Rwanda is a safe and friendly country; also known as the land of a thousand hills; for its stunning scenery and warm, friendly people. The country is blessed with extraordinary biodiversity; with incredible wildlife living throughout its volcanoes, montane rainforest, and sweeping plains.
Rwanda lies just south of the Equator, sandwiched between Uganda and Tanzania and bordering Congo and Burundi; in East Africa.
Over half of the world’s mountain gorilla population is in Rwanda; therefore; it offers some of the best primate tracking. Travelers come from far and wide; to catch a glimpse of the magnificent gorillas yet there is so much more to see and experience. Rwanda is an up-and-coming safari destination with central Africa’s largest protected wetland in the Akagera National Park. Other primates include the Sykes monkey, Golden monkey, and chimpanzees.
Over 703 bird species are found in Rwanda; among the resident species are 29 Albertine Rift Endemics and several Lake Victoria Basin Endemics; which should be on any birder’s wish list.
Most birders tend to focus their attention on Nyungwe National Park; in the west of Rwanda and Akagera National Park in the east. However, good birding can be found across the country and even close to Kigali; so no matter how long you are staying there is rewarding birding on offer.
Capital of Rwanda
Ideally positioned in the center of Rwanda; Kigali is the capital and home to the international airport. Extending across several hills and valleys, with good road links to the rest of the country; first-time visitors to the bustling and colorful center often remark how clean the streets are; a matter of pride across every community throughout the country.
No visit to Rwanda would be complete without a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial; which honors the memory of the more than one million Rwandans killed in 1994. The three permanent exhibitions and burial gardens; form part of a meaningful tribute to those who perished and provide a powerful educational tool for visitors.
Main attractions in Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park
In the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of the Virungas mountain range; home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems; which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath.
Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif; Karisimbi is the highest at 4,507m; Bisoke with its verdant crater lake; Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura.
Tracking endangered mountain gorillas through the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest; alive with the calls of 200 species of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey; is a truly unique experience in the area.
Within the boundaries of Volcanoes National Park are Buhanga Eco-Park; an ancient forest holding Rwanda’s most intriguing folklore, and Musanze Caves; formed over 62 million years ago after the last estimated volcanic eruption. The Musanze Cave was used as a shelter during wartime and; was also the site of a massacre during the genocide.
Hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, and village experiences offer something for everyone to enjoy.
Akagera National Park
The relatively warm and low-lying plains of Akagera comprise savannah, woodland, wetland, and a dozen lakes. This National Park has been transformed into a world-class safari destination; in partnership with African Parks. Akagera is once again home to the Big Five.
Leopard, lion, hyena, and side-striped jackal make up the larger predators in the park. Visitors can also encounter eastern black rhinos, buffalo, elephants, antelope, zebra, giraffe, baboons, monkeys; and an incredible 525 bird species, plus much more. The rare and elusive shoebill shares the papyrus with other rarities; such as the exquisite papyrus gonolek and countless other water birds that inhabit the wetlands in large numbers.
Of the primates, olive baboons, vervets, and the secretive blue monkey are seen during the day; with bushbabies often seen on night drives.
A boat trip on Lake Ihema is also a highlight of any visit to Akagera; with its large pods of hippos, Nile crocodiles, and abundant waterbirds on the island in the middle of the lake.
Nyungwe National Park
One of the oldest rainforests in Africa, Nyungwe is rich in biodiversity and spectacularly beautiful. The mountainous region is teaming with wildlife, including a small population of chimpanzees; as well as 12 other species of primate, including the L’Hoest’s monkey endemic to the Albertine Rift.
With 15 trails and primate tracking topping most people’s lists; visitors can choose to sample the delights of the forest or indulge themselves for a week; or more; in one of Africa’s most stunning forests.
Botanists will marvel at the 1,068 plant species and 140 orchids. The birdwatching is among the best in Africa with 322 bird species; including Red-collared Babbler and 29 other Albertine Rift Endemic species. Butterflies are also a common sight, with at least 120 species.
There are 75 known mammals in Nyungwe; such as the serval cat, mongoose, congo clawless otter, and leopard to name but a few. Many tend to be shy so sightings are luck of the draw.
Memorable and photogenic moments include walking up to the Isumo Waterfall or along the Canopy Walk suspension bridge. Tea plantations border the edges of the park, with a habituated troop of Ruwenzori colobus monkeys at Gisakura; as well as forest fringe birds.
With plenty of rainfall, Nyungwe is also the major catchment area in Rwanda supplying water to 70% of the country.
Gishwati Mukura National Park
Gishwati Mukura; Rwanda’s fourth national park; is made up of two separate forests; the larger Gishwati and small Mukura; forming a total of 34 square kilometers plus a buffer zone. These forests include 60 species of tree; mostly indigenous hardwoods and bamboo; and sit on the ridge which divides the Congo and Nile water catchment areas; along the incredibly biodiverse Albertine Rift in the west of the country.
Gishwati is home to a group of 20 chimpanzees that live alongside golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s, and Blue Monkeys. Birds are well represented too and 232 species have been seen at Gishwati and 163 at Mukura; among them Albertine Rift Endemic species and forest specialists.
The park was nearly depleted; largely due to resettlement, illegal mining in the mineral-rich forest, and livestock farming, and is currently part of an ambitious landscape restoration program. The formalization of its National Park status in 2015 aims to help redress the balance; increase the number of trees to improve soil fertility, stabilize slopes and regulate streamflow. It will also contribute to improving the livelihoods of the population living in the surrounding areas; which in turn offers the forest a better chance of regeneration; in tandem with the potential to raise living standards in the longer term.
Activities in the park include a guided nature hike, guided chimp, and monkey tracking, bird watching; and a visit to the waterfalls. Community-based activities include a farm stay, a live cultural dance, making handicrafts, beekeeping, a tea plantation tour; and the chance to learn from traditional healers; who use natural plants to support modern medicine and synthesized drugs.