Rwanda has been quietly fashioning itself as a leader in sustainable tourism. Here are 6 reasons why you should start paying attention!
An ambitious tourism strategy that's paying off
More and more people are searching for a holiday off the beaten track, and Rwanda knows it! In 2000, the government identified a number of gaps in its tourism strategy and set out to rectify them as part of its Vision 2020 program. As far as tourism is concerned, they seem well on their way to achieving their goals.
The focus here is quality over quantity, and Rwanda's greatest asset to tourism is its sublime natural beauty. The country's primary concern is protecting it, not just for tourists but for the planet as a whole. Eco-safaris, eco-lodges and nature adventures for all skill levels and budgets are available here, and most tour operators' main priority is providing a safe, sustainable environment that doesn't sacrifice luxury or comfort.
A wide range of sights and sounds
Rwanda may be landlocked, but after just a few hours in this small country you won't be missing the beach. Lake Kivu is considered one of Africa's Great Lakes and it provides the majority of Rwanda's freshwater fish! The stunning mountain scenery makes it a draw for foreign and local tourists alike. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there's Kigali, proudly holding the unofficial title of the cleanest city in Africa. Rwanda's capital is full of green and recreational public spaces, and has fashioned itself as a hub for regional conferences and events with its gleaming modern buildings and conference centers. Rwanda's national parks and nature reserves are chock-full of diverse flora and fauna, from dense, mountainous rainforests to sweeping savannahs.
They're ahead of the ecotourism curve
Rwanda became one of the first countries in the world to ban single-use plastic bags in 2008, and it seems that was just the beginning. Their focus on sustainable development has extended all the way to the tourism sector, where eco-lodges and eco-tours have become the norm. And there's something for everyone, from luxury accomodation to budget-friendly options. The glitzy Bisate Lodge near Volcanoes National Park is hyper-focused on community based development, spearheading reforestation efforts in the region. Further west on the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo, Cyuza Island's campgrounds are equipped with a compostable toilet and offer fresh meals prepared with ingredients from the garden.
The world famous wildlife
Rwanda is known for its population of mountain gorillas, and it takes their conservation very seriously. Recently, the government increased permits for visiting the gorillas from $750 to $1,500 (about £1,800). The permit allows for one hour of guided gorilla tracking. If you do obtain a gorilla permit, be sure you aren't sick with any kind of viral infection like the cold or flu that can be passed onto the gorillas. If you're belived to be sick, you're not allowed to trek!
If the steep price of visiting is a turn-off, Rwanda is home to more than just the mountain gorillas. Golden monkeys, chimpanzees, crocodiles, hippos and over 600 species of bird also reside in this tiny country. Recently, Akagera National Park in eastern Rwanda has been the sight of considerable rehabilitation efforts. Lions have been reintroduced to the park, and soon five eastern black rhinos will arrive in Rwanda for the same purpose. The rhinos were donated by zoos in Denmark, the UK and the Czech Republic.
The incredible greenery
Volcanoes National Park is known for its five volcanoes, and most of the park is blanketed by a rich carpet of rainforest and bamboo. Due to its varying altitudes, there's a huge range of plant species to be found here. It's by far the most famous park in Rwanda thanks to its mountain gorillas, but did you know that there are at least five other parks and reserves scattered across the country? And each one of them has their own unique biodiversity. Nyungwe Forest in particular is a rich, mountainous rainforest found at the basins of both the Nile and Congo Rivers. It contains several microclimates, over 1,000 plant species, and it's home to the majority of the country's water. Don't just take our word for it. With about 80 miles of hiking trails, it's easy to see most of the forest's majesty for yourself!