10 Places to Visit in Rwanda: Ultimate Rwanda Bucket List

Explore the top destinations to visit in Rwanda, a country renowned as the “Land of a Thousand Hills”! The Republic of Rwanda is a country located in East Africa. This Rwanda Travel Guide provides comprehensive information about Rwanda. Experience Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park, explore the lush Nyungwe Forest, embark on a thrilling Big Five Safari in Akagera National Park, and pay your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Optimal period for visiting Rwanda is a compact and geographically isolated nation located in the eastern region of Africa.

Discover the captivating allure of Africa’s wildlife, vast savannah plains, majestic Baobab Trees, and enchanting African sunsets. Uncover the top safari destinations in Africa and gain valuable tips to plan your ultimate safari tour. Additionally, Africa is renowned not only for its breathtaking landscapes and vibrant cultural heritage but also for its tragic history marked by the devastating genocide that occurred just two decades ago in 1994.

During my visit to Rwanda, I observed a remarkable resurgence in the country’s efforts to restore and showcase its natural beauty. Having acknowledged their tumultuous history, the Rwandan people have established a resilient and solid basis, with the aim of fostering peaceful coexistence among all citizens. Additionally, they collaborate diligently to maintain the cleanliness of their nation. It is undeniably the most pristine country I have observed in Africa!

Rwanda is primarily renowned among tourists for its endangered gorillas located in Volcanoes National Park.

Volcanoes National Park, situated in the northwestern region of Rwanda, is a highly sought-after tourism attraction in the country. The park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the habitat of five out of the eight… Nevertheless, Rwanda offers a plethora of attractions beyond its renowned mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, including 4 national parks, 2 UNESCO sites, and a rich cultural legacy. I embarked on a journey to Rwanda in the company of Kabira Safaris & Tours Africa. This location is a stunning, verdant place that offers awe-inspiring vistas and a diverse array of species, including the renowned Big Five.

The Big 5 of Africa refer to the five iconic and highly sought-after species of large mammals found in Africa, namely the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo. The Big Five animals of Africa, commonly referred to as ‘The Big 5’, consist of the African elephant, rhinoceros, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo. The following five large game animal species are essential additions to any traveler’s bucket list. Rwanda boasts its own national airline, RwandAir, allowing travelers to expand their horizons and discover the top 10 destinations to visit in Rwanda:

Best Places to Visit in Rwanda

1. Kigali

Given that the majority of individuals opt to travel by air to the vibrant capital city of Kigali, it would be advantageous to consider Kigali as one of the top destinations to explore in Rwanda. Kigali stands out as the most pristine city across the entire continent of Africa, a fact that becomes evident immediately upon leaving the airport.

As a conscientious traveler, Individuals embark on journeys for many reasons. Some individuals embark on journeys for a relaxed escape to a comfortable location that would provide a tranquil experience. While some travelers may prioritize exciting activities while packing their luggage, one essential activity in Kigali is visiting the Genocide Memorial. This memorial serves as a profound and poignant tribute to the victims of the 1994 genocide, offering a valuable opportunity to learn about Rwanda’s history.

The memorial is situated in the Gisozi district and comprises a museum, mass graves, and a research center. Visiting the children’s section dedicated to the young victims of the genocide is a deeply emotional experience, making it nearly impossible to hold back tears. Within this space, one can peruse intimate particulars such as the aspirations of these children for their future occupations, their preferred literary works, and their preferred pastimes. It is difficult to fathom that this occurred only twenty years ago and that comparable atrocities are currently occurring in different regions of our world.

Another captivating activity in Kigali is to explore the Kigali City Tower, which provides sweeping vistas of the city. Additionally, one can appreciate local artworks at the Inema Art Center or visit the traditional Caplaki Crafts Village to gain insights into Rwandan culture, purchase handcrafted souvenirs, or witness traditional dance performances. If you are interested in purchasing locally crafted gifts, the Kimironko Market is a recommended destination.

Kigali’s City Center offers a variety of excellent restaurants and bars for those seeking a vibrant nighttime experience. For instance, we enjoyed a meal at Atelier Du Vin, a charming establishment where one can savor abundant amounts of wine alongside delectable cuisine and breathtaking city vistas.

