Looking for things to do in Rwanda? Look no further! Here’s a list of 14 activities you simply must do when visiting the Land of a Thousand Hills.
In June 2017, Harrison and I spent two weeks in Rwanda. Four days in Kigali, and the rest of the time exploring the country.
In those weeks, we saw so many beautiful things, met so many wonderful people, and got to be totally immersed in nature.
So after months of research and two weeks in Rwanda, I’ve compiled a list of 14 things you simply must do when visiting Rwanda.
1. Fazenda Sengha
If you love horses and love great views, Fazenda Sengha is a must when in Kigali. You can take a taxi up some rocky ground on Mount Kigali until you reach this horse ranch.
For 50,000 RWF (2017 pricing), two people get an hour long trail ride.
You’ll have a guide or two to show you the best views on horseback.
Definitely wear pants, and then you can borrow riding shoes and you must wear a helmet. You’ll go in a circle on the mountain until you reach the ranch again.
The horses are overall well behaved. At the end, mine didn’t want to go back down to the ranch, so started trying to walk away, but the guides got him to obey in the end.
Expect your legs to be sore the next day! We actually planned our gorilla trek for the following day, so had twice the soreness! But it was definitely worth it!
Akagera National Park is the only safari you can do in Rwanda.
While it is not quite as big as more popular safaris, it is still considered a Big 5 Safari. If you’re not going to Kenya or Tanzania as part of your trip, it’s definitely worth it to go to Akagera!
You won’t see a ton of lions (which is definitely what I’d look forward to most on a safari!), you’ll see plenty of hippos, zebras, some giraffes, a few elephants, wildebeest, and a lion if you’re extremely lucky.
I’d definitely recommend doing a tour because you don’t need to worry about driving and instead can enjoy the view the whole time.
What to expect:
It is a six hour drive from the South entrance (which is the only entrance) to the North exit (the only exit).
If you do a tour, you’ll get to be in a legit safari car, where the top lifts off and you can stand and enjoy the view!
One thing to watch out for is the dreaded Tse tse fly, which looks like a giant fly and can leave a welt if it bites you. They are attracted to navy blue and black, so avoid those colors!
Park officials have been proactive about the flies and have set up Tse tse traps throughout the park: blue and black tarps that are supposed to bring the flies away from you.
More Akagera details:
There are little picnic areas where you can get out of your car. Be sure to bring food because there are no cafes in the park- only the little coffee shop at the entrance.
Other than the picnic areas, you are not allowed to get out of your vehicle. There are no fences within the park, and you never know when an angry hippo is going to charge you.
We used Kagera Safaris and absolutely loved our experience. We had a driver and a guide, and they brought a pack of waters for us.
On that note- there are a few bathrooms throughout the park, so don’t worry about that 🙂
My all time favorite part of our safari was standing up in our car with the wind on my face, looking over miles and miles of beautiful terrain.
3. Gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking is one of the things Rwanda is best known for. There are mountain gorillas in only three countries: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Since the DRC is known for it’s instability and danger, most people spend time in Rwanda and Uganda.
In Rwanda, the mountain gorillas are at Volcanoes National Park on the north. The park borders the Congo, which means the gorillas actually can roam freely between Rwanda and the DRC. However, because the DRC poses a threat, they typically stay in Rwanda.
The Rwandan park officials take great care of the gorillas. They live in their natural habitat, are free to move as they please, but the park trackers protect them from any traps or poachers. Both of these things are illegal in Rwanda, but have been an issue in the gorillas’ history.
Trekking permits cost $1500 per person- but they are so worth it if you can afford it!
You must get your permit well in advance as there are a limited number of permits per day.
You’ll be put in a group of eight and assigned one of twelve gorilla tribes on the day of your trek.
That all happens at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters at the entrance in Ruhengeri. Here you’ll be welcomed with songs and dancing, you’ll meet your group and guide, then be sent out to your respective tribe’s location.
The actual trek:
The gorilla families could be really far away from park headquarters, which is totally normal. Our group drove about an hour away to start our trek.
