Rwanda Community Experience

Music and dance play an important role in the traditions of all Rwanda's peoples .The Rwandan community have a variety of music and dance which range from acts that demonstrate epics commemorating excellence and bravery, humorous lyrics to hunting. If lucky, you may chance upon spontaneous traditional performances in the villages of Rwanda. A more modern form of Rwandan music is the upbeat and harmonious devotional singing that can be heard in any church service around the country. Throughout this tour, you will encounter a wide range of traditional handicrafts produced in rural Rwanda, ranging from ceramics and basketry to traditional woodcarvings and contemporary paintings. A good selection of crafted artifacts can be viewed in the main market or street stalls in Kigali.

Day 1: Arrival. Optional Kigali City Tour. Stay at Camp Kigali

Upon arrival, you will be transferred to a nearby hotel for dinner and overnight.

Day 2: Visit to Nyamata and Ntarama Genocide Memorial Sites. Transfer to Akagera national park. Camping along the picturesque Lake Ihema

The Nyamata Memorial site is located in the Bugasera region. This church and all its contents are a reminder of the horrifying violence that took place at this site during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. When the genocide started in 1994, may people from Nyamata and the surrounding areas came to gather in Nyamata. The Catholic church and nearby houses for the priests and nuns became havens for the frightened people who fled there hoping to escape death. However, according to the testimonies given by survivors, on April 10th 1994, about 10,000 people were killed in and around the area of the Catholic Church. People from all around congregated in the Church and locked the Iron door with a padlock to protect themselves from the marauding killers. Despite this, members of the Interahamwe, the Hutu militia and the Rwandese Government Forces broke down the door and entered the church with their rifles, grenades and machetes, and massacred every one. In memory of all those who lost their lives in Nyamata Church and the surrounding area, the Rwandese Government, in collaboration with the genocide survivors, decided that the Church would be kept as a memorial. The Ntarama Memorial site is just 20 minutes away from the Nyamata Memorial site. It was originally a church before the genocide and was nationalized to serve as a memorial after thousands of people were killed within its four walls. The church itself is similar to that of Nyamata with victims’ clothing and remains visible to offer proof of what happened there. Despite this, Ntarama also has a peaceful memorial garden and wall of names in the back of its compound. We will then have lunch and thereafter, proceed to the Akagera National park.

The Akagera National Park was established in 1934 to protect an area covering 2500 sq km (965 sq miles). By the 1960s, the park formed part of a much larger ecosystem that included Uganda’s Kikagati Game Reserve, Lake Mburo National Park and rangeland areas north to the Katonga River. The Akagera National Park is set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania and it could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterize much of Rwanda. Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland. It is also part of the Lake Victoria regional mosaic of habitats. It has a spectacular landscape of rolling hills, acacia and Combretum woodlands, grasslands, and swamps and lakes following the meandering course of the Akagera River. Akagera is above all a big game country. Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink from the lakes. Giraffe and zebra haunt the savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated Impala, but also the diminutive Oribi and secretive Bushbuck, as well as the ungainly Tsessebe and the world's largest Antelope, the statuesque Cape Eland. Upon arrival, we have a boat ride on Lake Ihema.

Day 3: Game drives in the park, Pastoralists Heritage Experience. Return to campsite for overnight

The Kirara and Kamakaba Plains support the largest concentrations of grazers and their predators: Kamakaba is a favored haunt of defassa waterbucks, and bohor reedbucks; buffaloes seek permanent water on the plains during the dry season; and impalas, topis, plains zebras, and oribis graze further from water. Lions and side striped jackals can be seen stalking at the edges of these plains. Smaller animals here include warthogs, white tailed and marsh mongooses. Hippos can be found along the track that skirts the network of the lakes, channels and swamps on the park’s eastern edge. Crocodiles can also be seen at Plage aux Hippos and basking at Lake Mihindi and Lake Kivumba. Elephants are rarely seen but frequent the Rurama peninsula on Lake Ihema, and the Nyampiki peninsula between Lakes Hago and Kivumba. Africa clawless otters are sometimes seen during the day in sheltered bays, but the African spot-necked otter is mostly nocturnal. The shoebill, the prize bird of the swamps is best sought along the channels connecting Lakes Mihindi, Hago and Gishanju, or Hago and Ngerenke.

