Why I traveled to Rwanda
Nothing could have prepared me for the beauty of Rwanda. In the following, there is a short background story why I traveled to the country of a thousand hills. Even before I went to Rwanda, I have dealt a lot with the country and history. At 15 years old, I wrote an assignment about Rwanda. Therefore, I read a lot of literature and I watched many movies about the genocide, which only happened in 1994. I dreamt about going to Rwanda since I was a teenager. But never ever would I think about getting there before 30. It still feels so unreal when I think about how I have just been there recently.
Maybe other people are excited to travel to the USA or Paris, but not me… I have always been keen on the countries off the beaten track. Therefore traveling to East Timor or Sri Lanka has been more exciting for me than going to the US last year. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with those countries and I don’t want to tell you anything untrue. It’s just that I’m more excited when I feel the unknown and push my limits.
As you know from my previous blog post, I have just been to Ethiopia where I was hitchhiking, but failed. It is more important at least to try and fail than to never know.
Reasons to visit Rwanda
I think the best reason for you to visit was that no one was really bothering me when I was there.
No one approached me to ask for money. And I was able to get around without receiving any harassment. I appreciated it a lot that everyone left me alone. People were surprisingly whole-hearted and friendly and children smiled at me all the time. It was my first African country I felt like I could stay for more than one month in and do some volunteer work.
The trauma of the country was too recent to forget and even to forgive. But still many people (at least superficially) are able to treat each other with very respectful manners. And to live in harmony ubiquitously while processing the past. It is amazing to see how Rwanda could help itself through the misery and is nowadays becoming economically one of the strongest countries in East Africa. It is one of the first countries to ban plastic bags and Kigali is therefore the cleanest capital in all of Africa.
And this is one of the most interesting facts I like to share with other people about the country: Rwanda has the world’s highest quota of women in parliament, as over 60% of its members of parliament are women. Truly this country attaches a very high importance in supporting women and girls’ rights.
The other reason to visit Rwanda is its landscape. It’s not called the country of a thousand hills for nothing. The nature in Rwanda is so impressive, like nowhere else. I have traveled to nearly 80 countries by now. But to experience so much natural beauty in such a tiny country is utterly stunning, especially considering it’s even smaller than the state I am from in Germany.
Trekking through the national parks with hardly any tourists in idle lush landscape. I guess I have been very lucky this year to travel to countries like Oman, Jordan and now Rwanda with almost non-existent tourism. And I am excited to announce in this post that I will return soon for the third time to Africa this year to Uganda.
There are many things to share when it comes to Rwanda. I would like only to let my thoughts flow if you don’t mind.
Do you ask yourself how the security in Rwanda is? To be honest, I felt it was more secure for me than in some other countries of Europe and it was more secure than South America. And to support my statement, I want to let you know that the Rwandan soldiers (Rwanda Defense Force) are the most successful and respected peace keepers in Africa. They are known for their professionalism whenever they attend UN peace keeping missions in Africa like UNAMID in Sudan.
I enjoyed having a car in Rwanda so I could be independent as much as I did in Oman. I love how empty and in a good condition the roads were. We even drove on an exhausting country road on our first night and I was sweating because of my excitement. But not for one second was I afraid that something would go wrong.
This country is a perfect mix of adventure, nature, kind people and new life experiences if you are keen on pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Nowhere are the mountains more majestic than in the country of a thousand hills. Also the opportunity to see the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas is an experience for its own which you will never forget. While at Lake Kivu you can let your soul dangle since you will forget that you are actually in the heart of Africa. Meanwhile Nyungwe Forest National Park has some great walking trails only a rainforest can offer and is home to many primates and local birds.
Mainly all the food I tried was delicious. But the most famous one is probably Chevre (goat kebab). Rwandan staples include bananas, plantains, sweet potatoes and beans.
Ugali is a paste made from maize and water forming into porridge. Another dish is called Isombe, which is made from mashed cassava leaves and is served with dried fish. Many of their dishes are worth a try. I didn’t try any of the beers but Thomas did and he told me he enjoyed them.
Milk is a common and popular drink and I often enjoyed hot milk for breakfast. Other drinks in Rwanda are fruit juices and beer. Their commercial beers are called Primus, Mützig, Skol and Amstel. In rural areas, Urwagwa is a beer made from the fermented juice of bananas that has been mixed with sorghum flour.
In the following, I will share my itinerary of what you could do in 5 Days in Rwanda
Day 1 – Exploring and Learning about the Culture
It’s great to get fully immersed with Rwandan Culture. Therefore I visited the Ethnological Museum in Butare on my first day in Rwanda. This outstanding museum has probably the best ethnological and archaeological collections in the country. The seven exhibition halls contain some very interesting items. And some of the traditional housing settlements from the precolonial time have been recreated and displayed.
Close by, you can visit the King’s Palace Museum in Nyanza by car. Situated in beautiful surroundings, it displays the pre-colonial replicas of royalty. A guided tour is included in the entrance fee and helps explain some interesting facts about the architecture and other curiosities. Behind the royal compound, you will see the inyambo (sacred cows) with their super-sized horns.
This is truly a highlight for me. Despite their somehow gargantuan appearance, they seem to like nothing more than have lullabies sung to them by professional caretakers. Who even seem to be educated in singing to inyambos.
On top of the hill, one can visit the royal residence of King Mutara III Rudahigwa. Mutara was the first Rwandan king to convert to Catholicism. In the beginning, he was so enthralled by the Belgian rulers that he once thanked God for having sent them to Rwanda.
