15 Places to Visit on Rwanda Cultural Tour
Whereas gorilla trekking is the most popular tourist attraction in Rwanda, the country is not all about apes. Rwanda is an excellent destination for mountain hiking, game drives, biking, nature walks and cultural tours. The cultural practices of the indigenous people were passed on from one generation to another through cultural ceremonies, language, stories, dressing style and a kingdom that has now been abolished.
Before the genocide in 1994, there were people who attempted to find distinctions between the Hutus, Tutsi and minority Twa. It was said that the Tutsi’s were mostly pastoralists while the Hutus where cultivators. Other distinctions were invented to help the Belgium colonialist govern the people but the reality is that the Tutsi and Hutu are essentially the same people. That becomes clear when you attempt to compare their looks, ways of life and culture to other tribal groups in the neighboring countries
Modernization, the introduction of the western culture, intermarriages and immigration has changed the lifestyle of the people of Rwanda. Many Rwandan nationals fled the country during the 1960’s and 1990’s to settle in neighboring countries. They now live a mixed lifestyle even after returning to the country. In an attempt to preserve the culture of the Banyarwanda, the government and individuals have invested in cultural sites that will remain a constant reminder of the important cultural norms and values of the people.
The cultural attractions to see on a Rwanda safari include visiting genocide memorial sites, cultural villages and artisan center. While visiting the cultural sites, expect to have close encounters with the people as watch traditional dance performances, folk songs and listen to stories about the former kingdoms. Some interesting cultural practices among the Banyarwanda include evening stories, riddles, folk-stories and proverbs which is organized close to a fireplace by the elderly.
Cultural tours in Rwanda
Kigali Genocide Memorial: This is arguably the most visited museum in Rwanda. It was built in memory of about 250,000 people who were killed during the Rwanda genocide. The Museum is divided into 3 major areas – One remembering the children killed, another for the adults and one focusing on genocides which occurred in other parts of the world. Visiting this museum will help you understand the events leading to and after the genocide. The government hopes that the museum will act as a constant reminder of the cruelty shown during the genocide so that younger generations never allow it to happen again.
National History Museum (Kandt House Museum): Formally known as the Kandt House Museum, the National History Museum is one of the most important cultural and historical sites in Rwanda. It was initially named after Dr. Richard Kandt and was the first modern building in Rwanda. Kandt was the first governor of Rwanda during German colonial rule. The Museum is divided into three parts – The first exhibition area shows how life was before the country was colonized. The second part describes life during the colonial era while the third part depicts life after Rwanda got independence. Visit this Museum to check out rare photos of Rwanda and German World War 1 photos. The museum also showcases the wildlife, vegetation and geological features in the country.
Kigali Fashion Week: The capital Kigali is growing fast and the people have embraced a lot of what is going on in the other cities around the world but while retaining the Rwandan swag. Kigali hosts two popular fashion festivals each year. The Kigali fashion week is organized in July while the Rwanda Cultural Fashion Week takes place in September each year. These two festivals attract some of the best local and international fashion designers. If you are lucky to be in town during these two fashion weeks, do not fail to attend them. You will get a rare opportunity to see a mix of Rwandan and international fashion products.
Nyanza Genocide Memorial: Another of the many genocide memorial centers commemorating those who died during the 3 months of horror in 1994. About 10,000 are buried in a mass grave at the site. Nyanza was a major killing ground during the Rwanda genocide with the Queen of Rwanda the most famous victim. Known as Queen Rosalie Gicanda, she was killed along with her attendants but was buried at the royal palace in Nyanza. The Nyanza Genocide Memorial is where most of victims are buried and is a frequent host of the yearly genocide memorial celebrations.
