Destinations > Rwanda

Land of Thousand Hills

Rwanda is a landlocked mountainous country best known for its mountain gorillas. It is also the most densely populated country in Africa and is heavily cultivated with even the steepest hills tightly terraced from bottom to top. During colonial times, Rwanda was called “Little Switzerland” for its stunning beauty with mountains reaching 15,000 feet into the sky.

The mountain gorillas probably survive today because of the research and conservation efforts of Dian Fossey who immersed herself in the mountains to study these gentle primates. The movie Gorillas in the Mist was filmed on location in Parc National des Volcans which raised international awareness of the plight of the mountain gorilla. A mere 300 survive in the wild today, about one-half in Rwanda and the others in Uganda.

There are four habituated groups ranging in size to a few to over 25. Eight people are allowed to visit each family group per day and that is for one hour per visit.

The Rwandan Genocide was the 1994 mass murder of an estimated 800,000 people. Over about 100 days from the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana on April 6 through mid-July, over 500,000 people were killed, estimates of even upto 1,000,000 or as much as 20% of the country’s total population have been calculated. It was the culmination of longstanding ethnic competition and tensions between the minority Tutsi, and the majority Hutu peoples, who had come to power in the rebellion of 1959–1962 and overthrown the Tutsi monarchy.  Today, a genocide museum in Kigali, is a common visiting point, for guests taking the 2-3 hour journey from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park.

Volcanoes National Park (French: Parc National des Volcans)  in northwestern Rwanda, borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), which are covered in rainforest and bamboo.


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    Lake Kivu

    Lake Kivu, as one of the Great Lakes of Africa, and indeed the highest on the continent, Lake Kivu is one of Rwanda’s greatest natural treasures and offers visitors an extraordinary experience. Lake Kivu lies on Rwanda’s eastern border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and is part of the Great Rift Valley. It covers a surface area of over 2,700km2 and stands 1,460m above sea level. It also ranks as the fifteenth-deepest lake in the world and contains the world’s tenth-largest inland island, Idjwi. Lake Kivu has gained notoriety as one of Africa’s ‘killer lakes’ thanks to its location along the rift valley and the resulting volcanic activity. The mix of methane and carbon dioxide in the water is believed to have led to massive biological extinctions roughly once every 1,000 years.  Three scenic resort towns line the shores of Kivu and offer visitors a range of relaxing accommodations to take in the sights and sounds of the lake. Whether you choose to stay in Gisenyi in the north, Kibuye further south or Cyangugu at the lake’s southernmost point, you will find yourself with stunning views and the most magnificent sunsets in the country.

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    Volcanoes National Park (Parc National de Volcans)

    “In the heart of Central Africa, so high that you shiver more then you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are the great old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet and heavily covered in rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. The Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen, bamboo forests, open grassland, swamp and heath. Volcanoes National Park (Parc National de Volcans) is situated in north-western Rwanda. It borders Virunga National Park in the Demographic Republic of Congo And Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. It is a 90 minute drive from Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo). The park was first gazetted in 1925 and was the first national park in Africa. Volcanoes National Park was the base for the famous American Naturalist, Dian Fossey to carry out her research on gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre. Dian Fossey is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the international community. Dian Fossey was later murdered by unknown assailants and she is buried near the research centre.  Best known for the mountain gorillas, other mammals that reside in the park are the golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena and bush buck. There are 178 recorded bird species with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Rwenzori Mountains.

    ACTIVITIES: Activities which are available for tourists in the park include: Gorilla Tracking – A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.

    Other activities include:
    Golden Monkey Tracking – Guided walks to observe a fully habituated group of rare Golden Monkeys.
    Climbing of the Karisimbi Volcanoes – This is a two day climb with an overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800m.
    Climbing of the Bisoke Volcanoes – This is a slightly less strenuous climb then the Karisimbi trek, but does involve some fitness. The upward climb is approximately two hours, but the view from the top is breathtaking and the beautiful crater lakes situated at the summit of the Volcano definitely makes it worth it.
    Tours of the Lakes and Caves – A guided tour of the lakes and caves of the park is an extremely pleasurable activity and is especially rewarding for bird watchers.
    Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey – A visit to the tomb of Dian Fossey and the nearby gorilla cemetery is a memorable experience. There is a two – three hour climb through the forest to get to the site and then the plunge down takes between one – two hours depending on how many times you stop to admire the marvellous scenery and observe the abundant wildlife of the park.

    The majority of the revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park. A special event that happens in the park annually is Kwita Izina, the baby gorilla naming ceremony. This much celebrated event takes place every year in June.

