I have always wanted to visit Rwanda, tales of its clean streets and lanky gentlemen being a perennial draw. As my driver sped from Kigali International Airport to Nyarutarama, it was pleasantly evident that the reports were absolutely true – the streets are super clean, devoid of any litter or potholes. Motorists drive on the right hand side of the road from the left side of their vehicles. Also having arrived in the country at about mid-day, there was neither human traffic nor a vehicle snarl-up as would have been the case back home. Tens of ‘motos’, boda bodas as we know them in Kenya, speeding past the vehicle reminds me that this is still East Africa.
With only a day to explore the city, I start my exploits at the Kigali Genocide Museum. The ethnic war against the Tutsis that took place in Rwanda between April and July 1994 was an agonisingly tragic period in the country’s history. It takes walking along the winding corridors of the museum reading about the events of those 100 days from framed photos and captions to understand why Rwanda is what she is today – a safe, peaceful and united nation. After a morning spent at the museum and shopping at Caplaki (like our Masai Market), chowing down on ugali and nyama choma at Carwash Bistro & Grill is the perfect way to re-energize. The bistro, formerly owned by a Kenyan, offers a cozy ambiance and an entertaining selection of music, which makes it a great place to while an afternoon and evening away. A drive through Kigali at night is a must. The city gleams at night, what with the Kigali Convention Centre coming alive in national colours and the lights from neighbourhoods and suburbs sparkling especially when seen from on top one of Kigali’s many hills.
The drive from Kigali to Gisenyi takes four hours meandering in excellent roads through green vegetation, clear rivers and villages in scenes straight out of a postcard. Gisenyi is a beach destination located west of Rwanda where Lake Kivu, a freshwater lake in the Albertine Rift Valley, flows. I spend the evening frolicking in the lake and lounging at the small private beach at the Inzozi Beach Hotel. As I leave the area the next day, we pass by Bralirwa Brewery, the largest brewery in Rwanda which produces global beer brands Heineken and Amstel as well as local favourites Primus and Mutzig.
Gisenyi is a border town, located about a kilometre away from the Rwanda and DRC border. There are two borders points – the grande border used by tourists and dignitaries and the petite border used by traders and ordinary folk. The petite border is said to be the busiest in Africa with women carrying loads on their heads, young men looking to make a few coins by helping the women, money changers and moto drivers crossing it every day.
On my way back to Kigali, I choose to overnight in Musanze found at the foothills of the Volcanoes National Park. The park is dominated by the Virunga massifs, a series of mountains that run between Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. Rwanda’s biggest attraction, the endangered mountain gorilla, lives in these mountains. For US$ 1,500 you can track and spend an hour in the presence of one of the gorilla families, a captivating wildlife encounter. Due to its location, Musanze’s weather is cool and rainy and it starts drizzling as we drive to the park headquarters found in Kinigi. On the way, we pass the grounds where the annual gorilla naming ceremony Kwita Izina takes place. The event, presided by the head of state, assigns names to new born gorilla infants, a centuries old Rwandan tradition.
With deliberate strategies in tourism, industry and technology, Rwanda has risen from a troubled past to become East Africa’s premier destination. Given that Kenyan citizens only require an ID to get into Rwanda, thanks to the East African partnership, what’s stopping you from travelling to the land of a thousand hills?