Where to Go in Rwanda

Rwanda might be one of Africa’s smallest nations but not only does it pack in plenty of excellent wildlife destinations ranging from montane rainforests to grassy savannahs, but its modest size means that getting between places of interest is relatively quick and simple.

Rwanda is 1.5 times the size of South Africa’s Kruger National Park and almost all points of interest are about a 4-hour drive from Kigali.

Kigali: gateway to the gorillas

The capital city of Kigali is the country’s entry and exit point for gorilla trekking. You will fly in from East Africa’s logistics hubs such as Entebbe or Nairobi and, depending on your itinerary, will either transfer straight to the Volcanoes National Park or overnight in this compact, vibrant and safe city.

Your other option is to fly direct from Johannesburg in South Africa, which means it is easy to add a gorilla trek onto a Kruger, Cape Town or Victoria Falls holiday. There are also regular connections from Lusaka in Zambia; perfect if you have been visiting the Lower Zambezi or on a walking safari in South Luangwa National Park.

Kigali is both safe and clean. Once a month, residents undertake ‘Umuganda Day’ when they engage in compulsory cleaning of all aspects of the city. It is taken very seriously and Rwandans are justifiably proud of their capital. As a means of combatting litter and pollution, all forms of plastic bags are prohibited in the country.

Your safety is taken seriously and you may encounter checks at the airport, shopping malls and hotels.

Rwandans prefer not to negotiate at the markets so don’t be tempted to haggle about prices! Corruption and bribery of any sort are considered very serious offences.

A full day in Kigali (ie two nights) will allow you time to visit the Genocide Memorial, which is both moving and inspiring, and to see the ‘old’ and ‘new’ parts of the capital.

Volcanoes National Park: gorillas treks & bird watching

Gorilla trekking is the region’s unrivalled main attraction and the Volcanoes National Park is where to go in Rwanda to do it. Its mountainous terrain and dense forests make for tough walking conditions but the rewards are matchless: butterflies, birds and primates, headlined of course by families of habituated mountain gorillas.

Volcanoes National Park is the site of primatologist Dian Fossey’s Karisoke Research Station, where she led a team to study gorillas in the wild. You can undertake about a 2-hour hike to her tomb, which is – like so much in Rwanda – both moving and inspiring. The hike is good time to look out for primates, hogs, forest elephants and a plethora of bird species.

There are a few troops of habituated golden monkeys, whose antics are great fun to watch. Golden monkeys are also endangered and permits are required for trekking them.

It is always worth understanding more about the indigenous culture of the area you are visiting. Take a guided community walk to Iby’Iwacu village where you can experience traditional dancing, discover beer brewed from bananas, and visit a local healer.

Serious hikers might want to consider a 2-day trek to Mount Karisimbi. Although this is fairly strenuous, you will be rewarded with excellent birding, spectacular scenery and the summit of the fifth highest mountain in Africa.

Nyungwe Forest National Park: chimps, primates & birds

Protecting the largest single tract of montane forest in East or Central Africa, Nyungwe is the best reason to further explore Rwanda after your gorilla trek. A magnificent rainforest full of birds, butterflies and orchids, the stars of the show are the 13 species of primate – including chimpanzees – that make the park their home.

In addition to excellent hiking, the forest canopy walk is an excellent way of spotting blue monkeys living in the treetops.

Akagera National Park: savannah game viewing

Located in low lying eastern Rwanda, Akagera is where the tropical forests of Central Africa give way to the dry savannahs of East Africa. An appealing mix of wetlands and rolling wooded grasslands, Akagera National Park is where to go in Rwanda for the chance to spot classic African animals including elephant, buffalo, hippo, giraffe, leopard and many antelope species.

This is a relatively small park and is roughly a 3-hour drive from Kigali.

In addition to guided Big 5 game drives, Akagera also offers private boat trips, sunset cruises and night drives. All members of the Big 5 are slowly being reintroduced into the area in an ambitious conservation project.

Lake Kivu

Located on the western border of Rwanda, Lake Kivu is a massive expansive of water ringed by verdant hills that offer excellent hiking, chimp trekking, bird watching and canopy walks. You will stay at Gisenyi, a small town on the northern shore from which you can go kayaking or boating. Kivu is a tranquil place to get over jet-lag from a long-haul flight or to relax after the rigours of gorilla trekking.