Hidden gems between hills and valleys in Rwanda

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rwandainfo-icon is a small African kingdom hidden between many hills and valleys. Only one generation ago, this beautiful landscape was scattered by a severe and merciless genocide. During this time, nearly one fifth of the overall population was murdered. Not a single family was lucky enough to be left out and many survivors lack limbs cut off during the genocide. Since the official end in 1994, they all try hard to unite into one nation and overcome the past. In the recent years, Rwanda’s infrastructure is developing quickly but tourism has not taken over all the amazing places yet. Visiting such a haunted country means supporting the local people and showing them that we all can create a happy future together.

Nyungwe Forest, the source of the Nile?

The south-western border to Burundi is dominated by a dense rainforest. Its intense green hills and valleys are covered with hanging fog and clouds. When tracing back the Nile river, some researchers even claimed this area to be the original source of the mighty river. They claimed that the never ending rain is draining into the earliest streams that later form the Nile river. This came as a big surprise to me after visiting Ugandainfo-icon’s more famous source at Jinja. Nile or not, the Nyungwe Forest is well known for a variety of monkey trails and hikes. Especially the rare chimpanzees are sought after and amazing canopy walks can offer surprising sightings. But all trails are charged at expensive rates and some of the hikes can take up to several hours. Therefore, I decided to enjoy the car drive with a short stop at the visitors center.

Like Kivu, beautiful but deadly lake

Beautiful blue eye hidden among the hills on the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic Congo offers amazing overviews from both sides. My favorite place above all, was the quiet town of Kibuye. It has a pretty good bus connection to the lake and nice lodges to rent for travellers, as well as small boats to take a ride on the lake. While around, you should drop by to the local catholic church in the mountains mostly for the stunning view of the lake. The memorial inside is too small compared to the real number of lives searching for shelter inside of the church during the genocide and then getting massacred anyways at the sacred place. The lake itself spreads over a volcano that emits methane and carbon dioxide that are deadly. It is believed that in the past the volcano might have caused tsunami like destructive waves. There have also been some scientific experiments to moderate this gas leakage, but they have not been realized due to financial reasons.

Hills and valleys in Rwanda: Lake Kivu on the border to the Congo
Hills and valleys in Rwanda: Lake Kivu on the border to the Congo

Congo Nile Trail, off-road through the mountains

Quite nicely maintained trail lead through small villages, fields and unspoilt nature. Most of the road is covered with asphalt, but in the north, it is still a dirt road. People usually pick to walk, ride a bike or a car to pass this stretch and enjoy the marvellous sceneries. The estimated time of completing it on foot is ten days and with the number of places offering accommodation or just a little room for rest it must be very nice even as an individual trip. I did not have enough time, so I decided to go by car. The ride through sheer endless hills and valleys was quite lengthy. The tea and coffee growing process and harvest is a very delightful thing to watch. Those products are strongly grounded in our culture and we often forget that there are months of hard work behind your morning cup of tea. I suggest trying to bike through this area as a nice compromise between the closed car and the eternal hiking.

Kigali, a piece of Europeinfo-icon in Eastern Africainfo-icon

I could not miss the opportunity to visit the capital of this remarkable country and I was honestly impressed. Usually, the capitals tend to be different from the rest of the country, but revealing a lot about the common values at the same time. The city is locked between hills and valleys that offer again more and more breathtaking sceneries, which I cannot get enough of.

In comparison to all other Eastern African cities, Kigali feels like a southern European city. The government is clearly putting a lot of effort to maintain a clean and shiny facade. One surprising example is the monthly cleanup tradition that originates from the post-genocide time. This joint public effort used to be part of the punishment for those who confessed to had committed genocide and wanted to have their time in jail reduced. A newer contribution is the law that forces all moped drivers to wear helmets and safety vests. The city centre combines modern architecture with lavish African lifestyle. Cafe Shokola for example in the National Library feels like a bohemian Parisian cafe. Pili-Pili on the other hand, is a posh pizza place with a piano bar and a colourful illuminated swimming pool. With their pizza and outlook over the city, they managed to spread such a fantastic, flamboyant atmosphere that seems like your favourite holiday in Italyinfo-icon. The old city is not really in the city centre, but slightly outside, making it a bit of a shabby suburb, less maintained than the new centre. It is here where I found a local mechanic who repaired my car and made it apt to cross Africa all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Kigali also hosts the mother of all Genocide Memorials, an impressive and educational museum serving as a tribute to more than 500’000 people that become victims. Their remains and photos are gathered there to remind the offspring.

Hills and valleys in Rwanda: in the clean streets of Kigali
Hills and valleys in Rwanda: in the clean streets of Kigali

Maybe you have never thought of Rwanda while planning your next trip. The country is just a dot on the map and still struggling with its past. You don't really see anything about that anymore - except all the creepy memorial sites all over the country. The other effect is, that people seem to have no identity, no unique fingerprint, as they their history has been erased and they had to start all over again. However, they are catching up well and urge to establish at least basic infrastructure and welcome foreign visitors. Rwanda’s nature is exceptionally beautiful and the country is certainly safe enough to spend a fabulous time there.