Rwanda is a small East African country with a population of 12 million people. The country is a landlocked country bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo. The languages spoken in Rwanda include Kinyarwanda, English, French and Kiswahili. Although Rwanda has incredibly welcoming people and is listed as among the best for doing business, the country has a dark past.
One of the worst genocides in modern times occurred in Rwanda in the year 1994. This genocide was a result of ethnic tension that had been building for decades leading to a civil war that put the main Hutu tribe against the minority Tutsi. The Rwandan genocide claimed the lives of about 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutus. Though this dark past has not stopped Rwanda from becoming one of the most admired countries in Africa today. The genocide humbled the people and gave them the determination to forge forward, but also ensure that tribal divisions never take them back to what happened in 1994.
What is there to admire about Rwanda? According to the 2022 global gender gap index, Rwanda is ranked as one of the most gender equal countries in the world. It has the highest female representation in government and this came about after women took over 61% of the parliament seats in the 2018 parliamentary elections. Out of the seven supreme judges of the country, four of them are women.
Rwanda is also one of the safest tourist destinations in Africa with very organized infrastructure that ranges from modern transport networks, high-end accommodation facilities and a well-funded tourism sector. Rwanda is thought to be the cleanest country in Africa and has banned the production and usage of plastic packaging bags. The country put in place other measures to maintain the country’s overall cleanliness such as the compulsory ‘umuganda’. This community cleaning initiative occurs on the last Saturday of each month with all citizens participating, including the county’s president.
What makes Rwanda a great Tourist destination? Rwanda is blessed with remarkable physical features which include highlands, mountains, tropical rain forests, lakes, rivers and swamps. Rwanda is blessed with two rainy seasons which fall in the months of March to May and September to October. The dry season, on the other hand, falls in the months of June to August and December to February. The best time to visit Rwanda is during the dry season when the trekking trails are mud-free and there are fewer mosquitoes that cause malaria. The skies are clear during the dry season and perfect for activities like game drives, birding, boat cruises, and many other possibilites.
As a safari destination, Rwanda offers a variety of activities ranging from primate tracking (gorillas, chimps and golden monkeys), visiting important historical sites, game drives, birding, boat cruises, mountain hiking, cave exploration and camping. Let’s discuss in detail some of the things to do while on a safari in Rwanda:
Things to do on a Safari in Rwanda
The capital Kigali has been in existence since the country broke off from Burundi to attain its independence from Belgium in 1962. Kigali City has variety of amazing sites that include the large shopping malls, high-end hotels, coffee shops, impressive office buildings, the country’s state museum, the natural history museum and the Kigali genocide memorial museum. Additionally, one can visit the various craft markets to purchase some souvenirs. Rwanda has got some of the most beautiful people in Africa and you will quickly notice that if you are to storm one of the night clubs in Kigali.
Volcanoes National Park
After having enough of Kigali, the next place to visit while in Rwanda is Volcanoes National Park located just 80 kilometers from Kigali International Airport. This is one of the oldest national parks in Africa and is home to a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. The 160 square kilometer national park is also home to golden monkeys and wildlife species that include birds.
While tracking gorillas along the slopes of the volcanoes, you can choose to also visit the tomb of the great zoologist and researcher, Dian Fossey. Fossey was the first zoologist to study mountain gorillas extensively and discovered the various ways in which they could be habituated. She also fought aggressively against poaching and pet trade.
Fossey was found murdered in her cabin by people who were against her anti-poaching campaigns. Her tomb is next to Digit, her favorite silverback gorilla. The cost of gorilla trekking is high and a permit costs 1500 US dollars.
Volcanoes National Park is not all about gorillas. There is also Mount Bisoke and Karisimbi hiking for those who love physically challenging activities. We shouldn’t forget to mention exploring the famous Musanze caves, which were home to Africa’s pygmy communities for thousands of years.
Nyungwe National Park
The third site to check out is Nyungwe National Park. It is the most biologically diverse park in the country. Much of it is composed of dense tropical rain forests with beautiful canopies. Nyungwe National Park is home to chimpanzees and 11 other primates including the rare Angola Colobus. The most popular activities in Nyungwe forest are chimpanzee trekking, nature walks and the amazing forest canopy walk.