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    Iby’ Iwachu Cultural Village

    Iby’ Iwachu Cultural Village is located near Parc National des Volcans in Kinigi. Its has been developed to display local and traditional lifestyles, activities and artefacts. Local communities benefit and earn directly from this community based tourism initiative to improve their socio-economic ways of living and as an incentive for conservation of the gorillas and their habitat. Given the cultural value attached to it, the Iby’ Iwachu Cultural Village is a platform to showcase the Rwandan ways of living, traditional lifestyles and dances to tourists and community members in a way that encourages them all to be a part of it while generating income for local people. The money generated is used to support their household income based activities; encourage sustainability; reducing unemployment and empowering local people politically, economically and socially to alleviate poverty (which is the underlying cause of poaching) while developing these entities as linkages towards conservation of the endangered mountain gorillas.

    Iby’ Iwachu Cultural Village gives you the rare chance to meet and interact with local people, in their environment with a taste of Rwandese culture and traditions. This has been developed by the community for the community. The activities include:

    (1) Visiting a replica of the King’s place guided by local historical and cultural guides.

    (2) Visiting local traditional healers / clinics and pharmacies to learn about the different medicinal trees, shrubs and grasses and their uses and the way there are administrated to the patient.

    (3) Visit local schools and if one is a teacher, you can offer to conduct a lesson to know how children are taught in a Rwandan school.

    (4) Attend a local banana brewery and see how the local beer is made and have a taste.

    (5) Igitaramo is where everyone gathers around a camp fire to listen to stories and riddles and also dance to the drum beats. Intore and Ekinimba dancers can perform eight different dances – Ibyivugo, Umuduri, Ikembe, Iningiri, Inanga, Ingoma, Amakndera, Agakenke.

    (6) Join food gatherers in harvesting and preparation of food like ubugari, umutsima, ibirayi and igikoma. Guests can also participate in millet grinding with stones and see whether they have enough balance to carry potatoes and water on their heads.

     (7) A 3 hour walk through Nyabigoma village offers tourists a chance to visit homes and farms hence experiencing the rural Rwandan ways of living.

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    Nyungwe Forest National Park

    Nyungwe Forest National Park is located in Southeast Rwanda and is the largest block area of montane forest in East Africa. Nyungwe Forest covers approximately 1000km squared and is comprised of a complex mosaic of dense vegetation types from tall trees to open, flower filled marshes. Nyungwe Forest has a uniquely rich flora diversity with over 200 tree species and a wonderful display of flowering plants, including the magnificent giant lobelia and a host of colourful orchids. Nyungwe Forest’s fauna diversity is amazing and is one of the most endemic species-rich areas in all of Africa. 86 mammal species reside in the forest and 14 are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Nyungwe Forest National Park is very alluring for the variety of primate species living in the forest. There are 14 primate species, including chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, L’Hoest monkeys and the endangered golden monkey. The forest is filled with bird song from the 280 avian species present in the park, of which, 26 are Albertine species and 121 are specialise forest species.  Nyungwe Forest is the most important ornithological site in Rwanda.

    Chimpanzee Trekking: The majority of the chimp population in Rwanda is confined to Nyungwe Forest National Park. Trekking to see our closet relatives is an amazing experience, although these groups of chimps are wide ranging and there is a 30- 40% chance of sighting these primates. Black and White Colobus Trekking:  There are large troops of black and white colobus monkeys residing in Nyungwe Forest. These primates often travel in groups of over 300 individuals. It is possible to purchase a permit to trek these animals. Walking through a montane rainforest and being surrounded on all levels by these active and cheeky monkeys is not to be missed.

    Canopy Walkway: A suspended walkway has recently been built in the lush canopy of Nyungwe Forest. This activity lasts 1-2 hours depending on how often you stop enroute. You walk to one end of the walkway and return the same way. It is important to note that the walkway does sway and if you have a fear of heights, you might not find this activity enjoyable.

    Forest Walks: Extensive networks if well-maintained walking trails leads you through the forest to various waterfalls and viewing points. There are a variety of trails:
    – Coloured trails – these are left over from the late 1980’s when an early attempt to develop tourism in Nyungwe was made. There are seven trails through the forest each marked by a particular colour. The trails range in length from the 1km Grey trail to the 10km Red trail. All the trails are well-maintained and offer the chance to see a diversity of primate and bird species.
    – Waterfall Trail – this trail takes between 3-6 hours depending on how often you stop enroute. It is a very pleasant walk through the tree-fern covered ravines, across several bubbling streams until you reach a pretty waterfall. Monkeys are often seen along the way and the steep slopes allow for good views into the canopy, making this trail a favourite among the birders as it is very rewarding for true forest interior birds, with a good chance of spotting Albertine rift endemics, such as the Rwenzori turaco.
    – Kamiranzoru trail – this trail is 4km and takes about 3 hours. This trail is different from the other forest walks because it takes you through the low laying marshy areas which are rich in orchids and localised swamp associated bird species.
    – Bigugu trail – this is the toughest trail and you need to be relatively fit as it leads you up the Bigugu peak. The Bigugu peak is 2,950m high and is the highest point in Nyungwe Forest, offering fantastic views of the landscape.

