Rwanda, as a tourist destination, is mostly identified as a home of mountain gorillas. Nearly half of the world’s most endangered apes live in the Virunga Mountains, at the intersection of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC. However, while seeing these mighty animals is probably on every traveler’s and wildlife lover’s list, not everyone can afford the expense. The costs of gorilla tracking in Rwanda, with the price of 1500$ just for the permit, can be very discouraging. Especially when you’re visiting Rwanda on a tight budget.
I couldn’t afford that expense, nevertheless, my stay in Rwanda was full of amazing attractions. Read further to check what can you see in Rwanda besides the gorillas!
Kigali – the capital of Rwanda
Stay in Rwanda usually starts at Kigali airport. Many tourists decide to leave the capital as soon as possible. Transfer straight to one of the Rwandan National Parks may be a good idea if you’re visiting Rwanda only for few days. However, I would recommend to give it a try and check out the cleanest and safest city in Africa!
Find the recommendations and general tips on Kigali in my previous article.
Akagera National Park
After a trip to Africa, you’ll probably hear lots of “what animals have you seen?” kind of questions. Prepare your answers by doing a safari in Akagera National Park! Akagera is the only park in Rwanda where, besides many other animals, you can see the big five (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhino). Due to the historical events, the park is still in the restoration and the animals aren’t as abundant as e.g. in Kenya or Tanzania. Although, you can still enjoy the wildlife in their natural habitats and amazing landscapes.
The largest protected wetland in Africa offers not only classic car safaris but also boat safaris. Boating on the Lake Ihema you can watch water birds, crocodiles, and hippos in their favorite habitat, as well as land animals playing and resting by the water.
Nyungwe National Park
If you’re much more into hiking than sitting in the car and watching animals, choose the Nyungwe National Park. One of the oldest rainforests in Africa offers 15 hiking trails! From primates tracking (chimpanzees are the main wildlife attraction) and birdwatching to amazing nature hikes. Including the longest African canopy walk. Not to mention beautiful tea plantations bordering the park’s edges.
Camping in the rainforest
Our visit to Nyungwe National Park started with the night in Uwinka Campsite. Place with quite basic facilities – no electricity, no kitchen, only two bathroom blocks. However, offering amazing views and a real feel of the wildness. Including monkeys hanging out on the nearby trees.
Uwinka Reception Center is also a starting point for the most famous trail – Igishigishigi Train. Although the trail is very short, only 2.1 km, it’s a must-see as it gives access to the Canopy Walk. 160m long and 70m high suspension bridge allowing you to see the jungle from the “monkey” perspective.
And as the last entrance starts around 4-5 pm, if you plan your tour well it’s possible to visit it during the sunset! The whole “hike” lasts around 1-1,5 hours and costs 60$.
Isumo Waterfall Trail
The second hike which we’ve done was the Isumo Waterfall Trail. 3- to 5-hour hike through the tea fields and steep rainforest hillsides leading to the remote waterfall. Definitely much more tiring than the Canopy Walk, but allowing you to experience a primal rainforest from the inside.
Volcanoes National Park
Another place, which you definitely can’t miss while visiting Rwanda, is Volcanoes National Park. The one famous of the beforementioned gorilla tracking opportunity. Even if you can’t afford this experience, still go there to try other amazing (and cheaper) activities in the famous Dian Fossey’s misty mountains.
Visit the gorillas’ graveyard and learn more about wildlife conservation on the Dian Fossey Trail. Take part in a Nature Walk or visit the Musanze Caves. Or get exhausted hiking the volcanoes – choose a 2-day Mt. Kirisimbi (4.507m) hike, or like me, spend around 7 hours climbing Mount Bisoke (3.711m) to see the beautiful crater lake on the top. It is said, that with a dose of luck, you can even stumble across some gorillas…
Too lazy for the hiking? In Rwanda you can also relax on the beach! Lake Kivu on the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Kongo is the 6th largest lake in Africa. With its many islands and coast surrounded by mountains, it can be a nice place to take a rest after hiking tours.
Unfortunately, although there are many beach resorts, it’s not recommended to swim in the lake. There are no crocodiles, hippos or other dangerous animals – in fact, there isn’t much life at all, what should be the first warning sign. However, you can see methane extraction platforms, as the lake contains lots of the biogas, as well as find lots of information about schistosomiasis parasites living in its waters.
While you can see some locals taking a dip in the Lake Kivu’s water. For the visitors it’s much better to take a boat cruise around the lake. For only 10,000 RF per boat (10-15 person) you’ll be taken to the punishment island (pile of rocks on the middle of the lake, where they used to leave the unmarried pregnant girls) and hotsprings where you can try a local massage.
For the more cultural experience, visit the King’s Palace in Nyanza. Visit the former capital of the Rwanda kingdom (it used to be the monarchy until 1962!), see how the king used to live and get amazed by the Inyambo cows and their enormous horns.
Besides the described attractions, there is still much more to do – the newest Rwandan National Park – Gishiwati Mukura National Park opened in 2015, visits to tea and coffee plantations, festivals including the Kwita Izina “gorilla-naming” ceremony, museum and sports activities. Everyone can find something for himself.
Have you ever visited Rwanda? Which places have you been to?