By Mugume D. Rwakaringi
Rwanda is always referred to as ‘the Land of a Thousand Hills’ or the “Switzerland of Africa”. This is because its beautiful hills the country harbors. Despite its proximity to the equator, the climate in Rwanda is cooled by the high altitude. It is warm throughout most of the country but cooler in the mountains.
The Gorillas and Birds:
Interestingly the three countries of Rwanda, Uganda and the Republic of Congo commonly have a share of the rare mountain gorilla whose main sanctuary is the Virunga. The Virunga Conservation Area, on the upper slopes of the Virunga volcanoes form three neighboring national parks namely, Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, and Parc des Virungas in DR Congo. Over 350 mountain gorillas (half of the world population) live in this region.
Genocide Memorials also form one of the Tourism attractions. The Gisozi memorial site is located in Kigali City. There are two other memorials south of Kigali, both accessible as a day trip. The church at Nyamata, about 30 km from Kigali, was the scene of a horrific massacre and Ntarama church, about 5 km down a right-hand fork, which branches off the Nyamata road roughly 20 km outside Kigali. There are other genocide sites in the Country such as Kabgayi Church Museum and the National University of Rwanda Museum.
Among the major sources of attraction is Nyungwe Forest which protects the largest single tract of montane forest remaining anywhere in East or Central Africa. It is a remarkably rich center of biodiversity, harboring, among other things, 75 mammal species, 275 birds, 120 butterflies, and more than 100 varieties of orchid. The main attraction of Nyungwe Forest is its primates. Chimp tracking can be arranged at short notice and relatively minor expense. Several other monkeys are readily seen.
Akagera National Park:
Akagera national park is named after the Akagera River which runs along its eastern boundary. It is relatively warm and low-lying, and its undulating plains support a cover of dense, broad-leafed woodland interspersed with lighter acacia woodland and patches of rolling grassland and other mammals such as buffalos and hippos.
Best time to visit Rwanda:
Rwanda can be visited at any time of the year. The long dry season, June to September, is the best time for tracking gorillas and hiking in Nyungwe, since the ground should be dry underfoot and the odds of being drenched are minimal.
Rwanda recognizes her potential in tourism and steps up to consolidate her position in Tourism.Last Month, the Country launched the Standards Criteria for Classification of Accommodation, Restaurants and other tourist facilities in conformity with the newly approved East African Community (EAC) standards.
The classification helps also tourism sector administrators to maintain an inventory for policy and planning purposes.
The efficient organization Rwanda has in her Tourism industry has paid dearly with the Country winning major international Tourism and Travel awards.
Rwanda recently was the only African country to be honored with one of the seven outstanding awards at the World Travel Market (WTM) Exhibition in London as Best Stand Personnel award beating other 600 selected exhibitors. This award was attributed to the excellent Customer service, professionalism and doing business atmosphere at the stand.
"This is a tremendous achievement for the country coming six years after Rwanda was re-launched at the same expo”, confirms the enthusiastic Rosette Rugamba, Deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board- Tourism and Conservation.
For the third time in a row Rwanda also emerged as The Best African Exhibitor at the world’s premier tourism trade fair, Internationale Tourismus Börse (ITB-Berlin) 2009.
Tourism revenues have consequently increased by 50% to an estimate of USD 209M compared to USD 138M, in 2007. International visitor arrivals in 2008 increased by 18% to 980,577 visitors from 826,374 visitors in 2007.
Rwanda was named among the hot top 10 travel destinations for 2009 by Lonely Planet (one of the worlds most credible travel guides).
It is thus not surprising that Tourism is the number one foreign exchange earner for Rwanda. Rwanda recorded 120,809 international visitors during the first quarter of 2009.