RWANDA has in recent years become one of the most exciting and interesting countries to visit in Africa. The amazing recovery that Rwanda has gone through since the 1994 Genocide has been quite astonishing Today Rwanda has one of the best road networks on the continent; all major destinations can be reached quickly and efficiently on newly tarmacked roads. With the newly introduced environmental laws, unsightly garbage is a thing of the past. Most visitors arrive in Rwanda through the revamped Kigali International Airport, a most modern and efficient introduction to this beautiful landlocked country of 1000 hills. One is quite taken back by the ‘greenness’ Rwanda, rolling hills covered with bright green vegetation. As one departs the urban center of Kigali, those hills can be seen to have been transformed into agricultural crops to sustain the local people. The terraced farming methods are standard in Rwanda, but somewhat unique to Africa; the agricultural methods employed cater to the unusual steepness of the farmland, producing added hardships, especially with regards to irrigation. Rwanda is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa and there are great challenges to produce enough food for Rwanda’s inhabitants.
In addition, maintaining the habitat for the wildlife conflicts with the human needs on the land. There is constant friction between the protectors of the National Parks and the crop growers in Rwanda; both fighting for the same fertile land, which is in short supply. Gorillas have put Rwanda on the map, but keeping their environment safe and sound is a full-time job for the authorities. The human population around these parks and protected areas are constantly being kept at bay from encroaching on the wildlife habitats. Rwanda is one of 3 countries in the entire world that have Mountain Gorillas in their borders; the others being Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Mountain Gorilla safaris in Rwanda are a huge Tourist attraction, and as such a big money-earner for Rwanda. Today, when one thinks of Mountain Gorillas, one thinks of Rwanda; most tourists come to Rwanda to track these amazing primates.
Dian Fossey, the American Zoologist who spent years studying and protecting the Mountain Gorillas, set up the Karisoke Research Center in the middle of the Volcanoes National Park. Fossey was murdered and buried at the Center, but her work goes on; there are over 100 staff members at the Center today and it has become ‘ground zero’ for Mountain Gorilla knowledge. Many trackers make the journey through the forest to visit Karisoke Research Center, it being very close to the starting off point for Gorilla Tracking.
Despite the focus these days on Rwanda’s Gorillas, there are many other activities for tourists to get involved in. For instance, the Nyungwe Forest National Park has over a dozen other primates, including the equally rare and endangered Golden Monkey as well as over 400 species of Chimpanzees. Both the Golden Monkeys and the Chimpanzees can be tracked, and the permit fee is a fraction of that of the Gorillas. The Nyungwe Forest is one of the last real rain forests that exist in Africa, and within its boundaries there are hundreds of birds, reptiles, insects and small mammals that exist only in such an environment. The forest proudly offers a 50 meter Canopy Walk that gives visitors a true bird’s-eye view of this amazing ecosystem.
The western border of the Nyungwe Forest one can find Lake Kivu, with its many islands and villages dotted along the shoreline; providing numerous cultural opportunities both with the Congo-Nile trail by way of hiking or biking and the lake kayaking which has become extremely popular. Here on and around the lake, one can visit indigenous people living traditionally; their homes open for visitation.
Throughout Rwanda there is plenty of opportunity for mountain biking; many trails exist both in Volcanoes National Park and Akagera National Park. But even more popular in Rwanda is hiking the Volcanic Mountains of the northern sector of Volcanoes National Park; here there are snow-capped mountains that challenge hikers and mountain climbers to be conquered. The changing vegetation and wildlife upon ascending these mountains is unusually interesting and quite unique.
Lastly, there are the two major urban centers in Rwanda, of Kigali and Butare. Kigali, the capital of Rwanda is a most lively city, offering both daytime and nighttime activities galore. There are numerous cultural and historical sites in Kigali, the most prominent being the Holocaust Memorial Center. There are local markets and handicraft workshops scattered throughout the city. At night, Kigali transforms into an exciting center of clubs, bars and music venues to entertain all tastes. Butare, on the other hand is known as the Intellectual Center of Rwanda; here there are a number of educational institutions, museums, historical buildings and cultural offerings for those that enjoy the arts. Local music and dances are a daily encounter here in Butare; the local bars come alive at night to entertain both locals and travelers. Both urban centers are strategically located to allow all visitors to pay a visit and enjoy what they have to offer.