Akagera National Park
This is Rwanda’s largest national park and is located along the border with Tanzania. The park is famous for having all of the Big 5. On a typical game drive, you can be sure to spot lions, elephants, black rhinos, hippos and giraffes.
Akagera National Park offers a variety of activities like boat trips, sport fishing and birding. The park is currently managed by an organization called Africa Parks and in partnership with the government of Rwanda.
Lake Kivu is the largest fresh water lake in Rwanda and acts as a natural boundary with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Lake Kivu is the 6th largest lake in Africa and is excellent for swimming because it has no crocodiles or hippos.
While exploring lake Kivu, you can also embark on a boat trip to Napoleon’s island, take a tour at the Pfunde tea estates, walk along the famous Congo Nile trail or simply relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Other Important Attractions
Apart from visiting the major national parks and Lake Kivu, climbing Mount Kabuye can be very rewarding for hikers. Hikers can expect to spend a thrilling 7-8 hours of discovery and experiencing Rwanda’s rural communities. Expect to meet young children who will follow you and request to be your guide for a small fee.
Costs of a Safari in Rwanda
Having known where to visit and activities to engage in while in Rwanda, it’s important to also understand some of the standard costs and charges attached to specific activities and tourism sites. These costs entirely depend on the individual choice of tourism sites, activities to engage in and choice of accommodation facilities. If you are planning to visiting Rwanda for the first time, we highly recommend that you use the services of one of the trusted tour companies in Rwanda to help you put together the perfect itinerary. Tour companies know the country well and can help you do all the booking, leaving you with the simple task of going on holiday.
Those who plan to do gorilla trekking in Rwanda should know that it is a costly activity. Apart from the cost of gorilla permits, one should also prepare for some additional costs like porters to help with heavy luggage. Their services go for about 15 US dollars per porter. Then there is the cost of a driver/guide who will pick you up on arrival at the airport and take you to all the places you wish to visit.
Gorilla trekking can be combined with Chimpanzee Trekking in Nyungwe National Park. A chimpanzee permits costs $100 per person, but there is now a separate park entrance fee of $150 per person.
The park entrance fee at Akagera National Park is 50 US Dollars for adults and 30 US dollars for children. Travelers are also required to pay for vehicle entrance into Akagera National Park. Small vehicles and mini buses with the Rwandan/East African number plates pay 12 US dollars, while buses pay 20 US dollars. Smaller vehicles with foreign number plates pay 40 US dollarsm while foreign buses pay 100 US dollars.
Other activities in the park include fishing trips which cost 25 US dollars per adult and 15 US dollars per child. The daytime boat rides cost 35 US dollars for adults and 20 US dollars per child. Sunset boat cruises are even cheaper and cost 45 US dollars for adults and 35 US dollars per child. Those who wish to camp in Akagera will pay 25 US dollars for the site alone.
Accommodation costs depend on individual needs and budgets. For example, one can opt for luxury, mid-range or budget hotels. Rwanda has some of the most luxurious lodges in East Africa and some can cost up to 10,000 US Dollars per night during the peak travel season. You can also get a simple budget hotel for about 60 USD per night
What should you pack for a safari in Rwanda? You are advised to pack comfortable clothes like long sleeved shirts and pants to protect the body. One also needs to pack t-shirts, shorts, swim wear, jackets and raincoats. The people of Rwanda are still conservative and women should be respectful with what they wear choosing modest clothing, especially when visiting rural areas of the country. The packing list for gorilla trekking should include waterproof hiking boots and a backpack to carry a few essentials and camera gear when trekking. Other items to pack include cameras, binoculars, hats, sunglasses, insect repellents and any recommended medicines.
Conclusively, Rwanda is an excellent travel destination especially for high end travelers who are interested in primates and a safari to see the Big 5. Neighboring countries of Uganda and Congo may provide cheaper options for tourists as they charge slightly lower fees for all their tourism activities and sites including gorilla permits.