Tiny Rwanda’s name may evoke memories of the horrific genocide that brutalised this country in 1994, but the country is better known today as one of Africa’s most stable nations, a plucky survivor that has come together in the decades since the dark times to create a promising and dynamic future.
Tourism is once again a key contributor to the economy and the industry’s brightest star is the chance to track mountain gorillas through bamboo forests in the shadow of the Virunga volcanoes. These conical mountains are shrouded in equatorial jungles and helped earn Rwanda the moniker of ‘Le Pays des Mille Collines’ (Land of a Thousand Hills).
So, while Rwanda’s scars may run deep, now is the time to help the country look to its future and embrace its new-found optimism.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park, which runs along the border with the DRC and Uganda, is home to the Rwandan section of the Virungas. Comprising five volcanoes, the Virungas are utterly spellbinding and few would argue that this is not one of the most exciting national parks in Africa. We probably needn’t remind you, but of all the extraordinary sights and attractions around the Virungas, the one that really draws people here are the famous mountain gorillas.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Quite simply, Nyungwe Forest National Park is Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity. It has been rated the highest priority for forest conservation in Africa and its protected area covers one of the oldest rainforests in Africa. Despite its huge biodiversity, Nyungwe is little known outside of East Africa and remains overlooked by many tourists. This is a shame as the park offers some superb hiking and the chance to track chimpanzees that have been habituated to human visits.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
In the span of 100 days, an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically butchered by the Interahamwe army. This memorial honours the estimated 250,000 people buried here in mass graves and also has an excellent exhibition that tries to explain how it was that the world watched as the genocide unfolded. This is an intensely powerful and moving memorial for which you should dedicate at least half a day.
National Museum of Rwanda
This outstanding museum was given to the city as a gift from Belgium in 1989 to commemorate 25 years of independence. While the building itself is certainly one of the most beautiful structures in the city, the museum wins top marks for having one of the best ethnological and archaeological collections in the entire region. The seven exhibition halls contain some very interesting items and everything is unusually well lit and presented.
Other Places Of Interest
Akagera National Park
Akagera is Rwanda’s answer to the savannah parks of Kenya and Tanzania, and is utterly different in landscape to anywhere else in the country. Prior to the genocide, when much of the wildlife was slaughtered or driven over the border, this was considered one of the better parks in East Africa. Today, thanks to outside investment, wildlife numbers are increasing and most people get to see zebras, impalas, topis, giraffes, masses of hippos and crocodiles and even elephants.There are three distinct environments in the park: standard savannah as seen in much of the region; an immense swampy area along the border with Tanzania that contains six lakes and numerous islands, some of which are covered with forest; and a chain of low mountains on the flanks of the park with variable vegetation, ranging from short grasses on the summits to wooded savannah and dense thickets of forest.
Inema Art Center
Opened in 2012, the privately run Inema Art Center is a collective of 10 resident artists and guests. It’s quickly established itself as the foremost modern art gallery in Kigali. As well as paintings, sculptures and contemporary takes in traditional crafts, there are dance and music performances and courses. Much of the art is for sale (and can be shipped internationally), but if you’re not buying you’re welcome just to admire.
Iglesia St Pierre
While a good number of memorials in Rwanda are stark reminders of the past atrocities, the genocide memorial church of St Pierre is a beautiful, calm and evocative testament to the strength of the human spirit. The interior is adorned with colourful mosaics and vivid stained-glass windows while outside a small brick annex displays a few skulls from some of the 11,000 people who were killed by a drunken mob here.