Lying at the heart of Africa, Rwanda is one her most dynamic leisure destinations, offering vibrant cities, pristine wilderness and an exceptionally hospitable people. A unique and largely undiscovered country, Rwanda also offers unrivalled biodiversity, beautiful mountains, some of the oldest and most precious rain forests on earth, five volcanoes, 23 lakes, numerous waterfalls, and three stunning national parks. As to wildlife, Rwanda boasts 13 species of primates (25% of the total number in Africa), and 670 species of birds, many of which are globally endangered. Sports lovers, meanwhile, can enjoy walking, trekking or mountain biking along thousands of pristine trails, mountaineering, volcano exploration, fishing, boating and a plethora of water sports, while cultural options include a pageant of traditional dance, historical sites, and displays of ethnic art and heritage.
Rwanda can be visited at any time of year. There are two annual rainy seasons: the big rains which last from mid-February to the beginning of June, and the small rains from mid-September to mid-December. Rainfall, especially over the mountains, is heavy during these two periods, particularly from March to May. The long dry season, June to September, is the best time for tracking gorillas in the Volcanoes Park and hiking in Nyungwe Forest National Reserve.
Tourism is one of the fastest growing sectors and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner, generating US$214 million in 2008, up by 54% on the previous year. Despite the genocide, the country is increasingly perceived internationally as a safe destination, and one million people are estimated to have visited the country in 2008, up from 826,374 in 2007. The country's most popular tourist activity is the tracking of mountain gorillas, which takes place in the Volcanoes National Park. Other attractions include Nyungwe Forest, home to chimpanzees, Ruwenzori colobus and other primates, the resorts of Lake Kivu, and Akagera, a small savanna reserve in the east of the country. Each year in June, the country celebrates Kwita Izina - The Baby Mountain Gorilla Naming Ceremony. People come from all over the country and the world to participate in this unique event.
In 1959, three years before independence from Belgium, the majority ethnic group, the Hutus, overthrew the ruling Tutsi king. Over the next several years, thousands of Tutsis were killed, and some 150,000 driven into exile in neighboring countries. The children of these exiles later formed a rebel group, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and began a civil war in 1990. The war, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated ethnic tensions, culminating in April 1994 in the genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsi rebels defeated the Hutu regime and ended the killing in July 1994, but approximately 2 million Hutu refugees - many fearing Tutsi retribution - fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the former Zaire. Since then, most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but several thousand remained in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo (the former Zaire) and formed an extremist insurgency bent on retaking Rwanda, much as the RPF tried in 1990. Despite substantial international assistance and political reforms - including Rwanda's first local elections in March 1999 and its first post-genocide presidential and legislative elections in August and September 2003 - the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output, and ethnic reconciliation is complicated by the real and perceived Tutsi political dominance. Kigali's increasing centralization and intolerance of dissent, the nagging Hutu extremist insurgency across the border, and Rwandan involvement in two wars in recent years in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo continue to hinder Rwanda's efforts to escape its bloody legacy.
Rwanda's terrain consists of mostly grassy uplands and hills with a mountainous altitude declining from west to east. Its lowest point is the Rusizi River at 950 m and its highest point is Volcan Karisimbi which stands at 4,519 m. Rwanda's countryside is covered by grasslands and small farms extending over rolling hills, with areas of rugged mountains that extend southeast from a chain of volcanoes in the northwest. The divide between the Congo and Nile drainage systems extends from north to south through western Rwanda at an average elevation of almost 9,000 feet (2,743 m).On the western slopes of this ridgeline, the land slopes abruptly toward Lake Kivu and the Ruzizi River valley, and constitutes part of the Great Rift Valley. This western section of the country lies within the Albertine Rift montane forests ecoregion.The eastern slopes are more moderate, with rolling hills extending across central uplands at gradually reducing altitudes, to the plains, swamps, and lakes of the eastern border region. Therefore the country is also fondly known as "Land of a Thousand Hills" (Pays des mille collines). The vegetation of Rwanda ranges from dense equatorial forest in the northwest to tropical savannah in the east. Rwanda naturally supports a widely varied fauna, but the rapid population growth in recent decades has resulted in the extirpation of most large mammal species outside a few designated conservation areas. Rwanda is a wonderful destination for birdwatchers with 670 species having been recorded in an area which is smaller than Belgium. Prime bird watching destinations include Nyungwe and Akagera. Rwanda is a safe country to travel in. Rwandans are warm-hearted and generous people and are eager to help visitors get the most out of their stay As in all countries, a little common sense goes a long way and reasonable precautions should still be taken, such as locking valuables in the hotel safe and not walking alone at night.