If you've ever seen the film 'Hotel Rwanda', you'll know all about the corner of Africa that was once the victim of one of the world's most famous mass genocides. Things have changed a lot since then, though, and Rwanda is fast becoming one of the continent's most appetizing destinations. Teeming with bamboo and dense jungle, sloping volcanoes and the last remaining population of rare mountain gorillas (by far the biggest draw), Rwanda’s rainforests and charismatic towns make it a colorful and impressive African experience.
Of course, you’re unlikely to even set foot in Rwanda without visiting those mountain gorillas. They reside in the Parc Nacional Des Volcans, amongst seven towering volcanoes. You’ll need one of 40 daily permits to allow your guide to lead you into the misty forests, tiptoeing along as you track the lumbering beasts, and hopefully stumbling across them in a bamboo clearing, munching slowly on a cane and cleaning each other’s hair.
If you have the stomach for Rwanda’s darker side, The Kigali Memorial Center - built on the site of a grave of a quarter of a million - is both horrifying and educational, and will leave even the most heartless with a lump in the throat and a tear in the eye, especially with the international genocide exhibitions showing that Rwanda’s mid 90s problems are hardly a one off.
It’s not all about death and gorillas, though. Gisenyi surprises with untouched lakeside beaches and crystal waters to explore, and makes a great relaxing final stop where you can set up a table at the waterside, snack on Nile Perch and throw back a shot of konyagi, the toxic local firewater. Butare is widely seen as Rwanda’s intellectual capital, and is home to numerous archaeological exhibits, while capital Kilgali – draped across Rwanda’s magical slopes – has a bubbling nightlife and some magnificent hilly views.
Although Rwanda’s political situation has improved dramatically in recent years, it is still some way short of completely stable, and certain areas are best avoided. Always check the latest in advance of departure. Take care, though, and you’re unlikely to encounter any major problems. Besides, can you really resist climbing volcanoes and trailing through the jungle like a gorilla-frenzied Tarzan?