A recall of our recent filming in the Heart of Africa
is not my first pick when it comes to travel destinations.
that comes to mind are the tragic scenes of the 1994 genocide along
with snippets from movies like Hotel Rwanda and Gorillas in the Mist.
So, you can imagine that it was with quite a strange feeling that I
headed off to the capital Kigali, for the start of a 7 day adventure
around the country.
touched down safely in the heart of Africa after a smooth and
comfortable four hours’ flight from Johannesburg on Rwanda Air’s
brand new Boeing 737-800NG
- Africa’s most modern aircraft, I’ll have you know!
through immigration was quick and painless; the officials’ beaming
smiles were refreshing and welcoming. But I wasn’t prepared for
what I found stepping out the Terminal Building... The streets were
clean; the gardens were neat and tidy, street signs advocating the
routing out of corruption and co-ordinated traffic! Here in deepest,
darkest Africa, things seemed to be organised and operating
efficiently. I suddenly started wondering if we had actually landed
trip was off to great start! Clearly I was in for a couple of
Hotel Mille Collines
couldn’t be more true to its name – a hotel of a thousand hills.
Sitting on the breakfast
terrace, you’re able to admire the rolling hills of the city of
Kigali while savouring a strong cup of coffee. The waitress confirmed
that it was local Rwandan coffee - a great way to slowly get into
the local groove!
capital is an attractive and low-key city located right smack
bang in the middle of the country – so it’s a central and
convenient starting point for trips.
The city was established with the arrival of German Dr. Richard Kant
in 1907 and remained
a tiny colonial outpost, until
Rwanda gained independence in 1962.
Today, Kant’s original house has been transformed to the city’s
Natural Historic Museum and is open to visitors daily. The views from
the balcony’s are well worth the trip.
can’t visit Kigali without stopping at the Genocide
Memorial Site, it is a
sombre visit that beautifully captures the country’s tragic past.
The centre is built on a
site where 250 000 genocide
buried. It is
a memorial to the victims - a historical reminder and a place to
most importantly it
shows how far Rwanda has come from these dark days of 1994. For me
the room displaying large
photographic prints of the children that were lost in attacks, along
with their names, their likes, their ambitions and how they were
killed is difficult to
there aren’t that many attractions in Kigali itself, the city is a
great place to meet locals. Today, close to a million people call
Nyamirambo district has an
African Soho-feel about it. I ventured off to meet
the colourful women of
local cooperative who
offer an in-depth view of the
area with charming
hospitality. I was blown
away by the local cuisine
– a range of vegetarian dishes, creatively using things like green
bananas similar to mashed potatoes – absolutely delicious! For
visitors who’d like learn more about day to day life in Rwanda –
the Nyamirambo Women’s Co-operative is a must!
perfect way to end the day a long day of exploring is with an ice
cold Primus, a local Rwandan beer. If you order a small one you tend
to be brought a 750ml bottle and after a full day filming it is the
most refreshing drink. Kigali’s bustling night scene offers a range
of clubs of pubs. If you get a chance to visit Mama Africa make sure
you say hello to Cobra – the Rwandan legend in Night Life, his
restaurant and night club is a draw card for locals and foreigners
alike with great food and vibey tunes!
a night on the town, it was an extremely short night’s sleep before
I was off to the Volcano National Park to explore some of the
country’s natural treasures.
Virunga Mountains stretches over the borders between Rwanda, the DRC
and Uganda. With peaks climbing from 2500m to 4507m, this fertile
rainforest is an exciting mountainous hiking destination with a range
of trails and activities on offer in the area. But the Volcano
National Park is home to Rwanda’s biggest tourist attraction –
the mountain gorillas. The population of around 400 mountain gorillas
has made Virunga the principal gorilla tracking destination on earth.
Troops of up to 27 female and juvenile gorillas are headed by a
Silverback, these impressive creatures can tower up to 1.8 m high and
weigh over 200 kg.
will need a permit from the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), so be
sure to book in advance before you head off to the RDB's Kinigi
Headquarters. Visitors are divided into small groups of no more than
eight first thing in the morning. After a short briefing we then set
off with a friendly, experienced guide into the rainforest in search
of mountain gorilla groups.
guides are in contact with rangers who protect the gorillas deep in
the forest via two way radios. So, you’re pretty much guaranteed to
come across a group of gorillas within an hour or two’s tracking.
