Rwanda is a small country, nicknamed the Country of Thousand Hills.
Sadly famous for the 1994 events, Rwanda was actually a surprise after Kenya and Uganda, offering a real and growing sense of modernity, especially in the capital, Kigali, partly thanks to international reconstruction money.
The countryside is the main interest.
Wonderful lake Kivu acts as a natural boarder with DRC (Congo), running along vertically over 90km along the west. Virunga volcanoes on the Northwestern side, in the Parc National des Volcans, with gorillas living freely inside, studied by famous Diane Fossey. And also the lush forest in the Southwestern part.
French is still one of the official national languages, but English is also, and is much more spoken now. Kinyarwanda being of course the main language people talk all around the country.
The 1994 genocide memorial
Difficulties remain, of course, and we are not into political analysis here on TeamTravels, but the after-genocide process has been quite effective, the people finding a way to live together.
You’ll be able to learn a lot about the genocide at the Memorial in Kigali, interesting and well put, starting before the Belgian colonisation up to the birth of the woes between Hutus and Tsutsis, and also on how the people were urged to move forward in order for the country to get back on track. Don’t miss it.
Hotel des Mille Collines
Also on the historical trail, this Hotel is famous for having protected many refugees during the genocide (and its central role in the movie Hotel Rwanda). The contrast between history and the luxurious look of the hotel will surprise you.
Ruhengeri & Gisenyi
Both near the Parc National des Volcans, you’ll get tremendous views on volcanoes, especially from Gisenyi, with the lake and the smoke of the still active volcano (most probably the Nyaragongo).
Ruhengeri is a classic african town on the road to the park, with no particular sights to see, but you’ll get a taste of local life. Nearby lakes Ruhondo and Burera make a nice day out, and expect the local kids to follow you everywhere!
Gisenyi sits on the shores of Lake Kivu, and hosts a brewery, its production, especially Primus, you will definitely taste during your stay in Rwanda.
There’s also a luxurious hotel on the shores of lake, where you can order a beer and, if you dare, take advantage of the stunning pool.
You’ll notice the methane extraction platform, which produces electricity for the region, adding wealth to the economy. Read the information signs, you’ll get to learn about the benefits and dangers of methane and the facility. Striking is the fact that if they don’t take the methane out, it will explode like a volcano at some point, sending deathly asphixiating gas all over the close areas.
In both towns, we met foreign volunteers from South-Korea and Germany, which have permanent facilities for them. They gladly showed us around and invited us to their home for dinner or lodging. Try couchsurfing.
Parc National des Volcans & Gorillas & Golden Monkeys
Worldwide famous, this park is the place to spot the rare mountain gorillas. Also interesting are the golden monkeys, both residing in the tropical rainforest.
A must-do… for the fortunates, as park fees are a money pit: 500$ for foreigners (edit 2016: 750$)! So take that in consideration.
No better way to see the tremendous lake than on a looong bus ride, allowing you all the time needed to spot every details of this fabulous lake.
You’ll also lace up and down many of the “Thousand Hills”, admiring their mastering by the agricultural locals. Indeed, space is a problem for Rwanda, being one of the most densely populated countries of Africa. Therefore, every inch of available land is thoroughly cultivated, and not correctly laid fallow.
The first leg from Gisenyi to Kibuye is well tarmacked, making it very pleasant. The second leg is another story… The road is made of dirt and rubble, the rain will make it a nightmare, the bus is bumpy as ever. We were unaware of it being back to school day, adding a nice overfilled touch to the 8 hour ride, consequently much longer because of the people trying to get in the overpacked bus.
You’ll need to stop in Kibuye in order to go further south. Home Saint Jean is the best (and maybe only?) sleeping option in town. There’s a huge terrasse opened on the lake, as well as good rooms and even a big dorm. For the story, we stayed in the dorm, where we were the only guests… until 5:30am, when the 22 other beds filled up with noisy locals, all leaving before we woke up in the morning. Felt like a fuzzy dream the next day! We then suspected it was the local moto-taxi drivers resting for the night.
The other big attraction in Rwanda, after the Virungas, is the Nyungwe rainforest, located at the southern tip of Lake Kivu.
We didn’t visit the park itself, once again, but the road passes through it, and so even the carride allows you visualise the density of the forest.
Gikongoro Genocide Memorial
Maybe the most difficult memorial to visit, what used to be the Technical school has be kept as found in the days after the end of the troubles. People in search of a haven were tracked down by the Interahamwe, and every room block full of these people now contain their exhumed bodies preserved with powdered lime, lying on bedsprings, as they were probably left by the killers.
Excrutiating, the silence of the areas adding to the intensity.