2. Umusambi Village Conservancy

Umusambi Village Conservancy is the initial wildlife sanctuary and nature reserve in Rwanda. It serves as a refuge for crippled Grey-crowned cranes that have been saved from illegal wildlife trading and captivity. The Grey-Crowned Crane holds the distinction of being the official avian symbol of Uganda.

Umusambi Village in Rwanda provides an opportunity for these aesthetically pleasing cranes, which are unable of returning to their natural habitat, to once again experience the joys of nature in a revitalized 21-hectare wetland region.

Visitors have the opportunity to partake in several walking pathways, simultaneously gaining knowledge about Umusambi’s conservation endeavors and the significance of safeguarding the natural environment. Although my hike was brief, I am eager to revisit the marsh in order to further investigate its surroundings.

The refuge is managed by the non-profit Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association (RWCA), which aims to increase awareness about conservation matters. One of their objectives is to actively involve and instruct nearby communities, thereby enhancing their quality of life.

3. Volcanoes National Park

Gorillas of Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.

Gorilla trekking at Volcanoes National Park is a highly favored activity in Rwanda. This country harbors more than 50% of the global population of severely endangered mountain gorillas. Despite the gradual increase in the gorilla population as a result of conservation endeavors, they remain at risk of extinction and require round-the-clock safeguarding. It is a gift to have the opportunity to go on guided treks and witness these extraordinary monkeys in their natural habitat.

The walk can be arduous, but the opportunity to witness a gorilla at close proximity is genuinely indelible.

Volcanoes National Park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The park also has five out of the total of eight volcanoes found in the Virunga Mountains. There are sufficient justifications to include it among the top destinations to visit in Rwanda.

Interested in participating in a Gorilla Trekking expedition in Rwanda? Acquire your gorilla permit

To secure a seat on the daily gorilla treks, it is necessary to purchase a gorilla permit in advance for the price of 1500 USD. Typically, it takes approximately 4-6 hours to track these gorillas, during which you get to spend a maximum of one hour with a gorilla family that is accustomed to human presence. For my particular situation, we monitored the Kwitonda Gorilla family, which consists of 17 mountain gorillas, including a juvenile gorilla. They reside on the Gahinga mountain within Volcanoes National Park.

By visiting these endangered great apes, you are actively contributing to the protection and preservation of their delicate existence.

However, aren’t these licenses to see Gorillas excessively costly? Indeed, I concur that the cost of 1500 USD for a Rwanda hiking permit is exorbitant. However, have you ever contemplated the arduous and perilous nature of safeguarding one of our nearest kin on the planet continuously for a whole 24-hour period, spanning over all seven days of the week? Without the presence of these rangers

Without the presence of a game ranger and the efforts of conservation organizations, it would not be feasible for us to observe these mountain gorillas in their natural habitat, as they would have already faced extinction. Purchasing a gorilla trekking permit is an exceptional means of reciprocating to nature for the many gifts it has bestowed upon us.

4. Musanze

Musanze is a little village in close proximity to Volcanoes National Park. The town serves as an ideal hub for your gorilla trekking expedition. If you are interested in immersing yourself in a cultural encounter, you may also consider paying a visit to the adjacent Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village. At this location, you will have a deeper understanding of the customary lifestyle of indigenous Rwandans and have the opportunity to appreciate their traditional dance showcases.

Where to stay in Musanze or Kinigi?

An excellent and reasonably priced accommodation option in Musanze is the Tiloreza Volcanoes Ecolodge, a boutique hotel located in Kinigi. The majority of the tourists residing in that area are engaging in a gorilla trekking expedition. In addition, they offer a compact pool area where you may unwind following your gorilla trekking expedition. An admirable aspect of Tiloreza is their proactive engagement with the community to provide assistance in environmental and educational initiatives.

5. Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park

Akagera National Park, under the management of African Parks, is situated in the eastern region of Rwanda, approximately 2.5 to 3 hours away from Kigali. This park is renowned for its expansive savannah plains, wetlands, and lakes, which are home to a wide variety of species. It is a significant wetland area in Central Africa that is protected and serves as the only remaining sanctuary for species accustomed to the savannah environment in Rwanda.

