Rwanda may be no where near your bucket list. But, I would argue it should be!
The country may be most noted in this generation for the horrible period of genocide in 1994. But if you visit today, you will find a country bursting with pride of perseverance and determination. You will find a country with much to do from the shining capital of Kigali to trekking in the national forests. Here are ten things to know and do while visiting Rwanda.
SEE THE GORILLAS
This experience may be life-changing. There is no guarantee of seeing the gorillas in the Volcanoes National Park on your trek. But if you do, you may be forever changed to walk among the grand animals of this family. During my visit, We had reached the resting place for the day for the Sabyinyo family about three hours trek into the Volcanoes National Park. What an amazing site. The beauty and grace of seeing the gorillas walk by you within inches is astonishing. We spent more than an hour with Guhonda and his group. Guhonda is the oldest known silverback gorilla living in the wild in the world. Truly amazing. While the government costs may seem expensive, this experience may add very valuable perspective to your life. Do it. Without a doubt. ((Resources: Gorilla Trek Africa; Volcanoes National Park))
VISIT THE KIGALI GENOCIDE MEMORIAL
You will not go anywhere in this country without people acknowledging the horrible period of brutal division in 1994. More than 250,000 Tutsis murdered in the genocide are remembered at this memorial site. More than a million people were murdered in total. The 100 day slaughter by the Hutu majority government forever changed this country. Instead of ignoring the period in its history, the people and leaders of Rwanda help others understand what happened without ever attempting to explain a justification. As you explore the gardens and guided tours here, take your time to read and listen. The amazing story of how the roots of this period took hold years prior will captivate you. I spent most time sitting silently in the three rooms with photos of many of those murdered. Each face has a story. I wanted to take the time to respect as many of them individually as I could. The donation to enter is a small token for the experience. ((Resource: Kigali Genocide Memorial))
UNDERSTAND THE SECURITY PRECAUTIONS
It’s because of that horrible 100 days that so many places in Kigali (and perhaps other parts of Rwanda) have extra security precautions. At the malls and all hotels I visited, there were added metal detectors that you must cross through each time you enter. My experience was fast and efficient. There should be no problem unless you intend to cause a problem.
VISIT THE REAL “HOTEL RWANDA”
You may know about the genocide in Rwanda because of the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda”. “Paul Rusesabagina was a hotel manager who housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during their struggle against the Hutu militia in Rwanda.” His story is profiled in this movie starring Don Cheadle. The hotel is now the Hotel des Mille Collins. A great pool, tennis court, several restaurants, a spa, a wine bar and great views are just part of what you will find here. By the way, the hotel also has a Brussels Air city check-in office. It’s a great way to check-in for your flight before heading to the airport.
This popular spot set off in a residential area is a great spot for lunch, dinner, drinks and late night. The view of Kigali is great. The setting is intimate but expansive given the space. It’s worth checking out…even if you walk there from the city center for lunch. It’s about a 40 minute walk from the Marriott.
The Women’s Center was started by a group of women as a way of putting those in their community to work. From sewing to cooking to many other activities, the center is now an integral part of the community. “Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC), a Rwandan NGO, was launched at the end of 2007 by 18 Rwandese women living in Nyamirambo, Kigali. Together they created a project which aimed to address gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination. Today, NWC’s mission is to provide education and vocational training to women who do not have the means to pay for such training on their own, so that they can gain better opportunities for employment.” I took a cooking class hosted by a woman at her home. The food was all fresh and made in a very traditional Rwandan ways. Important note – tip the chef and your guide. It’s also a nice gesture to tip the Women’s Center on your return to the center.
APPRECIATE THE GROWING CITY
You will notice a lot of construction in the heart of Kigali. While you are out and about, appreciate the city trying to rebuild its image.
FIND PLACES TO ENJOY THE VIEWS
This (above) is Kigali at sunset – one of my favorite photos of the city. Several hotels and restaurants offer rooftop views. This is from the Rendezvous Rooftop Bar at Ubumwe Grande Hotel. It’s easy to get to (after a security check) and very spacious. I actually had lunch and dinner on separate days here with a bottle of wine at sunset. The service is a little slow. You’re here for the view…and not necessarily the expedient service. Even if you don’t stay at the hotel, you can still enjoy the rooftop bar. Go at sunset!
UNDERSTAND THE CULTURE
There is a sense of pride here that you may not see elsewhere. There are people sweeping the sidewalks and streets. There are people picking up leaves one-by-one at the entrance to the national forest. There is a four-hour community service requirement once a month on Saturdays. “Once a month for four hours, the entire country shuts down to take part in government-mandated community service called “Umuganda,” a Kinyarwanda word that means “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” While unusual to see, it was truly refreshing to see people take pride in their communities and in their country. While started in the aftermath of great tragedy, a country united at least for four hours once a month may be a country that rebuilds forever. While service is indeed mandated by the government, there is still hope that unity brings hope for a shattered country.
IF YOU NEED A HOTEL… TRY THE MARRIOTT
I’m a little biased. I stay at Marriott or Hilton properties. Here, I stayed at the Kigali Marriott. The rooms are modern and clean. The hotel is large with plenty of restaurants, bars and shops. But, as a Marriott Rewards member, I really enjoyed the member lounge. In fact, this may be the best Marriott lounge I have visited. Yes, the space is nice. The food was plentiful But… the service was beyond expectations. My glass was only close to being empty before it was filled once again with great wines. Night after night, breakfast after breakfast, it felt like the attendees knew you. Who doesn’t want to go where “everybody knows your name”? I would definitely stay at this hotel again on a future visit. I enjoyed the service so much that I left a hand-written note for the manager of the hotel with compliments for the men and women who worked the lounge during my stay.
FINALLY, don’t overlook Kigali and Rwanda because of your perceptions of Africa or the region. You will find a people and country not only welcoming of the world but also eager to explain both their history and their future. A forced reign of terror on many of its people have led to a country-wide effort at lifting a shared spirit. If you take advantage of what Rwanda has to offer, you won’t regret it.
VISIT RWANDA – You just might be pleasantly surprised!
ALL VIDEO AND IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF JEFF PARSONS AND CAN NOT BE USED OR RE-PURPOSED WITHOUT EXPRESS WRITTEN AGREEMENT. As a hobby, I am a freelance feature writer/producer who enjoys traveling the world to capture extraordinary experiences. Contact: email@example.com