Founded as a town by Dr. Richard Kandt in 1097, perhaps due to the fact that he built the first stone building that can today be visited as a museum, Kigali was chosen as the capital city when Rwanda gained independence in 1962. Centrally located, Kigali is the economic and social hub of Rwanda, and the starting point for most of the safaris in the country.
Shopping for artefacts in Kigali should include local pottery, basketry, painting, jewellery, woodcarvings and metalwork. All our safaris include a guided City Tour of Kigali, including an optional visit to the Genocide Museum, an extremely moving and thought provoking experience.
The Kigali Memorial Centre at Gisozi was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre in Kigali was created by a joint partnership of the Kigali City Council and the UK-based Aegis Trust. The creation of the Kigali Memorial Centre was funded by a number of donors worldwide.
It contains a permanent exhibition of the Rwandan genocide and an exhibition of other genocides around the world. The Aegis Trust actively seeks the prevention of Genocide worldwide. The Centre includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the genocide in 1994. There is also a children’s memorial, and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The Education Centre, Memorial Gardens and National Documentation Centre of the Genocide all contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished, and form a powerful educational tool for the next generation.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera National Park is located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. Named after the winding Kagera River, which flows through the park, Akagera contains woodland, large extensions of open grassland, mountains and swamps within its 1122 square kilometre area. Located in a country renowned for endless green hills, the beautiful open landscapes at Akagera are well worth the visit.
Founded in 1934, the park initially extended over an immense area of 2500 square kilometres, however increased pressure from the expanding human population’s need for farmland resulted in the park’s boundaries being redrawn, reducing its size by half.
While game viewing at Akagera cannot compare to that experienced in Kenya or Tanzania’s savannahs, there are large numbers of plains game including giraffes, zebras, impalas, topis, elands, oribis, waterbucks, reedbucks, bushbuck, sable and roan antelopes, and close to the wooded areas, large herds of buffalos and elephants. Hippos and crocodiles can be seen in the lakes, and the chance to spot hyenas or elusive leopards is always exciting. There is one pride of lions at Akagera, and only a few other predators, which makes game viewing easy and relaxed.
Akagera’s lakes and marshes attract an extraordinary range of birdlife, and almost 500 species have been recorded at the park. Large raptors and birds of prey can be seen, along with water birds including the interesting Shoebill storks, and specials such as Red-Faced barbets and Böhm’s flycatchers.
Boat trips on Lake Ihema and on Lake Shakani, where you can also fish, and the highlight of night game drives in Akagera are attractive activities that can also be enjoyed.
HUYE and NYANZA
Formerly known as Butare, Huye is primarily a cultural town and is the country’s centre of learning. Jokingly referred to as the ‘Intellectuals’ Town’, Huye is the site of the National University of Rwanda where important studies are carried out on the rich cultural history of the country, especially in the field of traditional medicine and its possible uses in the modern world. Other institutions include the North gate University, the Nyakibanda Seminary, and the Rwandan National Institute of Scientific Research. Butare was the largest and most important city in Rwanda prior to independence when it lost out to the more centrally located Kigali. It has a fantastic National Museum, which houses the finest ethnographic collection in East Africa, with displays of traditional artefacts. Spectacular displays of traditional dancers (Intore) can be arranged on request (for a fee) at the museum.
Close by, at Nyanza, stands the impressive and must-see reconstructed Royal Palace. Nyanza was the seat of the Kingdom of Rwanda, and the original palace had been built there for King Mutara III. On the same grounds, you will enjoy a visit to the dancing Inyama cows of Rwanda, locally revered and regarded as national treasures. These Ankole Longhorns have sweeping horns measuring almost 2m in length, and the cows are adorned with beaded jewellery to reflect their special status.
Situated within the Albertine Rift Valley to the west of the country, Lake Kivu is set in a stunning location between the Virunga Mountains to the north, and the thick forested slopes of the Nyungwe Forest to the south. Framed by terraced and cultivated green hills that lead down to the inviting waters, it is a popular destination for local and international visitors. There is an inviting sandy beach at Gisenyi, perfect for relaxation after the long drive from Nyungwe, or after tracking gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park.
The area’s main towns of Gisenyi and Kibuye provide the base from which to take boat trips on the lake and to the many islands, swim, or visit one of the fishing villages that dot the shores of the lake. Cyangugu, located on the southern end of the Lake Kivu, is an old border town that has maintained its frontier trading post atmosphere. Gisenyi is the best option sunbathing on its sandy beach, and it has the best hotel in the region. Water sports are popular here, and activities include thrilling speedboat rides, kayaking, wind surfing and more relaxed boating. Kibuye is ideal for those wishing for a more relaxed experience, peaceful with its laid back atmosphere. For those travelling from Nyungwe, we would recommend driving from Nyungwe to Kibuye, having a delicious lunch of fresh lake fish, before embarking on a speedboat to Gisenyi, for the night.
