Without knowing too much about Rwanda Jon and I decided we would head there for our Christmas holidays – mostly because the cheap flights. We were initially a bit disheartened upon arrival at the backpackers, as lots of the travellers were just itching to get out of the capital city Kigali and even Rwanda itself because there was apparently very little to do. However after scanning the city and country maps and wandering around our first day we knew the activity options were endless across the country and were already regretting not booking longer than 10 days!
Here is a list in no particular order of the top reasons to visit Rwanda:
- This is the cleanest country I have ever visited. There is literally no garbage in the streets or the gutters (I walked into one to confirm). I think the secret is having a lot of bins, making littering a crime ($20 littering fee), monthly community clean-ups and a total ban of plastic bags.
2. Orderly traffic. Most of the streets in the country (both urban and rural) are paved. The traffic lights work – and more importantly people obey them. We really liked the count-down traffic lights letting drivers know how much time they had until the lights turn red/green.
3. The 1000 hills. Rwanda is often referred to as the land of a 1000 hills and for good reason. This tiny county is entirely covered in hills. From the urban capital of Kigali to the most rural areas the hills are packed in densely providing unbelievable scenery and views.
4. Lake Kivu. This is a beautiful inland fresh water lake without crocs or hippos making it swimable a real treat in this part of the world!
5.The Volcanoes National Park. This is an amazing park that is home to 5 of the 8 volcanoes in the area. It borders the Congo and Uganda and is famous for being home to the former Dian Fossey research centre for the mountain gorillas.
6. Intore Dancers. Rwanda is home to the famous Intore dancers, said to be one of the best dancing styles on the continent. Unfortunately, due to logistics Jon and I missed them but, we did get to see the basket dancers which was also beautiful.
7. Learning and growth from history. Most people’s knowledge on Rwanda is limited to the genocide that occurred 21 years ago. We were unsure of how this history would be felt after 2 decades but were happy to find a nice combination of sites dedicated to remembering the atrocities and learning from past mistakes for future generations, the Kigali Genocide Memorial being among my favourite.
8. Coffee! Rwanda’s geography makes it a great place to grow coffee. So it is very easy to enjoy coffee across the country.
9. Art. Kigali has 4 art galleries that I know of, we had the opportunity to visit one of them – the Ivuka Arts Studio which encourages youth and women in particular to become artists by providing them training and the facilities to work. We particularly loved the recycled nature of the art found in this gallery:
We were also pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Christmas play we went to see:
While we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Rwanda there were challenges which included:
- Very difficult to communicate with local people who speak a mix of English, French, Swahili and their main language is Kinyarwanda. We thought being bilingual French and English, communication would not be an issue, but it was. When we found someone who we could communicate with clearly we took advantage and asked our piles of questions!
- Expensive to eat out, a local meal beans, vegetables, plantains, meats, ect costs around $5 and an average meal for two was $20
- As tourists we were really stared at by local people. Not really a bad thing, but much more intense than what I have experienced in Tanzania, Malawi or Zambia.
- Customer service is non-existent. This is where we struggled the most. We faced challenges at all hostels, guest houses, restaurants and tour companies. We had to adapt to plan for the unexpected and to wait hours for food to arrive. Once we figured this out, we could plan accordingly!
Overall, we absolutely loved Rwanda and would go back if we had the chance to experience many of the other things the country has to offer that we missed. I hope you also have the chance to visit one day!