Rwanda Travel Guide
A country that had become tragically synonymous with one of the worst human tragedies of the 20th century, Rwanda has slowly recovered since the horrible events of 1994, which saw upwards of a million Tutsis killed because they had the wrong ethnic background.
There are some attractions that pay homage to this set back in human progress, but it is far from all this country has to offer. From gorgeous lakes to misty mountains containing legendary gorillas, the Central African nation may still be healing from its past, but it is most certainly open for business.
Currency: Rwandan Francs
Languages: Kinyarwanda, French, English
What To Do
Start your time in Rwanda on a sombre note by paying your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. 1994 was a year that most people in this country would rather soon forget, as an assassination of a key government leader touched off a bloody genocide that claimed the lives of more than one million Tutsis.
The remains of over a quarter of a million of these are interred on the site of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, with plenty of skulls on display in this museum’s exhibits to remind you of the horrors that took place little more than twenty years ago.
To get a better handle on this country’s history, spend some time perusing the halls of the National Museum of Rwanda. Also known as the Ethnographic Museum, this institution in the city of Butare was a gift from Belgium to commemorate Rwanda’s 25 years of independence in 1989.
One of this country’s most beautiful structures, you’ll learn about everything about how life was lived here prior to its pre-colonial days, from the agriculture they practised to the dances that they still perform.
Once you have gotten your fill of Rwanda’s cities, make plans to head out to Volcanoes National Park. Named for containing eight volcanoes within the ranges of the Virunga Mountains, it is much better known for being the home of mountain gorillas, which are an increasingly endangered species.
In order to meet them, you must make reservations for a permit, in order to avoid crowding out these special creatures. When you have been approved, you will have to attend a pre-tracking briefing that will go over everything you can and cannot do with the gorillas.
Once you are taken out to meet them, soak it in – to be in their presence is to live out of the most special experiences a human being could ever hope to have with another wild animal.
If you haven’t gotten your primate fix after that, then head straight to Nyungwe National Park. It is in this park where you can interact with chimpanzees, which exist within the best-preserved montane rainforest in central Africa.
As our closest genetic cousins, making the effort to connect with this highly social animal should be a priority for anyone who enjoys interacting with wildlife.
Those that want to take in a site that is both breathtaking in the figurative and literal sense will want to make time in their travel itinerary to see Lake Kivu. As gorgeous as this multi-layered lake is, its position straddling the Great Rift Valley has given it volcanic properties that may prove deadly to the people living along its shores one day.
Lake Nyos in Cameroon was a body of water similar to Kivu; the former suffered a massive CO2 gas release in the 1980’s, which killed over 1,800 people as the cloud sucked all the oxygen out of low-lying pockets of land along the lake shore.
For now though, Lake Kivu is a scenic relaxing tourism hotspot, with everything from kayaking to swimming to fishing being possible for visitors.
What to Eat
Those wanting to taste Rwanda’s national dish will want to order a dish with Ugali as a side. A very thick porridge that is common throughout central and southern Africa, this maize-based staple is cooked in boiling liquid until it reaches a consistency where it can be easily scooped by hand.
Served alongside a variety of vegetables and meat, this starch can be easily found throughout Rwanda, making it easy to try.
If you wish to dive deeper into Rwandan cuisine, be sure to ask a local to help you find some Matoke. Another side dish created by cooking green bananas, it is also served along with meat and other main courses in Rwanda.
If you really want to eat something uniquely Rwandan, then be sure to seek out some Ibihaza. In essence, it is made from pumpkins that have been diced into pieces, combined with beans and then boiled up together.
This is done without feeling either the pumpkins or the beans, giving the dish a character that would be missed were to be made by a different culture.