One of the most incredible experiences in Rwanda is gorilla trekking, which allows visitors to get up close to primates that share 99 percent of our DNA. Beyond this activity, the country has much more to offer, as it has seen remarkable recovery since being ravaged by the 1994 genocide and become a peaceful, welcoming destination with a wealth of activities.
Nature enthusiasts will enjoy exploring Akagera National Park or taking in views of the Nyungwe Forest from a canopy walk. Those interested in culture can check out Rwanda’s Ethnographic Museum, which exhibits traditional customs and beliefs, or the King’s Palace Museum with its royal cows and accompanying singers.
These are just some of the top attractions in Rwanda. No matter your interests, you are sure to find an amazing experience in this beautiful country.
1. Volcanoes National Park
One of the most incredible experiences in the world is gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Found in Volcanoes National Park, which borders both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, this incredible attraction allows visitors to come face to face with mountain gorillas, an endangered species that shares 99 percent of the same DNA as humans. This mesmerizing experience is often at the top of any traveler’s list of things to do in Rwanda.
To visit the park, you will need to purchase a daily permit for $1,500, which can be easily done through a reputable tour operator, who can also arrange transportation from Kigali to the park headquarters. When you arrive, you will be guided through lush bamboo forests, lush meadows, and swampy areas, eventually coming to one of the 18 mountain gorilla families that have been specially habituated to humans. Here, you will be allowed to spend an hour observing the creatures as they go about their daily lives – eating, caring for their babies, and playing with each other.
For your safety, guides from the national park service will be around, using a series of clicking sounds to communicate with the gorillas. Porters are also available at the base of the trails, and it is strongly recommended that you hire one so that they can carry your bags and help you avoid slipping in the mud.
After your gorilla trekking experience is finished, you can head to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International Karisoke Research Center in the nearby town of Musanze. This museum contains in-depth information about conservationist Dian Fossey and her efforts to protect mountain gorillas that were portrayed in the 1988 drama, Gorillas in the Mist.
2. Kigali Genocide Memorial
Prepare yourself for a visit to one of the most harrowing treasures of Rwanda: the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Located in the heart of the city, this museum uses photographs, artifacts, personal history, and stories to take guests through the timeline that led up to the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. The main exhibit hall is surrounded by sculptures and contains stained-glass windows that provide a sense of hope. The museum’s permanent exhibit also conveys the heartbreaking events of genocide around the world and delves into international intervention efforts.
Adding to the poignancy of the memorial, there is a special Children’s Room that remembers the youngest victims of the massacre through oversize portraits of the children and details about their lives, such as their nicknames and favorite books. All of this is a somber reminder that, although time passes and repairs are made, neighborhoods and homes look different from what was destroyed in 1994.
Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial is an important part of being a responsible tourist in Rwanda. Reflect on your trip in the Gardens of Reflection and take a moment to offer a silent prayer and honor the 250,000 victims buried at the site. Remember and honor the history, so that it never happens again.
3. King’s Palace Museum
If you’re looking to explore Rwanda’s unique culture and history, a visit to the King’s Palace Museum is an absolute must. This museum, situated at Nyanza Road in the Nyanza District, is one of eight national museums in the country, and is home to the remarkable inyambo cows and their staggeringly large horns. During the day, traditional singers serenade the cows with poems – a ritual that is unique to Rwanda and incredibly special to witness.
The museum contains a replica of a king’s palace from the 15th century, with a thatched roof, royal hut and a fresh milk hut traditionally run by unmarried woman. The palace also features a colonial-style home and garden, which once served as the royal residence of King Mutara III Rudahigwa in the mid 20th century. Inside the palace, visitors can see the fascinating mix of Rwandan patterns and European-style furniture, some of which was actually owned by the king before his death.
No trip to Rwanda is complete without visiting the King’s Palace Museum and the inyambo cows. Step back in time and get a glimpse of the country’s history and culture, and take part in a ritual that is deeply intertwined with Rwandan heritage.
