While the focus on your gorilla tracking safari, you need time to explore Rwanda a bit – and in the short time you will in love with the country and its smoke-wreathed thousand hills, friendly people and beautiful landscapes. Here are some of the things most people don’t know about Rwanda.
- Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa
Rwanda has banned plastic bags (they will cut up your bags at the airport), and as a result, there’s barely any litter on the streets. There’s also compulsory community service once a month for all Rwandans, where people clean up their communities.
- There are more than a thousand hills in Rwanda
Rwanda is known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ but I counted at least 1012 hills on the three-hour drive from Kigali to Lake Kivu, in the northwest. I haven’t travelled extensively around the country, but I can bet there are more hills to be counted.
- How horrific the 1994 genocide was (and how the country has recovered)
You probably know the facts about the 1994 genocide – 1 million people (mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus) killed in a 100 days. When bad things happen in countries very far away from you, and the only way you find out about these things is through CNN and newspapers, then there’s a tendency to be disengaged from the reality of it.
You probably don’t have an idea of how horrific the genocide was. This is, until you visited Kigali’s Genocide Memorial, which documents the genocide through photos, text and videos. There are 250 000 mass graves at the memorial, and more remains of bodies, found all over the country, are being brought in everyday. Spending an hour in the memorial was a harrowing experience – you couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by emotion, seeing photos of bodies of women and children, and videos of attackers testifying to their murders in front of village tribunals after the genocide.
Rwandans haven’t forgotten the genocide but they’ve somehow found a way to move on from it and not let it hold them back. The country is one of Africa’s best economic and political success stories, with a well-respected president, and a zero-tolerance approach to corruption. The country is now peaceful, stable and there seems to be more more tension.
- Tourists are good for gorilla conservation
While there is some debate among conservationists about whether gorillas should be exposed to tourists on a daily basis (mainly because of germs that can be spread from people to gorillas – if you have flu and a gorilla catches it from you, the whole gorilla group could die). However, gorilla tourism brings in money that goes towards conservation and the preservation of this highly endangered species (there are only around 900 gorillas left in the world). The gorilla tracking permits for Volcanoes National Park are expensive at $1500USD a person, but it’s worth paying that much money, knowing that it goes towards preventing poaching in the park, paying for scientific research, park rangers’ salaries and community upliftment projects around the park.
- How easy it is to go gorilla tracking
Most people see gorilla tracking as an epic adventure that you do once in your lifetime – a long, arduous journey into East Africa. They picture the tracking as hardcore trek through rebel-infested jungle crawling with massive snakes where you need to wear expensive hiking clothes. It turns out that it’s really easy and accessible.
- You can track golden monkeys
In addition to gorilla tracking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, visitors can now also track golden monkeys – a rare species that is found only in that area – for $100USD a person. As monkeys jumped from tree to tree performing elaborate acrobatics, you will run around below them, trying to photograph their every move. While seeing golden monkeys is not quite as epic as standing metres away from an animal that shares 98.6% of your genes with you (I’m talking mountain gorillas here) it’s a great jungle experience – hiking through thick bamboo forests on the watch for buffalo and elephant and finally catching sight of beautiful chattering golden monkeys. I’d recommend staying near the Volcanoes National Park for two or three days – spend one day tracking gorillas and then next seeing golden monkeys.
- Rwanda has a Costa del Sol
Well, not quite, but just about. Lake Kivu, in the northwest of the country, on the border with the DRC and close to the Volcanoes National Park has a beautiful stretch of unspoiled shoreline and calm water for swimming.
- Rwanda is the tiny heart of Africa
Situated 1270 km west of the Indian Ocean and 2000 km east of the Atlantic Ocean, and around 160 km from the equator, Rwanda is pretty much slapbang in the middle of Africa. Rwanda’s neighbour, the DRC, is known as the ‘Dark Heart of Africa’. If the DRC is a super-sized muffin, then Rwanda is half a raisin. This tiny country is therefore Africa’s tiny (but warm) heart.
- Best brews
Coffee and tea are Rwanda’s biggest exports – and they’re delicious. Drink the Rwandan tea without milk to taste its flavour properly (it’s very low in tannins and not bitter). Rwandan speciality coffee, some of the world’s most expensive, is winning international competitions, and is used by big coffee brands such as Starbucks.