Think you know Rwanda? Think again. From gender equality to environmental conservation, this small East African nation is full of fascinating facts and surprises that will wow even the most knowledgeable traveler.

Women make up 64% percent of the Rwandan parliament

As governments around the world are under fire for unequal gender representation in politics, the Rwandan government is way ahead of the game. In a ranking of countries by the World Economic Forum on countries with the best and worst governmental gender gap, Rwanda is the sixth best in the world (with the USA clocking in at number 28). With 64% of Rwandan parliament positions occupied by women, and countless other ministry positions and important offices structured similarly, Rwanda is unique.

Rwanda is the smallest country in East Africa

Despite being in the news so frequently, Rwanda is the smallest country in East Africa – even smaller than neighboring Burundi, and absolutely dwarfed by Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Occupying an area of 10,169 square miles (26,338 square kilometers), Rwanda also happens to be also be the most densely populated country on the continent, with almost every plot of land occupied by communities, homes, or terraced farming

In spite of Rwanda’s small size, it is made up of several diverse ecosystems

With the lush rainforests of Nyungwe to the south, the Virunga volcanic massif to the northwest, and the savanna of Akagera National Park to the east, Rwanda really does have it all. To top it off, an impressive array of indigenous flora, fauna, and animal species also call this country home.

Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world

Listed as the ninth safest country in the world by the World Economic Forum and the 11th safest country in the world by a 2017 Gallup poll, Rwanda is impressively safe, stable, and easy to visit. Ranking ahead of countries like Austria and the New Zealand, Rwanda has really gone the extra mile to make tourists and residents feel as secure as possible.

Rwanda’s local language is Kinyarwanda, though French, English, and Swahili are widely spoken

Rwandans generally speak more than just their native Kinyarwanda. French, the colonial language, is spoken most widely by the older generations, whereas English and Swahili are newly entering the scene. Due to having a lot of refugees from around the region, Rwanda is becoming a pretty multicultural country, with a lot of linguistic diversity.

The Rwandan genocide was almost 24 years ago

In spite of what some Western media would have you believe, the Rwandan genocide occurred almost 24 years ago, in April 1994. Although this was a tragic and harrowing event, Rwanda has done an incredible job of bouncing back, rebuilding, and rebranding.

Rwanda and Burundi used to be the same country

Before colonization, Rwanda and Burundi existed as separate nations. However, the two countries were combined by Germany in 1894, and until independence from Belgium in 1962, the territory was called Ruanda–Urundi. Cultural similarities both before and after independence, as well as a shared border, have kept the two countries closely linked.

Rwanda is landlocked

Although photographs of Rwanda feature bright-blue lakes with lush forests and towering volcanoes, the country is landlocked. There are currently plans to build a train from the Tanzanian coast to Kigali, in the hope of expanding trade capabilities and improving cohesion of the East African region.

Animal and environmental conservation is a big priority

In 2008, Rwanda became known around the world for banning plastic bags in an effort to go green. Coupled with the country’s conservation work for the endangered mountain gorillas in the Virunga mountain range, Rwanda is as sustainable as it gets. The work of Dian Fossey and the film Gorillas in the Mist brought a lot of international attention to the issue, but the Rwandan government and various NGOs have also worked tirelessly to protect the gorilla population and their natural habitat.

Rwandan coffee is too good

Rwanda’s coffee ranks alongside that of Brazil, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. Known around the world for its dark and fruity flavors, Rwandan coffee continues to win global cupping competitions, as cafés, roasters, and artisanal growers are becoming bigger than ever in Rwanda.

Once a month, the country participates in a mandatory national community service initiative

Called Umuganda, this national day of service occurs on the last Saturday of every month. All Rwandans and residents have to work within their community sectors on various public works projects, from road maintenance and house building to tree planting and farming.

