Known as ‘the heart of Africa,” Rwanda is home to ancient rainforests, great lakes, and dusty pink sunsets over its 1,000 hills. And for a nation the size of Maryland, endless discoveries await. While Rwanda is famous as a primate paradise for its gorillas, monkeys, and chimpanzees, it’s also a Big Five destination along the nation’s eastern savannah.
What truly sets Rwanda apart, however, is the people. The kingdom of Rwanda dates back to the 11th century, boasting a rich cultural heritage unlike anywhere else in the world — and the way the country has healed and recovered stronger than ever after the 1994 genocide is life-affirming and inspiring. Read on for your guide to the best-kept secret in Central Africa.
WHERE TO STAY IN RWANDA:
High above the Musanze Valley, the 10-room Virunga Lodge overlooks northwest Rwanda’s majestic lakes and volcanoes. The hilltop property belongs to the Volcanoes Safaris collection of exclusive luxury lodges in Rwanda and Uganda. The ultra-romantic rooms epitomize safari chic, with mosquito-netted beds, grass mats, and hand-made wooden carvings.
Serenity meets sophistication at the One & Only Nyungwe House, a luxurious oasis nestled in the heart of the Karongi jungle. Elegantly adorned with traditional Rwandan decor, the boutique hideaway offers a dazzling array of activities — from African spa treatments to chimpanzee treks to tea ceremonies set amongst the property’s surrounding plantations.
Escape to the heart of the African Great Lake region with a stay at the boutique, 14-room Cleo Lake Kivu Hotel. The gorgeous retreat is perched on a hilltop overlooking Lake Kivu, Africa’s 8th-largest lake, featuring delectable farm-to-table cuisine, sweeping vistas, and a cozy ambiance filled with the welcoming charm that defines Rwandan hospitality.
WHERE TO EAT IN RWANDA:
The inspiration for Hotel Rwanda, the Hotel des Milles Collines is a famous place of asylum for thousands of refugees during the genocide. Thirty years later, it remains a Kigali institution. Order the shrimp salad and a Mille Collines cocktail at Legacy Terrace, and enjoy live music and panoramic views of the city below.
Dine al fresco at Rushel Kivu Resort, where you can opt for a white-tent lunch beachside or among the property’s gorgeous gardens and manicured lawns. (We suggest ordering the Nile Perch.) Afterward, visit Kinunu Wonders plantation to taste homegrown Rwandan coffee.
WHERE TO DRINK IN RWANDA:
The best cocktail in Rwanda can be found along the side of the road in Kayonza, at the Imigongo Art Center & Cafe. Savor the fresh, local ingredients of your passionfruit mojito while admiring the impressive gallery of African artists and traditional Imigongo cow dung art.
WHERE TO VISIT IN RWANDA:
Embark on a world-famous gorilla trek into the Virunga Mountains of Volcanoes National Park in northwest Rwanda. Visit the newly-opened Ellen DeGeneres Campus of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund to learn more about the once-in-a-lifetime experience you’re about to enjoy.
A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must for all travelers to Rwanda. Home to 250,000 graves, the memorial is dedicated to remembering and honoring the lives lost during the 1994 genocide. To see how far the country has come in thirty years is nothing short of astonishing. Be sure to purchase local art from the gift shop, as the artisans comprise a co-op of widows from the genocide.
Go on a safari drive through the eastern savannah at Akagera National Park, the only place in Rwanda where you can spot the Big Five: Lion, leopard, elephant, black rhino, and buffalo. Stay at Akagera Game Lodge, and wake early for the spectacular sunrise over Lake Ihema.
Explore one of the oldest rainforests in Africa at Nyungwe Forest National Park in southwest Rwanda. Hike to Ndambare Waterfall and opt for a pre-sunset Canopy Walk to traverse a suspended bridge 200 feet above the rainforest. Most important on the agenda? Chimp trekking. Africa is the last place on Earth where you can spot chimpanzees in the wild.
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