Rwanda is blessed with abundant and diverse natural resources. From ancient volcanoes that seem to touch the sky to deep crystal clear lakes, the land of a thousand hills never fails to amaze with its beauty. As we mark World Environment Day tomorrow, take time to connect with nature. You’ll quickly appreciate how special Rwanda’s environment is.
Here are ten incredible places in Rwanda where you can get in touch with Mother Nature.
Akagera National Park
Akagera is a vast wilderness area and Rwanda’s only protected savannah reserve. It’s top of the list because it’s home to the most diverse range of plants, animals and landscapes in the country. The park has around 40,000 animals, including 18 newly reintroduced Eastern black rhinos, buffalo, leopard, lion, elephant, hippo, crocodile and almost 500 different bird species.
One of the best ways to see the park is by doing a safari from the south to the north. You can take your own car, hire one or join one of the regular tours offered by local tourism operators. If you’re especially keen to connect with nature in Akagera, try the night safari for the best chance of seeing an elusive leopard or a boat safari to come face-to-face with nile crocodiles.
As the country’s largest lake, Kivu is an important part of Rwanda’s natural heritage and plays a key role in supporting biodiversity and agriculture - both in the lake and on the surrounding hills and islands. The lake is stocked with a number of different fish species, including the popular sambaza and tilapia.
A good way to explore Lake Kivu is by boat. There are many local operators who will gladly show you the many islands, guide you on a hike to the top of Napoleon Island and give you a glimpse of the famous swimming cows (yes they really do exist!). If you’re a sporty person, try kayaking - it’s by far the best way to connect with the natural beauty of Lake Kivu.
Mukungwa River, Musanze
You might have seen the river that runs under the bridge just before you reach Musanze, but you probably don’t know that the river has a name, Mukungwa, and that you can spend a morning or an afternoon canoeing there with local water sports company, Kingfisher Journeys.
Mukungwa is a windy river that snakes its way through fields of sugarcane, maize and vegetables - all within sight of the majestic Virunga Massif. Canoeing on the river is a great way to connect with a riverine environment. You’ll pass weaver birds busy making their nests in the trees along the banks of the river, see pied kingfishers scouting for their next meal and you might even be lucky enough to spot an otter. They’re very shy, but like to play in the reeds along the shoreline. It’s a perfect way to learn about just how important healthy rivers are to Rwanda’s sustainable development.
King’s Palace, Nyanza
The King’s Palace in Nyanza might not immediately come to mind when you think about the environment, but located there is one of the most important cultural symbols that connects Rwandans to nature: the royal Inyambo cows.
Prized for their staggeringly large horns, good temperament and shiny coats, these beautiful animals form an important link to the past. The cows have inspired countless traditions, including the national dance. By visiting the King’s Palace, meeting the cattle keepers and listening to the ancient songs they sing to the cows, you’ll be sure to appreciate just how special these animals are.
Volcanoes National Park
Best known for the endangered mountain gorilla, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is full of fun activities that will connect you with nature. Two popular activities are the Mt Bisoke hike and tracking the Golden Monkey. Hiking to the top of Mt Bisoke can be challenging, but the million dollar views at the top are worth it. You’ll see Rwanda’s largest crater lake - a unique environment unlike anything else in the country.
For those interested in meeting one of Rwanda’s most striking primates, then tracking the Golden Monkey is the perfect activity for you. The bright colour of the monkey’s back stands in stark contrast to the green of the forest. By spending an hour observing these social creature, you’ll quickly see how similar they are to us humans: they also love to play, eat and spend quality time together.
Located just a short drive or walk from Kigali Regional Stadium in Nyamirambo, Mt Kigali provides the perfect place to connect with nature just a stone’s throw from the city. At Mt Kigali, you can stroll through the eucalyptus forests and fields of sorghum and avocado trees, bike ride along the dirt roads as monkeys scurry from tree to tree or simply sit and enjoy the serenity of one of the country’s few pine forests.
Mt Kigali is also home to the Fazenda Sengha horse riding stables where you can go trailing riding, play on the trampoline, try your luck at archery and even do a zip line (swinging from one hill to another on a strong cable) - all with spectacular views of Nyabarongo River.
Filled with ancient meaning and tradition, Buhanga Eco-Park near Musanze is one place of natural beauty you can’t miss. As the traditional home for the coronation of Rwanda’s kings, Buhanga has a rich history. Future monarchs would travel to the small forest to go through a process led by royal ritualists (Abiru) and receive guidance on how best to govern Rwanda.
At Buhanga, you can find the famous Iriba rya Gihanga infinity well. It’s well known because it never runs out of water, even in the dry season. Locals believe that the water has curative properties, but only if fetched for personal use.
The eco-park is home to more than 150 bird species, the shy tree hyrax and many different flowers and insects. Located just a short drive from Musanze, this patch of paradise is an easy way to get to know more about Rwandan history while also enjoying what Mother Nature has to offer.
Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe is well known for its canopy walk, but the park is also home to a range of other fun activities. There are 13 different primate species that live in the park, hundreds of bird species and the forest is the only place in the world where colobus monkeys have been observed in families of up to 400 members.
In the park, you can undertake a range of different hikes, camp at the Uwinka lookout, trek to beautiful waterfalls and even track chimpanzees in nearby Cyamudongo Forest. Nyungwe is the oldest protected mountain rainforest in central Africa and provides 70% of the country’s freshwater - making the forest essential for the livelihoods of all who call Rwanda home.
Environment Museum, Kibuye
If you’re not so keen on hiking through the jungle or canoeing through whitewater rapids, then Rwanda’s Museum of Environment in Karongi is for you. Located on the shores of Lake Kivu, the museum opened in 2015 and is a great place for kids and adults alike to learn about Rwanda’s natural heritage.
The traditional herbal medicine garden on the rooftop and the more than 120 different plant species on display aim to encourage visitors to learn about the different uses of plants and how best to preserve them.
At more than 65 million years old, hiking through Rwanda’s caves takes you back in time like nowhere else can. While it might seem a bit scary to go underground, most of the caves are a series of tunnels with natural light streaming through openings in the roof.
Your guide will provide you with cave diving equipment including a head torch, gloves, knee pads and sturdy shoes. Once inside, keep a lookout for unique rock formations, beautiful foliage that hangs from the cave ceiling and even a colony of resident bats.
By taking time to visit Rwanda’s beautiful natural places, we can appreciate just how important our environment is in our everyday lives and be inspired to protect it. You can join the conversation online using the hashtags #WorldEnvironmentDay and #WithNature and share your favourite places to connect with Mother Nature in Rwanda.