Exploring Rwanda: past the dark past into the beautiful present

When most people think about Rwanda it is about the tragic genocide that took place in 1994, where horrifically up to 1 million people were killed. I was a bit unsure of what to expect. I had heard from fellow travelers that it is incredibly developed, but that there isn’t much to do. I’m glad I stuck around, as I discovered one of my favorite countries not only in Africa, but in the world to travel. Below I’ll share my favorite places in Rwanda with information on visiting them.

Kigali Convention Center
Modern and polished Kigali with the iconic egg shaped Convention Center

Kigali is a surprising capital. It is clean, calm and manageable city that has a nice feel. It is also incredibly developed with impressive infrastructure, impeccable roads, parks, and even seems to lack the chaos of the other African cities I’ve visited. It also has many international restaurants and a high quality of life that you feel even visiting.

What to do in Kigali
Number one on everyone’s list should be to visit the Memorial Museum, which is the museum dedicated to explaining everything about the tragic genocide that took place in 1994 where approximately 1 million people of the Tutsi Ethnic minority were killed. It is such a powerful and informative museum that I ended up going twice and no trip to Rwanda is complete without a visit.

The Kimironko Market is both great for shopping and exploring as it is beautiful to see the colorful produce and fabrics and the friendly merchants. The Inema Arts Center is also a great stop if you love art as they have amazing art on display and I understand on Thursday evenings they have music and drinks.

There are also some church memorials around 45 minutes outside of the city (Ntamara and Nyamata) which are both sad and interesting to visit and a good introduction to rural Rwanda.

Where to stay in Kigali:
Mijo Hostel  in the attractive neighborhood of Kimihurura is one of the nicest hostels I’ve ever stayed at. And to make matters better, it is perhaps that most affordable hostel in Kigali.

Another city worth visiting is Gisenyi  which is a gateway city to the Democratic Republic of Congo which is definitely worth a visit to either see the mountain gorillas or climb the active volcano Mt Nyiragongo. It also lies on the emblematic Lake Kivu and has some pretty nature in and around Gisenyi.

What to do in Gisenyi:
There are actually beaches with sand in Gisenyi for swimming or relaxing on the shores of Lake Kivu. There are also some hot springs a few kilometers away from the town that are a nice option to soak in the hot waters courtesy of the nearby volcanoes. And I also had the pleasure of spending a few days with some friends I met on Couchsurfing who hosted me a few days that have a beautiful project that I encourage you to support for the important work they do helping their community.

 

Where to stay in Gisenyi
I stayed at both the Diane Fossey Hotel and the Discover Rwanda Gisenyi Beach and both are absolutely lovely. The Diane Fossey perhaps has more modern and comfortable rooms, while the Discover Rwanda hostel has an amazing location next to the shores of Lake Kivu and is a great place to meet fellow travelers. On top of it they are a social enterprise helping Genocide survivors.

One of the prettiest and serene places I visited in Rwanda was Kibuye. It is a lovely town also on Lake Kivu that has lovely views of the surrounding mountains and waters of the lake.

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What to do in Kibuye
The number one thing to do in Kibuye is to take a boat ride, which is well worth it. You get to visit a few different islands on Lake Kivu and you can swim in the lake as well as rent kayaks, or canoes, etc to explore the lake.

Where to stay in Kibuye
The Home Saint Jean had an amazing location with beautiful views of the lake and its surroundings and has both nice rooms and dorms.

And perhaps the most beautiful nature I’ve seen in a while and in Rwanda was at the Nyungwe Forest National Park. It is a lush and mountainous rain forest with over 13 species of  primates within the park including chimpanzees that you can do hikes and track. I did a beautiful day hike and was rewarded with stunning views, plants and flowers that included an insane amount of wild orchids.

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Where to stay in Nyungwe Park
I stayed at the Gisakura Guesthouse and it was lovely to be so close to the national park, that you feel like you are still inside of it and surrounded by gorgeous nature.
If you are coming from the Huye side of the park I recommend you stay at the Golden Monkey Hotel.

When I crossed into Rwanda from Uganda by bus I remember passing some beautiful landscapes and saw a lake in the distance that I was able to come back to and visit the city of  Musanze also called Ruhengeri.


What do do in Musanze/Ruhengeri

This is actually the starting point for gorilla tracking when people do this activity in Rwanda and it is also very near the Volcanoes National Park. Since I had done both of these activities in neighboring DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). I instead visited the the beautiful twin lakes nearby, Ruhongo and Burera lakes,  twice as I was blown away by the beauty of the landscapes. I also enjoyed my visit the Ibyi Wacu Cultural village where I learned more about Rwandan culture and saw some beautiful traditional dances.

Where to stay in Musanze/Ruheneri
I stayed at the Best View Hotel and wow. What an impressive hotel and they are renovating so it will be even better in June.

Traditional Rwanda Dances Intoro
Typical Rwandan dances called, Intoro warrior dances
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And of course I had some fun with my costume and spear 🙂

All in all Rwanda is a beautiful country with lovely people. It is also very manageable because of its size and great roads and infrastructure it makes it easy to visit. It has a lot to offer in terms of things to do and see, especially with the stunning nature that lives up to it’s name of the land of the thousand hills. It could also be a good introduction into South Sahara Africa for some, as it is more developed and even referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa.”

Check out some recent posts:
Face to face with mountain gorillas in the Democratic Republic of Congo Climbing Active Volcano Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Chimpanzee Sanctuary, and Western Uganda
Whitewater Rafting, Volunteering and Chasing Waterfalls in Eastern Uganda
Spending some Days with a Maasai Tribe in Kenya
Adventures on the Kenyan Coast
Maasai Mara Safari Experience
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My stays at the recommended guesthouses were sponsored, as was the Cultural Center visit, but of course all views are my own.

 

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