Blog,  Africa,  Destination,  Nature,  solo,  Travel

Rwanda, East Africa : Land of 1000 Hills and Beautiful Surprises

I visited Rwanda a few years ago and it was an amazing trip. A Rwandan friend gave me insight to the city but I did explore on my own. I was there for about 9 days so it was a fast paced itinerary and exhilarating trip. Come with me on this adventure of modern bustling city of Kigali, contrasting with the wildlife of Akagera National Park and so much more. Given the history, the amazing resilience of a welcoming people was truly inspiring.

Kigali, the Rwandan Capital

I was staying in shared accommodation in Kigali about 20 mins by taxi from the capital. From the veranda I had amazing views of the rolling hills which were very lush from the fertile volcanic soil. I came here on business so of course being the explorer that I am I had to take the opportunity to try to explore. Prior to this visit Rwanda was not even on my radar as a country to visit. I must say this trip has blown me away and Rwanda now has a piece of my heart.

Kigali’s skyline, adorned with sleek skyscrapers, stood as a testament to the city’s progressive spirit. The modern architecture against the backdrop of traditional markets, seamlessly blended with its rich history. The harmonious coexistence of these seemingly disparate elements painted a picture of a city in constant dialogue with its past and future. The impressive Kigali Convention Centre reminded me of a beehive. The streets were clean and I felt completely safe during my entire trip. I instantly fell in love with Rwanda!

Bustling City Life in Rwanda

What lingered most profoundly in the air was the palpable sense of community, fueled by the warmth of its people. Locals moved with a purpose, their faces with genuine smiles that spoke of shared stories and communal bonds. It’s the people who breathe life into a city. The Nyabugogo area had at the time many low capacity minibuses (16/30 seaters) among street sellers with snacks and wares for sale. I remember just sitting in a bus, music blaring, waiting for it to fill with passengers just observing all the goings on. A woman with bread for sale, a dog walking by, a man came selling snacks. There were lots of motorbikes on the nearby main road,used as local taxis.

Exhilarating ‘Moto’ Rides

A ‘moto’ ride in Rwanda was interesting. The ladies sit on the bikes with knees closed legs to one side and often with a bag in on their lap. Passengers don’t hold on to the driver! I was worried I would fall off but soon got into the swing of things, literally!

On one trip, I couldn’t explain clearly where I needed to go, as my French was very rusty, so I called my local friend and we found our way. My ‘moto’ driver made sure I got back safely and didn’t complain as it did take longer than expected. He even pointed out buildings and sights on the way back. He earned a good tip. The journey was a dynamic conversation with the city itself.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial and Garden

There was no debate for me to visit the Genocide Memorial and Gardens. Visiting was such a poignant and somber journey into the heart-wrenching history of Rwanda. As I stepped onto the hallowed grounds of the Genocide Memorial, there was an immediate shift in the atmosphere. A heavy silence hung in the air, that spoke of the countless lives lost and the immeasurable pain etched into the very soil beneath my feet. The memorial, surrounded by gardens that seemed to whisper tales of sorrow and survival.

The exhibits within the memorial narrated a harrowing yet essential tale—the chronicles of the 1994 genocide. Through photographs, personal testimonies, and artifacts, the narrative unfolded, leaving an indelible mark on my soul. The images captured the faces of those who perished and those who, against all odds, survived the horrors that unfolded.

Wandering through the memorial’s Garden of Memory, I encountered the “Leaves of Hope,” a poignant symbol of renewal and regeneration. Each leaf bore the names of survivors, a living testament to the resilience of the people.

As I stood in the the memorial, I felt an obligation to remember not just the atrocities but also the stories of survival, the acts of heroism, and the collective determination to rebuild. The memorial was a sanctuary of remembrance that urged visitors to learn from the past and strive for a world where such horrors can never be repeated. Everywhere I went on my travels around Rwanda there were memorials of remembrance bonding the nationals together.

Venturing into the Rwandan Countryside

Leaving the city behind, the journey into the Rwandan countryside revealed picturesque landscapes and also the hospitality of rural communities. Villagers greeted me warmly, offering insights into their daily lives. Twice I ventured out of the city to the Rwandan countryside. I went to Northwestern Rwanda to the Musanze Volcanic caves and to the eastern border with Tanzania to see the wildlife in the Akagera National Park.

Rwanda Wildlife, Akagera National Park

I woke up at 6am at my host to leave at 7am to the local shop to get fresh bread, water and supplies for my trip to the Akagera National Park. My tour guide, a local recommendation, picked me up and we set off in a landrover 4×4. There was an entrance fee for myself and driver and the vehicle. We arrived about 9.30am. I knew it was gonna be a long trip but it took the whole day!

As the safari unfolded, the red dry earth in the morning sun with a wave of fresh air. We saw a herd of elegant antelopes, monkeys in the trees and a rouge hippo ran across our path. Some interesting birds too. We went to the river, but most the animals were gone when we got there.

I saw graceful giraffes in the distance so magical the way they moved. Also, there was a massive herd of wildebeest grazing, it seemed like thousands of them! We stopped to eat lunch surrounded by a herd of inquisitive zebras. I did wonder if I would see lions or elephants, but we weren’t lucky. It was so peaceful I felt at one with nature. I could see the river between Rwanda and Tanzania and the Tanzanian mountain range in the hazy distance.

Touring the Musanze Volcanic Caves

I took a coach from Kigali to Ruhengeri, 2-hour trip away. We had a comfort stop on the way but it was a comfortable ride in modern large coach with plush seats. On arrival at the bus station there are lots of booths selling excursions. However, I missed a morning tour to the caves and took a taxi in hopes I would catch them up. I was still too late and I couldn’t stay for the afternoon tour as I had to take bus back to Kigali.

The guide decided it was no trouble to give me a private tour of the caves! I was thrilled! Two guards with machine guns accompanied us. I was given a yellow helmet with a spot light. A guard went ahead and the other stayed behind incase there were wild animals in the cave.

My tour guide was so knowledgeable and the dark cool caves were awesome! Bats live in the caves and there were signs of life in the caves that were used by people during the genocide. To think that the caves were formed of enormous lava flows was mind boggling. Afterwards I had a chat with the guides tipped them for their generosity and took a taxi back to the bus station to head back to Kigali.

For the Rwandan Culture, Wedding, Dance and Food

I do like to immerse myself in a culture as much as possible and it was not hard to feel like you were a temporary citizen as everyone was so welcoming. One evening, I was invited to dinner at a family’s home to each some traditional food which was delicious mix of root vegetables, greens and fish.

I witnessed a local wedding the women draped in fabric in traditional dress so elegant and the traditional dance was so serene and graceful like a bird in flight. I was moved to tears. As I joined the festivities, I felt not only the rhythm of the music but also the heartbeat of a community that embraces visitors as family.

From Market to Wardrobe

I went to the local market in Kigali in the shopping district. There was everything, food, spices, fabric, homeware you name it. I bought some fabric to get an outfit made. Interestingly, my purchases were put in a cloth bag made from scrap material as plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda! A local seamstress agreed to make two maxi skirts which I collected the day before I left. The fit was perfect! A piece of Rwanda was coming back with me.

Conclusion: A Tale of Resilience, Smiles and Hospitality

With a heavy heart I bidded farewell to Rwanda, the memories etched in my mind go beyond the landscapes and cultural wonders. It’s the smiles of the people, the warmth of their hospitality, and the shared moments of laughter and connection that define this journey. Rwanda is not just a destination; it’s an embodiment of beauty, resilience, and a welcoming spirit that transcends borders.