When it comes to travel to Rwanda, most people think of gorillas. But there is so much more to the country than that. Here’s an inside guide to the more unusual things to do in Rwanda from those who live and work there.
Discovering Unusual Things to do in Rwanda
Rwanda has so much to offer, those who know it well will tell you. It is renowned for its natural beauty, diverse wildlife, and rich culture.
While the country offers traditional tourist attractions like Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park, you will also find numerous unusual activities and hidden gems waiting to be explored.
If you are looking for a unique experience that goes beyond the typical tourist itinerary, then here are the best things to do in Rwanda while going off the beaten track.
Travelling with Laba Africa Expeditions
Seeking unusual travel experiences often means that you’ll be travelling to places less spoiled by tourism. We all want to preserve those experiences for future generations of travellers, and that’s why engaging in sustainable tourism is so important.
That’s why we’re happy to be sponsored by Laba Africa Expeditions for this article. Laba Africa specialises in individual active, adventure, and volunteer trips all over Africa – including Rwanda. Its team of expert guides pride themselves on sustainable travel initiatives, including its Sustainable Safaris Itineraries and Tree Mapping programme.
Visit Laba Africa Expeditions today to explore their range of travel options.
Spot the Big 5 in Akagera National Park
One of the hidden gems of Rwanda is Akagera National Park, where you can embark on an adventure to spot the Big Five. Covering an area of 1,200 square kilometres, the park is home to diverse ecosystems, including savannahs, lakes, and wetlands, which support a wide range of wildlife.
With the reintroduction of lions and successful conservation efforts for elephants, rhinoceros, leopards, and buffalos, Akagera is now a popular destination in Africa.
Join one of the game drives or guided tours to explore the park’s vast landscapes and observe these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. The park also offers camping experiences, so you can immerse yourself fully in the wilderness.
Trek with Golden Monkeys
In the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Volcanoes National Park, you can embark on an extraordinary journey to trek with golden monkeys. These playful primates are endemic to the Albertine Rift and are listed as endangered, making the experience all the more special.
Golden monkey treks take you through lush bamboo forests, where you can see these creatures up close in their natural habitat.
However, keep in mind that responsible tourism is crucial during these treks, as it ensures a minimal impact on the monkeys’ well-being.
Regulations and guidelines, such as maintaining a safe distance, not feeding the monkeys, and limiting group sizes, are strictly enforced. By adhering to these rules, you can help protect these endangered species and the beautiful places where they live.
Gorilla Trekking and Conservation Efforts
No trip to Rwanda would be complete without experiencing the adventure of gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park. Guided by experienced trackers and park rangers, you’ll embark on a trek through the lush greenery of the park, ascending to high elevation levels to find the gorilla families.
It’s one of those lifetime experiences: watching their behaviour, social interactions, and the playful antics of the baby gorillas.
It’s also a great opportunity to learn about Dian Fossey’s legacy and ongoing conservation efforts through guided tours and educational exhibits. The story of “Gorillas in the Mist” comes to life as you immerse yourself in the habitats of these remarkable creatures.
Endless Hiking Opportunities
For hiking enthusiasts, Rwanda offers a multitude of options. The Virunga Mountains, a volcanic chain and branch of the Albertine Rift, run roughly along the northern border. Visitors can conquer mountains such as Mt. Bisoke or Mt. Muhabura in day treks and discover the lush greenery and rare species of the country’s many national parks.
A day trip to the Virunga National Park provides an opportunity to witness extraordinary biodiversity, including the critically endangered mountain gorillas. The hike takes you a long way through a variety of terrains, from dense bamboo forests to the edge of a stunning crater lake at the mountain’s summit.
Along the edge of the crater lake, you can pause to catch your breath. The greenery, misty clouds, and tranquil beauty of the lake create a truly magical atmosphere.
However, Rwanda’s hiking destinations extend beyond Mount Bisoke.
The country is blessed with rolling hills, mountain ranges, and scenic trails that cater to hikers of all levels.
Nyungwe Forest National Park, known for its tropical rainforests and diverse wildlife, offers plentiful hiking experiences. Exploring the dense forest trails, you may encounter vervet monkeys, blue monkeys, and so many bird species that you may actually lose count.
Go Bird Watching in Nyungwe National Park
Rwanda is one of the best places on the African continent for bird enthusiasts.
Nyungwe National Park is a premier bird-watching destination, providing a chance to spot a wide range of bird species, such as the Rwenzori turaco, Albertine owlet, and great blue turaco.
Hire a local guide or join a bird-watching tour to enhance your experience, as they possess in-depth knowledge of the park and can help you spot rare and elusive bird species.
