A tiny little country in East Africa, Rwanda nevertheless holds its own in a continent jam-packed full of sensational locations.
With some of the friendliest people of all (my arm actually got sore from waving so much!), Rwanda has nevertheless had a chequered and tragic recent history that can’t be ignored.
Discovering its story and choosing to educate yourself about the horrific crimes committed here are just one thing to do in this now peaceful and blossoming nation.
I visited the country as part of my super African overland trip and loved my time here.
So, in homage to this rich, tropical green country filled with seemingly endless rolling hills, here are the 7 best things to do in Rwanda…
Oh, and if you want to take a great tour through Rwanda, then check out these fantastic options…
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#1 Learn What Happened in the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre
Rwanda’s recent history can be hard to stomach, but the Genocide Memorial Centre in the capital Kigali does a fantastic job of educating us about it and providing an important space of remembrance and peace.
Taking the audio guide through the exhibition and displays is highly recommended and well worth paying the extra for, giving you an in-depth understanding of the horrors that took place here in 1994 as it does.
The centre also acts as a burial ground and a vital space for the nation’s bereaved.
Opened in 1999, it’s been incredibly well put together with some beautiful garden spaces surrounding it.
Open 8am-5pm, 7 days a week, last entrance is at 4pm and large groups will need to book their visit in advance.
To get to the memorial centre, which is located in the district of Gisozi, it’s only a ten minute drive from the centre of Kigali and the easiest way to make the journey is by taxi.
#2 Visit the Famous Hotel Rwanda
It seems strange to be linking one of the worst genocides in human history with some of the best things to do in Rwanda, but if you’ve seen the movie, Hotel Rwanda, you’ll know what I mean.
This incredible film depicts the amazingly brave and true story of the hotel manager here, who managed to keep 1268 people safe inside the building during the killing sprees in 1994.
If truth be told, the actual Hotel Rwanda – really called the Hôtel des Mille Collines – was not used in the film, but the real building still exists today in Kigali.
A prestigious place, it’s still worth going here in homage to the selfless acts conducted here and to enjoy the view from the terrace.
You can, of course, also stay the night (book here), but if you’re looking for somewhere on a budget in Kigali, then I highly recommend the Discover Rwanda Hostel where I based myself.
#3 See Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
In Rwanda’s rich rainforest landscape live some of the most endangered, but incredible animals on this planet.
They just also happen to be one of our closest relatives!
Yes trekking to see the gorillas – while really expensive – is one of those lifetime opportunities you can’t afford not to do when in this part of the world quite frankly, and it’s definitely one of the most famous things to do in Rwanda.
Here, the mountain gorilla populations are largely based in the Volcanoes National Park, which also provides some stunning scenery and great hiking as you make a visit to these large primates.
Home of the famous conservationist, Dian Fossey, who worked tirelessly to safeguard the gorillas from extinction, there are still only around 700 of these animals in the park, which is also home to Dian’s grave.
Guides are of course a prerequisite in the park and Rwanda is now charging top dollar for the privilege.
Like over $1000 USD!
As such, you may want to opt for some Uganda gorilla safaris instead, where the price is almost half of that.
Read about my experience here.
Otherwise, check out this great Rwanda gorilla day trekking trip with lunch, which is amazingly affordable.
#4 Hike in Nyungwe Forest
Speaking of primates, you can also view chimpanzees in the wild in Rwanda and one of the best places to do so is Nyungwe Forest.
With canopy walks and waterfall hikes, the scenery here is breathtaking and the many bird and butterfly species, as well as golden monkey populations, definitely make it one of the top things to do in Rwanda.
Once again guides are advised, but you can drive to the forest and pick up a guide directly there, rather than having to take a tour all the way from the capital.
There are actually 13 hikes in this park – that’s over 130km of trails – most of which traverse ancient and stunning rainforest.
That said you must have a reasonable level of fitness to tackle most of them.
If you want to enjoy a 7 day tour in Rwanda that includes the chance to see the gorillas and the chimps, check out this fab option.
#5 Snap Lake Kivu
One of Africa’s great lakes, the freshwater Lake Kivu is famous for its boat rides, which allow you to enjoy the many small islands located within it.
The lake is situated at 1460m above sea level, so chilling on the beach here or swimming are also hard to resist.
You can also hike to the top of Napoleon Hat Island, relax with a picnic lunch on Peace Island or head to farming island for Mcadamia and coffee experience.