Dressing appropriately is essential, it’s quite a track up the
steep muddy slopes through dense vegetation, so wearing your Sunday
best is not recommended! I looked like a warthog that rolled in a mud
bath coming out of the forest. Even though I’m quite fit this track
can be quite challenging. I went slipping and sliding a couple of
times, grabbing onto the closest plant turned out not be the best
option.... it was pretty painful! The forest is full of stinging
nettle, a plant that leaves tiny swollen bumps on your skin along
with a distinct burning sensation– OUCH!
it’s all worth every step, seeing the gorilla families up close is
a humbling experience! The
most important rule is to keep a distance of 7 meters; although the
gorillas don’t always stick to this! They move freely about their
everyday lives, without paying much attention to the human visitors.
We spent roughly an hour observing the gorilla family before making
our way back down.
at Lake Kivu, you could easily make the mistake of thinking you’ve
rocked up at the local beach with Gisengi locals lazing about on the
sand, enjoying water sports and splashing about in the clean waters
of Rwanda’s largest lake.
the deep blue water you are surrounded by mountains and can clearly
see the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the pristine lake is one of
the deepest Rift Valley Lakes, falling 480m deep, stretching 100km
long. It’s the ideal “beach” vacation spot in the middle of
the more adventurous tourist, the recently opened 227 km Congo-Nile
Trail is just the thing. It offers a range of hiking, biking or 4x4
trails through the lush countryside all along the lake –
breathtaking scenes that will leave you in awe of Rwanda’s
also has a lot to offer on the cultural scene. I was lucky enough to
stumble across the Dancing Pots, from the Abatigayubuke community
just outside Gisenyi. The Batwa people, originally pygmies, lived as
hunter-gatherers in the forests but now benefit from tourism, with
traditional dance performances and pottery making. The angelic
singing and local beats combined with ancient dancing is a
mesmerising sight. The dancers make you feel welcome; maybe a little
too welcome...I was made to join the festvities, all 1,94 m of me!
There I was, a giant surrounded by waist high pygmy dancers – not
quite as mesmerising, but definitely an amusing sight!
is home to the largest still remaining Montane Forest on the African
continent. Stretching along the mountainous Southern border to
Burundi this 1015 km2 forest is a biodiversity haven. 1050 plant
species, 200 orchids, 85 mammal, 278 bird, 32 amphibian, 38 reptiles,
170 butterfly species and 13 primates including the endangered
is home to around 400 chimpanzees, they are our closest species
relative in the wild with 98% of chimpanzee DNA being identical to
that of humans. Entering the dense forest just after dawn can be
rather thrilling when you hear the excited chatter and shouting of
chimpanzee groups just meters above your head in the trees. I
discovered an adult male chimp, high up on a branch munching away on
his breakfast. Although the semi-habituated chimps don’t seem too
phased by human visitors; I don’t think he was too keen on his
picture being taken - because shortly afterwards a warm yellow liquid
showered us from above!
visiting our relatives, I headed off to Nyungwe National Park’s
latest attraction - the Canopy Walk. This guided walk through the
heart of the Nyungwe Forest is amazing, but not for the faint
hearted. The 70 m (?) high walk across suspended bridges allow for
spectacular views, but my fear of heights made crossing the canopy
slightly challenging. I can tell you, you will be rewarded for facing
your fears! Hiking in the crowns of the majestic rain forest offers
endless opportunities to enjoy awesome views over the mountains and
chances to spot other primate species like the Colobus, Hoest,
Silver, Owl Face or Red Tailed Monkeys.
cultural centre of Rwanda is situated just south of Kigali in the
towns of Butare and Nyanza.
to the National Museum of Rwanda, Butare is known as the intellectual
capital of Rwanda and as centre for education. A gift from King
Baudouin I of Belgium in 1988, the museum’s 7 display rooms offer a
complete overview of Rwanda’s history.
