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Where to Go

Akagera National Park

Named after the river which runs along its eastern boundary, Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda is set at a relatively low altitude along the RWANDAn border. This beautiful game reserve protects an archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia and brachystegia bush, interspersed with patches of open grassland and a dozen swamp-fringed lakes that follow the meandering course of the river.

Akagera is notable for protecting an unusually wide diversity of habitats within a relatively small area. In the past it was regarded as one of the few African savannah reserves to form a self-sustaining ecological unit, meaning that its resident large mammals ha no need to migrate seasonally outside of the park.

The variety of animals living in the park is extraordinary. Herds of elephant and buffalo are most likely to be encountered when they emerge from the dense woodland to drink at the lakes, while lion, leopard, hyena and possibly black rhino are still present in small numbers. Giraffe and zebra are frequently seen in open woodland, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the chestnut impala with black and white stripes running down its rump and tail, but also the ungainly topi and the world's largest antelope, the Cape eland.


Butare has been described as the intellectual and cultural heart of Rwanda, due to the fact that the National University, the National Institute of Scientific Research and the National Museum are all sited here.

The National Museum of Rwanda is the centrepiece of Butare, it was opened in 1988 and as a gift from Belgium´s King Boudain I. In its seven spacious rooms it houses a wide variety of archaeological and ethnographical displays, and which would rank as one of the best museums in the East African region. The Roman Catholic cathedral was built in memory of Belgium's Princess Astrid in the 1930s. Is the largest in the country; an impressive red-brick building.

For handicrafts, there is an excellent shop opposite the Ibis Hotel, selling products made by the Co-opérative des Producteurs Artisanaux de Butare (COPABU) and there are local craft shops a few kilometers out of the town at Gihindamuyaga and Gishamvu.
In the way from Kigali to Butare the traditional ancient palace of the Mwami has been reconstructed. The Royal Palace of Nyanza is an enormous traditionally constructed dome, currently maintained as a museum. In olden times, it was the center of Rwanda and seat of its monarchy, and the place where the German colonizers came, at the end of the 19th century.


Situated on the eastern shore of the enormous Lake Kivu, Gisenyi is split into an upper and lower town. The former is a grid of busy roads centred around a small market area and the upper part is an atmospheric conglomeration of banks, government buildings, old colonial homesteads and hotels. The waterfront, with its red sandy beaches and shady palm-lined avenues, has the captivating air of slightly down-at-heel tropical beach resort. Given its relatively high altitude of 1,500 m it has a refreshing climate with odds with its tropical appearance.

The main attraction of Gisenyi is its relaxing atmosphere. Wealthier Rwandans, expatriates and travelers looking to splurge often go for the weekends to the lakeside of this resort town. It is an interesting place to wander around, too, whether your interest lies in the prolific birds that line the lake shore, the fantastic old colonial buildings that dot the leafy suburban avenues, lazing around on the beach, or mixing in to the hustle of the market area.

The lake Kivu is extraordinarily beautiful: a vast inland sea enclosed by the steep, green terraced hills that are so characteristic of rural Rwanda. As man would expect at a lake, there are lots of water sports to keep the energetic and the poseurs happy, and beer-laden boat trips to the nearby Primus Brewery to finish off a long hard day. Further afield, the 6 km. Walk drive to Rubona port offers some lovely lake views, while at Rubona itself man can easily arrange to explore the immediate vicinity in a dugout canoe or pirogue. Meanwhile, to the south of town is the impressive 328ft-high (100m-high) waterfall, Les Chutes de Ndaba.


Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, is both a modern business center and a lush garden city, sprawling attractively over verdant slopes in the very heart of the land of a Thousand Hills. Kigali. The city is small but rates big on the attractiveness scale, dotted as it is with a wide variety of colorful flora and with a number of viewpoints looking out over Rwanda's other 999 hills. Kigali does offer a good number of eateries, clubs and liquid refreshment joints and is a good place to indulge the senses.