This great tour includes them all, so check it out if you’re heading here from Kigali
A peaceful spot, Lake Kivu is a winner of a thing to do in Rwanda if you’re looking for some downtime.
#6 Safari in Akagera National Park
Rwanda’s top national park, Akagera is a safari paradise and is the last protected wetland in Central Africa.
It’s the only place in Rwanda where you can see the Big 5 and these are accompanied by giraffes, zebra as well as antelope, baboons and hundreds of species of birds.
So don’t feel like you have to go to Kenya, Tanzania or Uganda for your safari experience, heading to Akagera is definitely one of the best things to do in Rwanda.
Here’s a top day trip option that runs from Kigali.
#7 Make Friends with Some Bats in Musanze Caves
The Musanze Caves are a bit of an anomaly and I must admit I didn’t visit them during my time in Rwanda.
However, when I was researching this article, I came across them and they looked ridiculously cool, so I couldn’t resist adding them into this list of the best things to do in Rwanda.
2km from the town of Musanze / Ruhengeri, which is near where you trek with the gorillas, these 4 caves were created from lava flows when the Rift Valley was being formed around 65 million years ago.
Bats rule the roost here, and shards of light along with twisted vines break atmospherically through to this underground world in the places where the caves’ ceiling has fallen in.
The caves are 1.25 miles long and taking a guide to a) find them and b) walk you through them is highly recommended.
Mini Rwanda Travel Guide
When to Visit Rwanda?
The best time to visit Rwanda overall in my opinion is during the dry season from June to September.
This is the best time to visit the gorillas and to enjoy sightseeing (in lower humidity and temperatures) across the country.
How Long to Spend in Rwanda?
If you plan on seeing both the gorillas and chimpanzees in Rwanda, you’ll probably want to allow 6-7 days in the country.
Otherwise, if you’re just visiting the highlights in Kigali, 2 days should be enough.
How to Travel to Rwanda?
Most people arrive into Kigali international airport in Rwanda’s capital and from there connect with their tour company to travel the country.
As always I use Skyscanner to find the best rates.
Travel Insurance for Rwanda
World Nomads offers simple and flexible travel insurance. Buy at home or while travelling and claim online from anywhere in the world.
Alternatively, if you’re a long-term traveller, digital nomad or frequent remote worker seeking travel health cover, check out Safetywing’s Nomad Insurance policies.
5 Packing Essentials for Rwanda
#1 East Africa Lonely Planet – I’m always a big fan of the Lonely Planet and their East Africa edition is great for its Rwandan accommodation recommendations.
#2 Headlamp – Given the power outages you’re bound to experience in rural Rwanda, having a headlamp in your bag is an absolute must. I wouldn’t be without my Black Diamond one.
#3 Sarong – There’s few items as versatile as the trusty sarong when it comes to African travel. I love the beautiful designs and great prices of One World Sarongs.
#4 Insect Repellent – Much as I hate nasty chemicals, a good DEET repellent is essential for Rwanda where malaria is a real risk. I recommend a 30% DEET product to keep those pesky nippers at bay.
#5 Sun Hat – Located as close to the equator as it is, the sun is Rwanda is super strong and a sunhat to protect your face is highly recommend. I’m a big floppy hat fan and love this Hello Sunshine design.
Travel Money in Uganda
When it comes to paying for things in Uganda, it’s great to know that accommodation and tours can generally be paid for by card.
ATMs are also available in most major towns.
Whether you use ATMs or pay by card however, you’ll want to ensure you’re not being charged overseas transaction fees or getting poor exchange rates, which is why I always take my Wise card away with me wherever I travel.
The easy way to spend abroad with real exchange rates, no markups and no sneaky transaction fees, you can use your Wise card just like a debit card here, and it links easily with Google and Apple pay. Get yours here.
Where to Travel After Rwanda?
Both Kenya and Uganda are easily reachable from Rwanda and both contain some amazing cultural and wildlife-related opportunities.
Check out these posts I write about my time there…
- 5 Incredible Uganda Safaris You Can’t Miss
- Top 14 Things to Do in Kenya
- How to Plan a Top Kenya Safari: 12 Top Tips
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4 thoughts on “7 Best Things to Do in Rwanda”
its a really good destination for visit of course.
Agree Megan 🙂
thank you very much for the information. very helpful.
would be lovely to link up in groups or twos for trips around the world. 🙂
do have a remarkable day.
Hi Angie, glad you found the helpful. Best wishes, Steph