RWANDA. Known to the world as the Land of a Thousand Hills. But it has so much more to offer.
Are you curious about the thriving African country but have no idea where to go and what to see? Are you on a tight budget? (who isn't?)
No problem! I have got you covered with a list of 7 touristy and non-touristy places to visit all around Rwanda.
From historical caves, national parks, mythical rocks, ethnographic museums, unforgettable Islands, to tiny little villages, Rwanda has it all. Without further ado...
1 | NDABA ROCK
Ndaba Rock (Western Province, Rwanda)
Also known as "Urutare rwa Ndaba" in Kinyarwanda, Ndaba rock and waterfalls is a captivating sight that attracts many tourists eager to learn about its mysteries.
It is located in Karongi district in the Western Province of Rwanda, 3 hours from Kigali.
The rock is presumably named after a man called Ndaba, with several traditional stories about his existence.
One of the legends passed on through generations is that Ndaba was a hunter who discovered honeycombs at the present-day location of the rock. Due to greed, he abandoned his hunter friends to collect as much honey as he could. However, once he filled up on honey, he was unable to climb out of the rock and was lost forever.
There are several versions of the legend told by the self-initiated tour guides (children, actually) at the waterfall. They offer their knowledge at a small fee of about 500 Rwandan Francs (Rwf)
At an extra fee, they will sing and play the xylophone as they guide you through the trees to the bottom of the waterfall.
P.S: The look on their faces when you opt out of the musical accompaniment is heartbreaking! So...your call. (whistles and walks away)
2 | THE ISLANDS ON LAKE KIVU
Inyenyeri Island (Western Province, Rwanda)
Hop onto a boat with a group of friends and explore the Island life on Lake Kivu. There are a total of 6 islands spread out on the lake.
A boat ride costs between 16,000-30,000 Rwf (but varies depending on how 'touristy' you look). The boat owner doubles as an island guide.
The most visited islands here are;
- Napoleon Island: shaped like Napoleon's hat, this island is famous for the overwhelming number of bats.
- Inyenyeri Island: star-shaped and has numerous mango trees.
- Amohoro Island: also known as the Peace Island. In the past, there was a hotel where people gathered to have fun and relax. Later on, the owner banned the parties and turned it into a church. Signs of a forgotten paradise are still evident to this day.
- Ladies' Island: these are twin islands. They are so small and easily missed. In the traditional African society, unmarried pregnant girls were abandoned here to discourage pre-marital affairs.
Some of the fascinating activities on these islands are; hiking the hills, picking mangoes from the Inyenyeri Island, bird watching, playing hide and seek with the cattle and monkeys. (It is a mystery how the cattle get to the island!)
But a ride on a wooden kayak as you speed off from one island to the next is a feeling like no other.
3 | RWIZA VILLAGE
Rwiza Village (Western province, Rwanda)
This is the cutest little village you will ever find - anywhere. At first glance, it looks like a scene out of a cartoon. So, you are drawn closer. Then you find out it's real.
Rwiza village is 4.3 kilometers from Kibuye town. It offers accommodation to anyone with a desire to experience traditional African society in modern time.
Located on a hilltop, Rwiza offers an overwhelmingly beautiful view of the Lake Kivu and the neighboring villages. In the evenings, take a stroll to the beach, engage in cultural weaving practices and catch a glimpse of fishermen preparing for the evening catch.
Accommodation costs are; 60 USD for a single bed, 70 USD for couples, and 10 USD to rent out space to pitch a tent. However, the gates are open to curious wanderers fascinated by its beauty at no cost.
4 | ALBRETUM FOREST
In the middle of the Albretum forest (Rwanda)
Rwanda is generally a small state of about 26, 338 square km. However, what is great about this country is that the government has made efforts to ensure that the country remains green regardless of the major developments taking place.
Therefore, you will encounter several forests all around the country, named or otherwise.
The Albretum forest is one of the smaller forests located in the Southern province in Huye district, 2 hours from Kigali.
The forest is mainly used by students at the University of Rwanda for study purposes. However, it is open to anyone interested in nature strolls, mild hiking, picnics and educational tours.
The forest bears several tree species, each of them labelled with their corresponding biological name.
In the evenings, you will hear beautiful voices rising over the trees as students gather in small groups to pray. It is so serene and perfect.
5 | ETHNOGRAPHIC MUSEUM, HUYE
The entrance of the Museum
Are you fascinated with the Rwandan culture? Located 132 km from Kigali, the Ethnographic museum is one of the most detailed museums in Africa.
A walk through the museum is a walk like no other. Learn about the traditional way of life of the Rwandan people, the dress code, the traditional huts, the dance and other fascinating aspects of the culture all depicted in colorful and artistic photos.
The entrance fee is 1000 Rwf for East African visitors and 5000 Rwf for international visitors.
Upon request, you will witness the performance of the Intore dance. The museum holds strict rules on camera usage within the premises. Request for permission before filming.
6 | RUGANZU CAVE
At the entrance of the cave (Huye district)
King Ruganzu is believed to have been one of the most powerful Kings of the 16th century. Following the death of his father, he crossed River Akagera from Tanzania to Rwanda, defeated his enemies and ascended into power.
His influence was known to many kingdoms including the Karagwe in Tanzania and the Ankole & Bunyoro in Uganda.
Many locals believe he possessed special powers. Evidence of his 'capabilities' can be witnessed around the country through engravements in caves and on rocks.
According to the locals, the Ruganzu cave was formed when the king slid his spear into one of the rocks. He did this to put an end to the 'mysterious deaths' that had been caused by this rock.
The Ruganzu cave is located in Huye District. The walk from the main road to the cave is about 2 hours and is an adventure on its own.
The cave is surrounded by hills and a river that you may have to cross on foot, if the bridge is not completed soon. At the entrance, you will find prayer requests (written on paper) from the locals asking the king for protection.
Inside, the cave is so dark and the pathway so small. There is an almost vertical climb to the end. But you are cheered on by the children who act as tour guides.
At the end of the cave, you will find bats. Once you see them, try not to panic lest you suffer the long and traumatic fall to the bottom.
In the end, the adrenaline rush is surreal.
7 | AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
Akagera National Park (Eastern province, Rwanda)
Located in the Eastern province along the Tanzania border, Akagera national park is home to Africa's diverse fauna.
During the 1994 genocide, the park was invaded and most of the animals were killed. Since 2010, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has made impressive efforts to restore the park to its previous glory.
At the park, expect to encounter: elephants, giraffes, rhinos, buffaloes, the endangered crested cranes, warthogs, bush pigs, several kinds of antelopes and if you are lucky, a lion. (I wasn't :-( )
As you drive along Akagera River, keep the windows up to protect against bites from tsetse flies. Plus, remember to turn off the camera flash once you're in close proximity with elephants. (I almost got a bus of 30 killed because of this rookie mistake. Do not be like me!)
Since the entry fee varies, request for park prices at www.rwandatourism.com. (Akagera National Park prices are much lower than other parks in Rwanda).
Have you visited Rwanda before? What are some of the low-cost places you visited? Share in the comment section below.