By Amos Ang, image by FunOnline
Nicknamed the “Land of a Thousand Hills” for its mountainous terrain, this (relatively) tiny nation nestled in the central-eastern part of Africa has done much in the span of two decades to step out of the shadow of its regrettable past. Perhaps most tellingly, is the rise of its tourism numbers, most of whom come to see its famous gorillas.
Situated a little outside its capital Kigali is Mbyo, a village with a fascinating background that belies its humble appearance. Comprising of about 60 families, it is one of several Reconciliation Villages – set up by officials to do what its name suggests – repair the divide between the Hutus and Tutsis after the horrific genocide. Guided tours and first hand interaction with the villagers make for an interesting way to spend the day.
Lying west of Kigali is one of Africa’s Great Lakes – Lake Kivu, which separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The beautiful lakeside towns of Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi serve as the perfect transit point for delving into Rwanda’s wilder side, with Nygungwe National Park lying further south, and the Volcanoes National Park (VNP) just an hour’s drive to the north.
Named for the 6 volcanoes that line the Virunga Valley, the VNP is most famous for silverback gorillas; a species once headed for extinction but is now slowly recovering under the efforts of Gorilla Doctors – an NPO dedicated to preserving the health of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. A gorilla trek will take you face to face with these gentle giants in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a baby or two. Their earnest expression, along with their cuddly disposition, make them a perennial favourite of trekkers.
At Nygungwe National Park, keep your eyes peeled for the Lhotse and Ruwenzori Colobus monkey with its distinctive white mane and jet black mohawk strip of fur, styled by Mother Nature herself. The park is also home to over 300 bird species of every shape and size imaginable, their cacophonic calls often louder than a jackhammer in Singapore’s CBD.
If you’re more into an African-style safari, make a beeline for Akagera National Park on the eastern edge of Rwanda. Its landscape of savannahs, plains and woodland is populated familiar creatures, from the graceful giraffe to the scavenging hyena.
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