Rwanda...where you go to see Gorillas, right? Wrong! Well not exactly wrong, as this is the country that's home to more than half of the world's entire gorilla population, but there is certainly more to see and experience in the 'Land of a Thousand Hills.'
1. Kigali Genocide Memorial
Not to be missed on a trip to Rwanda is the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a museum designed to educate and increase awareness about the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi minority. A sad yet poignantly essential experience, the memorial allows visitors to gain a greater understanding of the Rwandan people today and highlights the importance of giving back and looking after their communities.
2. Hiking In Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park, one of Africa's best-preserved forests, is home to over 1000 species, making it a great place for hiking. There are trails to suit every occasion. If it's views you're after, hikes along the likes of the Irebro, Umogote and Isumo trails offer expansive vistas over waterfalls, mountains and lakes. And if you want to monkey around, brave the dizzying 150ft high canopy walk that starts from the Uwinka visitor centre. Get up close and personal with the forest's wildlife and just make sure you don't look down.
3. Philanthropy In Volcanoes
When you think of Volcanoes, you think of gorillas. But because we're looking at what Rwanda has to offer besides going to see these marvellous primates, it's worth knowing that there are plenty of things you can do in this area to give back to communities. One of our top picks is a visit to Bwindi Bar, which gives training in hospitality to local disadvantaged youths. Another option is to stay in one of the luxurious bandas at Virunga Lodge (where gorillas are, to be fair, the main attraction) and help support some of their charitable schemes such as the Water Tank and One Sheep per Family (the sheep produce the manure essential to fertilise crops) projects.
4. Go On A Safari In Akagera National Park
Just because this trip isn't about gorillas, it doesn't mean that you can't go and see other wildlife, from eastern black rhinoceros to lions. For a quieter safari across flat plains similar to the Serengeti, Akagera National Park is a real gem. Backed by the admirable Africa Parks scheme and rejuvenated by tourism, the park is almost unrecognisable today compared to just 20 years ago when it was on the verge of being lost forever. Conservation and community engagement are the beating heart of this special place and another great way to inject some philanthropy into your trip. We recommend staying at Magashi Camp, a luxurious set-up of spacious and airy tents with uninterrupted views over Lake Rwanyakazinga.
5. Tour A Tea Plantation In Nyungwe
Rwanda's fertile soils and tropical climate make it the perfect place for growing tea (so much so that it's the country's largest export). There are a number of tea plantations across Rwanda but the ones that are most commonly visited are closer to Nyungwe National Park. Ideal for small groups and families with children in tow, you can learn all about how tea is planted, maintained, harvested and processed, all while admiring the beautiful contrasting surroundings of neat tea plantations and wild forests. And for all you die-hard coffee lovers out there, fear not - the country also boasts a number of coffee plantations with tours taking you through the entire process (and, if you're lucky, ending with a tasting).
6. Anyone For Cricket?
In 2009 Rwanda became only the second country without a British colonial past to join the Commonwealth. History does not relate whether an agreement to start playing cricket was written into the small print, but since then Rwandans have taken to cricket in a major way, often lead by enthusiasts who learned the game while living as refugees in Uganda and Kenya after the genocide. Cricket has since proved a valuable cross-ethnic community pursuit (encouraged by the excellent charity Cricket Builds Hope), and since 2017, the country can also boast a beautiful new international standard cricket ground, dubbed - perhaps inevitably - the 'Lords of East Africa'. If you happen to be in Rwanda at the right time, we can arrange for you to watch a game at the lovely Gahanga Cricket Stadium, and we're rooting for Rwanda to qualify for the 2023 Cricket World Cup.