Welcome to Rwanda

The land of a thousand hills

Once upon a time, if you told someone you were going to Rwanda, they’d think you were mad. In 1994, the country – long marred by political strife and civil war – was the setting for a horrific 100-day genocide that shocked the world. For a while this was the only thing some people could think of when they heard the word “Rwanda”.

But my, how times have changed. In the aftermath of such atrocities, this small East African country has taken massive strides in its quest to rebuild. Today, Rwanda is a beacon of hope, with a promising and vibrant future that has inspired the world. It also has a thriving tourism industry, thanks to the fact that it’s one of the safest and most stable countries on the continent, boasting good infrastructure, a booming capital city, and some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. And, of course, mountain gorillas.

Mountain gorilla trekking is the primary attraction on a Rwanda safari, and visitors come here from all over the globe to share encounters with these critically endangered creatures. Taking place in Volcanoes National Park at the foot of the Virunga mountains in the northwest of the country, this is one of just three countries in the world where you can see the last mountain gorillas.

Thanks to Dian Fossey, the endangered mountain gorillas are well-protected. As seen in the movie Gorillas in the Mist, Fossey dedicated her life to the study and protection of these primates, and her grave can be visited on a hike up the mountain slopes. Gorilla trekking is a true bucket-list experience, and even if you only spend an hour in the company of these gentle giants, it’s a wildlife interaction that you’ll never forget.

Rwanda is an extraordinary country that plays an internationally important role in protecting the endangered mountain gorillas. But a holiday here can offer so much more than a breathtaking chance to get up-close with these magnificent primates. This scenic little country is home to other natural attractions, including Nyungwe National Park, which dates back to before the Ice Age and is one of the most ancient forests on the planet. Stretching out across 970 square kilometres of Rwanda’s south east, the park is home to stunning waterfalls, a fantastic canopy walk, 1,000 plant species, hundreds of bird species and 85 mammal species, including an incredible 13 different primates species.

A safari holiday in Rwanda also gives you the opportunity to spend time at the magnificent Lake Kivu. One of the Great African Lakes, it’s home to some of the best inland beaches in Africa, where you can go swimming and boating in the waters, or relax and just chill out on the shore.

To the east is Akagera National Park, a wildlife and wilderness area that may be in its infancy, but is already in demand with visitors who are drawn to its remarkable ecosystem which encompasses mountains, savannah, lakes and swamps. Akagera is also the only place in Rwanda where you can see the Big Five.

This incredibly beautiful country is home to thick, lush forests the colour of emeralds and sparkling lakes like sapphires. There are volcanoes, hills and mountains that gave rise to Rwanda’s nickname: “the land of a thousand hills”. From these natural wonders to the the revitalised and colourful capital city of Kigali, this is a safe, friendly and remarkably clean country that you can explore confidently.

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“Nobody tells you Rwanda looks like Tuscany with its tiled roofs.”

– Joanna Lumley

Rwanda at a glance

The small, landlocked country of Rwanda in central Africa borders Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Affectionately known as “the land of a thousand hills”, it’s made up of deep valleys and steep mountains, with the average elevation of its central plateau around 1,700 metres.

Rwanda was for many years a mysterious kingdom, with a legendary military force that protected it from Arab traders and the many great Nile expedition parties. Colonised by the German Empire in 1899, it was only a German colony for a short period of time – after that nation’s defeat in World War I, Rwanda was absorbed into the Belgian colonial empire until it gained its independence in 1962. The post-colonial period was marred by ethnically motivated violence which led to civil war in the early 1990s and, finally, the horrific 1994 Rwandan genocide during which more than 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days.

An overwhelming sense of healing has taken place in such a short time and these days Rwanda is a remarkable story of recovery and hope. Its humble people are comfortable talking about this period of time that dominated the world’s press and devastated the country, and hopeful about their future. Visit the Ethnographic Museum (formerly the National Museum of Rwanda) in Butare for a great insight into Rwanda’s rich cultural history, and the Kigali Genocide Memorial in the country’s capital for a greater understanding of the ethnic conflict and political power struggle. You will leave with a greater understanding of the history, and compassion in your heart for those who suffered.

Although it has a total area of just 26,338 square kilometres – Tasmania is almost three times as large – Rwanda is one of Africa’s most densely populated countries, with around 12.6 million people. The majority of Rwandans are Hutus, an ethnic group that accounts for 84% of the population. Rwanda has three official languages, including French and English, but the most widely spoken is Kinyarwanda, which is spoken by more than 90% of the population.

It’s located just south of the equator, but thanks to Rwanda’s high elevation, the climate is pleasantly warm all year round, with cool nights. The best time to visit Rwanda is between June and September, since this is the driest time of the year. This is the longer dry season; the shorter dry season, which runs from December to early February, is another good time to visit.

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