Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda forms a cross border conservation area with Congo’s Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda to create a protected habitat for the last of the endangered mountain gorillas. It is Africa’s oldest national park, formed in 1925. The park is dominated by six extinct volcanoes whose slopes are covered by a range of different habitats from bamboo forests to heath and montane forests. This is the perfect habitat for the mountain gorilla, as well as rare mountain elephant, forest hogs, buffalo, spotted hyena and golden monkeys.
The region gained fame through the research work of Diane Fossey, which was featured in the documentary, Gorillas in the Mist. Her murder was a great blow to conservation efforts but inspired others to carry on her work. Conservation initiatives have continued to grow, and tourism has played a key role in providing funding to support local communities and help combat poaching. Coming face to face with the powerful mountain gorilla in its domain allows guests to experience what gentle giants these magnificent creatures are.
There are strict regulations about tracking to see habituated gorillas in Rwanda. Permits must be purchased which allow guests to track to specific habituated gorilla groups. Rwanda has deliberately chosen to make the price of these permits very high to help keep tourist numbers down and limit the impact on these gorilla populations. The trek is considered to be easier than the trek in Bwindi in nearby Uganda to see the mountain gorillas.
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is the best place to enjoy a safari in Rwanda with 2,500 km sq of woodland, savannah plains and swamps. The park was heavily impacted during the political upheaval during the genocide in the 1990s. Lions were re-introduced into Akagera in 2015, and black rhinos were reintroduced into the park in 2017 as part of ongoing rehabilitation and conservation programs. The park has bee reviving and game viewing is generally excellent. Tourism provides much-needed income to support these conservation efforts.
Akagera is best visited in the dry season when the wildlife congregates around permanent water sources. The park is home to large numbers of impala, giraffe, eland and zebra. It has a healthy population of elephants and herds of buffalo. If guests only have a short time, they can combine gorilla trekking with a safari in Akagera. The marshes are the habitat of the rare shoebill stork which is a very pre-historic looking bird which is on many twitchers must-see list. Akagera offers some of the best bird watching in Rwanda.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest is one of the oldest forests in Africa, over ten thousand years old. It is a unique area of biodiversity, with many endemic species found nowhere else on Earth. The forest is surrounded by commercial tea plantations, creating an island of forest, which has been called a sky island like the Galapagos, for the many special plants and creatures found there.
The park is home to thirteen of Africa’s species of primates, 250 species of trees, over 1,068 plant species including 140 incredible orchids. The park also offers spectacular birding with 322 species recorded including the red collared babbler. All these species constitute one of the oldest and rarest high-altitude habitats in central and eastern Africa.
An orchid paradise, and a butterfly one too, it is an extraordinarily colourful habitat, and everywhere there is great beauty. There are 15 hiking trails through the forest which allow guests to explore this ancient forest. Some of the best views are from the Canopy Walk, suspension bridge, the only one in East Africa, it gives the impression of floating through the forest. Another popular stop is at the Isumo Waterfall. A spring on the slopes of Mt Bigugu is said to be the most remote source of the Nile, the world’s longest river.
The forest is home to many species of mammals such as leopards and duikers, but most are extremely shy and guests will be lucky to spot them on their walks. The park is under increasing threat from surrounding communities. The park suffered during the civil unrest of the 1990s. The region’s elephant population was poached out during this period. Despite a lack of other wildlife, the primates are thriving. Guests can trail chimpanzees, troops of Rwenzori colobus monkeys and the impressive L’Hourst monkey with its impressive beard.
Forming part of the Albertine Rift, surrounded by mountains and some of the most scenic inland beaches is the paradise which is Lake Kivu. The lake is one of the oldest lakes on Earth. It is one of three exploding lakes in Africa. It experiences bouts of volcanic activity, which periodically cause volcanic gases which gather deep in the lake to explode.
Lake Kivu is a popular holiday destination for locals but is less visited by foreigners. Two of the towns on its shores Kibuyu and Gisyeni were badly affected during the genocide. In Kibuyu, a staggering ninety percent of the resident Tutsi people were massacred. There is on a hill near the town a church that serves as a memorial to the 11,000 dead.
The town has put its past behind it and has a wonderful feel, with beautiful beaches, friendly locals. There are regular boat trips out to an island called Chapeau Napoleon which has a large colony of fruit bats and to a thriving local bar on one of the islands. Gisenyi is an old, delightful colonial-era town with excellent.
Rwanda’s vibrant up and coming capital Kigali is the largest city in Rwanda. Kigali has become known as one of the quietest, safest, cleanest and most organized cities in Africa. It is the centre of arts, transportation and culture in Rwanda. Kigali was at the centre of the 1994 genocide and many still associate the city with this period. A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a great way to pay homage to the memory of those that were killed during this turbulent period and remember why we should not let cultural differences drive us apart.
A tour of the city will take in local highlights such as the Gaddafi Mosque, not built by Gaddafi, but rather named after the nearby road which he did build. The presidential palace has an informative museum and is worth a visit. Guests should stop off at the Inema Arts Centre which showcases some of the best Rwandan contemporary art. Take in local culture in the thriving marketplaces, cafes and restaurants in the city.
Kigali Genocide Museum
Sadly, most people still associate Rwanda with the genocide which happened over 100 days in 1994. However, the country has embraced peace and reconciliation and is one of the most dynamic countries in Africa to visit.
Opened on the 10th anniversary of the genocide, the Kigali Genocide Memorial at Gisozi is built on the site where 250,000 victims of the genocide are buried. The memorial museum examines the complex reasons behind what caused the genocide. The wall of names which commemorates those who died is still a work in progress as research into victims is ongoing and many victims remain unknown.
The memorial gardens provide a place for quiet contemplation about the history of the Genocide against the Tutsi. They allow visitors to reflect on how we all have a personal responsibility to prevent discrimination and mass atrocity. The centre also provides support for survivors, in particular orphans and widows.
The genocide affected the whole country and there are memorials throughout the country, some are gardens where visitors can pause in quiet contemplation, others contain skulls and remains of victims, a shocking reminder of the violence done. This includes the Camp Kigali Belgian Monument, Nyanza Genocide Memorial, Ntarama Genocide Memorial, Nyamata Genocide Memorial and the Murambi Genocide Memorial.