Guided game drives and self-drives with breathtaking mountain vistas as a backdrop are popular activities in Akagera. These activities are mostly focused on searching for lions.

The area offers sightings of leopards, groups of elephants, zebras, antelopes, and groups of giraffes, as well as opportunities for boat excursions to observe hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of vibrant birds.

Akagera shares a border with Tanzania, allowing for the advantageous presence of wildlife that moves freely between these two East African nations. The national park is experiencing an increasing level of popularity for conducting a full-day game drive. Although it is the sole national park in Rwanda that is home to the Big Five, sightings of rhinos or lions are nevertheless infrequent. Walking safaris are also available at several of the hotels in Akagera.

6. Nyungwe Forest National Park

Hiking Through the Nyungwe National Park in Rwanda!

Nyungwe, one of Africa’s most ancient rainforests, boasts a remarkable abundance of diverse species and is renowned for its breathtaking beauty. The hilly terrain is abundant with wildlife, including a limited number of chimpanzees and 12 other primate species, such as the L’Hoest’s monkey which is exclusive to the Albertine Rift.

In the past, Nyungwe’s diverse plant and animal life was heavily affected by widespread poaching, illegal mining, unsustainable harvesting, and encroachment of agricultural activities. These activities constituted a threat to the survival of the area’s abundant biodiversity. In 2020, African Parks was invited by the Rwandan government to sign a 20-year agreement to administer Nyungwe, following a successful relationship with the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Akagera National Park. Collectively, we are collaborating to revive and safeguard the biodiversity, interact with the neighboring communities, and establish a robust tourism sector to enhance the park’s economic viability. Currently, the park is fostering a feeling of responsibility for preserving the environment among the local residents, while also establishing a sustainable and financially independent resource that promotes ecological well-being.

7. Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu – Kibuye aerial view

Lake Kivu, located in the western part of Rwanda, is situated within Africa’s Great Rift Valley. It is characterized by its stunning mountainous surroundings and its vast expanse of emerald green waters, which span across a surface area of 2,700 km2. Rwanda’s largest lake is also the sixth largest lake in Africa.

Rubavu, formerly known as Gisenyi, is a sizable town located on the northern periphery of Lake Kivu. It is conveniently situated about an hour’s drive away from Volcanoes National Park, making it an ideal destination for unwinding after a gorilla trekking expedition. Rubavu, formerly a prominent colonial beach resort, features a riverfront adorned with dilapidating historic mansions, hotels, and fashionable lakeside bars, providing an excellent setting for enjoying evening cocktails.

Karongi, located halfway around the lake, is a well-liked beach resort whose slopes adorned with pine and eucalyptus trees provide a picturesque setting for the shimmering lake. During the early morning and evening, the melodic voices of nearby fishermen resonate through the air as they synchronize their paddling movements.

The Congo Nile Trail spans 227 kilometers, starting at Rubavu in the north and ending at Rusizi in the south of Lake Kivu. The trail offers stunning landscapes over its whole length. The trail meanders in a serpentine manner, traversing hills and mountains alongside the lake, while being flanked by eucalyptus trees. The hills are meticulously terraced with bananas, covering every available space.

Adventurous travelers can embark on a thrilling exploration of Rwanda by participating in a kayaking excursion on Lake Kivu. Alternatively, they can choose to engage in mountain biking or trekking along one of the six lesser-known segments of the magnificent Congo Nile Trail.

8 . Nyanza Province

Nyanza, located in the Southern Province, serves as the administrative capital and ranks as the eighth largest city in Rwanda. The primary allure of the region resides in its cultural heritage, which unquestionably justifies a visit while traveling to Nyungwe National Park.

The King’s Palace is a meticulously reconstructed historic royal palace, designed in the shape of a beehive and made with exquisite thatched craftsmanship. It is highly recommended to pay a visit to this remarkable attraction. Located in the rear are a small number of Ankole cattle with long horns, which are descendants of the king’s herd. These cattle are diligently cared after and serenaded by their keepers.