Nature walks and picnics are popular around Lake Kivu. Boat trips to Amahoro Island and Napoleon’s Island to see the colony of fruit bats are popular. The lake has an impressive showcase of birdlife, ranging from pelicans gracefully gliding across the waters, to crowned cranes and colourful kingfishers, and in the evenings, musicians serenade the towns with local music.
NYUNGWE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Located in the southwest of Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest was gazetted as a reserve in 1933, to protect the rainforest, bamboo forest and surrounding grasslands and swamps from encroaching farmland. Declared a national park in 2004, Nyungwe supports an ecosystem that includes 13 different primate species (25% of Africa’s total), 275 bird species, 1068 plant species including 140 orchids, 85 mammal species, 32 amphibian and 38 reptile species. Many of the plants and animals can’t be found anywhere else in the world. This is the largest tract of high-altitude montane forest in East and Central Africa, and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age.
The park’s Angola colobus monkeys live in spectacular groups of up to 400 members, it shelters the endangered Owl Faced monkeys, the Potto, a delightful creature almost as slow and patient as the ancient trees upon which it is found, as well as a large and noisy chimpanzee population. The Angola colobus monkeys and the Grey Cheeked Mangabeys can also be tracked. Other animals that may be encountered with luck include the golden cat, marsh mongoose, flying squirrel, Congo clawless otter, genet, African civet, duikers, and leopards.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the most important bird watching destinations in Rwanda with more than 280 bird species recorded. A highlight for bird-watchers is the Great Blue turaco, a stunning crested bird that calls loudly as it streams from tree to tree. Myriads of brightly coloured birds, including giant hornbills, and the endemic Rwenzori turaco and Black flycatcher are commonly seen.
The park has several well-maintained, guided walking and hiking trails, ranging in length and difficulty levels. Walking through the prehistoric forest on these trails takes between 1 and 7 hours, and there is a longer 227km long Congo-Nile Trail that takes 3 to 4 days to hike, definitely for the more active and adventurous.
The awe inspiring canopy walk within Nyungwe Forest, the only one of its kind in East Africa, offers a wonderful view of the roof canopy of the forest. Looking at the forest from the heights of the suspension bridge allows you to see birds (including some noisy Woodland hoopoes), butterflies, flowers, and with some luck, some of the primates.
Other activities in the area include walks to the Isumo Waterfalls, visits to the Kamiranzovu Swamp which is where Rwanda’s last indigenous elephant took his final steps, and with all the gorgeous green tea plantations around, it is also possible to take a tour of a tea factory at Gisakura for insights into the full process of withering, cutting, tearing and curling, fermentation, drying and finally sorting, storing and packing!
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
The bamboo and rain forest slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes are the last refuge of the Mountain Gorillas. This protected area includes the Congo’s Virunga National Park (Africa’s oldest park), Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park, and Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The Virunga Volcanoes are ranges of 8 volcanoes, none of which are active now save for 2 in the Congo.
Five of these volcanoes are located inside Rwanda: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo. Mt. Karisimbi is the highest volcano at 4507m and the oldest is Mt. Sabyinyo, standing at 3634m above sea level. The name Karisimbi comes from the word ‘amasimbi’ in the local language, Kinyarwanda, and means ‘snow’. Reaching such high altitudes, the peaks of Mt.Karisimbi are sometimes covered in snow especially during the cooler months.
The park was first gazetted in 1925 in a bid to protect the gorillas from poachers. At the time, the area included part of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was the very first National Park to be created in Africa, and was known as the Albert National Park at the time. The park’s area was divided when Congo attained independence, subsequently creating the Virunga and Volcanoes National Parks.
The lush slopes of the volcanoes provide an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is perhaps the most poignant and thrilling wildlife experience to be had anywhere – to see the Mountain Gorilla in its natural habitat. Roughly half of the world’s wild population of Mountain Gorillas is resident on the Rwandan side of the park. Mountain Gorilla tracking through bamboo thickets and mountain forest, before coming face to face with the gentle giants, has often been referred to as one of the most emotive and unforgettable wildlife experiences in the world.
The dense forests are also home to the endemic Golden Monkeys (permits are required to view them), and to forest elephants, buffalo, giant forest hogs and bush pigs, small antelopes and hundreds of birds. There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Rwenzori Mountains.
A visit to Volcanoes National Park should include a visit to nearby villages where former poachers reside. The village was established to promote local interest in conservation by providing a supplementary source of income to the people, which they obtain through the entrance fees charged and the sale of traditional handicrafts to visitors. The visit is extremely interesting and it is possible to learn about their traditional culture and current lifestyle, including sharing their meals and joining in the rejuvenating cultural dances!
Other activities include visits to the grave of famous conservationist Dian Fossey, climbing the volcanoes, visiting the local villages and community projects located in the park, and at the main town, it is possible to organise a visit to the markets, or to a traditional healer who will talk and walk you through his collection of medicinal preparations and plants.