Keep in mind that due to the threat posed to birds, animals, and the environment, bringing plastic bags to Rwanda is forbidden, and you will get a fine if you don’t follow this rule.
Take a Boat Trip on Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s Great Lakes, is not only beautiful but also a great source of fun.
The best time to take a boat trip on the lake is at sunrise or sunset when you will be able to appreciate the stunning scenery from a different perspective.
You can also engage in water activities like kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing, immersing yourself in the serenity of the lake.
If you’re an adventurous soul, diving and snorkelling in Lake Kivu offer a chance to explore the underwater world. Dive sites, such as the underwater methane gas fields and submerged coffee plantations, provide unique and memorable experiences.
Reflect on the Rwandan Genocide at the Kigali Genocide Memorial
While Rwanda is known for its natural beauty and wildlife, it’s also important to delve into its recent history and pay tribute to the victims of the Rwandan Genocide. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a sombre but significant place that offers insights into this dark chapter of the country’s past.
The memorial serves as a remembrance and educational centre, honouring the victims and providing a space for reflection. Exhibitions, photographs, and personal accounts convey the stories of the genocide, shedding light on the atrocities committed and the long-lasting impact on the local people. It’s a perfect place to remember, learn, and promote peace and unity.
Discover the Capital’s Last Independent Milk Bars
For a taste of nostalgia and a glimpse into Rwanda’s past, a visit to the Rwandan capital’s last independent milk bars is a must. These milk bars, locally known as “parlours,” hold a special place in Rwandan culture and history. They were once social hubs where people gathered to enjoy a cup of tea or milk-based drinks.
Despite the rise of modern cafes, a few of these traditional milk bars have managed to survive and continue their legacy. Stepping into one of these milk bars is like taking a step back in time. The nostalgic ambience, vintage decor, and the aroma of freshly brewed tea or milk create an unforgettable atmosphere.
Immerse Yourself in Kigali’s Vibrant Cultural Scene
Rwanda’s capital is a city that pulses with cultural energy. From traditional dances to contemporary art, the city offers a plethora of opportunities to immerse yourself in the local culture.
Take attending a traditional dance performance, for example. Colourful costumes, rhythmic drumming, and energetic movements bring traditional dances to life.
You can witness these performances at cultural centres, festivals, or even in local communities where dance troupes showcase their talents.
Explore Local Designers’ Workshops
For those interested in fashion and design, exploring local designers’ workshops provides another perspective on Rwanda’s creative industry. The country is home to a community of designers who combine traditional techniques with modern aesthetics, creating unique and innovative fashion pieces. Engaging with local designers not only allows you to support their work but also enables you to bring a piece of Rwandan fashion and craftsmanship home with you.
Horse Ride through Rwanda’s Picturesque Landscapes
For a more unusual way to experience Rwanda’s landscapes, embark on a horse riding adventure. Riding through hills, tea plantations, and local villages allows you to soak in the beauty of the countryside in a completely different way.
Take an Immersive Walking Tour
These group tours take you through lesser-known neighbourhoods, historical sites, and local markets, providing an opportunity to interact with residents and learn about their daily lives. Guides can share fascinating stories and anecdotes, as well as offering a fresh perspective on the country’s past and present.
From the markets of Kimironko to the historical neighbourhoods of Nyamirambo, each tour is a chance to uncover the hidden corners of Rwanda’s cities and towns. You may stumble upon local artisans, taste traditional delicacies, or witness traditional craftsmanship firsthand.
Embark on a Train Track Exploration Journey
For an adventure that blends history, nature, and a touch of nostalgia, embark on a train track exploration journey. Rwanda’s train tracks, remnants of the country’s colonial past, offer a pathway to exploring the landscapes and communities that lie beyond the main tourist routes.
Such explorations often involve cycling or walking along the abandoned tracks which wind through picturesque countryside and remote villages. As you venture along the tracks, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Rwanda’s diverse landscapes.
Final Thoughts on Unusual Things to do in Rwanda
As you leave Rwanda, you’ll carry with you not only cherished memories of its natural wonders but also a deeper appreciation for the country’s rich cultural heritage, diverse wildlife, and ongoing efforts to protect and sustain its remarkable beauty.
Rwanda is a destination that offers the perfect blend of adventure, culture, and conservation, making it an unforgettable journey for any traveller seeking to explore the unusual and discover the extraordinary.
For more information on how to plan your trip, be sure to pick up a copy of Philip Briggs’ Guide to Rwanda with Eastern Congo.
With freshly researched and updated details on developments across the country, Bradt’s Rwanda includes up-to-date maps of rapidly modernising Kigali, information on hiking to the summit of Mount Bisoke and a newly expanded chapter on excursions into the neighbouring DRC.