Banda Cultural Village: This interesting cultural center is found inside Nyungwe National Park – close to the park offices in Uwinka and where the Canopy walk is arranged. If you are visiting Nyungwe National park for nature walks and Chimp tracking, don’t forget to stop at the village. As you enter the site, you will be welcomed by Intore dancers and then escorted by a resident Guide. There is a lot to see at the village but the most interesting is observing how local medicines and traditional baskets are made. You can be called to take part in grinding maize using local tools and then help in preparing a local meal. If you are lucky, you may arrive on the day when a traditional wedding ceremony is taking place and be among the witnesses.
Kitabi Cultural Center: This cultural center is also found in Nyungwe Forest National Park – right at the main entrance. The last King of Rwanda built his palace here instead of using the one in Nyanza. It is one of the most visit cultural attractions in Rwanda and a favorite stopover for tourists visiting Nyungwe for chimpanzee trekking. The Center consists of several traditional huts and the King’s palace with guards. Everyone is dressed in striking traditional robes, cheerful and ready to ensure that you enjoy your time while there. A Guide will take you to see the local women making traditional baskets, beads and other souvenir for sale.
Gorilla Guardians Village: Also known as the Ibyiwacu cultural village, this is arguably the most visited cultural site in Rwanda – thanks to its close proximity to the where tourists spot mountain gorillas. The Cultural site is found in Musanze district and was founded by a former warden of the Volcanoes National Park. The warden wanted to build a cultural center that would offer employment to former poachers while also showing tourists everything good about the culture of the people.
While at the Iby’iwacu Cultural Center, tourists can enjoy watching how the Batwa pygmies hunted, traditional Intore dancers, learn how to cook Kinyarwanda dinner or enjoy traditional beer. There is also an opportunity to dress like a King or Queen and live in a thatched palace.
Apart from learning how a typical Kinyarwanda homestead was arranged, the Village offers tourists a chance to learn about the role it has played in wildlife conservation and particularly ending poaching in the Volcanoes National Park. The Batwa performers once lived inside the volcanoes National Park. They would lay snares to catch antelopes, birds and other forest creatures. After experiencing all that is showcased inside the site, you can join others and go for a community walk in the nearby homesteads.
Cultural Festivals: There are several festivals that bring the people of Rwanda together and which are organized at different times of the year. “Umuganda” is organized every last Saturday of the month in Kigali to allow citizens clean up the streets. The event is compulsory for residents between 8am to 12am. No car moves in the streets and no office is opened while citizens are cleaning the city. You can join in as a tourist to help with collecting rubbish, sweeping the roads or removing unwanted weed.
Another interesting festival is “Kwita izina”. This ceremony is organized at the Volcanoes National Park every October to give a name to all newly born mountain gorillas. The event is attended by tourists, international celebrities, conservationists, the gorilla doctors, politicians and sometimes the president. Finally, there is the “Ukwibuka” which is organized every month of April. This event is commemorated not only in Rwanda but in almost every country in the world. It is the official day in which those who died during the 1994 Rwanda genocide are remembered. You don’t have to be in Rwanda to show solidarity with the people. All you need to do is visit the nearest Rwanda embassy for information on how to participate.
The Kings Palace in Nyanza: This impressive palace is found in Nyanza – about 88 kilometers away from Kigali. Before and during colonialism, Rwanda had one king as cultural head. The Kings often had to deal with the challenge of pleasing the Tutsi and Hutus. Later the Kingdom was abolished entirely with the last king exiled. A modern palace was constructed for King Mutara III by the Belgium government in 1931. Mutara was the last ruling king before Kingdoms were abolished. His successor never really had power and was exiled in the United States. The palace was then turned into a museum by the government.
During the genocide in 1994, most of the valuable place instruments were stolen. The government has revamped the palace and added new structures, traditional materials and the “Inyambo”. The Inyambo are long-horned cattle which can be seen in many parts of Rwanda. The kings owned thousands of these cattle and they were a source of pride for the Kingdom. One can check out the palace milk house whose female attendants were never allowed to marry. There is also the royal brewers hut and the burial ground for the royal family.
