RWANDA

THE LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS

Rwanda is often called the Switzerland of Africa referring to how clean and organized this country is and of course also referring to the never ending hills. As you drive through the lush green  hillsides in the north and west of the country you will begin to appreciate its other nickname, ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’. Despite its small size (26,338km²), it offers a whole spectrum of activities for enthusiasts of wildlife, nature, outdoor activities and culture.

As the epicenter of the Great Albertine Rift Eco-Zone (ARE), Rwanda has an abundance of species (including many that are endemic), that will delight lovers of animals and birds alike. Rwanda is a primate lovers paradise, the most popular primate treks will take you to see mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and golden monkeys, but there are many more species living among the tree tops of Rwanda’s National Parks.

The country has a troubled past, visit the genocide museum in Kigali as well as other genocide memorials across the country to learn more about the Rwandan genocide as well as the measures put in place to prevent history repeating itself.

If you are more inclined towards outdoor pursuits, there are a whole host of options to keep you entertained. Those who want to do water sports can canoe, kayak or wind-surf on Lake Kivu. While those preferring to stay on dry land can choose between a multitude of hikes through National Parks or alongside Lake Kivu, that can incorporate waterfalls, tea and coffee plantations, orchid viewing, Dian Fossey’s Tomb, a crater lake and even a canopy walk. Hikes can range from 1 ½ hours up to 10 days depending on how far you wish to venture. Why not try a guided cycling tour. Which are a fantastic way to see the country, at the same time as improving your skills on the bike and also offering unique photo opportunities.

Nyungwe forest
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK

Chimps and other primates galore

Nyungwe Forest lies within the Albertine Rift Eco-region and boasts a diverse ecosystem from rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps and bog habitats. It protects one of the region’s largest and oldest remaining patches of montane rainforest.

Home to 13 different types of primates including Chimpanzee, Olive Baboon, Vervet Monkey, Mona Monkey, Grey Cheeked Managbey, Owl-faced Monkey, Red Tailed Monkey, Angola Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey and L’Hoest Monkey, this park is teeming with our closest relatives. Chimpanzee and Colobus monkey viewing guided hikes are a favourite with tourists.

Home to 310 species of bird, this park is the most important ornithological site in Rwanda with 27 Albertine Rift endemics to be found; the highest concentration in any single park in Africa. A guided hike is recommended in order to locate many of the birds as the forest is very dense and many of the species tend to stay on the canopy rather than within the forest.

This stunning rain forest also offers a whole host of hiking opportunities. Options range from 1 1/2 hours up to 3 or 4 days in length, that can incorporate waterfalls, orchids, views of villages and the most recent addition of a 200m high canopy walk which gives a magnificent view of the upper canopy and can be good for birding.

If you wish to venture a little further afield into the surrounding areas activities include visits to a tea plantation/a local market/Bugarama hot springs/ some islands of Lake Kivu, canoeing and fishing.

AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

Traditional safari in Rwanda

Akagera National Park is the largest in Rwanda (1,085km²), lying in the north east of the country.  It is made up of three types of habitat, savanna, mountain and swamp, which encourage a large variety of birds numbering more than 500. The East of the park boasts a labyrinth of lakes and papyrus swamps.. While the mostly low lying area of savanna, with rolling plains of broad-leafed acacia woodlands and grasslands is ideal for game viewing.

7 Lions were recently re-introduced to this park with plans to add more at a later date. Visitors can also expect to find large animals such as Buffalo, Elephant, Zebra, Giraffe and 12 species of antelope including the graceful impala. Primates to spot include Olive Baboons, Vervet Monkeys and Silver Monkeys. Be quick to spot the smaller predators such as mongooses, serval cats and side striped- jackals, and if you have some good spotters in your group you may be able to find members from the shyer animal groups found within the park like leopards and spotted hyenas.

Boat trips on Lake Ihema are a nice twist on the traditional safari usually carried out within a car. Look out for hippos, Nile crocodiles and a large variety of water birds including the elusive Shoebill.

Don’t forget to take advantage of the night drives available when you stay at the Akagera Game Lodge, providing you with an opportunity to spot the nocturnal animals not normally seen during the day, like the super cute bush babies.

Rwanda
Photo: Sean-Carter. The six-week-old babies are the first lion cubs born at Akagera National Park in nearly 20 years, according to the group “Friends of Akagera National Park.”
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Home of Dian Fossey

Volcanoes National Park lies in North Western Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Parc National de Volcans, or PNV for short, is well known for its most famous previous and current inhabitants, Dian Fossey and her beloved but endangered Mountain Gorillas. Visitors can spend a morning trekking up steep hills to discover these gentle giants in their natural habitat of shady bamboo forests. A highly recommended very unique and intimate experience for all animal lovers. Fans of Dian can also take on the challenging but shorter (1 hour 45 minute) Dian Fossey Tomb Trail. Which leads to her tomb and the location of her now infamous Karisoke Research Centre.

Visitors with a passion for primates shouldn’t forget to hike in the park to find the smaller but characterful cousins of the Mountain Gorillas, the Golden Monkeys. Who will entertain you with their acrobatic displays as they move among the tree tops.

Visitors wishing to stretch their legs further can take on the Mount Visoke Crater Lake Hike (7-8 hours) or the more strenuous Karisimbi Volcano Hike (2 days).

Alternative activities in this area also include:

Ethno Botany Tour– be guided through an array of herbs and plants that can be used to treat a variety of ailments and visit a local pharmacy to meet individuals undergoing treatment.

Musanze Cave visit– walk along the 2km length of this cave, created by lava flows dating back 65 million years that were part of the formation of the Albertine Rift. Highlights of this easy walk include brilliant views of cascading lights from the surface, unique rock formations, and a colony of bats.

Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village– a living museum that takes visitors into the heart of life in the traditional and ancient Rwandan Kingdom of days gone by. Let the booming sound of drums surround you as traditional dancers leap in front of you. Learn how to shot arrows, grind millet and sorghum and learn from the village elders about their other traditions and practices.