Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills‘, Rwanda is quite simply one of the most beautiful countries I have visited. Its landscape is captivating, its lush, green hills rolling endlessly across the country, its lakes flooding out across fertile plains, its rivers flowing powerfully through the land and its forests home to some of the most impressive animals on our planet. I spent ten days exploring some of Rwanda and it’s won a place on my Top Ten Countries in the World to See before you pop your clogs!
Nestled in the heart of Africa, Rwanda is landlocked, with 23 lakes, many rivers including the mighty Nile and the Congo, five volcanoes, 23 lakes and many mountains and hills. It’s rated as one of the least corrupt countries in Africa and its people are welcoming, warm and friendly. Here are 5 reasons why you should visit Rwanda at least once in your life.
1. Get close to Mountain Gorillas
NOTHING can prepare you for the your first sight of a mountain gorilla in its natural habitat. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen David Attenborough rolling around with them or John Bishop’s awed whispers, when you finally get to see one, your heart does a happy dance and you feel blessed. Having trekked uphill for some time you are more than ready for one of the best wildlife encounters you’ll ever have. Rwanda is the world’s top destination for seeing mountain gorillas. Living up in the dense bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains, these gentle giants were in danger of extinction, but due to the visionary dedication of Dian Fossey and now the excellent conservation work done on a daily basic, their numbers have stabilised and are starting to grow.
Read about my memorable encounter with Mountain Gorillas here.
2. Discover Rwanda’s traditions in a unique village
The sound of a lively group of Rwandans laughing as they parade towards a traditional hut, carrying a bride aloft in the pouring rain is one that will stay with me for a long time to come. In Iby’iwacu Village you can meet poachers-turned-dancers. In a ground-breaking project, the aim is to improve ‘the lives of reformed poachers and communities around Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park through provision of conservation incentives, supporting community enterprise development and livelihood based projects.’ The gap-toothed Master of Ceremony, a lively little guy, was a member of the Batwa pygmy tribe, used to hunt gorillas and i snow gainfully employed entertaining tourists.
You can watch a marriage ceremony, see a ‘witch doctor’ preparing his potions, the grinding of bread and making of pots and extremely energetic dancing, all performed in high spirits, whatever the weather!
3. Explore Rwanda’s lush Montane Rainforest
Though much of Rwanda’s ‘montane rainforest has disappeared you can still find the last remnants in the vast Nyungwe National Park, a vast expanse of primary rainforest. With over 1,000 ha, it’s home to over 300 bird species, numerous orchids and exotic plants, plus 75 mammals including species of 13 primates, about a quarter of all Africa’s primates. During my stay at the luxuriously tranquil tea plantation Nyungwe Forest Lodge, I spent some time exploring a tiny part of this huge area.
I glimpsed energetic colobus monkeys leaping from tree to tree; they come very close to the Lodge most days. There’s a rope walk to experience the forest from on-high and plenty of walks, varying from relatively easy (you need to be quite fit even for these) to strenuous. Waterfalls and rivers flow through sunlit valleys and the sounds of bird call and monkeys screeching adds a sonorous soundtrack to your walk.
4. Discover how well Rwanda is recovering from tragedy
1994 is a year that will live in Rwandan memory for generations. The country suffered a horrific genocide as the Hutus carried out mass killings of the Tutsi tribal members and moderate Hutus. The story of this awful time is told in moving imagery and personal accounts in the Kigali Genocide Memorial, where more than 250,000 victims are buried. Within its walls, in the heart of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, you will learn the meaning of reconciliation as well as tragedy. Everyone you meet will have been touched by this tragedy, yet Rwandans have worked hard through legal and personal ways to reconcile themselves to what happened and move forward into a better future. With a thriving economy, a vibrant tourist industry and a philosophical approach, the future look very positive for the people of Rwanda.
5. Make friends wherever you go in Rwanda
Rwanda has to be one of the friendliest countries in Africa. Wherever you go in this beautiful country, people smile, wave and say hello. Not having been too exposed to tourism, the local people retain a friendly curiousity about visitors. If you’re driving across the country, you will have regular opportunities to engage with Rwandans, whether it’s a roadside market, a photo stop or just along the road.
Everyone seems to be carrying something; with public transport limited, most people walk or cycle everywhere. Elegant women carry balance heavy pots, enormous bunches of bananas or bowls of washing on their heads, men have arms full of wood, bicycles are loaded up with groceries and children lug huge bundles of sticks up steep mountain tracks.
I traveller to Rwanda courtesy of Uber Luxe Safaris, experts in organising tours to this lovely country. You can find out more about holidays in Rwanda here. I’d love to return – and I do hope you get the chance to visit one day.
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