Presidential Palace Museum: This is the place to go to if you are interested in learning about the immediate event that sparked off the genocide of 1994. The Museum is found only 2 kilometers away from Kigali city center. It is the former state house and is where Rwanda’s former president Juvenal Habyarimana lived before his Falcon 50 plane was shot down on 6th April 1994. The plane landed at the presidential compound and the debris can still be seen to this day. When information reached that the presidents had been shot, Hutu extremists launched a full-scale genocide which resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 Tutsi. The resident Guide will take you around the house and show you the former presidents secret rooms, a presidential nightclub and more.
Urutare Rwa Ngarama: This large rock is found in the district of Gatsibo. The rock has distinct features and is believed to have been created to King Ruganzu Ndoli. Ruganzu was an ancient king in Rwanda. According to the local legend, King Ruganzu placed magic features on the rock allowing it to vibrate when hit by a stone, metal or when a human foot touched it. The King was thought to wield mystical powers that he used to control his subjects.
Ntarama Genocide Memorial: This memorial site is found in southern Kigali. About 5,000 people are buried outside a church. The site has been revamped with beautiful scenery and gardens. Even then, the human skeletons and personal belongings of the genocide victims can still be seen in the interior. They were left inside deliberately to remind younger generations of a painful era in the country’s history.
Ryamurari: This impressive archeological site is found in Nyagatare district (on top of a hill). It served as the capital of the Ndorwa Kingdom before it became part of Rwanda. Archeologist have unearthed cow bones, cow dung and grinding stones which indicate that the people who lived there were both cattle keepers and practicing subsistence agriculture. Tourists and geologist visit the site to admire the ancient structures and amazing earth-works.
Nyamata Genocide Memorial: Nyamata is one of the most visited genocide memorial sites. About 10,000 people had entered the Nyamata Catholic church hoping that the killers would have mercy on them. Instead, grenades were thrown at them or to open the doors and after which everyone was shot/hacked to death. A guided tour around the site takes you inside the church to see bullet holes, bloodstained clothes and more. After touring inside the church, visitors are taken to an outside mass grave where the people were buried.
Inema Art center: This Center was established by two brothers in Kigali. It is one of the most visited artisan centers in Kigali. The Inema Center brings together some of the finest local artist as well as young pretenders who are still learning the trade. Visit this Center if you are interested in distinct Rwanda art that describes the countries culture, wildlife, natural resources and physical features. Expect to be entertained by resident Intore cultural performers or attend a fashion show if you visit on a good day.
Bugesera Reconciliation village: For many decades, there was tension between the Hutus and Tutsi. This tension grew into unimaginable proportions prior to April 1994. When president Juvenal Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in April 1994, it sparked one of the worst genocides in recent history. The government at the time used tribal sentiments to force the Hutus to take up arms against the minority Tutsi. The Hutu extremists started killing people they had known for years as friends, lovers and neighbors in the cruelest ways.
After the genocide and with a new government, there was still a lot of silent hatred as people remembered how their loved ones were killed by people they knew. The new government did everything possible encourage reconciliation and unity. One of the great efforts to heal wounds was the creation of the Bugesera Reconciliation Village. Those who had found it difficult to forgive one another due to the 1994 genocide could come to this place for reconciliation and leave as friends. People still holding grudges against others can come to the village and see examples of other successful reconciliations. As a tourist, you can also visit Bugesera Reconciliation village and learn the power of forgiveness even under the most difficult circumstances.
Ethnographic Museum: Located in the city of Huye (132 kilometers away from Kigali), this museum was a gift by the Belgium government to the people of Rwanda during a celebration to mark 25 years of independence in 1987. The Museum stores some of the best ethnographic collections in Africa. From its seven galleries, visitors can learn a lot about Rwanda’s history and culture. The Museum showcases, traditional tools, farming instruments, traditional beer and woodworks. There are also sections for local poetry, traditional dance instruments and hunting tools.
Utubindi twa Rubona: This is another impressive historical and archaeological site in Rwanda. It is found in Tubindi Village (Gatsibo district) – 4 kilometers away from the main road in Kayonza Nyagatere. The site is home to 7 unique clay pots which are believed to have been excavated by King Ruganzu 11 as he traveled with his men from Karagwe. The King used the clay pots to draw water for his thirsty men. Apart from viewing the clay pots, the site also has remains of the King.
National Liberation Park Museum: Locally known as “Umurindi w’Intwari”, this museum helps tell the story of the great struggles, determination and courage of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) as they attempted to stop the genocide and liberate the country in 1994. It is found 80 kilometers away from Kigali. Visiting this museum is also another excellent way of understanding the events leading to, during and after the 1994 genocide. There are many artifacts, texts, videos and documents like the Arusha Agreement. This Agreement shows the efforts put in place bring government and RPF forces to a cease fire even before the start of the genocide. The museum sits on a bunker which was the headquarters of the RPF leader Paul Kagame.
Campaign against Genocide Museum: This Museum also helps educate people about the role of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) in ending the 1994 genocide. It is located close to the airport and the parliamentary building in Kigali. The Museum describes how the RPF planned to stop the genocide as soon as it became clear that Hutu extremists were intending to wipe out the Tutsi minority and that the UN troops were not going to defend the targeted people. Although the RPF did everything they could to stop the genocide, it was not enough to stop the killing of over 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Visitors to the Campaign Against Genocide Museum can still see some of the guns used during the war between the RPF and government forces.
Environmental Museum: This is the first environmental museum which showcases renewable and non-renewable energy in the continent. The Museum is found on the shores of Lake Kivu, close to the border with the democratic Republic of Congo. The Museum helps collect all kinds of local plants with explanations of their use (as food or medicine). The museum organizes educational tours for those who are interested in learning about how protecting the environment contributes to a country’s overall development.
Murambi Genocide Memorial: This genocide memorial site is located in the southwestern part of the country. Because of its remote location, Murambi may not be the most visited. However, over 50,000 genocide victims are buried here which is a sign that it is second to none in reminding us of the horrors of April 1994. The Murambi Genocide Memorial site is found at a former technical school which became a killing ground for the interahamwe (Hutu extremists).Read More
5 Most Popular Safari Locations in Rwanda
If you happen to be a nature lover or a budding photographer then Africa is the ideal destination for you to visit. It is one of the most visited tourist spots in the world. Rwanda tours are a must when you visit Africa for a vacation. According to All About Rwanda, this country has a summer spell during the months of June till august. This area is also famous since it has a large number of beautiful lakes; the landscape of the entire city is absolutely breath taking.
I am sure that you will be taken back by its beauty. The largest lake of Africa Lake Kivu is found her as well. There are vast tracks of hills and swamps here. The local essence of Rwanda lies in the simplicity of the place and its people.
Volcanoes National Park
Mountain gorillas are what Rwanda safaris are famous for. The entire belt is known for the large number of gorillas that are found here. There are many treks that follow these gorillas. The volcanoes that are found in the national parks are home to these mountain gorillas. So a trip here will ensure that you go on Rwanda Gorilla Trek as well.
You could also visit the golden monkey, the mountain gorillas form such an intrinsic part of the people’s lives here that every year in the month of June a ceremony is held to give names to the gorillas that live here. I had the chance to go on this particular safari. And let me tell this experience has left me speechless. It was a great feeling being able to interact with these huge animals.
A trip to this continent would be ideal for a week or two. You could make this vacation either by road or by the sea. Since there are so many water bodies in Africa traveling by a boat is a fabulous way to get to know the place better. You could also hire a plane and explore the dense jungles of Africa with the help of a pilot and a guide. But a Rwanda safari will ensure that you visit places that have been untouched by man so far and have the beauty of Mother Nature still intact.
Africa has a large number of reserves and wildlife parks that have been very popular amongst tourists. People from all different parts of the world visit this gorgeous place in large numbers every year. If you are a nature lover then you would love hiking on different trails to see the mountain gorillas. A regular hiking tour lasts for about a week. It depends on how much you are ready to spend on it.
These tours are inclusive of accommodation, food and transportation. You must ensure to have a gorilla permit if you are thinking of taking meeting the endangered mountain gorillas. When booking an all inclusive Rwanda safari these permits are also included in your fare. Thus it is a smart and a sensible way to explore the jungles and have a great vacation as well.Read More
Best Bird Watching Places in Rwanda
Rwanda is blessed to have the shelter of the highest population of birds in the world; it’s also ranked among the best 5 destinations in the entire world for tourists searching for the best birding tour in Rwanda. Rwanda is geographically a small land locked nation perched in the Albertine Rift valley with its dense forested and mountainous nature that avail great and long lasting memorable wildlife experiences anyone wouldn’t want to miss in life.
Rwanda with its small size has a staggering 700 bird species that quench the thirst of anyone looking for great birding safaris and experiences in Africa.
Rwanda has 7 favorite important bird watching areas, which include 3 national parks, – Volcanoes national park, Akagera national park, Nyungwe National Park, Rugezi swamp, Akagera swamps, Nyabarongo and Cyamudongo forest. These birds include Grey crowned crane, papyrus Gonoleck, Kungwe apalis, Bennettis wood pecker, stripe breasted tit, yellow-eyed black flycatcher, Cinnynis, white-tailed blue fly catcher, shoebill stork, tropical Boubou, regular sunrise bird, bronzy sun bird, among others.
Birding At Lake Ihema, Akagera National Park
Akagera national park is a small piece of paradise perched on the Rwanda-Tanzania that provides wildlife safaris in Rwanda that travellers long for. The Park stands as Rwanda’s most spectacular site for birders as it habours several endemic as well as migratory bird species and other unique wildlife species. It is home to over 520 species of birds that dominate this place, including forest, savannah, wetlands, and montane species.
Lake Ihema is home to the rare shoe bill stork; therefore this place gives a clear view of these beautiful birds since it habours a mixture of different acacia and papyrus species, including the olive back.
Other species common in Akagera national park include; the gorgeous black headed Gonolek, the grey hornbill, lilac-breasted roller, the crested barbet, Heuglin’s robin-chat and Ross’s Turaco, among others.
Birding In Nyungwe Forest National Park
This is Rwanda’s most fabulous bird watching site, and it is home to approximately 310 bird species that have been recorded, reflecting a wide habitat diversity and altitudinal range due to its dense forested nature. It’s very famous for its vegetation cover as well as being a home to many different bird species as compared to other national parks.
This wonderful birding area lies west of Butare, with the Butare to Cyangugu road passing straight through the middle, providing excellent roadside birding adventure.
Nyungwe habours a variety of Albertine Rift endemics, including seven of the 12 species of Soricidae, one species of bat – Rousettus lanosus, 5 of 12 species of Muridae and the chameleon Chamaeleo johnstoni, two species of squirrels,- Funisciurus carruthersi and Heliosciurus ruwenzori. And an amphibian that is endemic to Nyungwe – the caecilian Boulengerula fischeri. Two species of butterfly are endemic to Nyungwe – Bebearia dowsetti and Acraea turlini while Papilio leucotaenia restricted to a small area of the Albertine Rift occurs commonly in Nyungwe.
Birding In Nyabarongo River
It’s a protected area in Rwanda, covering 142.62km2, located in the south east of the country, south of Kigali, and includes swamps and marshes in parts of flood plain of river Nyabarongo, the longest river in Rwanda. It provides a safe haven for some of the globally threatened bird species namely; the Madagascar Squacco heron, papyrus Gonolek, Carruthers, Sisticola, white- winged scrub-warbler.