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    Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

    The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre was opened on the 10th Anniversary of the Rwandan Genocide, in April 2004. The Centre is built on a site where 250,000 people are buried. The Centre is a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to the genocide and serves as a place where people can grieve those that they have lost. The Memorial Centre was built by a joint partnership between Kigali City Council and the UK based Aegis Trust. The Aegis Trust is an organisation that actively helps in the prevention of Genocide worldwide. The Centre is maintained by good will donations from all over the world. Since July 2010, there is also a $10 contribution required by each visitor to assist in the maintenance of the Centre. This $10 also gives the guest access to an educational audio device that explains each section of the Centre and the stories involved. One of the principle reasons for the Centres existence is to provide an educational facility. Rwandans believe that it is extremely important for the younger generations of Rwandans who will not have lived through the genocide but whose lives will still be affected by it, to be able to have access to a place where they can learn about the reasons and affects of the genocide. The Centre includes three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which documents the genocide in 1994. There is also a children’s memorial, and an exhibition on the history of genocidal violence around the world. The Education Centre, Memorial Gardens and National Documentation Centre of the Genocide all contribute to a meaningful tribute to those who perished, and form a powerful educational tool for the next generation. The exhibition at the Kigali Memorial Centre introduces several genocides and genocidal-type situations. It does not give examples of all genocidal massacres because of limited space. It can only illustrate a few examples, representing a tragic cross-section of a century of genocide.

    Valentine Iribagiza Gives Her Story: “When Habyarimana’s aeroplane was shot down on 6 April 1994, we were all at home. We saw many people running in all directions. When the perpetrators started burning people’s houses, we ran to the parish church. On Friday 15 April, the Interahamwe surrounded it. Mayor Gacumbitsi was with the soldiers. He told them, “Take your tools and get to work. You hit snakes on the head to kill them.” They started killing. At night, they went home, but they came back next day and the day after that. I lay among the corpses and tried to hold my breath. They would throw rocks in or pick up kids and throw them in the air. They threw a stone at me and I screamed. They took me outside beating me, along with the others who were only wounded. I asked for mercy, but one of our neighbours, Pascal, said, “I recognise that brat. Isn’t she from Bikoramuki’s family? All the rest of her family is dead, so what’s so tough about her that we can’t manage her?” He kicked me and spat on the ground saying that he wouldn’t splash my blood onto him. He passed me over to another one called Antoine saying, “You kill that one.” Antoine took a club and hit my fingers until the bones were all smashed. Then he cut my head with a machete. I don’t know what happened after that. When I woke up, it was night. There was a strong wind, it had rained and it was cold. I had dirt and sand all over me. I looked at all the people lying next to me. They were all dead. I started moving towards a place where there were more bodies so they would think I was dead as well. By dawn, I was very hungry. I couldn’t walk so I crawled on my bottom and whenever I came across a dead body, I rolled over it. I reached a place where there was a water tap, but I couldn’t reach to drink the water. I carried on as far as the room where I had been before and I lay down again among the dead bodies. It was three days after the killings, so the bodies stank. The Interahamwe would pass by without entering the room, and dogs would come to eat the bodies. I lived there for 43 days. On the 43rd day, an Interahamwe found me. He told me to hang in there, and left. 45 minutes later, some RPF soldiers came with a Frenchman. I was in a terrible state: my fingers were going bad and my head wounds were full of maggots. They took me to Kibungo, where I spent six months in hospital. After I was healed, I found out that my younger brother Gahini had also survived. Since the end of the genocide, I’ve seen some kids really traumatised, but it hasn’t happened to me. I had to get used to having the scars and having lost my fingers; at first I had complexes and would hide my hand, but now it’s okay. My brother and I are lucky to be able to live with my cousin. He’s like a brother to us; he’s our father and mother. We share all our problems with him. He pays our school fees and looks after us when we are sick. Reconciliation is happening, and we hope that Rwanda can return to the way it used to be. But I’ll never forget, and I’ll definitely tell my children about it. At first I didn’t want to give my testimony because testimony is like a secret. You can’t just tell it to anyone. But it’s a way of fighting those who deny what happened, and it’s important because of that.”

    A visit to this memorial is important if your visiting Rwanda.  Education is one of the most important gifts we can give ourselves and others.