Many people mainly associate Rwanda with terrible tragedy, due to the extreme violence and genocide that took place in 1994. But what you may not know is that Rwanda has made a remarkable recovery in recent years. Known for its stunning landscapes and national forests, friendly and hospitable locals, and fantastic cuisines, Rwanda has a great deal to offer. The country is on the rise, and is gradually becoming a tourist destination. If you are lucky enough to be able to visit, here are five must-see places.
Virunga National Park
This vast national park, founded in 1923, contains two active volcanoes and is home to Rwanda’s mountain gorilla population. It has survived violence and armed conflict due largely to the efforts of the park’s rangers and wardens. In recent years, the park has experienced a surge in tourists and an increase in support from international donors.
Virunga is famous for offering many different nature treks, especially the mountain gorilla trek. Visitors are led by a park ranger on a 1-2 hour walk through the forest, where they can observe the majestic gorillas in their natural habitat. Other treks include the Chimpanzee Habituation Walk, the Nyiragongo Volcano Trek, and the Rwenzori Mountain Trek. A visit to Virunga is not to be missed!
Pfunda Tea Factory
The Pfunda Tea Plantation is located in Rubavu, and is a fascinating place to visit, especially during the rainy season. Visitors can tour the plantation, walk through the tea fields, and observe the entire process of tea production. Watch how workers pick and dry the leaves, cut them and package them for shipping to Mombasa, Kenya.
Pfunda also focuses on sustainability and employs as many local workers as possible. On your tour, you will have the opportunity to interact with the workers and farmers and learn about their daily lives. You can also go to cupping sessions and sample the Rwandan black tea.
Gisozi Genocide Memorial
Though Rwanda has made incredible progress in recent years, the 1994 genocide is a part of the country’s history that must never be forgotten. Visiting the Gisozi Genocide Memorial is one way to pay your respects to the one million Rwandans who were murdered. The Memorial is the final resting place of 250,000 Tutsi killed during the genocide. There are three mass graves, a wall of names dedicated to those who died, and a series of memorial gardens. The Memorial honors the memory of the dead and also sponsors many education and peace initiatives.
As the largest lake in Rwanda, and the sixth largest on the African continent, a drive to Lake Kivu is highly recommended. There are three main towns situated along the lake: Gisenyi (also called Rubavu), Kibuye (Karongi), and Cyangugu (Rusizi). Gisenyi has a lovely public beach, old mansions along the lake, and a selection of hotels and bars. North of the town is the Imbabazi Orphanage, where hundreds of survivors of the genocide live.
In Kibuye, you can enjoy the tropical views and take boat rides across the lake to the islands of Napoleon and Amahoro. It is also home to the Genocide Memorial Church. Cyangugu is an old border town and is good place to stay if you are planning to visit Nyungwe National Park. Be sure to book your room in advance, as lodgings are a bit limited.
A great option is to drive between the towns, around hills and mountains that overlook the river. The towns are about four hours apart from one another, though roadwork may sometimes lead to longer travel times.
National University of Rwanda
This large public university consists of six independent colleges and has a current enrollment of over 30,000 students. The institution was terribly affected by the genocide, but has made a comeback and is a symbol of hope for the future of the nation.
The campus is a lovely place to visit, in particular the beautiful Arboretum de Ruhande. The arboretum is a peaceful place to walk and to learn more about the local foliage. It is also home to many types of wildlife, and you may very well catch sight of monkeys, gazelles and many species of birds.
Despite a tragic past, Rwanda has made an incredible recovery and is now a wonderful place to visit. As one of the last remaining habitats of mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, and home to astonishing national forests and Lake Kivu, visiting Rwanda is a truly unique and deeply rewarding experience.
Have you been to Rwanda? If so, please let us know what experiences you would recommend!