Even in the best of times, Kigali, Rwanda's capital city, didn't have much for visitors to do, other than visiting its food market in the town center, enjoying the views (the city is built on a series of steep hills) or taking a walk.
These days, the market again bustles with activity. However, prices of imported goods are very high in this landlocked capital, where almost everything, apart from local produce, must be flown in or shipped from the distant coast. Visitors can buy local arts and crafts in Caplaki, a tourist market.
The city's most compelling and disturbing landmark is the Gisozi Genocide Museum situated on a site where at least 250,000 residents of Kigali were killed during the 1994 genocide. Another site is the Natural History Museum, housed in the former residence of the German explorer and zoologist Dr. Richard Kandt.
Kigali was established in 1907 as a small colonial outpost.
Extending across almost 386 sq mi/1,000 sq km, Nyungwe is the largest remaining tract of montane rain forest in East Africa with a checklist of around 280 bird species, including 26 regional endemics, and an astounding variety of trees, orchids and butterflies. The most conspicuous of its 13 primate species include the agile Angola colobus monkey, which occurs in troops of several hundred individuals, and the handsome L'Hoest's monkey. The park also supports a significant population of the common chimpanzee.
A number of guided and self-guided hikes are available, from chimpanzee-tracking in the hills to hiking a lovely waterfall trail ideally suited to bird-watchers. Traditionally home to several Batwa tribes, Nyungwe is also the country's last substantial relict of this type of biodiverse habitat. It lies 85 mi/135 km southwest of Kigali.
This park, 15 mi/25 km east of Gisenyi, protects the Rwandan portion of the spectacular Virunga Mountains, which straddle the borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Virunga is not a mountain range in the normal sense of the word but rather a chain of isolated freestanding volcanic cones strung along a fault line in the Rift Valley. Sometimes also referred to as the Birunga or Bufumbira Mountains, the chain is composed of six inactive and two active volcanoes, all of which exceed 9,840 ft/3,000 m in altitude. The tallest are Karisimbi (14,783 ft/4,507 m), Mikeno (14,553 ft/4,437 m) and Muhabura (13,537 ft/4,127 m).
Few national parks in Africa can be explored on foot, but this park north of Ruhengeri offers a reward worth the hike through its dramatically beautiful, albeit rough terrain: the chance to observe a family of mountain gorillas, the rarest—and largest—of the four gorilla subspecies. About 700 mountain gorillas live in the wild (roughly half of them in Rwanda), and naturalists have habituated seven of the 20-odd families in this park to the presence of tourist observers. Many people regard visiting these gentle giants (up to 485 lbs/220 kg) in their natural habitat to be the single most-extraordinary wildlife experience in the world. The park can be accessed on organized gorilla-tracking tours, which are limited to seven groups of eight people daily. Gorilla-tracking permits cost US$500 per person in cash (including park entrance fees but not transportation and lodging) and should be booked as far in advance as possible.
Other activities include a visit to a habituated troop of golden monkeys (an endangered bamboo-eater whose range is essentially restricted to the Virungas), as well as day or overnight hikes to the various volcanic peaks and a day trip to Dian Fossey's grave at her former research center high in the misty mountains. As a precaution, armed soldiers accompany each tour.
The largest of Rwanda's national parks (formerly 625,000 acres/252,900 hectares but reduced in area by two-thirds to accommodate returning Tutsi cattle herders after the war), Akagera is also East Africa's oldest—it was founded in 1934. It lies on the border with Tanzania in eastern Rwanda and is best known for its six lakes, which are fed by the Kagera River as it runs along the border before emptying into Lake Victoria. The park, 60 mi/100 km north of Kigali, also has a variety of other environments such as savannah, riparian forest and mountain meadows.
Once it was one of the most relaxed, uncrowded game parks on the continent, but it still has to recover fully from the poaching associated with the civil war. All the same, it supports a fair number of elephant and buffalo, a conspicuous variety of antelope and other grazers, and a somewhat secretive selection of predators including lions. The lakes support an excellent assortment of birdlife, notably marsh dwellers such as the papyrus gonolek and shoebill stork, as well as hundreds of hippos and some huge crocodiles.
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