16 December 2017

Rwanda: A Unique Christmas Getaway in Rwanda

With the Christmas and end-of year holidays here with us again, there is much to look forward to, especially as everyone seems to have time to unwind and have fun.

For those in the region and beyond seeking something different this season, Rwanda is the perfect holiday destination. The country's climate and topography offer a unique getaway both in the city of Kigali and major towns, with various interesting experiences to suit all holiday demands.

Kigali, being the commercial hub of the country, has social hangouts to cater for every budget. The, restaurants and bars tend to be niche, meaning there is a something for everyone.

For a taste of exquisite food, for example, the Pili Pili Bistro Lounge and Restaurant in Kibagabaga neighbourhood is famous for its seafood, steak and pizza. The bistro's poolside bar offers a relaxing ambience away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Rwanda, like most African countries, has a culture of meat roasting. Master Grill restaurant is famous for its nyamachoma and roast chicken.

Located at Kisimenti in Remera, the menu offers grilled mutton for as low as Rwf2,500 ($3) per serving, while drinks range from between Rwf1,000,($1) and Rwf 5,000, ($6) for local and international beers and wines.

Inka Steak House, a quiet restaurant located at KG 605 Street, specialises in roast meat and seafood. Their flame grilled barbecue costs Rwf10,500 ($12) served with roasted plantain (a country speciality) and creamed spinach.

Cultural sites

Over the past 20 years, Rwanda has developed its cultural and heritage tourism as the country recorded increased visitor arrivals. This has now become a major part of the travel and tourism experience, where visitors learn about the country in relaxed but educational tours.

In Kigali, under the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda, is the Natural History Museum, at Kandt House in Nyarugenge. Located in downtown Kigali, it serves as Rwanda's botanical and mining centre. Visitors get to learn about the country's rare minerals, plants and animals.

The fees are Rwf6,000 ($7) for non-residents, while residents pay Rwf5,000 ($6). Nationals pay Rwf1,500 ($1.8) and East Africans Rwf3,000, ($3).

Iby'iwacu Cultural Village is a unique cultural getaway. Located in Kinigi, Ruhengeri district, the centre was specifically established to show off the country's culture in one stop. Visitors can get to experience Rwandan tradition first hand -- from the traditional grass thatched buildings, to live traditional music performances by a troupe of drummers and dancers.

Outside Kigali, Musanze district in Northern Province is a popular destination with holiday makers with its numerous hills and valleys formed by the country's volcanic topography.

The Fatima Hotel especially offers a beautiful view of the scenery from its rooftop relaxing area. From here ,one can camp and hike while enjoying being one with nature.

Red Rocks Cultural Centre in the same district is a unique cultural destination offering lodgings for Rwf25,000 ($6) per room, and tents for as low as Rwf8,500 ($10), food from Rwf1,500, ($1), while drinks range between Rwf500 ($0.6) and Rwf1,000 ($1) for this holiday season.

The centre runs practical cultural lessons that include language, basket weaving and brewing of banana beer (Urwagwa,) brewing. With its rich scenery, it is suitable for camping and hiking for those who prefer the outdoors and a laidback rural setting.

For the culinary inclined, the traditional beer brewing lessons comes with cooking and eating of traditional dishes. The nearby village market offer visitors a chance to buy art and craft products, especially the famous Rwandan woven baskets and mats.

History and art

Currently, Rwanda has over seven museums countrywide, open to visitors throughout the week. These are the Nyanza King's Palace Museum, which is also referred to as Rukali, located in Nyanza district.

It features Rwanda's traditional kingdom setup called the Ibwami, showing the royal palace, the importance of cattle and milking to the community through the Ukuvugira Inka, a cattle ritual practiced in adoration of the Inyambo, a cattle breed common in the country.

The National Art Gallery museum in Nyanza region is another attraction and features a collection of both contemporary and realistic Rwandan art. The facility, located 85km from Kigali, features paintings, installations and sculptures.

Still in Southern Povince is the Ethnographic Museum, in Huye district. This was Rwanda's first museum, established in 1989, and holds the country's history and heritage information through permanent exhibitions tracing the country's ancient architecture, dress and lifestyle.

From a fee of $60 (Rfw50,000) per person or Rwf4,000 ($4) per person in groups of over 20 people, the Ethnographic Museum holds a special discount package on weekends, holidays and special bookings for special programmes such as live Igitaramo (traditional performance) and related hands-on cultural activities like basket weaving.

Other getaway destinations outside Kigali include the Nyungwe National Park, famous for its canopy walk and the Kamiranzovu waterfall. Foreign visitors pay $60 (Rwf50,000), nationals $6 (Rwf 5,000) and East African Community nationals $40 (Rwf34,000). It is also famous for bird and chimpanzee watching.

For those with children, the Red Carpet Kids Festival held every December 26 is a highlight of the season's calendar. It is held in Rubavu town at a place called Mere Double.

Children can take part in fashion shows and exhibitions, face painting and a bouncing castle among other games. At a fee of $6 (Rwf5,000), the children will thank you for the day-long treat.

Scenic views

After the children have had their fun, the adults can visit the Seeds of Peace Centre in Kayonza district, Eastern Province, ranked as a perfect spots for total body and mind relaxation.

The centre, overlooking Lake Muhazi, has scenic views of the lake from its gardens and both adults and children can relax here. The centre has a now famous small traditional hut, which was once a milk vendors' stall.

The centre still uses it for the same purpose for its visitors who are encouraged to buy milk and experience Rwanda's traditional milk culture. Visitors can sample either fresh milk or yoghurt. The centre does not sell alcohol on its premises.

One cannot experience Rwanda without doing a road trip from Kigali to the shores of Lake Kivu in Karongi district. It is a scenic drive along beautiful hills and valleys that drop to the lake.

Once there, it is a must to sample the Isambaza, a local Kivu fish delicacy. Activities here include boat rides on the lake either on motorised boat or canoe to the Peace Island, locally called Akarwa k'Amahoro or the Bird island also known as Akarwa k'Inyoni.

And if you cannot make it to all these places in one holiday season, you can revisit as many times as possible. The government of Rwanda recently announced issuance of visas on arrival for all African nationalities. East Africans only need a national identification.

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