Kigali, despite concessions to modernity, retains a satisfyingly organic shape and unpretentious low-rise charm. The compact city center, which surrounds a busy, colorful market, is studded with souvenir stalls displaying fine local craftsmanship, it is noisy and bustling but for an African city surprisingly clean and safe. Its occupants, form smart-suited businesspersons to scruffy kids hawking newspapers or pirated cassettes, go purposefully about their activities. Foreign and tourist do not feel any harassment at all apart from hearing "Mushungo" (white) from different people. The government and administrative area, in Kacyru quarter on a neighboring hill, is newer and quieter, with wide streets and some modern architecture.

Where to stay:
There are two top hotels in Kigali, the Novotel Umubano Hotel situated in the administrative quarter and Des Milles Collines Hotel in the center of Kigali. Both have outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and changing money facilities. Recently the Gorilas Hotel has been opened with a more familiar atmosphere. Also in the city center is the Okapi Hotel, a short walk from the market square. Close to the airport and slightly cheaper is Hotel Chez Lando which offers very pretty and comfortable chalet style accommodation. The Hotel Beau Sejor, newly opened is already earning a reputation for great service at a competitive price.

Where to eat:
For a taste of the Orient, Flamingo restaurant serves the best Chinese in town and in the recently opened Exotica where one can find the best of India. For an Italian taste, do not miss Cactus with a selection of salads, wood-fired pizzas and pasta dishes, Iris for truly tasty homemade pasta and Sole Lune with an impressive view of the city. In the high range many good restaurants can e found in the city: Caprix des Palais, Karisimbi both offering a very nice atmosphere; Le panorama, the rooftop restaurant at Hotel des Milles Collines and the restaurant from the new Gorillas Hotel.

For a more local taste, there are many bars to get some goat breochettes, Tilapia -the local fish- and banana beer.
There's an NGO-satisfying array of restaurants clustered around Place de l'Independence that serve up everything from regional African fare to up market French dishes to Italian, Greek, Indian and Chinese cuisines. Sprinkled among these are numerous bars and a batch of nightclubs of the please-stay-and-watch-the-sun-come-up variety, frequented by a sometimes beguiling mixture of locals, expatriates and folk for hire.

The nightlife in Kigali is accessible with a fair degree of safety, though just like most other African cities it still pays to be cautious and taxis are recommended after dark. The largest nightclub is Cadillac, a spacious converted warehouse boasts several pool tables, two bars and the latest in pop, traditional Rwandan and Congolese tunes. Maxims's at Novotel Umubano Hotel is currently very popular with Kigali's smart set. Cercle Sportif has a truly energetic feel as it is a sports center by day and a club by night. The Latest one Planet, very trendy place.
Nyungwe Forest National Park

The Nyungwe Forest, recently accorded national park status, is a mountainous 970 sq km protected rainforest reserve in southern Rwanda. Nyungwe has the largest single tract of montane forest remaining anywhere in East or Central Africa. It is rightly celebrated for the rich variety of its flora and fauna which is a function not only of its antiquity -it is one of the oldest forests in Africa, once part of an interrupted forest belt covering the length of the Albertine Rift- but also of the wide variation in elevation.

Harboring more than 75 mammal species, the main attraction of Nyungwe Forest is its primates with 13-recorded species representing 25% of the total number in Africa. Of particular interest is the Ruwenzori colobus, a highly arboreal and acrobatic leaf-eater, easily distinguished by its contrasting black overall color and white whiskers, shoulders and tail tip that move in troops of several hundred and an estimated 500 chimpanzee. Other primates likely to be encountered are L'Hoest's monkey, vervet monkey, olive baboon, grey-cheeked mangabey, and red-tailed monkey.
The forest comprises at least 200 tree species, along with a huge variety of small flowering plants, including wild begonia, more than 100 species of orchid, and sensational giant lobelias.
Nyungwe is the single most important birdwatching destination in Rwanda, with more than 275 bird species recorded, of which the majority are forest specialist s and 24 are Albertine Rift endemics - birds whose range is restricted to a handful of montane forests between southern Uganda and northern Burundi - including the spectacular Ruwenzori turaco, secretive red-chested alethe, and several iridescent sunbirds. Equally remarkable are the great blue turaco, a chicken-size bird with garish blue, orange and yellow feathers; the paradise monarch, a long-tailed blue, orange and white bird and the gigantic forest hornbills.

