Rwanda topped the emerging destinations category in the 2017 Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards. Brit Hemming lists five more reasons why it should be top of your travel list
Kigali, Africa's cleanest city. (Dreamstime)
The 1994 war and genocide in Rwanda is now well and truly in the past, and the country is the safest in East Africa. Crime rates are low. Chances are you will feel safer walking down the street at night in Kigali than you will back home.
It’s clean, too. Kigali is rated one of the cleanest cities in the world. The streets of the capital are spotless. One day every month, Rwandans take part in Umuganda, a day when all of the shops are closed and everyone performs community service, whether that be fixing a neighbour’s fence, digging a ditch, picking up rubbish or fixing the road.
Rwandans are friendly too. If you need directions, just ask. More often than not, the person you ask will take time out of their day to walk you to your destination to make sure you get where you are going.
Tea plantation in Kinihira (Dreamstime)
Coffee is one of Rwanda’s biggest exports, renowned for its delicate aroma with a hint of citrus. The rich volcanic soil of the Rwandan hills is perfect for coffee plantations, and since the war ended, the industry has been a driving force in both the economy and changing people’s lives. Check out the Kula Project and you’ll see what I mean.
Tea is another export industry that's booming. As you pass through the countryside, you will be struck by the vibrant green tea fields that span the hills for miles. Stop and ask politely and you will often get a tour and a tasting for free.
The food in Rwanda is excellent too. The produce in the markets is fresh and good – make sure you try the pineapple and tree tomatoes – and there are always new restaurants popping up in Kigali. Indian food, traditional Rwandan cuisine or five-star dining.... Whatever you fancy, you’ll find it in Kigali. Just save some space for pastries from Brioche Bakery, which are always fresh and delicious.
Wildlife in Akagera National Park (Dreamstime)
Trekking in Parc National de Volcans to see the mountain gorillas is one of the main reasons why people come to Rwanda. The spectacular park, set amongst the Virunga mountains, is home to one of the largest groups of these endangered primates. Seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitats is certainly an experience you’ll never forget.
There are other national parks in Rwanda too, and efforts are underway to return them to their former glory. Tucked away in the north east of the country, and opened in 1934, Akagera National Park has been quietly rebuilding its stock of large plains game species. Lions were reintroduced last year and there are plans to reintroduce black rhino too, restoring the park’s ‘Big 5’ status.
If monkeys are more your thing, head south to the dense forests of Nyungwe National Park. Covering over 1,000 square kilometres of pristine mountain rainforest, the park is home to 25% of all primates in Africa, including chimpanzees, and East Africa’s only canopy walkway.
African sculpture in Butare (Dreamstime)
Butare, in the south of the country, is a city of artists. From painting to metal working and basket weaving, there are numerous co-ops working in and around the city producing beautiful works of art.
Visitors are always welcome and the money from anything you buy usually goes straight to the artist. Make sure you drop by the National University of Rwanda and the National Museum of Rwanda while you’re there.
There’s also a small but vibrant fashion scene in Kigali. One of best known labels is Mille Collines, started by two Spanish designers who trained who work with local artisans to produce beautiful and elegant clothing with a subtle African flair.
Other Rwandan designers to check out include Colombe Ituze Ndutiye of INCO, accessory designer Teta Isibo of Inzuki Designs and Candy Basomingera and Linda Mukangoga of Haute Baso.
Papyrus dandy showing off his threads (Papyrus Nightclub)
Whether you are looking for live music, karaoke or just somewhere to dance, Kigali has it all. For a fun and unpretentious atmosphere, try Papyrus in the Kimihurura district of Kigali. The DJs are great and there’s an amazing view of the city from the balcony.
For karaoke, it’s got to be the Car Wash, back in the city, for cheap drinks, good food and a great vibe.
For something a little more local and unrestrained, head to Nyamirambo, the coolest neighbourhood in Kigali, and do some bar hopping. There are plenty of options and the party usually doesn’t stop until the sun comes up.
The Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards 2017 are sponsored by The Money Shop who offer great rates on foreign exchange all day, every day, with over 50 different currencies available at 0% commission. Travel money can be purchased in-store, or you can order online with a click and collect service; and pick up from your local store, or have it delivered straight to your door.
Brit Hemming is a front-end developer, educator, digital nomad and travel blogger. She is passionate about women’s development and has worked on numerous empowerment projects in Rwanda. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Stay Curious Darling.
Main image: Mountain gorillas in Rwanda (Dreamstime)