4. Lake Kivu
Spend a few days in beautiful Rubavu, a resort town perched on the northern tip of Lake Kivu, the largest body of water in Rwanda. This illustrious emerald-green oasis is surrounded by misty mountains and is sure to fill you up with a sense of tranquility and repose. Relaxation is not hard to come by here; Rubavu has a lively waterfront and sandy beach, as well as picturesque resorts like the Lake Kivu Serena Hotel. And if that’s not enough, you can always get even closer to the landscape with Kingfisher Journeys and enjoy a stunning sunset kayak tour with singing fishermen on the lake, or even dive in deeper with multi-day paddling adventures.
Lake Kivu is the ideal destination for those looking for some rest and relaxation, along with incredible experiences that take you closer to nature. Spend some time here to restore your soul and take in the beauty of Rwanda’s expansive landscape.
5. Nyungwe Forest National Park
For those looking for an out-of-this-world experience in Africa, a trip to Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda is a must. This incredible rainforest is home to a massive array of biodiversity, including 1,068 plant species, 322 species of birds, and 75 types of mammals. Tourists can spend their time tracking chimpanzees, enjoying the park’s only canopy walk in East Africa, or walking along one of the 15 hiking trails; no matter your interests, there is something for everyone at this magical forest.
Those seeking an animal encounter are in luck. Chimpanzees in the park have been habituated to humans by park rangers, and trekking them is a fraction of the cost of gorilla trekking – not to mention just as memorable. To reach the canopy walk, you’ll need to traverse a 90-minute hike from the Uwinka Visitor Center, but the outcome is breathtaking – you’ll be walking across a 91-meter-long suspension bridge dangling 50 meters above the rainforest, getting an unbelievable view of the treetops and distant mountains.
For those who are a little too vertigo-prone for the canopy walk, the 15 hiking trails will still take your breath away with their beauty and invigoration. No matter what you choose to do, a trip to Nyungwe Forest National Park is an unforgettable experience. Make sure to visit this remarkable place located at KN6, Rusizi to experience some of Rwanda’s undiscovered magic.
6. Ethnographic Museum
Dive into Rwandan history and learn more about precolonial life at the Ethnographic Museum in Huye. A gift from Belgium in celebration of Rwanda’ 25th anniversary of Independence, this incredible collection boasts seven galleries, full of fascinating artifacts like woven baskets, traditional animal-hide garments, spears and bows, musical drums, and farming tools. Plus, visitors can step inside an authentic royal home to get an understanding of what traditional housing looked like in the past – and get even more of a taste of the culture with handicraft demonstrations and live performances.
The Ethnographic Museum provides a unique experience that highlights the stories of those who lived in Rwanda before the colonial era. Located just 130 kilometers south of Kigali, this incredible destination is accessible and offers a wealth of knowledge and insight into the country’s history. Take a trip here and explore a side of Rwanda that isn’t as often seen.
7. Nyamata Genocide Memorial
The Nyamata Genocide Memorial is a solemn and humbling reminder of Rwanda’s tragic past. This final resting place for over 40,000 victims serves as a sight of great sorrow, but also a necessary step in understanding Rwanda’s history and preventing future genocides from ever happening.
The church of the memorial is the final resting place for around 10,000 Tutsi victims who locked themselves in the sanctuary, yet were tragically killed when Hutu militias forced open the doors. The clothing and ID cards of the victims can still be seen displayed on the church pews, an unforgettable experience. Outside the exit of the church is a grave of Tonia Locatelli, an Italian missionary who tried to garner media attention regarding the killings of the Tutsi people.
Visiting the Nyamata Genocide Memorial is an essential part of the journey to understanding the Rwandan genocide in more depth. It is not an experience for the faint of heart, but one that will stay with you long after you leave.
8. Gishwati Mukura National Park
Take a break from Kigali and explore Rwanda’s newest natural attraction – Gishwati Mukura National Park. Covering an area of 34 square kilometers, this incredible park is comprised of two forests, the larger being Gishwati with its amazing biodiversity. Home to a variety of primates, such as golden monkeys, blue monkeys, L’Hoest’, and Eastern Chimpanzees, the park also boasts over 230 species of birds–all of which can be enjoyed with a guided nature hike. In addition, take a chimp and monkey tracking tour to get a better chance at spotting some of these active and playful creatures.
