If you want to discover some of Africa’s most fascinating places, visit Rwanda, a landlocked country in East Africa with a hilly topography.  Despite its tragic history, it is fast emerging as a top destination for an African safari.  In fact, tourism is a vital part of the country’s economy.

While many would come here for incredible wildlife experiences, you’ll find many other fantastic places in the country.  If you need help planning your trip, here are the top 6 places to visit in Rwanda.

1. Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe National Park is one of Rwanda’s vast national parks and is a popular spot for chimpanzee trekking.  Aside from chimpanzees, the park is home to many other animals, boasting over a thousand wildlife species.

Nyungwe National Park’s breathtaking scenery is another reason many would visit this park.  It’s lush and green and has excellent weather, where you can experience cooling mists early morning and evening.

While chimpanzee trekking is the most popular activity in Nyungwe National Park, it also offers many fun activities geared towards nature lovers.  It has the first tree-top forest canopy in East Africa, where you can take an exhilarating canopy walk.

Avid birders will also enjoy exploring Nyungwe Forest, home to over 300 bird species, with some endemics.  Among the most beautiful birds you can spot in the park are the Grauer’s Warbler, the large blue Turaco, and Rwenzori Turaco.

2. Gishwati-Mukura National Park

In northwest Rwanda, you’ll find the Gishwati-Mukura National Park, which consists of two separate forests, the Gishwati Forest and the smaller Mukura Forest.  It is not a national park. Instead, it is an ongoing conservation project to counteract Central Africa’s environmental degradation.

Of the two forests that make up Gishwati-Mukura, only the Gishwati Forest is accessible to visitors.  It has scenic hiking trails taking you to the lush forest, where you can discover its incredible diversity of flora and fauna, including different types of trees.  Many species you could stumble upon at the park are endemic to the Albertine Rift, making it an ideal destination for those who want to venture off-the-beaten paths.

Gishwati is best known for its population of chimpanzees.  You can also spot other primates in the forest, including some endangered species like the blue monkey, golden monkey, and the L’Hoest’s monkey, an endangered species found only in the upper eastern Congo basin.

3. Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is the most popular destinations, where visitors can partake in gorilla trekking adventures in Rwanda, making it a perfect spot for those interested in discovering wildlife.  During the trek, you can come face to face with endangered mountain gorillas.  There are about ten habituated gorilla families that you can encounter in the lush jungles of Volcanoes National Park.

Your trek will start early in the morning, with forest rangers briefing you on what to expect and how to stay safe.  You will trek in groups, with an expert forest ranger as your guide.  Aside from gorillas, you can spot many other species during your trek, from forest elephants to bush pigs and several species of birds.

You will surely be in awe at the mountain gorillas playing in their natural habitat.  Make sure to follow the instructions and stay calm at all times. Avoid making sudden movements so as not to startle the gorillas.

4. Rusizi

Rusizi District lies in the Western Province of Rwanda at the southern end of Lake Kivu. Its capital, Cyangugu, is one of the major cities in Rwanda, a bustling city sprawling along a road through lush green hills running down into the lakeshore.  With breathtaking views of the lake and some colonial-era buildings, it is a fabulous place to visit on your trip to Rwanda.

One of the most intriguing places in Rusizi is the lower town, which lies alongside a bridge across the Rusizi River.  It’s the main border crossing between Congo and southern Rwanda.  While it used to be grand and prosperous, it’s now like a ghost town with many dilapidated buildings.  However, it still has that charm that you’ll feel like you are on the set of an old film during the colonial era.

Rusizi’s lakeside setting makes it one of the most beautiful places in Rwanda.  As more and more tourists visit the area, you will find some good hotels in Rusizi, perfect for those who want to spend a few days discovering Rwanda’s off-the-beaten tracks.

5. Musanze

Given Musanze’s stunning location at the foothills of the Virunga Massif, it’s not surprising why it has become one of Rwanda’s major cities.  Aside from a thriving tourism industry, its agriculture industry is getting a boost, thanks to the fertile land in the surrounding area.

Musanze sits at an altitude of 1,850 metres and is an ideal base for those visiting Rwanda for gorilla trekking.  Those interested in staying near the edge of the Volcanoes National Park for their gorilla trekking adventure will find several boutiques and lodges scattered along the fringes of Musanze. Many of these offer spectacular views in a more rural setting.

6. Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is part of the Great Rift Valley of Africa along the west of Rwanda. Surrounded by majestic mountains, the scenic lake is one of the largest lakes in Rwanda and among the largest lakes in Africa.

The best way to explore Lake Kivu is to visit one of the areas around it, such as Rubavu, a large town along the lake’s northern edge, about an hour away from Volcanoes National Park.  It’s an ideal place to relax after a gorilla trekking adventure.

Another place to visit is Karongi, which lies halfway of Lake Kivu. It’s a popular resort town with hillsides covered in lush eucalyptus and pines, serving as a beautiful backdrop to the lake.  As you explore the lake at dawn and dusk, you can hear local fishermen singing as they paddle through the water in unison.