In ancient times, Rwandan monarchs were highly nomadic, frequently relocating between multiple palaces dispersed around the realm. Nevertheless, towards the end of the 19th century, the expanding colonial presence posed a threat to the crown’s power. In an effort to mitigate this, Mwami (King) Musinga Yuhi V designated Nyanza as the inaugural enduring royal capital of Rwanda in 1899, a role it retained until the nation transitioned into a republic in 1962.

The Belgians were sufficiently pleased with the royal court, leading them to exercise authority through the existing power structure and desist from interfering in the city. The combination of Western tales, characterized by vivid descriptions, grandeur, and formalities, along with the rich oral tradition of Rwanda, firmly establishes Nyanza as a prominent destination for cultural heritage.

Although Nyanza’s hillsides no longer have roundhouses and the royal court has been disbanded for a long time, the region nonetheless holds significant cultural significance. Another notable sight is the Ethnographic Museum located in the vicinity of Huye.

9. Gishwati-Mukura National Park

Gishwati Mukura, Rwanda’s fourth national park, has two distinct forests: the larger Gishwati and the smaller Mukura. Together, they cover a total area of 34 square kilometers, including a buffer zone.

The forests are located on the ridge that separates the Congo and Nile water catchment zones, among the highly diversified Albertine Rift in the western part of the country. There are a total of 60 tree species in its composition, which consist of both native hardwoods and bamboo.

Gishwati is inhabited by a community of 20 chimpanzees that coexist with golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, and Blue Monkeys. There is a significant number of bird species found at Gishwati and Mukura, with 232 species observed at Gishwati and 163 at Mukura. These include species that are unique to the Albertine Rift region and species that are specialized to live in forests.

The park’s activities commenced in 2019 and encompass a guided excursion through nature, tracking of chimpanzees and monkeys under the guidance of an expert, observing various bird species, and a trip to the waterfalls.

The land was almost exhausted mostly as a result of resettlement, illicit mining in the mineral-abundant forest, and cattle agriculture.

The formalization of its National Park status in 2015 intends to address the imbalance by increasing the quantity of trees in order to enhance soil fertility, stabilize slopes, and regulate stream flow.

Additionally, it will enhance the quality of life for the residents in the nearby regions, thereby increasing the likelihood of the forest’s regeneration and the possibility for long-term improvement in living conditions.

Community-based activities encompass a range of experiences such as staying on a farm, witnessing live cultural dances, engaging in handicraft making, participating in beekeeping, taking a tour of a tea plantation, and learning from traditional healers who utilize natural botanicals to complement modern medicine and synthesized drugs.

10. Red Rocks Initiative

Red Rocks Rwanda is a center for intercultural exchange that prioritizes the community. The organization advocates for ethical tourism that benefits local Rwandans, offering them chances for empowerment through the sharing of their distinct culture. The cultural centre at Red Rocks provides a variety of excursions, volunteer opportunities, and cultural programs. It is located in a scenic valley, surrounded by gentle hills and breathtaking views of Volcanoes National Park.

All community events aim to enhance the community by prioritizing the enhancement of the quality of life for its residents, which I greatly appreciate! For tourists such as us, this implies that we will have the opportunity to engage with authentic and culturally rich traditional communities. The campsite at Red Rocks provides the potential for extended stays, allowing visitors to become part of a community engaged in philanthropic travel focused on conservation and ethical tourism in Rwanda.

Some examples of cultural tours and eco-tourism activities include the production of banana beer (Kwenga ibitoki), lessons in sewing and bracelet making, basket weaving, the experience of harvesting honey from the bees they keep, biking tours around the village, walking tours of community homesteads, visits to herbal medicinal plant sites, community tree planting, drumming and traditional dance performances, storytelling sessions with dinner around the campfire, and various other activities.

The Red Rocks location is adorned with vibrant paintings throughout and exudes a relaxed atmosphere. It is an exceptional destination where cultural tourism drives the progress of the local community, making it an opportunity you would want to embrace as a conscientious visitor!

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