Rwanda has more than just gorillas

Although the majority of tourism in Rwanda is currently due to the nation’s endangered mountain gorilla population, Rwandahas a lot more to offer. Sparkling lakes, volcanoes, and varying national parks, such as Nyungwe National Park and Akagera National Park, offer Africa’s Big Five, a whole host of primates, and hundreds of bird species. Additionally, Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is quickly becoming a creative foodie hub that shouldn’t be missed. Come for the gorillas, but stay for everything else this tiny country has to offer.

Tourism is one of Rwanda’s fastest-growing industries

Tourism in Rwanda is on the rise, especially as major outlets like The New York Times and CNN Travel recognize this country as one of the world’s most desirable travel locations. Although Rwanda’s coffee and tea exports, as well as the bourgeoning business sector, are import factors in Rwanda’s GDP, the booming tourism industry has quickly become integral to Rwanda’s economic growth.

Rwanda is a country of dramatic landscapes Credit: This content is subject to copyright./ullstein bild

It is an African country whose name will always be tinged with tragedy – but which is also known as a fabulous destination for wildlife and adventure. Better still, as of now, Rwanda is more accessible from the UK than ever before. Reasons to go? Try these 10…

(1) You can fly direct from Britain

With a role-call of neighbours that includes one of Africa’s best-loved safari destinations (Tanzania, to the east), but also a trio of countries which perhaps fit the description “off the beaten track” (Burundi to the south, Uganda to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west), Rwanda could be regarded as one of the more unreachable areas of a continent that is not known for ease of travel. However, last week, this little nugget of a state (it amounts to just 10,169 square miles – which makes it the fourth smallest country on the African mainland, behind The Gambia, Swaziland and Djibouti) became directly linked to the UK. May 26 witnessed the arrival at London Gatwick of the first RwandAir service from the national capital Kigali. This nine-hour air bridge will operate three times a week, with return fares starting from £368 (01293 874 922;

Rwanda’s gorilla population is world-famous Credit: (c) David Yarrow Photography/David Yarrow Photography

(2) It has very big and very famous animals…

In popular perception, the key reason to visit Rwanda is its mountain gorilla population. And rightly so. These glorious creatures haunt Volcanoes National Park, in the far north-west of the country (where it rubs up against Virunga National Park in the DRC and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda to create one colossal cross-border expanse of wildlife and wonder). Access is, of course, carefully controlled – but, as of 2015, 10 gorilla groups can be glimpsed by tourists, with 80 passes available per day. These are not cheap – £990 per person, bookable through the Tourism and Conservation Reservation Office of the Rwanda Development Board (00252 57 65 14; – but the experience is inimitable. More details on Gorilla Trekking click here.

(3) …but there is more to the mountains than primates

As its name suggests, Volcanoes National Park also knows a thing or two about vast fire-breathing peaks. To be exact, it incorporates five of the eight volcanoes which give the ridgeline of the Virunga Mountains a lava-born grandeur. Mount Karisimbi is the highest of these behemoths – tall enough, at 14,787ft (4,507m), for snow to be present on its summit during the annual dry season of June-August (indeed, its name loosely translates as “snow” in the local language, Kinyarwanda). For all this, it can be conquered on foot (thankfully, the volcano is regarded as inactive). The hike upwards – which takes two days, and is described as “strenuous yet rewarding” – is detailed in full at the national park website (

Akagera National Park is a classic safari enclave Credit: ©Boggy –

(4) Here be lions, too

Rwanda is rarely considered a classic safari destination, but for those seeking things that roar and growl in the night, Akagera National Park ( is home to a full quota of the Big Five (lion, rhino, elephant, buffalo, leopard). Spreading out on the east flank of the country, shaped by the border with Tanzania and the River Kagera, this verdant enclave of savannah and wetland suffered during Rwanda’s turbulent Nineties, when poaching and subsistence hunting robbed it of most of its inhabitants. But it has regathered itself considerably since 2009, when it was taken under the wing of rescue and rehabilitation group African Parks (see Seven South African lions were introduced in 2015, and 20 black rhinos were brought in as recently as last month. These are still faltering baby steps, but Akagera is walking a road to recovery.