Later in the afternoon, we set out for the pastoralist heritage experience. The culture of Rwandan pastoralists has been hereditary since time immemorial; the social characteristics of the Rwandese pastoralists can still be traced in parts of the eastern province in Gatsibo district and Nya-gatare district. The rural life in these villages elegantly and conventionally gives one a very unique experience about the culture of grazing, introduces you to the history and values of cows in Rwanda including the INYAMBO cows which were very significant in many cultural festivals brought up by the Kigwa. The beauty of a cow is exhibited in the cultural dances of Rwanda. You will visit the pastoralist village where you will observe and participate in the tradition of cattle grazing; get ready to make your own traditional rain coat from grass, you will learn how to milk with your own hands, without the help of machines. After milking, the pastoralist will show you different calabashes used in preserving milk and the qualification it takes to make one; this goes in line with the norms of handling calabashes, drinking milk etc. Milk is used in different ways for example sometimes it is taken fresh after milking, or fermented to make yoghurt in a traditional way and also the unforgettable experience of making ghee which ends with cooking local food with your own ghee! We may also visit some monuments left behind by the former kings.

Day 4: Transfer to Butare visiting Nyanza King’s Palace en route. Stay at Hotel Ineza

On this day, we drive to Butare having lunch en route. On the way, we visit Nyanza ancient royal Palace. The Nyanza Royal Palace is now called Rwesero Art Museum. It was constructed as a Palace for King Mutara III Rudahigwa, but was converted into an art museum. It was, until 1961, the seat of Rwanda’s Mwami (King) and center of the country’s power and authority. It is now the home of the National Ballet (part of the famous Intore Dancers) which has won many music and dance international awards. You will be entertained by the Intore Dancers. Founded several centuries ago, the Intore - literally 'The Chosen Ones' - once performed exclusively for the Royal Court, but today their exciting act can be arranged at short notice. The traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga, a harp-like instrument with eight strings. More celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members, and collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms.

Day 5: Visit Nyanza Butare national museum, later transfer to Nyungwe Forest national park. Stay at Nyungwe campsite

The Butare National Museum is a fine and artistically designed building that houses the historical past and present day events of Rwanda. It was donated in 1989 by the Belgium Government and gave back a part of the ethnographic collection which was acquired during the colonial period. Butare National Museum’s design and concept was realized in cooperation with the Royal Museum for Central Africa of Tervuren, Belgium. The Museum is housed in a modern building with different sections. It displays a wide collection of monochrome pictures, traditional artifacts, and objects, tools and different craft products. Ethnographic objects are grouped together according to the theme giving premium information on the daily life. We will have lunch at Hotel Ibis and relax. In the afternoon, if time permits, we will visit the National University of Rwanda and tour the Ruhande Arboretum. The National University of Rwanda is by far the largest University in Rwanda. It was established in 1963 by the Rwandese Government in cooperation with the Congregation of the Dominicans from the Province of Quebec. At the time it was established, the University had three divisions namely; Faculty of Medicine, Faculty of Social Sciences and a Teacher Training College. It only had 51 students and 16 lecturers. The National University of Rwanda suffered badly during the period of the genocide and therefore had to close in 1994, reopening in April 1995. English was introduced as a medium of instruction alongside French, at that time. Currently, it focuses on Science and Technology and Humanities. Later we transfer to Nyungwe forest national park.

Day 6: Chimpanzee tracking in the forest. Visit to the Tea plantation. Stay at Nyungwe campsite

We set off very early driving towards Cyamudongo forest for Chimpanzee trekking. Cyamudongo forest is a small relic forest covering an area of 6 sq km. Historically, it was connected to the Nyungwe forest but its vegetation is denser, with fewer clearings. Cyamudongo forest harbors a good population of Chimpanzees and L’Hoest’s monkey. Other primates to look out for include Vervet Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, Olive Baboons, and Mona Monkeys. The forest is also listed as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birdlife International. Bird species to look out for here include the Great Blue Turacco, Ruwenzori and Ross’ Turacco, White Starred Robin, and other endemics. Common tree species that you will find here include Chrysophyllum gorungosanum, Croton spp., Newtonia buchananii, Alangium chinense and Leptonychia melanocarpa. We will then proceed to Bugarama Hot Water Springs, where we will have our picnic lunch. Later we visit the nearby Gisakura Tea Plantation. You will be taken through the plantation, facilities, and a tasting session.

Day 7: Transfer to Kibuye and Lake Kivu. Visit Bisesero Genocide Memorial en route. Stay at campsite

The beautiful mountain setting with breathtaking views of Lake Kivu is in sharp contrast to the violence that happened there during Rwanda’s 1994 genocide. Historically, the majority of the people who lived in Bisesero were Tutsis, whose main activity was cattle breeding. They were called Abasesero, from where this mountainous region derived its name. During the genocide of 1994, people in other prefectures were decimated because of their small numbers and also the use of traditional handheld weapons whereas the Tutsis, who lived in Bisesero and the surrounding region, gathered to resist the killers. They were successful for some days because they chose the top of a hill on which there were many rocks. These rocks they threw at the advancing attackers armed with clubs and machetes. The only disadvantage was that they were fighting with sticks against well-armed and trained soldiers.