Then we hiked for 2.5 hours until we saw our gorillas.
The trek length varies depending on where your family is, but supposedly the time can range from 1 hour to 5 hours.
Park officials know where the families are because of the trackers. When you reach your family, you get one hour with them. There is definitely no touching allowed (human disease is the number one killer of gorillas! If you are sick you will not be allowed to trek). But sometimes the younger gorillas come up to you!
Photos are 100% allowed and encouraged.
The guides actually can communicate with the gorillas through making noises. So it is actually very safe- you are able to respect the gorillas and know if your presence is welcome.
4. Golden monkey trekking
We didn’t get to do the golden monkey trekking while in Rwanda, but if you’re staying near Volcanoes National Park for more than a day, add this to your list!
It only costs $100, which is considerably cheaper than gorilla trekking.
Just keep in mind that there isn’t enough time to do both treks on the same day as there is only one golden monkey tour each day.
5. Eat out
When people think of famous cuisines, Rwandan food isn’t really something you think of.
But don’t worry- there is so much delicious food in this country.
We ate out for every meal (except for the bag lunch we brought on our safari), and I absolutely loved it.
My favorite Rwandan food is called Sambaza, pictured here. These little fish are so dang tasty when they are fried!
Some of our favorite restaurants in Kigali were Heaven, The Hut, Bourbon Cafe (we would go to Bourbon every morning for lattes), Papyrus, Le Panorama (at Hotel des Mille Collines) and an incredible Indian restaurant called Khana Khazana.
And while we were traveling outside of Kigali, we ate at hotels mainly, since they accepted credit cards and we were tight on RWF.
While staying at Inzu Lodge at Lake Kivu, each morning Harrison would have “The American” breakfast, pictured below. Literally the most delicious breakfast each morning!
The biggest things to note when eating in Rwanda:
- Your food could take up to nearly an hour to arrive. This is totally normal. In fact, go ahead and expect it, and enjoy your leisurely slow paced vacation!
- If you are not eating at a hotel, and are eating at a local restaurant, beware: if you order fish, you might get a full fish, fins, head, and all. This happened to us and we had no idea how to eat it, so gave it to our driver, Emile. He loved it!
6. Hotel des Mille Collines
When in Kigali, we stayed at the Hotel des Mille Collines. This hotel is renowned for being “Hotel Rwanda.”
We watched Hotel Rwanda before going to Rwanda. It tells the story of how the manager of the Mille Collines took in a ton of refugees during the genocide.
Some of the friends we made in Rwanda warned us that it’s not the full story, but it does accurately portray the state of violence and true destruction in Rwanda during the genocide.
Anyway, it is truly incredible to be in the Mille Collines because regardless of the story is fully true or not, it is still true that many refugees sought safety in this hotel.
It is a four-star hotel with a gorgeous lobby and pool. The rooms could use a bit of a refresh, but overall the hotel was wonderful.
We actually stayed at the Mille Collines twice- once before our Gorilla Trek/Lake Kivu trip, and then once after.
When we returned for our second stay, the hotel manager had left a little note thanking us for returning, and they had left a tray of fruit and chocolates! So sweet!
7. Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is a gigantic lake on the northwest border of Rwanda.
Shared by the Congo, you can easily see it from Gisenyi, the area we stayed in at Lake Kivu.
It is the biggest body of water in Rwanda, and it is incredibly beautiful.
We had a driver, Emile, who drove us all around Rwanda (from Kigali to the gorilla trekking in Ruhengeri to Lake Kivu, and back).
There are a lot of boat tours offered at Lake Kivu, and fortunately we got a great deal with Emile by our side. He negotiated for us, and seemed to know everyone! It was so sweet of him- and definitely a perk to hiring a driver!
We hired him through Kigali Car Rentals– we definitely recommend using them! It is so different from car rentals here in America where you feel like you are constantly getting ripped off!
While in Lake Kivu, we did some glamping at Inzu Lodge.
The lodge offers tent-style rooms or a bungalow.
We opted for the bungalow, but look at how awesome these tents are!!
