In the furthest corner of East Africa, between Uganda, Tanzania, and DR Congo, lies a country snuggled between rolling miles of misty green hill. While most visitors come here to experience the remarkable giants of Virunga — Mountain Gorillas — Rwanda is fast becoming one of East Africa’s top tourist destinations. Though briefly disturbed by the unfortunate genocide of 1994, Rwanda has registered unrivalled recovery to become one of the world’s fasted growing economies and a paradise for travellers.
The beauty of Rwanda is arresting; the air is cool and refreshing, the pace of life calm and tranquil, the cities clean, and the road network good. Unlike the clichéd tourist destination choking on dense tourist traffic, Rwanda’s serenity is doubly rewarding. For tourists making a final/starting stop in a long African safari, Rwanda is a favoured stop because many of its sites are 1-5 hours drive from Kigali. In a one day circuit, one can visit Gorillas in the Virungas, hike through Nyungwe Forest, and track wildlife in Akagera National Park.
Rwanda’s number one destination is Virunga National Park which is home to one third of the world’s surviving population of Mountain Gorillas. Rwanda’s Gorillas are the most studied in the region, and were made famous by American conservationist Dianne Fossey who pioneered a worldwide effort to save the Mountain Gorilla from extinction.
Aside from Gorilla tracking, Rwanda hosts East Africa’s only canopy walk in the dense Nyungwe Forest. Wildlife treks in Akagera National Park were recently boosted with the reintroduction of lions, and all the parks offer cultural encounters and birding treks to rival any destination in East Africa. A tour of Kigali City is a must have on your itinerary checklist.
The people of Rwanda speak Kinyarwanda alongside English, French, or Kiswahili. Unlike most African state, Rwanda has been a unified state since pre-colonial times; the entire population is from one culture. Most Rwandans are influenced by western culture in dress and lifestyle but place high premium on preserving heritage.
Plantains (ibitoke), sweet potatoes, and cassava are the staple foods. Meat is eaten on occasions. Beans are the most ubiquitous source. Continental and international dishes available in Kigali, and most tourist centres. Nightlife closes early but is fun while it lasts.
Literary culture in Rwanda is low. Music and dance are the dominant expressions in the arts. A growing number of spoken word events take place in Kigali, and international artists are starting to have concerts there as well.
Modern pop and church hymns are the most popular forms of music, though some groups prefer traditional folk songs — one traditional-dance society, Intore Dance Troupe, claims to have been founded several centuries ago when the dance after which they are named impressed the King and was adopted as a dance of the court.
At 10,169 square miles, Rwanda is comparable in size to Haiti or Massachusetts, US. It lies within the Albertine Rift, which runs along the western border, and its landscape is dominated by montane forest and hilly terrain — covering the western and central parts — while the eastern region consists of swampy plan and wet savannah.
The climate is temperate tropical savannah. Temperatures average between 12°C and 27°C. The rainy season runs from February to June and September to December. And the mountainous northwest is cooler than the low lying southeast.