Why Rwanda Is One of Africa’s Most Underrated Destinations
Explorer in Residence, Dan Grec, discovers surprises around every corner traveling through Rwanda.
After a straightforward border crossing from Burundi, I set out to explore rural southwestern Rwanda, and I’m immediately impressed. The main roads are extremely good pavement, and are spotlessly clean. It’s such a shock it takes me a while to process. Not even once, ever, do I see a single solitary piece of trash. Rwanda is much, much cleaner than anywhere I have ever been in my life – Australia, Canada, Europe – they don’t hold a candle to Rwanda. I also see teams of “community helpers” working in their neighbourhood to keep things shipshape. People are weeding the side of the roads, sweeping footpaths and painting buildings.
When I arrive at Chimerwa Hot Springs, I know I have found something special. This isn’t a hot spring, so much as a hot lake. Hot water bubbles into the huge lake from below, and the entire area is extremely well-manicured gardens and grass. In places the lake is much too hot to swim, though friendly locals are happy to show me exactly where it’s possible to soak, and even fully swim. The lake flows out into a river that stretches for hundreds and hundreds of yards through the lush valley, at times creating hot waterfalls.
Like all of Rwanda the capital city of Kigali is extremely clean and organized, and the skyline of towering glass skyscrapers is very modern.
No visit to Rwanda would be complete without a visit to the extremely gut-wrenching Genocide Memorial, just outside the city center. I feel an enormous range of emotions as I move through the building reading about the conditions that lead up to the genocide, what actually transpired, the aftermath and how the world responded.
It’s heartwarming to see how Rwandans have come together to grieve, forgive, and build their country into the great success it now clearly is. It’s painfully obvious they never want to forget the genocide, but rather keep it close to their hearts to remember lost ones, and to make sure nothing like it can happen again.
I make my way to the northwest corner of the country, which borders both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here all three countries have declared National Parks to protect the mountain gorillas that live within. I decide to take an easy day hike on the Dian Fossey Memorial Trail, which winds up into the mountains. Secretly I’m hoping to bump into a group of mountain gorillas without having the pay the outrageous fees Rwanda asks.
Early in the morning I realize I’m the only person on the hike today, so my guide rides in the Jeep and we chat about various aspects of life in Rwanda on the drive to the trailhead. This close to the border a military escort is mandatory, due to unpredictable buffalo, elephants and the possibility of unfriendly people dropping in from the DRC. The military men all carry AK-47s, and they look like they know how to use them. The hike is steep and climbs directly into the dense jungle and enormous trees.
When we arrive at Dian’s camp I completely understand why she chose to live here in the mountains with the gorillas. For a magical hour, I feel as if ‘the world’ is a thousand miles away.
After only scratching the surface of this fascinating country I can clearly see Rwandans have united as one people and are quickly turning their country into the pride of East Africa.
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