Site logo

The Best Attractions in Rwanda – Its not just about Gorillas

Author: Mishka Ramdas, Digital Copywriter

When people think of bucket-list experiences, Rwanda generally is not at the very top of their list, unless they’re an avid safari-goer or enthralled by the African Continent. But maybe it’s time to try something different. It was Tony Robbins who said, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” And Rwanda is as different as they come.

Rwanda is a tiny country, approximately 26,338 square kilometres, but there is so much to do and see that you may feel that you’re in an entirely different planet!

Here are some of the best things to do in Rwanda, in our opinion of course.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial

Travellers can enter the Genocide Memorial free of charge and is probably one of the most important places you will see in Rwanda. The genocide took place in 1994 where more than 800,000 Rwandans were killed in just 100 days. Rwanda has come a long way since this devastating massacre but the impact of this unjust war has left its mark on the lives of everyday people and the generations to come.

While this seems like a heart-breaking experience, visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important part of being a responsible tourism in Rwanda. The museum runs a permanent exhibit on the history of genocide around the world as well as the intervention efforts from international communities, helping to put the Rwandan genocide into context. There is also a Children’s Room, which is sure to bring you to tears. Here, each child who lost their life is portrayed through oversized portraits with personal details about them such as their nicknames or favourite books.

Lake Kivu

Part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Kivu in the west of Rwanda is surrounded by magnificent mountains and has deep emerald green waters covering a surface area of 2,700 km2. It is Rwanda’s largest lake and the sixth largest in Africa. It is also a great spot for bird watching, swimming or relaxing. This is one of the less-adventurous things to do in Rwanda. Perfect for kicking back after a full day of gorilla trekking or just taking a break from exploring. You can also take a boat ride to some of the small islands, including “Bat Island.”

Once a colonial beach resort of note, Rubavu’s waterfront is lined with fading old mansions, hotels and trendy bars on the lakeshore, ideal for sundowner cocktails.

Karongi, halfway along the lake, is a popular beach resort with hillsides covered in pines and eucalyptus that serve as a backdrop to the sparkling lake. At dawn and dusk, the sound of local fisherman singing carries across the water as they paddle in unison. From Rubavu in the north, the Congo Nile Trail extends 227 kilometres of breathtaking landscapes all the way to Ruzizi in the south of Lake Kivu. The trail gently curves back and forth as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake with eucalyptus trees lining the road and every inch of the hills seemingly terraced with bananas.

The Kings Palace Museum

The Kings Palace Museum is a perfect representation of Rwanda’s conservation efforts and will certainly convince you of their reverence for animals. This is one of Rwanda’s eight national museums and the star attraction are the inyambo (sacred cows) and the staggeringly large horns. Throughout the day, traditional singers lull the cows into a mellow state by belting poems, a truly unique ritual from Rwandan culture.

The museum is just as interesting as the inyambo as it showcases a replica of a King’s Palace from the 15th century with a thatched roof, royal hut and fresh milk hut traditionally run by an unmarried woman. Travellers can also explore the colonial-style home that was once the royal residence of King Mutata III Rudahigwa in the mid-20th century. Inside, you will find a few striking design elements, which perfectly blend Rwandan patterns and European-style furniture, some of which were owned by the King.

Akagera National Park

If you’re wondering whether you can go on safari in Rwanda, the answer is yes! Situated 2-hours and 30-minutes from Kigali, you will find the Akagera National Park, Central Africa’s largest protected wetland. Managed by the African Parks organization, Akagera and its biodiversity have made an incredible recovery from near decimation after the Rwandan genocide. The 1,140-square-kilometer expanse now boasts all of the Big Five animals, along with an abundance of birds and antelope.

But, one should also note, that this is not the Kruger National Park or Sabi Sands, you will need to have a lot of luck to spot a lion or rhino, as conservation specialists are still working on boosting their populations and for now, there aren’t that many at Akagera. The landscape itself is just as spectacular as the animals that live here. You’ll see the environment make a glorious shift from savannah plains to wetlands and lakes.

Explore Kigali

Many travellers use Kigali as their first stop before heading to the Rwanda reserves for Gorilla and Golden Monkey trekking, but there is plenty to do in this culturally rich town. Enjoy the vibrant culture, cuisine and sightseeing in Rwanda’s capital city. This would be best for the beginning or the end of your trip.

The Kimironko Market is perfect for picking up bespoke clothing with swirling patterned textiles and experience the energetic atmosphere at one of Kigali’s largest markets. This warehouse space is like a maze with fantastic surprised around each corner. Kigali is known for creative arts, so a visit to the Inema Arts Center. This art gallery showcases the works of up to 10 local artists in residence and displays some of the finest contemporary pieces in Rwandan Art. You can also see debris from the presidential aircraft that crashed in 1994. When you’re ready to refuel, savor an authentic Rwandan cup of joe at Question Coffee Cafe. Check out the cafe’s specials menu to see what experimental caffeinated concoctions the baristas have recently come up with.

Gorilla Guardians Village

The Volcanoes National Park is not just for Gorilla Trekking but it is also home to the Gorilla Guardians Village. Here, reformed poachers and the local community, teach tourists how to create some of Rwanda’s most famous crafts and activities. Travellers will learn how to carry a basket on their head the authentic way, weave their own baskets, shoot an arrow, and grind grains with a heavy stone. The enthusiastic guides ensure that they make the entire experience like a grand affair.

We suggest sticking around for the intore dance recitals where traditional dancers, decked out with long straw wigs and skirts, put on an exciting show to the beat of rhythmic drumming. You will fight it, but the urge to get up and dance with them will eventually take control!

So, there you have it, if you thought that Rwanda shouldn’t be on your bucket list, we have just given you 6 compelling reasons to explore this wonderous land.