(5) The treeline is alive with the flutter of feathers

There are further members of Rwanda’s National Parks club. Pinned to the south-west of the country, where it brushes the border with Burundi, Nyungwe Forest National Park ( is an example of Africa at its most raw – a dense patch of pristine jungle where chimpanzees leap from branch to branch, and more than 300 bird species caw and call in the upper leaves. This is a remote and undeveloped realm – though not so undeveloped that tourism steers clear. A canopy walkway ebbs through the treetops some 60 metres above the ground (tours US$60/£47).

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre offers bleak remembrance Credit: 2014 Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

(6) The country has moved on from its darkest hours…

And they were dark indeed. The Rwandan Genocide of April-July 1994 was one of humanity’s most desperate episodes – a horrifying period of bloodshed when up to one million members of Rwanda’s Tutsi population were massacred by the majority Hutu government. This was one of the consequences of the Rwandan Civil War (1990-1993) – and, in turn, caused the displacement of two million more (largely Hutu) people. Bleak and depressing stuff – and if you find yourself in the capital Kigali, you should surely acknowledge it. The city’s Genocide Memorial Centre ( cradles the remains of some 250,000 victims of this ethnic cleansing, and makes as difficult and as disgusted a statement on man’s inhumanity to man as any similar landmark amid the “Killing Fields” of Cambodia or the concentration camps left behind by Nazi Germany. That said, while what occurred in Rwanda 23 years ago will always cast a shadow, it is not a dominating factor of life in a country that has certainly found its feet in the subsequent two decades. Since the turn of the millennium, average life expectancy has risen from 47 to 60 years.

(7) …and is also pretty safe

While travellers in sub-Saharan Africa should always take the standard precautions when it comes to drinking water, personal security and other such fragments of common sense, Rwanda is a country which can be explored with reasonable confidence. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has a few words of warning on parts of the borders with the DRC and Burundi, but otherwise reassures would-be visitors that “Rwanda is generally safe and crime levels are relatively low.” Full details via

Kigali sprawls up slopes and hillsides Credit: (c)2015 Copyright by Vadim Nefedov. All rights reserved./Vadim Nefedov (,

(8) Its capital is an intriguing place for a day or two

Pitched roughly at the geographic centre of the country, Kigali could probably be called a work in progress, fanning out, in that sprawling fashion of major African cities, across hillsides and slopes. With a population of more than a million, this is no tiny conurbation, but it reveals its charms gracefully. Both the central districts of Kacyiru and Kiyovu have lively restaurant scenes, and the Serena Hotel ( offers five-star accommodation and a refreshing courtyard swimming pool.

Lake Kivu offers splendid shoreline Credit: ©Bildgigant –

(9) There is no sea, but there is plenty of water

Defiantly land-locked, and kept away from the life-giving depths of Lake Victoria by 100 miles of Tanzanian landscape, Rwanda nonetheless has a shoreline to call its own. This is on Lake Kivu, which defines some of the frontier with the DRC. While this is ranked as the second smallest of the African Great Lakes – just 56 miles long by 31 miles wide at its fullest dimensions – this liquid-blue puddle on the map is worth an afternoon or several of any traveller’s time. It makes for a perfect place to pause en route between Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Parks – perhaps in the town of Gisenyi (also known as Rubavu), where resort hotels dot the water’s edge, and broad sunsets await each evening.

(10) Travel packages are plentiful

A new luxury lodge, the One&Only Nyungwe, is opening this summer on the edge of the Nyungwe National Park.

No longer a niche option for a holiday, Rwanda is also offered by a number of African travel specialists. These include Expert Africa (020 3405 6666;, Steppes Travel (01285 601 646;, Timbuktu Travel (020 7193 1326; and Natural World Safaris (01273 691 642; You can also find further information in our own Rwanda section: