The tiny east African country of Rwanda occupies a disproportionate space in the African hall of horrors, this thanks largely to the genocide of 1994 that etched into popular consciousness the defining image of Africa as a morass of disease, poverty and endless cycles of war and violence. Certainly the closing years of the 20th century were among the darkest in Central African history, but Rwanda has since then led something of a regional renaissance.
Although the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa is still as restless and brooding as the volcanoes of the Great Rift Valley, and although the damage to both the human and natural landscape has been catastrophic, signs of recovery are clear. One of the most vital of these signs has been a surge in eco-tourism inspired mainly by the struggle for the protection and survival of the last viable communities of Mountain Gorilla.
Travel To & Within Rwanda
Why Travel to Rwanda
Central Africa, for all its propensity for trauma and suffering, is the beating heart of Africa, and in an inexplicable way it is that very overlay of tragedy that gives the region so much of itís vitality. While it would be an injustice to the gravity of the episode to call it a tourist attraction, it is nonetheless a fact that the standing memorials to the Rwandan Genocide, and the many intangible residues that continue to surround it, are a strong draw for visitors to the region. While many people have begun to flock to Rwanda principally to visit the iconic Gorilla parks, the Genocide is ultimately what lingers in the mindís eye as an image of a past that should not, and cannot be forgotten.
Rwanda is situated in the middle of the Great Rift Valley, and just a few degrees south of the equator, and is part of the divide between the westward flow of the Congo River and the northern flow of the Nile. It is a heavily populated region that defines more acutely than perhaps anywhere else the traditions of African highlands and montane society. It is a coffee growing region with the equatorial imagery of clustered thatch and adobe homesteads hedged in by banana groves and awash with tropical fruits like mangoes, pineapples and avocado. For an intensely human and cultural experience Rwanda cannot be equalled. It is a kaleidoscope of life, colour, sound and taste that could not possibly be confused with anywhere but Africa.
Over all of this brood the defining geographic feature of the highlands, and the cluster of eight volcanoes, five of which are in Rwanda, and all of which are shared between the Rwandan Parc National des Volcans and the Virunga National Park in the democratic Republic of Congo. Here it is possible, on both sides, so track and observe the few remaining mountain gorilla. The newest national park in Rwanda is the Ngungwe Forest National Park, established in 2004, and small by comparison to its regional cousins, but notable for the presence of wild chimpanzees, a growing rarity in Africa, and ten other primate species.
When to Visit Rwanda
As with anywhere else in the East African equatorial zone, Rwanda experiences an annual long and short wet season. The long rains are a time to avoid, and occur from mid-March to mid-May, with the short rains occurring between mid-October to mid-December, which also is period worth avoiding.
Sporadic insecurity persists along the eastern border regions of the country. Exercise caution in areas abutting the frontiers between Rwanda and DRC or Burundi/Rwanda/DRC.
It is advisable to visit the Parc National des Volcans as part of an organised tour.
Levels of street Crime in Rwanda are lower than in surrounding countries, but isolated incidents of muggings and bag snatching that target tourists and expatriates snatching do occasionally occur.
Compared to regional statistic, Rwandan HIV/AIDS prevalence is low, but caution is nonetheless adviasable.