Recently I spent 3 weeks exploring Rwanda. It wasn’t somewhere that had been high up on my travel bucket-list. In fact, I’d never really given it much thought, apart from when I watched the movie “Hotel Rwanda”. But my boyfriend works over there, so Rwanda popped back up on my radar. Before I went my friends and family were worried. They didn’t think it was safe and I might have thought the same if my boyfriend wasn’t so familiar with the country. Rwanda ended up defying all my expectations and surprising me constantly. At 26,338 km² (not even a third of the size of Ireland), Rwanda is a tiny country, but there are SO many things to do in Rwanda.
Things to do in Rwanda
Rwanda is HEAVEN for coffee lovers. I’m obsessed with iced coffee and I’ve never had better iced coffee than in Rwanda. There are coffee shops on nearly every corner. I had four within walking distance of the apartment I was staying in. Bourbon is a popular coffee shop chain, but I loved Junction and Simba for iced coffee. Make sure to pick up a few bags of coffee in the supermarket to bring home so that you can feed that glorious caffeine addiction when you get home.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
You don’t need to head to Tanzania or Kenya for the safari experience, Rwanda has it’s own national park; Akagera. It is Central Africa’s last protected wetland area and the only place in Rwanda to see the “BIG FIVE”. Recently 18 Black Rhinos have been reintroduced into the park. You can even spend a night in the park at the Ruzizi Tented Lodge amongst the wildlife and nature.
Rwanda is THE place to see mountain gorillas. However, that might change soon as they recently doubled the price from $750 to $1500 which has kind of pushed it into the high-end travel bracket. Honestly, WHO has $1500 to spend on top of all the other holiday expenses?! BUT, if you do, then this is one of the most incredible things you can do in Rwanda. I’m hoping that they’ll re-asses the price at some stage as I imagine that their visitor numbers will drop off. The mountain gorillas can only be seen in Uganda, Congo and Rwanda, so it’s quite a unique experience. The gorillas can be found in Volcanoes National Park.
This is free to enter and obviously one of the most important places to visit whilst in Rwanda. The genocide took place in 1994 where over a million Rwandans were killed over 100 days. Over 250,000 of those are buried at the memorial. It will make you cry (unless you have no soul). You can pay extra to be able to take photos if you want to, but honestly, it’s not the kind of place where you should be taking photos. I will warn you, the children’s room at the end is absolutely heart-breaking.
Nungwe Forest is one of the most popular things to do in Rwanda. Here you can see colubus monkeys, chimpanzees and various bird species. There is also a bridged canopy walk and a waterfall hike, but your fitness levels would need to be reasonable. If you’re driving yourself then make sure to bring an extra can of petrol as it’s quite a long drive from Kigali, and pack plenty of snacks and water as the chimpanzee trek can take hours. Also pack some binocular because the chimpanzees can sometimes be quite high up in the trees. Contact the RDB to arrange a guide/permits.
There are birds EVERYWHERE. I mainly noticed this because my sister is a zoo keeper specialising in birds. In Kigali if you look up all you’ll see is birds of prey soaring across the sky. Make sure you bring a pair of binoculars and a decent camera. There are shoebills, flamingos, bee-eaters, rollers, hornbills and so much more. For a full list of bird species to be seen in Rwanda, click here.
The capital of Rwanda is a vibrant and ever-improving city. There is no “main street” in particular, but there are certain areas worth exploring. I was staying on 599 Kigali Street, near Romero. There were plenty of coffee shops, supermarkets, restaurants (the food is incredible) and local markets around the area. Kigali Heights is the modern new mall, just across from the Kigali Convention Centre, full of eateries and shops. The Convention Centre lights up at night in bright swirling colours and is well worth a visit for a few snaps.
Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes. It is a fresh water lake and is the sixth largest lake in Africa (pretty impressive considering the size of Africa). The three main towns on the lakes that are worth visiting are Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu. You can take a boat ride to some of the small islands, including “Bat Island” or just go for a swim in the refreshing lake water. It’s also a great spot for some bird watching or to just chill on the beach. This is one of the more relaxing things to do in Rwanda.
Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali was made famous by the movie “Hotel Rwanda” and is now a tourist attraction. In 1994 it (and its’ manager) helped to keep 1,268 people safe during the genocide. The hotel itself does not actually appear in the movie, but it was the basis for the film. It is still a functioning hotel where you can spend the night.
What is any trip without a few souvenirs?! There are so many beautiful things that you can bring back for your friends/family/loved ones. I brought back a bag of beaded jewellery, four bags of coffee and a hand-crafted fabric bag. There’s an entire craft village in Kigali perfect for a bit of souvenir shopping. It’s called Caplaki Craft Village. The prices are a bit higher than some of the small shops you’ll find dotted around the city, but you’re paying for the convenience of having everything in the one place, and you can haggle of course. Another good gift idea is a book. There are plenty of books available telling the story of Rwanda, its history and how it became what it is today.
Where to Stay in Rwanda
Well, now that you have seen some of the MANY things to do in Rwanda, let’s get planning where you’re going to stay. I always recommend using Booking.com because of their daily deals and cancellation policy (which is usually free). Have a browse through the many options in Kigali and Gisenyi below. They have everything from guesthouses to hostels and 5* hotels. Make sure to check out my offer in the big yellow box below – £20 off your next booking with Booking . com.