The prices are absolutely incredible and you get a gorgeous view to go with it.
I mean, talk about this view!!
Keep in mind that you are glamping- so don’t expect flushing toilets or high-tech showers. Being in the bungalow, we had our own bathroom and shower, which was nice.
The restaurant at Inzu Lodge is also fantastic, but again, expect a wait for your food! You can order it in advance if you want your food more quickly.
9. Hot springs
A really neat feature about Lake Kivu is the hot springs.
You can take a boat to the hot springs, but Emile knew how to navigate there by car.
It was all so informal and so cheap- basically you just pay a tiny fee along with a tip.
We had locals giving us intense foot, leg, and arm massages in the hot springs.
I’d definitely recommend this at Lake Kivu!
It doesn’t take too long, so you can squeeze it into any itinerary.
10. Pfunda tea plantation
Our driver, Emile, insisted on taking us to the Pfunda Tea Plantation because of the stunning views it offered.
Funnily enough, when we got to Inzu Lodge and looked at the list of things to do, Pfunda was on it, but for a price! Emile took us there and we wandered around at no cost. Another perk to having a driver!
And check out this stunning view…
African Tea actually turned out to be my favorite drink in Rwanda! Especially when spiced with a bit of ginger.
This milky tea is so full of flavor and feels so nice going down! (I like to drink mine hot!)
It was really neat seeing where it came from! We saw the workers harvesting the leaves. There were endless fields of tea plants lining the hills- a beautiful sight.
11. Historical sites
Unfortunately, one of the things that Rwanda is best known for is the genocide that tore the country apart in 1994.
Since then, this country has healed tremendously and now there are many places that you can visit to remember what took place and see just how devastating it was.
Here’s an article that shares the best historic sites to visit in Rwanda.
Umuganda is a monthly community service day special to Rwanda.
In the aftermath of the genocide, Umuganda allows the Rwandan people to serve their communities together in harmony.
We were able to participate in Umganda because we were working with a wonderful ministry, Best Family Rwanda.
It is through BFR that we sponsor our precious girl, Sonia. We got to meet her while we were there!
Since we happened to be in Rwanda on the Saturday of Umuganda, we joined our friends Imanuel, Jean Claude, and Pauline.
To our surprise, when we arrived at the Umuganda site in Pauline’s community, the Rwandan President, Kagame, was coming to speak!
So actually instead of working, we waited for His Excellency to arrive.
After a few hours of waiting and hanging out with our new friends, we finally got to see Kagame and hear him speak.
Definitely a memorable Umuganda experience!
13. Local shopping
I absolutely love bringing home something new and local from my travels.
There is plenty of shopping at amazing prices in Rwanda.
The purse I’m holding here has become my all time favorite bag, and was only $20! It’s a gorgeous handwoven piece of art!
We also picked up some gorgeous circular goat fur rugs- woven together to make a star pattern.
14. Chimpanzee trekking
This is one thing we also didn’t get to do, but would be a really amazing experience if you have the time.
Chimpanzee trekking is located in the southwestern forest of Nyungwe.
Like the golden monkeys, permits also cost $100.
But if you’re choosing between gorilla trekking and golden monkey/chimpanzee trekking, DEFINITELY choose gorilla trekking if you can. It truly is an experience like no other!
And #15 as a bonus… Relax!!
Above all, when you’re on vacation, don’t forget to relax.
Like I mentioned earlier- don’t get antsy when your food takes an hour! Enjoy this new culture and new environment!
The Hotel des Mille Collines made it so easy to relax if you can tell here!
So read a book, lay by the pool, make new friends.
This list is not all-inclusive and I left out a few common things (like visiting the Genocide Museum), but I hope you get the chance to do all of these!
Enjoy your travels, and comment below if you have a favorite thing to do in Rwanda that isn’t mentioned here!
P.S. Heading to Rwanda? Don’t miss these posts!
- If you want to see our exact itinerary, check out this post!
- If you’re planning a trip to Africa, head over to this post on 14 things you can’t afford to forget for your trip to Africa!
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