Parc National des Volcans

When visiting the 'Land of a Thousand Hills', one should not miss out on the magnificent opportunity to visit Rwanda's Parc National des Volcans (PNV) consisting of 125 Km2 of mountain forest and home to the six Virunga Volcanoes bordering DRC and Uganda and the world famous mountain gorillas. It is home to the world's largest number of endangered mountain gorillas. Numbering in their hundreds, the gorillas live in a protected area, free from poachers. The gorillas can be viewed in their natural mountain habitats at a fairly close range. Best known for its mountain gorilla inhabitants, what is now the PNV was originally part of the Albert National Park, the first national park created in Africa, established in 1925. Today, the park is managed and protected by the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN).

Although hiking and climbing the Volcanoes is currently not permitted, a gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1/2 hour to a 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek through the forest will not be easy, but will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate of the forest. You may spot golden monkeys swinging from the bamboo, or see wild buffalo, bush duiker and a wide assortment of bird life. The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+).

It is a privilege to spend an hour watching the gorillas as they go about their daily routine, feeding, playing and resting, as you question your primeval existence and relive the wonder that kept Dian Fossey living in the forest for almost 18 years. Nothing can prepare one for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla: up to three times as bulky as the average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors. Nor are these words to describe the thrill of recognition attached to staring deep into the liquid brown eyes of these gentle giants, which share some 97% of their genes with humans.

That mountain gorillas survive today is largely thanks to Dian Fossey, who is buried at her research center in the Virungas alongside the animals to which she dedicated her life. Fossey became a household name following the release of the biographical film Gorillas in the Mist, set and shot on location in the Parc National des Volcans. Critical and public acclaim ensured that Gorillas in the Mist also served to raise international awareness of the plight of the mountain gorilla. A mere 300 of these gentle giants survive in the wild, half of them resident in Rwanda, where four habituated groups - ranging in size from 7 to 33 individuals - can be visited by up to 32 tourists daily.

Access to the PNV begins in the lively town of Ruhengeri, situated at the base of the entrance of the park. Ruhengeri has long been the base point for gorilla visits and entertains a stunning backdrop of Karisimbi, Visoke, Mikeno, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes. Ruhengeri is easily reached from Rwanda's capital city, Kigali, and is also only a 45-minute drive away from Gisenyi and the stunning Lake Kivu. Ruhengeri is an agreeable place to spend the night before one goes gorilla tracking, as well as being the obvious base from which to explore the little-known but compellingly beautiful Lakes Burera and Ruhondo.

The Kinigi Guest House on the foot of Mount Sabyinyo was recently fully refurbished, and is now open. It offers very comfortable accommodation in cottages for two, four or eight people. It also offers a good restaurant and bar. Hotel Muhabura in Ruhengeri town also offers comfortable accommodation in reasonably priced single and double rooms equipped with mosquito nets and a good supply of running hot and cold water. The hotel also features a reasonable restaurant and bar and is complete with fax and telephone facilities.

Other activities

In order to diversify the tourism attractions in general, and those of the Volcanoes National Park in particular, ORTPN has launched some novelties in response to visitors' demands. Thus three new activities will be organised in the Volcanoes National Park:

1. The visit to the grave of the famous Dian Fossey, and to the gorilla cemetery, where one finds the grave of Digit, Dian Fossey's favourite gorilla;
2. Climbing Visoke volcano to the crater lake on its summit;
3. The exploration of lake Marano on Sabyinyo volcano, and the lakes of Ngezi and Gasindikira, secondary craters of this volcano.

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