One of Rwanda’s worst kept secrets alludes to the country’s natural grandeur. Within such a small country are packed a variety of such magnificent sights and experiences. This splendor is largely a result of its domineering intimate relationship with the Albertine Rift, the western branch of the Great Rift Valley, the associated volcanic mountains, the Akagera plains in the east and the Nyungwe forest.
The majority of the Rwanda landscape is made of hilly terrain thus the common name, the land of a thousand hills. It is evident in the capital city, Kigali, itself which is perched in the middle of hills, the highest being Mt. Kigali.
The town centre, a neat and orderly city, by all means, with palm-frond lined streets, their pedestrian walkways astride, has various attractions.
In the Kandt House, a museum is dedicated to the discoveries and explorations of Richard Kandt, a naturalist and the first resident German colonial governor of Rwanda, in the Nyungwe forest.
Dr. Kandt is also the founder of Kigali, having set up the first colonial outpost in Kigali. The Gisozi Memorial Complex is dedicated to the memory of the 1994 genocide and serves to educate the future generations of Rwandans and all peoples of the world about the history of the genocide and the fact that no one should let such a thing to happen again.
Among the places to stay in Kigali are: Serena, Novotel Kigali Umubano and Hotel Milles Collines. To the east, is the Akagera National Park, a sought of Canaan for seekers of the African safari, where a pleasure seeker who detests the disruption of civilization, will roll in the picturesque African wilderness, utterly undisturbed.
In its literary unspoiled grassland savannah you will bump into cape eland, the world largest antelope, herds of zebra and giraffe, of elephants and buffaloes. The terrain is punctuated by lakes and swamps through which the course of the river Akagera, which according to some sources is the true source of the Nile, runs.
The Akagera lodge, with an ethnic theme for the decor is perched by the Lake Ihema, to offer a pleasant lake atmosphere to guests. To the southwest lies the largest afromontane forest on the continent, in the Nyungwe national park.
The Nyungwe forest is unique in that due to its ecological diversity it houses thirteen species of primates which includes the black and white colobus monkey and endangered eastern chimpanzees.
Of major importance also is the fact that streams that flow from the Nyungwe flow into the River Congo in the east or the River Nile in the west.
Approximately two hours, to the northwest of the capital, in the Volcanoes National Park, in which the highest mountain in Rwanda, the Karisimbi is located along the Muhabura, Bisoke, Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
This park is world renown for being the home of a third of all the 650 mountain gorillas in the world apart from the golden monkeys. The volcanoes national park is easily the Mecca of tourist in Rwanda.
Gorilla tracking is by far the most popular activity in the park which citizens can enjoy for only twenty thousand Rwanda francs while foreigners will have to part with five hundred United States dollars.
One of the most popular events on the Rwanda tourist calendar is fast becoming the gorilla naming ceremony, the Kwita Izina, which takes place annually at Kiningi, the headquarters of the Volcanoes National Park, two hours away from Kigali.
This year’s event is slated for June 21st. Other activities include mountain hiking, nature walks, bird watching and visits to the tomb of Dian Fossey, an acclaimed naturalist who conducted eighteen years of research in mountain gorillas.
Farther north is the Lake Kivu, the highest lake in the Albertine rift, on whose shores are a number of resorts at Gisenyi, most prominently the Kivu Serena, with its own sand beach and the tourist town of Kibuye, as well as Cyangugu.
The Kivu is dotted with picture perfect islands jutting out of the waters, and is hemmed in by the voluptuous mountains of the Virunga range. The imposing national museum of Rwanda at the old capital in Butare, to the south, is arguably the best ethnographic museum in East and Central Africa.
It contains historical, ethnographic, artistic and archeological artifacts in a twenty hectare garden which also includes indigenous vegetation and a traditional craft training center.
In addition to the delights bestowed onto Rwanda by Mother Nature, the diversely rich cultural heritage of the Rwandese people is a delight in itself. The graceful and unique Intore dance is a signature of the Rwanda nation all over the world.
Its traditional pottery, wicker work, wood carving and painting industries will provide any visitor with lasting souvenirs of a memorable trip to Rwanda.
It is comforting to know, that a deliberate government policy to promote ecotourism in Rwanda is a plus, something that will appeal to tourists who are conscious of environment conservation efforts being made at the various tourism sites.
In line with this policy, as part of this years Kwita Izina ceremony, the Sabyinyo Community Lodge, A joint venture between the Rwanda Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN) and the Sabyinyo community will be launched.