14 Life-Changing Experiences You Can Only Have in Rwanda

Lake Burera | Courtesy of Leah Feiger
Lake Burera | Courtesy of Leah Feiger
Photo of Leah Feiger
26 January 2018

Rwanda is one of East Africa’s most impressive countries. With verdant green hills, some of the region’s best coffee and tea, spectacular scenery, and fascinating wildlife, Rwanda has a lot to offer the adventurous traveller. Read on to check out 14 of the best life-changing experiences you can only have in Rwanda.

Trek to the mountain gorillas

Of the 880 mountain gorillas left in the world, most live in the Virunga Mountain Range in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Rwanda’s impressive conservation work has made headlines around the world, as the country’s gorilla population is currently thriving. The hour visitors are able to spend with these special creatures, after a somewhat grueling hike through bamboo forests, is unforgettable.

Mountain gorilla in Volcanoes National Park | © Hjalmar Gislason / Flickr

Kayak, hike, or bike the length of Lake Kivu

On the Rwandan-side of Lake Kivu, a path known as the ‘Congo Nile Trail‘ is becoming the ultimate traveller activity. Stretching from Rubavu to Rusizi, the 141 mile long trail attracts bikers, hikers, and even kayakers. Different companies offer trips, though it is also possible to attempt this journey independently.

Kayaking Lake Kivu | © Leah Feiger

Climb Mt. Sabinyo

Meaning ‘old man’s teeth’ in Kinyarwanda, Mt. Sabinyo’s jagged edges and difficult ascent are enough to drive most seasoned hikers away. However, the summit of the volcano is shared by Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and though the hike is challenging, the views at the top more than make up for it.

Mt. Sabinyo | © flöschen / Flickr

Indulge in Rwanda’s best coffee

Coffee in Rwanda is unequivocally delicious. Rwandan coffee is most often characterised by a dark fruity flavour, and is known for its high quality and high altitude production. Though a lot of beans are shipped directly out of the country and deposited in your local Starbucks, a couple of roasters and businesses in Rwanda have recently been investing in the bean to cup movement. Check out Question Coffee and Inzora Rooftop Cafe in Kigali, two spots guaranteed to serve some of the country’s best coffee.

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Witness a gorilla naming ceremony

Kwita Izina, Rwanda’s annual gorilla naming ceremony, is an event not to be missed for environmental activists, conservation enthusiasts, locals, and tourists alike. Inspired by the traditional Rwandan custom of baby naming, the gorilla naming ceremony works to help monitor and bring attention to each individual gorilla in Volcanoes National Park, as well as the plight of the mountain gorilla. The ceremony in 2017 featured Rwandan President Paul Kagame as a keynote speaker, and hosted a myriad of international celebrities including Sean Penn and Howard Buffett.

Young Mountain Gorilla in Volcanoes National Park | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Take a helicopter tour over Rwanda’s hills

As recently shown by two of Rwanda’s best photographers, Philippe Nyirimihigo and Gael R. Vande weghe, the chance to see Rwanda from above shouldn’t be missed. Akagera Aviation is currently the only company that provides both tours and transfers, enabling guests to witness a birds eye view of the land of a thousand hills.

Construction materials along Lake Kivu | Courtesy of Gaël R. Vande weghe and Philippe Nyirimihigo

Marvel at Africa’s big 5 at Akagera National Park

As the only park in Rwanda home to Africa’s big five, Akagera National Park is a must visit for any traveller passing through the country. The park is famous for its fascinating wildlife, gorgeous views, and easy access – the southern gate is located a mere two hours away from Kigali. Spend a few days sleeping under the stars feeling oh so small in this gorgeous wildlife haven.

Zebras in Akagera National Park | © Leah Feiger

Pay your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Open daily, the Kigali Genocide Memorial remembers the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. In addition to the memorial, the space also serves as a well-crafted museum that details the history of the genocide and recounts personal stories. Although Rwanda has come a long way since the events of 1994, the country’s harrowing past is an important part of humanity’s history.

Photographs at the Kigali Genocide Memorial | © Trocaire / Flickr

Camp on the shores of Lake Burera

In northern Rwanda, not too far from the country’s border with Uganda, the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo glitter in the shadows of the Virunga massif. Perfect for a relaxing weekend away, camping on Lake Burera provides a glimpse into rural Rwandan life rarely seen by most tourists.

Camping on Lake Burera | © Leah Feiger

Look for chimpanzees in a rainforest

Nyungwe National Park, located in the southwest of Rwanda, is famous for its lush green forests and picture perfect tea farms. Adventurous tourists can purchase chimpanzee permits for the chance to hike (or run) through the forest with park rangers in an attempt to find the park’s elusive chimpanzee families. Though the hike is taxing, the opportunity to see Jane Goodall’s favourite primate friends in their natural habitat is invaluable.

Nyungwe's rainforest canopy | © Brian Harries / Flickr

Sip tea at the Sorwathe Tea Plantation

Nothing is better than a hot mug of tea on a rainy winter day. Rwanda’s tea, while not as famous as the fruity coffee, is just as good. Head to the Sorwathe Tea Plantation for a tea factory tour and lunch (reservations are advised), as well as the chance to try some of the region’s best tea. Located between Kigali and Musanze, the plantation is a great place to learn about Rwandan exports and local businesses.

Sorwathe tea fields | © Nick Fraser / Flickr

Stay at Rwanda’s most luxurious ecolodge

Luxury tourism is on the rise in Rwanda, and nothing characterises this sentiment better than the recent 2017 opening of Bisate Lodge. Chic, exclusive, and truly eco-friendly, this hotel is the place to be. The six lodge suites look like bird nests, and the interiors are beyond stylish. Bisate sits on the rim of an eroded volcanic crater, and every private balcony on the property has a perfect view of the Bisoke Volcano. If you can swing it, a stay here is absolutely magical.

Bisate Lodge | © Crookes & Jackson / Courtesy of Wilderness Safaris

Explore Rwanda’s colourful markets

From Kigali to Gisenyi, Rwanda’s markets are some of the region’s best. Spend a full day in Kigali exploring Kimironko Market, sampling tropical fruit and purchasing traditional Agaseke baskets. The vibrant market scene is truly where the city comes alive, with similar markets existing in every major Rwandan town.

Fresh produce in Kimironko Market | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Eat your way through the country

Rwanda’s restaurant scene has experienced quite the boom over the last few years. Eat your way through Kigali’s hottest neighbourhoods – from Nyamirambo to Kimihurura to Remera and back again – making sure to sample the country’s traditional brochettes, misuzu, akabenz, and big fish.

Brochettes on the grill | © SnippyHolloW / Flickr

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