After many days of resistance, Hutu reinforcements from the Republican Guard in Kigali and the Interahamwe militiamen organized a serious attack against the Tutsis at Bisesero. Under this new assault, the people of Bisesero couldn’t resist for very long and thus succumbed to the massacre hence the genocide. According to testimonies of the survivors, only a few Tutsis who lived in Bisesero escaped. During this onslaught, almost 50,000 people from the region were slaughtered. The Bisesero Genocide Memorial Site is composed of nine small buildings which represent the nine communes that formerly made up the province of Kibuye. This site, where the memorial has been built, is now called the “Hill of Resistance” because of the heroic resistance put up by the people of Bisesero against their assassins.

Day 8: Transfer to Gisenyi – Visit the fishing villages, hot springs, and also interact with the locals at the DRC border. Stay at a budget hotel

In Gisenyi, we will visit the Gisenyi fishing village. This is a chance for you to encounter the local people including fisher men, and also the residents of Idjwi Island (Congo) who row long distances in their dug-out canoes to visit the Rwanda market. Idjwiis an island in Lake Kivu that belongs to the Democratic Republic of Congo. At 40 km in length and with an area of 285 sq km, it is believed to be the largest inland island in Africa, and the eighth largest in the world. Idjwi is roughly equidistant between the DRC and Rwanda, with 10 to 15 km separating its western shore from the DRC mainland and a similar distance between its eastern shore and the coastline of Rwanda. The island's southern tip, however, lies only 1 km from a promontory of the Rwandan coast. Gisenyi is also home to volcanic hot springs that are believed by the local residents to have mystical healing powers. The hot springs are little bubbling puddles of a warm sulphur-smelling liquid. You may also wander the leafy streets of Gisenyi marveling at old colonial buildings.

Day 9: Transfer to Parc National des Volcans – Ruhengeri. Stay at a rural home for dinner and overnight

After breakfast, we drive to the district of Musanze which was formerly called Ruhengeri and towards Parc National des Volcans. It is a small town of about 70,000 people who are very friendly and welcoming. Most of the Rwandese living in these parts are subsistence farmers. We may climb up one of the hills on the edge of the town and once on top you have a beautiful view of the city with hazy outlines of volcanoes in different directions. Ruhengeri is where Parc National des Volcans is located. Eminent primatologist Dian Fossey wrote that “In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat, are great old volcanoes towering up almost 15000ft, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest- the Virungas. Parc National des Volcans, also called Volcanoes National park, protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range- another home of the rare mountain gorilla- and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. Other volcanoes that can be seen from the hilltops of this small but beautiful town include Karisimbi, Bisoke, Mikeno, Sabyinyo, Mgahinga and Muhabura volcanoes.

Upon arrival, interact freely with the locals, learning about the Rwandan way of drumming, singing and dancing. Stay at a rural home for dinner and overnight.

Day 10: Gorilla tracking. Stay at a rural home for dinner and overnight

After breakfast, you will go for Gorilla tracking in the Parc National des Volcans. It consists of 125 sq km of montane forest and it is also home to the six Virunga Volcanoes and the world famous mountain gorillas. The lushly forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world; gorilla tracking. The exhilarating climb to the gorilla’s natural habitat of shady bamboo forest will offer you fantastic views in all directions, before you are immersed in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and the chattering of the rare golden monkey. Gorilla tracking through the forest, hills and swamps can be tough, arduous and tiring, sometimes taking up to 8 hours in the forest. But coming face to face with the great primates is well worth the effort. Nothing can prepare you for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, which is up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors.

After lunch, we visit the beautiful twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. Lakes Burera and Ruhondo are often neglected gems: deep blue waters ringed by steep hills and tall waterfalls, with the outlines of the nearby Virunga Volcanoes providing a spectacular backdrop. You will also find that away from the main resorts, the lake circuits offer rewarding glimpses into a more ancient rural Rwandan community experience, as fishermen ply the water in dugout canoes unchanged in design for many centuries, colourfully dressed ladies smoke traditional wooden pipes, and troubadours strum sweetly on stringed iningire (traditional guitars). The bird life around the lakes is also fantastic: flotillas of Pelicans, majestic Crowned Cranes, jewel-like Malachite Kingfishers, and much else besides.

Day 11: Whole day interacting with the locals. Stay at a rural home for dinner and overnight

Learn about Rwandans’ tradition of cooking in a family, acquire lessons in sorghum and banana beer production, visit a nearby street children’s project, visit a women cooperative society and buy their beautiful handicrafts made out banana fiber.

Day 12: Transfer to Kigali. Spend the afternoon buying souvenirs for loved ones back home. Stay at Camp Kigali

Day 13: Departure