Rwanda the land of a thousand hills
Tourism in Rwanda is the largest source of foreign exchange earnings in Rwanda and it is projected to grow at a rate of 25% every year from 2013-18.The sector is the biggest contributor to the national export strategy, Total revenues generated from the sector in 2014 alone was UsD305 Million. The sector has also attracted Foreign Direct Investments with major international hotel brands setting shop in the country, including the Marriot, Raddison blue, Park Inn by Raddison, sheraton, Protea, Golden Tulip and Zinc. Rwanda is carving out its niche as a regional and international conferences hub, with its new world – class conventional center, owing to: ever improving conference facilities, straight forward immigration procedures (online visa applications, visa-at-gate policy for all Africans, one tourist visa policy for EAC),an excellent and expanding transport network.
Tourism in Rwanda is rapidly increasing. To further place Rwanda on the world map as a first class tourism destination, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) signed a three-year partnership deal with London-based soccer team, Arsenal Football Club and a two-year partnership with a French football Giant, Paris Saint Germain Football club to help build the country’s tourism industry. This has lifted overall tourism numbers by 8%,according to Rwandan officials.
When it comes to things to do in Rwanda, nearly every tourist has one activity at the top of their itinerary: gorilla trekking. The mystique of getting up close to creatures who share 99 percent of our DNA captivates travelers from around the world, and there’s no better place than Rwanda to do it. The country has made serious strides in conservation to protect the animals.
But the chance to see these gentle giants is just the beginning of what Rwanda has to offer. Left ravaged by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the country has made an impressive amount of progress in recent decades, becoming a peaceful, welcoming destination with plenty to do.
Nature lovers can go on safari in Akagera National Park and get a bird’s-eye view of Nyungwe Forest from a canopy walk. If you’re interested in culture, check out the fascinating exhibits on traditional customs and beliefs at Rwanda’s Ethnographic Museum. Don’t miss the royal cows (and the singers who croon to them) at the King’s Palace Museum.
Make the most of your experience with our list of the top tourist attractions in Rwanda.
1. Volcanoes National Park
A mountain gorilla at Volcanoes National Park
Without a doubt, the number one thing to do in Rwanda is gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park. Sharing a border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this national park in Rwanda is home to a growing number of critically endangered mountain gorillas. Experts estimate that there are about 600 gorillas in the park—a significant increase from around 240-250 individuals in 1981.
To visit one of the 18 mountain gorilla families that have been habituated to humans, you’ll need to obtain one of the limited number of daily trekking permits for $1,500. The easiest way to do it is through a reputable tour operator, who can also arrange transportation from Kigali to the park headquarters.
The trekking experience typically lasts between four and eight hours, most of which is spent hiking through mystical bamboo forests, wild meadows, and swampy areas. Guides from the national park service will eventually lead you to one of the habituated gorilla families. You’ll spend an hour observing the creatures as they eat, care for their babies, and interact with one another.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is largely considered a safe activity. The gorillas are mostly apathetic to their human visitors. Armed guides, who use a bunch of clicking sounds to communicate with the gorillas, keep guests safe from potential dangers, making the experience one that you’ll never forget.
Porters are available at the base of the trails in Volcanoes National Park. It’s worth hiring one for the day—they’ll carry your bags and help you avoid slipping down the muddy paths.
Want to learn more about mountain gorillas? After your trekking adventure, head to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Karisoke Research Center in the nearby town of Musanze. It contains a small, yet robust museum all about mountain gorillas and the work of conservationist Dian Fossey, whose efforts to protect gorillas were made famous by the 1988 drama, Gorillas in the Mist.
2. Kigali Genocide Memorial
Victims’ names at the Kigali Genocide Memorial | lucianf / photo modified
It’s hard to imagine that just a couple of decades ago, Rwanda was in the midst of a horrific genocide that would leave more than 800,000 people dead in just 100 days. The country has come a long way from the devastating massacre, but the impact of this relatively recent history has left its mark on the lives of everyday people and generations to come.
Tourists can learn about this horrific event at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The haunting museum dives into the timeline that led to the 1994 genocide, bringing the horrors to life through halls of photographs, artifacts, and information. The main exhibit hall wraps around poignant sculptures and features stained-glass windows that cast a hopeful glow on the space.
The museum continues with another permanent exhibit on the history of genocide around the world and intervention efforts from international communities, helping to put the Rwandan genocide into context.
The museum also includes an emotionally charged Children’s Room dedicated to the youngest victims of the genocide. It keeps their memory alive through oversize portraits of the children, some of whom were just infants when they were killed, and personal details about the victims, like their nicknames and favorite books.
While heartbreaking, visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important part of being a responsible tourist in Rwanda. Give yourself time to contemplate the experience and have a moment of silence for the 250,000 victims interred at this site at the memorial’s Gardens of Reflection.