“A lush green world filled by dramatic mountains that tumble and twist as they roll across Central Africa… a land where the colours seem brighter than in other places. Its true, Rwanda is beautiful. You should go there.” – Travel writer James Bowyer in the Footprint magazine, June 2000.
In colonial times, Rwanda was dubbed the Land of a Thousand Hills, a reference to the thrilling beauty of its rolling mountainous landscapes.
After independence, this small Central African nation leaped to fame as the adopted home of Dian Fossey: the Land of Gorillas in the Mist, the rare mountain gorillas whose range is restricted to the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes.
Today, Rwanda is remembered simply as the Land of the Genocide – the site of a senseless massacre which dominated world headlines over the latter part of 1994.
The genocide is history. Recent history, perhaps, but history all the same. Peace was restored in 1995, and over subsequent years Rwanda has blossomed in an atmosphere of renewed political stability and steady economic growth. Meanwhile, the thousand hills are still there every last one of them – and so, too, are the mountain gorillas, those gentle giants of the Virungas, living tranquilly in their misty mountain home.
Only ten years ago, Rwanda was Africa’s premier destination for gorilla trekking, a status it is set to reclaim as it retreats from the front-page news to bask in the more glamorous surrounds of the glossy travel supplements. And tracking the magnificent mountain gorilla through the lush slopes of the Rwandan Volcanoes National Park remains without question the most thrilling and moving wildlife experience to be had on the world’s wildest continent.
Yet there is so much more to Rwanda than gorillas. Take Akagera National Park, for instance, a mesmerising tract of untrammelled African wilderness, where elephants still have the right of way, and vast numbers of hippo and crocodile languish along tree-lined lakes. Or Nyungwe Natural Forest, the largest extant tract of montane forest in East or Central Africa, home to chimpanzees, troops of 400-plus colobus monkeys, and hundreds of rare forest birds. Then there is Lake Kivu, an ocean-like freshwater expanse hemmed in by the dramatic mountains of the Rift Valley; the dramatic volcanic cones of the Virungas; the secret delights of myriad forest-fringed waterfalls…
Best-known for its wealth of primates, Rwanda is also one of Africa’s top birding countries, where an incredible 670 different species have been recorded within an area intermediate to that of Wales and Belgium. For amateur botanists, the gorgeous wildflowers of the forests and mountains are capped by more than 100 orchid species in Nyungwe alone, as well as the other-worldly giant lobelia, a floral refugee from a science-fiction film set.
Rwanda, in a nutshell, is a nature-lover’s paradise. It is also one of the friendliest of nations: the warm welcome complemented by comfortable facilities, fine food, and a rich cultural heritage.
Rwanda, we know, is a country with a past. More important than that, however it is a nation renascent, a country looking to its future – one in which it will surely claim its rightful place as one of the world’s finest ecotourism destinations.