Rwanda’s undulating landscape has earned it the name ‘land of a thousand hills’. The country is located in East Africa, south of the equator and is bordered by DRC, Uganda, Tanzania and Burundi.
Many tourists come to Rwanda for gorilla safaris, which has helped spread the good news about Rwanda as a safe tourist destination, changing the negative image created by the genocide in 1994. Besides the mountain gorillas, other attractions include the chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National Park, golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park, birds and wildlife in Akagera National Park and of course, the Rwandan culture.
Rwanda is a great family safari destination with spectacular places to visit, including three national parks with amazing wildlife, Rift Valley lakes for swimming and relaxing, and the bustling capital city of Kigali, which is great for fantastic family outings in and around the city.
Here are some of the best places to visit with the family in Rwanda:
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is the perfect destination for a family visit. Akagera is the only place in Rwanda with beautiful savannah plains dotted with acacia and swamp fringed lakes that combine to form Africa’s largest protected wetland.
With your family, take guided game drives in the park to see lion, buffalo, elephant, zebra, giraffe, and antelope such as eland, bushbuck, topi, and duiker. African predators you can see include leopard and spotted hyena.
Take a boat cruise on Lake Ihema and marvel at the breathtaking lakeside views and concentrations of hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes coming to drink water. It is only in this park where one can see the swamp dwelling shoebill stork, the most sought after bird in Rwanda. Other water birds, such as cormorants, and the sitatunga antelope can also be sighted.
Great lodging facilities are found in this park with rooms suitable for children and adults. Rusizi Tented Camp is an up market lodge built on the banks overlooking Lake Ihema with wooden walkways connecting private cottages for children and adults.
Akagera Game Lodge is an affordable accommodation choice with swimming pools, television and en-suite bathrooms, writing desks, a tennis court and football pitches.
Lake Kivu is located in the western arm of the great east African Rift Valley on the western borders of Rwanda and the DRC. Lake Kivu is one of the highest altitude Rift Valley lakes standing at 1,460 metres above sea level. The lake is huge, with shallow waters suitable for swimming, canoeing and boat trips.
There are three lakeside tourist towns surrounding Lake Kivu. Gisenyi is the most popular one. located on the northern shores of the lake, it is blessed with white sandy beaches and breathtaking views of the Rift Valley landscapes and the Virunga volcanoes.
Here, there are plenty of opportunities for excursions and water sports on Lake Kivu itself. Gisenyi has tourist hotels on the shores of the lake, including Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel and Waterfront Resort Lake Kivu.
The other two lakeside towns are Karongi, which is easily reached from Kigali with a good tarmac road and is bustling with markets and hotels, and Rusizi on the remote southern shores of Lake Kivu.
Iby’ Iwacu Cultural Village
Iby‘Iwacu cultural village is located in the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. The village has a great cultural educational opportunity for children, while the adults can enjoy close interactions with local people and learn about their traditional lifestyles.
Regarded as a cultural classroom, children can take delight in the traditional dancing and drumming by the dancers, as well as marvel at their famous songs about the gorillas. With a local cultural and historical guide, families can also visit the local traditional healers and the King’s replica house to be ‘crowned a king’ for a few minutes.
Other interesting local activities include witnessing the banana beer brewing process, homestead visits and dining with local people is an authentic cultural encounter. It is also very interesting to watch the Batwa lifestyles to see how they display hunting skills and make pottery.
Butare town, also known as Huye, is located in southern Rwanda. This former colonial town offers visitors an insight into the culture, history and modern day life of Rwandans.
Families in Butare can visit the National Museum of Rwanda where you can learn about the pre and post colonial history of the country as well as traditional Rwandan culture displayed through artifacts.
Another site to visit is the Gikongoro Genocide Memorial located outside the town. The genocide memorial is a 15 minute drive from Butare. Local guides will explain how one of the largest Tutsi massacres in history occurred.
Huye market is bustling with shops, bars and restaurants with local and international dishes to feast on. Visitors can enjoy everything from fish omelets, meat brochettes and boiled cassava, to sandwiches, chicken, pork and vegetarian dishes. While the market can be visited during the day, there are a number of hotels for overnight stays, including Hotel Ibis, Motel da Munt Huye and Shalom House.
Kigali City is the main capital city of Rwanda. The city is home to international hotel chains, such as Serena and Radisson, in addition to a host of local bars, casinos, shopping malls, and several craft shops with quality souvenirs. There are also excellent banks and forex bureaus in case you want to exchange, withdraw or deposit money.
In addition to the markets and shop, a Kigali city tour also offers a visit to genocide memorial centres. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a commemoration of the 1994 genocide that claimed the lives of 800,000 people within 100 days.
The Gisozi, also known as the Kigali Genocide Memorial, is a burial place where 250,000 people were massacred and buried. There are three exhibitions including children’s exhibitions, educational sections, gardens and archives telling the story of the genocide.
Other memorials to visit include the Nyamata, Murambi and Ntarama churches located south of Kigali. These have mournful displays including skeletal remains of the victims of the genocide. A visit to these sites is a lesson in building reconciliation.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park is located in south-western Rwanda covering about 1,000km² of unspoiled rain forests. The park’s biodiversity of flora and fauna including 13 species of primates and over 300 birds, makes it an interesting tourist attraction to visit for both kids and adults.
The main attraction in the forest is chimpanzee trekking. While children below 15 years cannot visit the chimpanzees, they can stay in the kid-friendly Nyungwe Forest Lodge.
Besides chimpanzee tracking safaris in Nyungwe Forest, the national park is a home to 13 species of primates including a huge concentration of black and white colobus monkeys. Other primates include the handsome L’Hoest monkey, the grey cheeked mangabay, the red tailed monkey, the owl faced monkey and the blue monkey.
Many of the walking trails created to explore the forest start from the Uwinka visitor reception and give you the opportunity to walk above the forest on the 200 metre-long forest canopy walkway. This walkway gives stunning views of the forest with the chance to see upper forest primates, birds and flowers.
Among the walking trails, the Congo Nile divide trail is the most hiked, taking visitors to the ridges dividing the two great rivers. Kids and adults will get pleasure from hiking along the trails among the green valleys, marshes, waterfalls and hard wood trees like mahogany.