Gishwati Mukura National Park is a must-visit destination for those looking to explore more of Rwanda’s natural wonders. Enjoy the fresh air and the cool shade of the Central African montane rainforest, and come away with an unforgettable experience in the heart of Africa.
9. Akagera National Park
Take a break from Kigali and get a wildlife experience like no other at Akagera National Park, a stunning nature reserve only two-and-a-half hours away. Managed by the African Parks organization, the 1,140-square-kilometer park is teeming with amazing creatures – it’s home to the Big Five, along with it’s an abundance of antelopes, giraffes, elephants, zebras, hippopotami, and Nile crocodiles. Even more importantly, the Akagera National Park has seen an incredible recovery from near decimation after the Rwandan genocide, making it a success story in conservation efforts.
The landscape of Akagera National Park is just as spectacular as the creatures that live here, highlighted by the awe-inspiring transitions from savannah plains to wetlands and lakes. Plus, you can hire a knowledgeable guide from the park visitor center who will give you even more insight into the area, from where to find the animals to a deeper understanding of the conservation efforts that make this protected wetland a truly remarkable place.
A game drive at Akagera National Park is an unforgettable experience that should not be missed. Get off the beaten path and be prepared for an unforgettable journey – both on land and in heart.
10. Gorilla Guardians Village
Visit the Gorilla Guardians Village, located at Volcanoes National Park, for an immersive experience of Rwandan culture. This non-profit cultural village – run by reformed poachers – allows guests to try their hand at the nation’s most famous crafts and activities, from carrying baskets on their heads to shooting arrows and grinding grains with stone. Plus, the enthusiastic guides make it all the more enjoyable, creating a lively atmosphere and providing an education in Rwandan culture.
To top off an already incredible experience, make sure to stick around for the intore dance recitals at the village. Traditional dancers decked out in long straw wigs and skirts put on an arresting show of energetic drumming and music. It’s impossible to resist the inviting rhythm, so make sure to join in and show off your moves!
A trip to the Gorilla Guardians Village is a must-do for travelers in Rwanda. Step away from the touristic hotspot and get to know the country more intimately and learn more about its culture firsthand.
Kigali, the vibrant capital city of Rwanda, deserves more than just a night of exploration. Set aside at least a few days at the beginning or end of your trip to truly experience all that the city has to offer.
Start by exploring the bustling Kimironko Market, the largest marketplace in Kigali, where you’ll find colorful stalls full of bespoke clothes, textiles in swirling patterns, and general items. Then, take a stroll over to Inema Arts Center and admire some of the intriguing works from local artists-in-residence, or head over to the Rwanda Art Museum – located in a former presidential palace – to appreciate some of the finest contemporary pieces in the region, including debris from the presidential aircraft crash in 1994.
No visit to Kigali is complete without a cup of coffee. Visit Question Coffee Cafe to get the best coffee experience in town. The baristas are known for creating creative drinks infused with local ingredients like tree tomato, so be sure to check out the seasonal specials menu. And to recharge your batteries, savor an authentic Rwandan meal at one of the city’s lovely restaurants. Le Panorama Restaurant at Hôtel des Mille Collines has a diverse menu and stunning views of the city, while Fusion Restaurant’s al fresco dining room at The Retreat hotel offers homemade pastas, flavorful starters, and fresh seafood. Offering both romantic settings and savory meals, Kigali is sure to be a highlight of your trip.
Rwanda is an incredible destination for travelers seeking an amazing experience that combines culture, nature, and adventure. From the vibrant capital of Kigali to the mesmerizing forests of Gishwati Mukura National Park, this magnificent country offers something for everyone. An exhilarating game drive at Akagera National Park, an educational trip to the Ethnographic Museum, and a visit to the inspirational Nyamata Genocide Memorial are among the top-rated attractions and things to do in Rwanda. For an even more memorable experience, savor the scenery with a kayak trip on Lake Kivu, get an up-close look at primates at Volcanoes National Park, and mingle with locals at Kimironko Market. From the hustle and bustle of Kigali to the serene oasis of Lake Kivu, there’s truly something for everyone in Rwanda–so make sure to see it all!