Other places where these birds can be found are; Cyamudongo forest, Rugezi among others, for anyone who wants to get an unforgettable biding experience in Rwanda.Read More
How Well Do You Know Kinigi, Rwanda’s Tourism Hub?
A trip to Kinigi, outside the main Musanze town in northern Rwanda, makes you interact with nature. Musanze itself has established a reputation as Rwanda’s tourism hub for many reasons. However, for most tourists who come to Rwanda, Kinigi’s mountain gorillas are always on their bucket-list.
When looking for outdoor activities, the place to be is definitely the Volcanoes National Park. This, according to tour operators, is home to a variety of wildlife that include the mountain gorillas. Furthermore, preserved within the Volcanoes National Park are the three Virunga Volcanoes: Sabinyo, Bisoke and Karisimbi. These are part of the eight volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif which straddles Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda.
According to Ferdinand Ndamiyabo, a tour guide with Thousand Hills Tours, the main tourist attractions in Kinigi includes: gorilla tracking, golden monkey tracking, nature walk, as well as hiking Bisoke, Karisimbi, Muhabura and Gahinga mountains.
Ndamiyabo adds that most of the tourists who visit Kinigi come specifically for tracking the gorillas, though he is quick to add that Kinigi itself has so much to offer apart from the mountain gorillas.
“These primates have been extensively marketed as the main attractions of Rwanda’s tourism industry. However, visiting Kinigi itself and seeing what nature provides, together with the cultural activities carried out within the area, is going to introduce you to what more Rwanda has to offer,” says Ndamiyabo.
Amos Tega, also a guide working with the same tour firm, says the move by the Rwandan government through the Rwanda Development Board (RDD) to increase gorilla trekking fees from $750 to $1500 eventually is going to be a blessing in disguise since this is a prudent move to protect the mountain gorillas, which have become the flagship of the country’s tourism industry.
“Without the gorillas, Rwanda tourism industry naturally will not stand on its feet. Many tourists to Rwanda come just to see the primates in their natural habitat though Rwanda has so much to offer like bird watching and cultural tourism. However, hiking the gorilla fee by the government was a long-term investment to preserve these species and within two to three years, we are going to see what the policy makers at RDB foresaw,” says Tega.
Tega adds that now is the time for Rwanda diversify its marketing strategy, saying Kinigi itself has so much to offer for adventure tourists who just “want to experience the other side of Rwanda”.
Greg Bakunzi, the managing director of Amahoro Tours and founder of Red Rocks Rwanda, a cultural exchange center based in Nyakinama village, mentions some of the things tourists can enjoy for free in Musanze and Kinigi in particular, including excursion to the Twin Lakes, hike to the waterfalls of Musanze, walk to the local villages, enjoying scintillating music and dance by the evergreen Intore dancers and a visit to local community projects such as local arts and crafts markets and schools.
“Although those events are free of charge, it shouldn’t stop you from making a donation to the community depending on how much you’re satisfied,” says Bakunzi.
The tour operator adds that among the most recognizable tourism attractions in Kinigi is visiting the Musanze caves and the Dian Fossey Tomb.
According to Remarkable Rwanda (Tembera U Rwanda) website, a move by RDB to promote domestic tourism, the 1.25-mile long Musanze caves are located just outside of the town they share a name with, and are only a 90-minute drive from Kigali. With an enormous opening (and an equally huge number of bats resident inside), the greenery outside spilling over into the twilight within makes for a fantastic photo opportunity. Caves were used as a shelter during wartime for many centuries leading right up into the modern era, and as such, it’s an important site to local people. Thus, out of respect for the area’s residents, access is limited to guided visits.
Bakunzi says visiting the Dian Fossey Tomb in Kinigi is among the most sought after safari activities which is carried out when visiting Volcanoes National Park for a gorilla trip. The walk to the tomb also affords good views of forest hogs, forest elephants, a variety of primates and bird species.Read More