For quite a few years, Rwanda has been a popular destination for nature and wildlife lovers looking to observe native gorillas in the wild. But this country, which just two-and-a-half decades ago suffered a heartbreaking genocide, is being reborn, as travelers discover the many hidden gems of what is today a modern, safe, and welcoming destination.
From safari experiences, to vibrant cities, to friendly and welcoming guides and residents, a Rwandan journey has something for every traveler. Cox & Kings Destination Specialist Dania Weinstein is just back from Rwanda, raving about the "Land of a Thousand Hills" and its myriad incredible offerings. Here's her take.
Rwanda is a convenient add-on to a Tanzanian adventure, as it's just next door. Direct flights are available from both Arusha (close to many of Tanzania's popular safari routes), and Nairobi, Kenya. When you arrive, you'll notice that the Kigali Airport is spotless, safe, and efficient. And unlike my experiences exiting other airports around the world, the porters here respect your space—it was the perfect way to start my African vacation and would make an easy arrival for even nervous travelers.
And that was just the beginning of my smooth travel experiences. With clean, well-paved roads and one of the cleanest capital cities I've seen, it's clear that both the government and the Rwandan people take pride in their country.
We all know of Rwanda's dark history, so every trip to Rwanda must include a visit to the Genocide Memorial Museum. It's an incredible museum that gives a thorough yet thoughtful depiction of the events of the Rwandan Genocide.
During the genocide, fueled by long-lasting divisive rhetoric of German and Belgian colonizers, almost the entire minority Tutsi tribe was completely wiped out by the majority Hutu tribe—an estimated 800,000 people were killed in a span of just 100 days in 1994. The story of the events leading up to the genocide and the widespread violence that followed are hard to even comprehend, but the most incredible part of the story to me, and what's so well told in the museum, is the narrative of reconciliation that came after the violence ended.
Today in Rwanda, citizens are no longer recognized as Hutu or Tutsi—rather, everyone is simply Rwandan. As a traveler, it was incredible to not only learn more about this heartbreaking history, but the fact that it was only less than 30 years ago makes the peaceful, modern, and friendly daily life I saw throughout the country all the more amazing.
My initial observation of Rwanda as a country deeply respected by its citizens was proven to me over and over again during my time in the country. For example, the last Saturday of each month is Umuganda, a mandatory country-wide community cleanup day. Citizens all over the country spend three hours working side by side to keep their communities clean and free of trash.
The pride Rwandans feel for their country is also evident in how they protect natural spaces. Akagera National Park is a conservation success story. I took a "behind the scenes" tour of the park with Sarah Hall, who has worked in the park for the last nine years. Back in 2010, due to poachers, the animals in the park were almost completely wiped out. The Rwandan government stepped in and hired African Parks, a park management non-profit that oversees 15 preservation areas throughout the continent. From law enforcement to catch poachers to community engagement, tourism development, and animal tracking technology, they have truly turned the park around. Today the park, which is actually one of the oldest national parks in Africa, is being rediscovered by travelers who arrive to spot wildlife among the open savanna, rolling hills, and wetlands with far fewer crowds than in the more famous parks of neighboring Tanzania and nearby Kenya.
In the 25 years since the tragedy of the Rwandan Genocide, the country has made a remarkable turnaround, thanks to the forgiving nature of the Rwandan people and their optimism for the promise of a better future.
The Rwanda of today has all the hallmarks of a growing and thriving nation. They have a progressive government that provides universal health care and free education to all its residents. Laws are strictly enforced, so it's a very safe country to visit. More than half of the members of their parliament are women.
And when it comes to tourism, Rwanda is queued up to become the next great travel destination—and based on how wonderful my trip was, it's already there. From the revitalization of Akagera National Park to the energetic art scene to the high end safari camps moving in, Rwanda should be the next country on your bucket list.