan standards), and breakfast is included.
It’s definitely worth making a stop at Gisenyi, which is on the north side of the lake, to see another great view of the landscape. Here, a popular activity is to tour the local coffee plantation, and if you’re thinking of heading into the Democratic Republic of Congo to see volcanoes and gorillas, Gisenyi is the perfect place to start the transition from.
There are many local cafes in the area, such as Calafia Cafe, which offer lots of healthy food such as beetroot sandwiches and home grown kale. Visit these cafes while you’re taking a break from your guesthouse. Many of these guesthouses, like the Paradise Malahide, are locally owned, and are located right on the lake. A room at one of this will cost you about $80 each night if you’d like to be right on the lake, or, you can even camp along the lake for a much cheaper cost at $10 per night.
Park National de Volcans /Volcano National Park
If you’re interested in seeing volcanoes and hiking mountains, the Volcano National Park is the park for you. It has some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ll ever find in all of Rwanda, and it’s where you’ll go if you’d like to do gorilla trekking. It’s located close to Lake Kivu, and located along the country’s border as well.
If you really enjoy hiking and always make plenty of time during your vacations to take hiking trips, you can take a day-long hike up to the summit of Mt. Bisoke. Here, you’ll be able to see a volcano crater that has been filled with water. Many people love this hike. It costs $75 for the entire experience, which requires a guide who will help you hike up and hike back down. You’ll need a jacket and other warm clothing, because it gets quite cold at the summit. Be warned, as well: this is a trek for avid hikers and for people who love the outdoors, because it’s been reported to be a steep and tough hike.
There are three places in the world you’ll be able to see gorillas in the wild: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are only 800 gorillas left who live in the wild, so this is a rare opportunity that might not be possible for much longer. How many people can say they’ve seen majestic gorillas in person and up close?
If you’re interested in this, it’s very important to book with plenty of time ahead, because it’s a very popular activity and people travel from around the world to do it. The number of people who are allowed to do it every day is also limited. It costs around $1,500 per person for the day. It’s recommended that you consider spending the money for this experience; it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and definitely worth it. For many people who travel the world, seeing wild gorillas is one of their top experiences.
Akagera National Park
This park is the destination for people who would like a safari experience during their time in Rwanda. The park has elephants, zebras, lions, hippos, and other animals, as well as more than 500 bird species. It’s located near the border that Rwanda shares with Tanzania, and if you enter from the Rwanda side, entrance fees are very affordable at $40 per person for the day. Each car costs $7.50 to enter and to park. If you’re interested in getting a safari tour with a driver, it’ll run you $295 for a full game drive.
If you’re interested in seeing these kinds of animals and getting that safari experience, the national park is definitely worth the stop. It’s also much less crowded than other safari spots, so if you want to relax and enjoy yourself more it’s the perfect destination.
No matter what you do and where you go, your experience in Rwanda will definitely be eye opening. It’ll change your entire view of the country and what it has to offer, once you see the jungle, taste the food, and experience the rolling hills and beautiful lakes. Many people walk away impressed and treasuring their visit for the rest of their life. It’s not a large country, so you don’t need to dedicate a lengthy vacation to visit, and it’s definitely a worthwhile place to explore and have an adventure.