Rwanda is known as Le Pays des Mille Collines (Land of a Thousand Hills) thanks to the endless mountains in this scenically stunning little country. Nowhere are the mountains more majestic than the Virunga volcanoes in the northwest, and hidden among the bamboo forests are some of the world's last remaining mountain gorillas. For a change of scene, the shores of Lake Kivu conceal some of the best inland beaches on the continent, while Nyungwe Forest National Park protects extensive tracts of montane rainforest, and is home to many primates. Looking for a more metropolitan experience? Kigali, the capital, is one of the loveliest cities in Africa.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Rwanda.
In the span of 100 days, an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically butchered by the Interahamwe army. This memorial honours the estimated 250,000 people buried here in mass graves and also has an excellent exhibition that tries to explain how it was that the world watched as the 1994 genocide unfolded. This is an intensely powerful and moving memorial for which you should dedicate at least half a day.
Nyamagabe (formerly called Gikongoro) and the satellite town of Murambi was the site of one of the most unforgettable horrors of the 1994 genocide. Refugees flocked to Murambi, the location of a half-built technical college, after being told that they would be safe there. It was merely a ploy though and on 21 April the army and Interahamwe militia moved in and, depending on whose doing the counting, between 27,000 and 40,000 people were murdered here.
Volcanoes National Park, which runs along the border with the DRC and Uganda, is home to the Rwandan section of the Virungas. Comprising five volcanoes, the Virungas are utterly spellbinding and few would argue that this is not one of the most exciting national parks in Africa. We probably needn't remind you, but of all the extraordinary sights and attractions around the Virungas, the one that really draws people here are the famous mountain gorillas.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is Rwanda’s most important area of biodiversity and has been rated the highest priority for forest conservation in Africa. Despite its huge biodiversity, Nyungwe is little known outside of East Africa. Nyungwe's strongest drawcard is the chance to track chimpanzees, which have been habituated over the years to human visits. Another highlight is the simple pleasure of hiking along well-maintained trails over the lush, green valleys of the equatorial rainforest.
This outstanding museum was given to the city as a gift from Belgium in 1989 to commemorate 25 years of independence. While the building itself is certainly one of the most beautiful structures in the city, the museum wins top marks for having one of the best ethnological and archaeological collections in the entire region. The seven exhibition halls contain some very interesting items and everything is unusually well lit and presented.
Akagera is Rwanda's answer to the savannah parks of Kenya and Tanzania, and is utterly different in landscape to anywhere else in the country. Prior to the genocide, when much of the wildlife was slaughtered or driven over the border, this was considered one of the better parks in East Africa. Today, thanks to outside investment, wildlife numbers are increasing and most people get to see zebras, impalas, topis, giraffes, masses of hippos and crocodiles and even elephants, lions and rhinos.
Situated on a hill 2km southwest of town, this fascinating museum is less about ancient history and more about royal residences. The displays centre on a replica king's ‘palace ’. Inclusive in the ticket price is a guided tour that helps explain some of the architectural idiosyncrasies inside the royal compound, including why the royal beer brewer’s hut had an entrance without a lip, and other curiosities such as why the woman who looked after the king’s milk was never able to marry.
Roughly 6km south of town (about RFr1000 by moto-taxi), along a lovely lakeshore road, the Rubona Peninsula is Lake Kivu at its finest. Hills rise steeply from the lake foreshore and are a patchwork of garden plots and small homesteads. The shore itself is often rocky, although there are enough sandy spots and places suitable for swimming. It's a very popular weekend destination, with a smattering of beach resorts.
Nkotsi village (also known as Muko) is a small village 7km southwest of Musanze. It's home to the Red Rocks camping and hostel, which, through the Hands of Hope organisation and Amahoro Tours, organises a lively and interesting package of cultural activities open to all. These range from basket-weaving demonstrations (free) to learning how to brew (and yeah okay, drink) banana beer (US$25). Other activities include village walks (US$10), bee keeping (US$30), drumming lessons (US$25) and learning about traditional medicine (US$30).