Lonely Planet Writer

Visitors to Kigali to get a taste of Rwanda's wilderness without even having to leave the city

While most cities battle with urban sprawl and the lack of truly wild spaces, the city of Kigali in Rwanda is planning a major greening project in the heart of the city.

A Variable Sunbird feeding on flowers in the rainforest of Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda.
A Variable Sunbird feeding on flowers in the rainforest of Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda. Image by Alexander Yates/Getty Images

A new €2.7 million plan is being developed to create a large eco-tourism park just a short drive from the city’s main international airport. The wetlands park will be around 130 hectares in size, and will be developed over the next three years, according to the local government. City planners are hoping it will become a paradise for bird lovers, with Rwanda already considered one of the best locations for birding in the world. Despite the country’s comparatively small size (about the size of Belgium) – it is home to more than 700 different bird species in its dense forests, mountains, and wetlands. The new plan will also see walking and cycling trails developed alongside bird hides and leisure fishing ponds.

The Nyandungu Wetland park as it will be known, will also feature picnic areas, a café, and a spot specially designated for wedding photos. The area had slowly been encroached on by development, with cattle grazing in the wetlands, and also the illegal development of garages and other light industry. Under the new plan, the site will be protected in an attempt to return it to its former glory as a vibrant wildlife habitat. Rwanda has emerged from its violent recent past with tourism playing a key role in getting the country’s economy back on its feet. Many travellers are attracted by the opportunity to see rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat in the famous Virunga Mountains.

With the opening of the eco-tourism park in Kigali however, visitors can still get a taste of Rwanda’s wilderness without even leaving the city. For those heading into the country, there are three different national parks to visit: Akagera, the location for a lion reintroduction programme; the Nyungwe rainforest, home to thirteen different primate species, and Volcanoes National Park.