Many genocide memorials are spread throughout the country. You can pick out a handful of memorials to visit, but definitely visit at least one. I visited the Nyamata Genocide Memorial Centre and got to know that all the hatred was started much earlier than 1994. It is terrifying to see how all the victim’s clothes are stack up on benches inside of the church. What a terrible bloodshed must have taken place there. Go there and contemplate. I would love to ask you to observe a minute’s silence.
Day 2 – Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park shares it borders with the DRC and Uganda and is home to the Virungas. Comprising of five volcanoes, the Virungas are utterly breathtaking. What really draws people to this national park are the face-to-face encounter with the endangered mountain gorillas. I couldn’t afford the $1500 permit fee. Therefore you have another option of tracking rare golden monkeys. If you only have a limited time in Rwanda, this is possibly the one place you need to put on your must-visit list.
I did the 1 day Bisoke Volcano Crater Lake Hike for $75. It is simply a 6 hour ascending hike (including the 2 hours descent down to the starting point). Experienced hikers can get to the top of this mountain in a shorter period of time. The hike was very muddy in June and is not to be underestimated.
It is very important that you are punctual at the park headquarters at Kinigi at 7:00 am to attend a briefing and be assigned by a park ranger. The park rangers are usually natives of the park’s immediate vicinity and thus very knowledgeable about the surroundings. We hiked up with a military group and had one of the funniest guides I’ve ever had in my life- Mister D (so he called himself).
This hike is highly recommended by me if you can’t afford the gorilla tracking.
Day 3 – Lake Kivu
There are certain places in Africa where you can unwind and forget where you are. Especially after chaotic Ethiopia and Addis, those places are very welcomed by me. Lake Kivu is definitely one of those places where you can go and just relax.
The beautiful and rustic Cormoran Lodge accommodation in that area is highly recommended by me. At the same time, you should definitely do a boat trip on the lake and have a brief look to the border of the Congo. There are some groups of islands which can be visited during the boat tour and are good for a short hike and spotting animals like bats.
Day 4 – Nyungwe Forest National
When it comes to biodiversity in Africa and forest conservation, the Nyungwe Forest National Park is one of the most treasured places of Rwanda. Despite its huge biodiversity, people are drawn to it to track chimpanzees, which have become habituated to human visits.
But another or even the main highlight for me, as a crazy hiker, is the simple pleasure of hiking along well-maintained trails. Just imagine there are so many options of trails over the lush and green valleys of the equatorial rainforest that you can’t choose which one.
Don’t be disappointed if you can’t spot chimps – there are other monkeys like Angolan Colobi or Vervet monkeys. Actually, they are virtually guaranteed to be seen.
Most hikes start at 9 am or 1 pm. Make sure to be punctual around that time at the Nyungwe Forest National Park Uwinka Visitor Centre. No need to book in advance.
Day 5 – Kigali Genocide Memorial
I reckon stopping at the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a good way to end a beautiful and unforgettable Rwandan trip. To put the Rwandan Genocide into summary: In the span of 100 days in 1994, an estimated one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were systematically killed by the Interahamwe army.
This intensely powerful memorial honours the estimated 250,000 people buried here in mass graves. It also gives you an insight into the history prior to and after the genocide. And what kind of role the UN and the world played when it all happened. The very informative audio tour should be booked since it includes a lot of background information on the divisive colonial experience, the crimes and the reconciliation afterwards. This is an intensely powerful and moving memorial for which you should dedicate at least half a day.
I can’t imagine someone who would be dispassionate at this memorial. The exhibits are so powerful that it was impossible to hold back all the tears and I cried not really grasping how all this could happen.
Goodbye Rwanda, See You Next time
Rwanda has a special significance which was very important to me to travel to and get to know its culture, history and people. It gives me hope for humanity for what has happened back then and how to forgive in order to live again. And to love again. We also shouldn’t forget that other genocides have taken place around the world (Armenian genocide, Cambodia, Srebrenica, Herero and Namaqua, Holocaust etc.). And we can teach the next generation how to build a better world. Not only can we, but we have the responsibility to do so.
And for sure, Rwanda’s name evokes memories of the horrific genocide that stigmatized this country in 1994. But the nightmare is over and Rwanda is right now on a path of a very promising and dynamic future. Luckily, Rwanda remains stable and peaceful. The country is inhabited by some of the most soulful people of Africa and you’ll feel absolutely welcome – I promise. I hope I could inspire you in this blog post to visit this utterly beautiful country one day.
“Rwanda is a country of hills, mountains, forests, lakes, laughing children, markets of busy people, drummers, dancers, artisans and craftsmen. We manage to squeeze thousands of hills and eight million people into our 26.338 square kilometres. Our land is rich and fertile, the climate pleasant. This has been our home for centuries. We are one people. And we speak one language. We have one history. In recent times, though, genocide has cast a dark shadow over our lives and torn us apart. This chapter is a bitter part of our lives, but one we must remember for those we lost, and for the sake of the future.
This is about our past and our future;
Our nightmares and dreams;
Our fear and our hope;
Which is why we begin where we end….
With the country we love…” – Kigali Genocide Museum
“Ubumuntu means humanity – goodness, generosity and kindness. A person who has Ubumuntu is someone who has greatness of heart. In the context of the Genocide against the Tutsi, Ubumuntu refers to those who selflessly risked their lives to rescue or help those who were persecuted. We can all be champions of humanity by standing against division wherever we live.”
– Kigali Genocide Museum