A formidable natural border between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, the Virunga volcanoes are where Rwanda really earns its nickname as the Land of a Thousand Hills. Home to the mighty mountain gorillas, the Rwandan Virungas are protected by Volcanoes National Park, the undisputed highlight of the country.
The endless mountains and valleys don’t stop as you head south towards the border with Burundi. While the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park tend to garner almost everybody’s attention, southwestern Rwanda is home to East Africa’s largest montane forest, Nyungwe Forest National Park, one of the most primate-rich areas in the world.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Quite simply, Nyungwe Forest National Park is Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity and has been rated the highest priority for forest conservation in Africa. While Nyungwe is the newest of Rwanda’s parks to receive national-park status, its protected area covers one of the oldest rainforests in Africa.
While much of Rwanda is characterised by equatorial rainforest, rolling hills and mountains and richly cultivated farmland, eastern Rwanda is something else entirely. Contiguous with the dry and flat savannah lands of Tanzania, this region is more reminiscent of the classic images of East African landscapes.
Akagera National Park
Created in 1934 to protect the lands surrounding the Kagera River, Akagera National Park once protected nearly 10% of Rwanda and was considered to be one of the finest wildlife reserves in the whole of Africa. However, due to the massive numbers of refugees who returned to Rwanda in the late 1990s, over half of the park was de-gazetted and resettled with new villages.
In the 2006 provincial reshuffle, Nyanza – and not, as everyone assumed, Huye – ended up as the capital of the South Province. The most plausible explanation lies in the town’s past. In 1899, Mwami Musinga Yuhi V established Rwanda’s first permanent royal capital here. Until then, the royals had divided their time between 50 or so homes scattered throughout their kingdom.
Although it has a stunning location, spread across a series of tongues jutting into Lake Kivu, Kibuye has not caught on as a tourist destination for sun and sand in the same way that Gisenyi has, but for our money – and there are plenty who will disagree – this is the better of the two.
Clinging to the southern tip of Lake Kivu, and looking across to Bukavu in the DRC, Cyangugu is an attractively situated town on the lake’s shore. The town has two distinct settlements: Kamembe, a few kilometres above the lake, is the main town and an important location for the processing of tea and cotton.