is about an hour’s drive north of Butare. The town is rather
unassuming but rich in historical value. In 1899 the King of Rwanda
decided to create a permanent royal capital on Nyanza Hill breaking
with the traditions of having residences all around the country. The
King left Rwanda in 1954, and although he hasn’t returned to the
country, one can still visit the traditional palace constructed from
grass reeds and clay. The King’s bed gives new meaning to the idea
of a King size bed – the Rwandan King & Queen rested their
heads on a custom sized 4 by 3 meter bed! One has to wonder if they
every played a game of tennis on it – it sure would have been
the traditional palace is a herd of the king’s long-horned cattle –
an unusual species with great sculptured looking horns.
to the traditional palace is the Rukali Palace Museum, the modern
palace, which was built in 1933 – a more colonial structure with
western furniture. It’s worth a walk through to see the contrasts
between the old and new.
the East of the country the topography suddenly changes from the
rolling hills to the relatively flat and lower lying landscapes. You
may not think of Rwanda as a safari destination like Tanzania or
Kenya, but you’d be amazed to know that the biggest attraction out
this way is the Akageera National Park, managed by African Parks. The
reserve is named after the Akagera river and is home to Elephant,
Buffalo, Lions and dozens of Antelope species. It’s become well
known as an ornithologists’ paradise with over 550 recorded bird
species. And the bonus is that it’s a malaria free area because of
its altitude, so there’ll be no endless mozzie swatting.
highlight of my Akagera trip was a boat trip across Lake Ihema. Quite
unusual for game a reserve, this excursion allows stunning views of
bird life, hippos, crocodiles and large floating papyrus islands, and
with some luck also any of the larger mammals.
is so much more than Diane Fossey’s Gorillas and the images of
genocide that blitzed around the globe in 1994. The Country of the
Thousand Hills turned out to truly be a country of thousand
tiny country in the centre of the continent in my mind is the heart
of Africa. It has made an astonishing turnaround and has grown leaps
and bounds from its tragic past. People are honest, sincere and
friendly. It’s overwhelming and endearing to experience such warm
welcome everywhere you go from the cities to the villages to the
cultural and environmental highlights are all just a few hours’
drive from Kigali.
The country is safe and crime is virtually non-existent in this
obviously law-abiding country, so you free to explore and discover
Rwanda’s hidden treasures.
you ever get a chance to visit Rwanda, don’t give it a second
thought! Rwanda is a must travel destination for any globetrotter,
explorer or ordinary traveller!
Air is a first class airline. Its runs services to Johannesburg,
Libreville, Lagos, Brazzaville, Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar Es Salaam and
Dubai, as well as a range of internal flights.
are plenty of ways to get around the cities – with public
motorcycles, minibus taxi’s and bus services operating at
reasonable costs. Going the self-drive route is also an option. Be
sure to hire a car from the airport – it’s quick, easy and
cheaper. Driving was another surprising experience, Rwandan drivers
are courteous and friendly! Simply indicate you next move and the car
behind you slows down and lets you in, if you want to overtake - the
car ahead of you signals you with his indicators when it is safe to
do so. What a pleasure!
connections are available just about everywhere – while the
connection may be slow at times, it’s usually free. If you feel
like going the old school route and writing a quick postcard, get
ready for another awesome surprise. The post office I popped into
clearly hadn’t had any international postcards for a long time.
There was a bit of a debate about where exactly Malaysia was. The
polite staff battle to find the correct stamps, and as it turns out
if you’re planning on sending a postcard from Rwanda make sure you
don’t have a lot to say – the stamps take up most of the space!
is strides ahead of other African countries. Most places won’t sell
cooldrink cans, it’s all mostly glass bottles that are returned and
recycled. You’ll also battle to find any plastic bags, as they are
prohibited in Rwanda. The strict environmental and infrastructure
policies are visible everywhere – there is no garbage or filth
flying around, the country is simply spotless!
Rwandans speak a combination of Kinyarwanda, French and /or English.
It’s easy to communicate – someone will usually be able to help
you so don’t worry about getting a translator. As a Caucasian
traveller you’ll hear the term “Muzungu” A LOT! It’s not an
insult, it simply means white person – and little children from
local villages shout it out a friendly greeting – it’s very cool
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