It was in 2016 that Seb, Brighde (that’s me) Colleen and David headed to Rwanda for what we thought was a once in a lifetime experience. I have to admit I didn’t know much about the country at all.
I knew a little about the 1994 genocide and also about the fact that there was a good population of gorillas there but that was pretty much it. I allowed my travel partners to just plan everything and for me to just jump on for the ride. And what a ride it was! While we only spent a week there, the experience was so positive and when our travellers on our first-ever trip we ran suggested we run a trip to Rwanda, we just knew that we should try to share Rwanda with the world and I think we were pretty successful We proposed two trips running back to back in June and July 2019 we are starting to think about a repeat of the trip in 2021.
So, in total, the World Vegan Travel team has spent just over 5 weeks here so of course, we are not super experts but we have done a lot of research into vegan travel of Rwanda so here are our must-sees in Rwanda and why we think these activities are especially interesting for vegans! Wanna know when we are going to Rwanda next, sign up for our newsletters!
Of course, seeing the gorillas is a no brainer. It’s the reason most people come to Rwanda as a tourist. Yes, it is expensive and the price was increased from $750 to $1500 per person for a one hour visit to the gorillas in 2017. The Rwanda Development Board increased the price to help with the gorillas’ conservation and also look after the significant numbers of people who live around the park including providing the children that live there with education. Visiting the gorillas does mean you are helping the gorillas and the people around the park also.
Visit Dian Fossey’s Grave
For many of us, despite her flaws, Dian Fossy is a hero to many vegans. She was a woman who was fiercely protective of the gorillas and eventually had her life taken due to her refusal to make compromises for the gorillas. She helped us to understand these incredible animals and was probably the key to saving mountain gorillas from extinction.
While seeing her grave you can also see the former research center (called Karisoke) that Dian Fossey set up as well as pay your respects at Dian’s grave and some of the gorillas that are buried here including Digit. The trek to the grave and research center is hard and depending on the time of year, it is incredibly muddy, however, to walk this walk is to get an insight into what it must have been like to bring up all the supplies to Karisoke when it was located up here on the side of the mountain. If you are interested,this wonderful series sheds light on Dian on the work she did and why she might have been murdered. You can only visit this area with the support of a local guide, registering in advance and paying a fee.
There are a significant number of sites around Rwanda where you can pay your respects to the nearly million people who died in those 100 days in 1994. There are a number of memorials around the country and these are often staffed by guides who will take you around them and explain the background to the genocide and also what happened specifically at that location. However, the national memorial is very good as it is located in Kigali and is a world-class standard in terms of the quality of the exhibits. It is also the resting place for 250,000 people who were killed (and many more remains are brought here each year. A visit here will certainly give you pause to think, reflect and make you want to do everything in your power to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. As vegans I think we can all relate to this feeling.
A small but very informative exhibit is currently available to visitors to find out more about the work that they do there. You will find in Musanze the closest town to Volcanoes National Park. The tour is self-guided (about 1 hour) and the experience will probably be very different once the Ellen Degeneres Centre is finished, but it is still worth a visit. You can see a reconstruction of Dian Fossy’s office as well as find out more about the work they do. If your schedule and budget allow you can even book a special behind the scenes with one of the scientists there ($500 for a group). They will show you around the labs and it is indeed a fantastic experience. We were able to do it for one of our groups and it was simply so inspiring! Our guide Veronica was simply captivating!
Akagara National Park
While Akagara National Park might be home to the big five, it has not always been that way. Indeed, after the genocide, the park had to be annexed in half and many animals were killed by the people that lived in the area as the wild animals were hunting the livestock of the people who were coming back after spending many years as refugees in neighbouring countries. The situation at the park was looking very bleak indeed but looked up significantly when African Parks took over the management of the park. While the park is not quite as diverse or spectacular as some other parks in surrounding countries, but it is really interesting and they are doing some great work. It has ‘a behind the scenes’ activity where rangers sit and talk about the history of the park and the efforts and lengths that they have to go to to protect the park some of which will sit well with vegans (the incredible efforts to protect the endangered animals) and some which might not (the sustainable fishing projects they are working on and the canine protection project they have). It’s a great opportunity to delve a little deeper into the real complexity of conversation.
See Kigali through community based development
The Nyamirambo Women's Center offers a number of short tours that are a lot of fun for travelers to participate in. We did the walking tour of Nyamirambo and we enjoyed being shown around the local community. While one of our group said he felt a little bit of a voyeur by visiting the community in this way, I appreciated the fact that we were not taken into any schools to interact with children and distract them from their schoolwork which can often happen in these kinds of tours. Just ask them to skip the visit to the milk bar! They also offer Sisal Basket Weaving Workshop and a Traditional Cooking Class. We don’t know if they cater to vegans although they do talk about vegetables being a focus of the class.
Nyungwe National Park
As well as being one of two places where you can see chimpanzees in the wild Nyungwe is rich in biodiversity and spectacularly beautiful. The mountainous region is teaming with wildlife, as well as 12 other species of primate, including the L’Hoest’s monkey endemic to the Albertine Rift. If you are planning to see chimpanzees, you should consider taking a porter to help you with the very rough terrain and be prepared to slip as you try to get up and down the steep slopes. Take good binoculars and be prepared to have a sore neck from all the looking up! It’s not just chimpanzees to see, there is an abundance of different activities including a sky bridge and numerous hikes.
Bonus Reason! Avocado is everywhere
And perhaps not a reason to go to Rwanda but it is a pretty good bonus! Avocados are available everywhere and no matter where you are, you can ask for some avocado to put on your bread.
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We're Seb and Brighde and we are passionate about veganism, travel and have a background in logistics and tour-leading. The natural next step was to set up a group tour company for vegans wanting a luxury experience.
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