Rwanda - Attractions
Flowing along and down the sides of a ridge in what appears to be the exact centre of Rwanda is the country's capital, Kigali. The city is small but rates big on the attractiveness scale, dotted as it is with a wide variety of colourful flora and with a number of viewpoints looking out over Rwanda's other 999 hills. Besides the natural splendour of its verdant location, there's not a lot of sightseeing material in Kigali; in fact, just the opposite applies to the parts of the city that have yet to undergo architectural rehabilitation from the damage inflicted during the last round of civil conflict. However, Kigali does offer a good number of eateries, clubs and liquid refreshment joints and is a good place to indulge the senses.
The nightlife in Kigali is accessible with a fair degree of safety, though just like most other African cities it still pays to be cautious and taxis are recommended after dark. There's an NGO-satisfying array of restaurants clustered around Place de l'Independence that serve up everything from regional African fare to upmarket French dishes to Italian, Greek, Indian and Chinese cuisines. Sprinkled among these are numerous bars and a batch of nightclubs of the please-stay-and-watch-the-sun-come-up variety, frequented by a sometimes beguiling mixture of locals, expats and folk for hire.
For a taste of grim reality, a drive of just under an hour from the capital will bring you to either of the genocide memorials at Nyamata and Ntarama. Be warned, though, that these aren't memorials in the polished, symbolic sense, but are the bare bones of places that bore witness to the butchery of 1994.
Butare is an even smaller place than Kigali but this is no reflection of its stature - it has been described as the intellectual centre of Rwanda, due to the fact that the National University, National Institute of Scientific Research and National Museum are all sited here. You'll find plenty in Butare to exercise your mind and your sense of what Rwanda is all about, from presentations of Rwanda's prehistory and ethnic beginnings to vibrant cultural performances.
The Musee National du Rwanda is the centrepiece of Butare, a huge and amazing Belgium-donated architectural treat that houses a wide variety of archaeological and ethnographical displays, and which would rank as one of the best museums in the East African region. Not all the exhibits are behind glass or arrayed on pedestals however - the museum is also the facilitator for a traditional Rwandan dance troupe which puts on a spectacular full-costumed and heavy-rhythmed show when it's in town. When you've had your cultural fill, you can indulge in some natural beauty at the tree-lined Arboretum de Ruhande, or browse the local craft shops a few kilometres out of Butare at Gihindamuyaga and Gishamvu.
The words 'relaxation' and 'Rwanda' would be thought by many to be mutually exclusive, but relaxation is exactly what attracts the wealthier Rwandans, expats and travellers looking to splurge to the lakeside resort town of Gisenyi. Situated on the eastern shore of the enormous Lake Kivu, Gisenyi is stuffed full of manicured villas, salubrious hotels and the requisite nightclubs. This expensive place is not going to define your experience of Rwanda, being mainly a public relations exercise in leisure amid a much harsher version of African life, but you'll enjoy the environs if you leave your moral judgements at the door.
Gisenyi owes its existence to the stunning Lake Kivu, which provides it with expansive views and swimmable, sunbathable sandy beaches - this is not the case everywhere around the lake, there being some places where volcanic gases bubble up from the lakebed and gather on the water's surface, posing a threat to anything that breathes. As you'd expect at a lake, there are lots of watersports to keep the energetic and the poseurs happy, and beer-laden boat trips to the nearby Primus Brewery to finish off a long hard day. Meanwhile, to the south of town is the impressive 328ft-high (100m-high) waterfall, Les Chutes de Ndaba. Water isn't the only thing to occupy you here, however, as a swivel to the northwest reveals the magnificent 11,381ft-high (3470m-high) Nyiragongo volcano.