Known as the “land of a thousand hills,” Rwanda is making the headlines again – and this time, it’s for all the right reasons. With the devastating genocide behind it, this small, landlocked nation has emerged as one of Africa’s most exciting destinations. A tangible sense of optimism resonates from its towns, cities and colourful villages, which welcome foreign visitors with wide smiles and open arms.
The transformation of this country has been remarkable. In 1994 nearly one million inhabitants were slaughtered senselessly in their homes, churches and streets. It was one of the darkest days in modern African history and, at the time, it was almost unthinkable that Rwanda could bounce back.
But is has. In fact the country has even blazed a trail for others to follow, particularly when it comes to gender equality (in 2014 there were more women in parliament here than anywhere else in the world) and conservation.
Indeed the country is a pioneer in eco tourism, which it has used to fund conservation projects such as mountain gorilla protection in the steamy forests of Volcanoes National Park. Trekking to see these endangered primates is the main attraction in Rwanda, where the famous zoologist, Dian Fossey, studied the great apes and inspired the Hollywood film Gorillas in the Mist.
It’s not all about gorillas, though. Nyungwe Forest is one of the largest remaining rainforests in Africa and is home to 13 primates, including chimpanzees and colobus monkeys, as well as rare orchids and nearly 300 species of bird. And, although landlocked, Rwanda still manages to serve up a coastal vibe on the shores of Lake Kivu, with beaches at Gisenyi and coves at Kibuye.
It’s also worth spending a few days in the capital, Kigali: a cool, calm and cosmopolitan city, whose rising skyline reflects the country’s lofty ambitions. Join hip young things in Hillywood, the beating heart of Kigali’s fledgling film industry, or imbibe the vibe in the city’s burgeoning collection of bars, restaurants and hotels, which are helping put this country back on the map.