Travel Spotlight

Rwanda Reborn: Why Travel to Rwanda 2019

It was a warm spring evening, and I had just crossed the tarmac at Kigali International Airport and cleared customs on my way out of Rwanda. The air smelled less like jet fuel and more like air—fresh, untainted, clean. This may have been the result of President Paul Kagame’s environmental advocacy work, or perhaps something else. It had been raining on and off throughout the day, sometimes a light drizzle, at other points a sustained downpour, and I thought, not for the first time, how disconcertingly perceptive the weather can be. I wasn’t prepared to leave Rwanda, and I certainly did not want to go.

With just a little more than a month’s notice, I had been given the opportunity to scout Rwanda for Indagare. The primary purpose of my trip was to visit some of the country’s newest luxury lodges: Magashi Camp, in Akagera National Park; Bisate Lodge, adjacent to Volcanoes National Park; and One & Only Nyungwe House, in Nyungwe Forest. My whirlwind tour of the country’s stunning landscapes included time on safari, mornings trekking for mountain gorillas and days roaming tea plantations and waterfalls.

Contact Indagare for help booking your trip to Rwanda with Indagare.

Rwanda is barreling toward a hospitality renaissance, with both a One & Only and a Singita expected to open this year in Volcanoes, joining the recently announced Wilderness project in Gishwati Forest. Tourism is booming, and foreign investors have found the country’s burgeoning economy increasingly attractive. Entrepreneurs and conservationists are working in tandem to protect the environment, inviting visitors from near and far to join in. Across the country, hope, warmth and growth potential are palpable.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the horrors of 1994 and the Rwandan genocide. It was not lost on me that I would be traveling during Kwibuka 25, the 25th anniversary of those 100 days of incomprehensibly cruel loss and destruction that forever changed the country. Kwibuka—which means “to remember” in Kinyarwanda, the tonal Bantu language spoken in Rwanda—is an annual nationwide period of commemoration and reflection. Its purpose is twofold: to honor those who were lost and to prevent genocide from ever occurring again, anywhere.

Having spent time studying this period in depth, and aware that I would be visiting during the month of April, I was slightly apprehensive. Even understanding that Indagare staff and members travel to Rwanda all the time, usually for active, adventurous journeys, I wondered what kind of trip this would be. How heavy would it rest on my heart? Still, I knew it would be a valuable opportunity to learn from witnessing a country grappling with such deep wounds. One evening, while sitting by the outdoor fire at Magashi, as I was looking up at the stars scoping out constellations in silence, one of the property's staff members, a young woman around my age, came to sit by me. She brought me a blanket, since it was growing quite cold, even by the warm fire. She pointed out Scorpius, and I showed her the far less impressive, and much easier to spot, Orion. Hippos whooped in the distance, and we talked about her life, her hopes for Magashi, her excitement to be opening a lodge in Akagera, to be following her dreams. She mentioned that she wants to visit Paris and New York, to travel and see the world. And as time passes, as she grows more confident in her role greeting guests and showing them her home, her traditions, her love of stars, I believe she will. I feel grateful that I was there to witness the beginning of her journey, to see hospitality in action during a period of growth.

A few days later, exiting the Genocide Memorial in Kigali while wiping tears from my eyes, I passed the eternal flame burning brightly in the afternoon sun and saw a crowd of uniformed children walking home from school. They were laughing and cheering and running circles around a harried adult, perhaps a teacher or a parent, as she tried to keep up with them. They were being children, doing what children everywhere in the world do on their way home from a long day in the classroom. The sound of their voices, the smiles on their faces, the natural way they were living their lives as I stood mourning a past that they can't possibly remember, that isn't mine, stopped me in my tracks. I walked toward them and smiled.

Related Gorilla-trekking in Rwanda 

My feelings after my nine days on the ground? Awe. Joy. Invigoration. I witnessed the power of resilience, the fight for progress and the unyielding national desire for a better Rwanda and a united front against fearmongering. Recovery in the wake of the genocide is part of the national conversation. It must be part of any meaningful trip to Rwanda, just as it is part of Rwanda’s history. It can’t be ignored, and it shouldn’t be. You see it when you visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali or speak with survivors who wish to share their stories, in addition to experiencing Rwanda as it is today.

You sense it when you head out on a trek with a local guide, scrambling over low-hanging vines and exposed roots as you seek out a playful family of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. On Magashi’s concession, you feel it when you behold a set of two-month-old lion cubs wrestling with their mother, a welcome boost to Rwanda’s dramatically small population of lions. You see it when you take a photography-based tour through a local village with Gadi and Mussa, two young men who were raised by humanitarian and author Rosamond Carr. You taste it when you have shakshuka for breakfast at Josh and Alissa Ruxin’s Retreat. Pick tea leaves, take a canopy walk, trek for chimpanzees, shop at a local NGO collective, visit the Imigongo Arts Center—just live here for any length of time, and you experience it.

Rwanda is a country that summons visceral reactions, with its lush, rolling hills, seemingly endless savannas, cerulean blue skies and abundance of local culture and history to stimulate more cerebral travelers. It is a country that has captured my heart and my mind. In many ways, I feel as if I’d returned to a place I had somehow always known.

Contact Indagare for help booking your trip to Rwanda with Indagare.

Published onOctober 29, 2019

More Inspiration

Plan Your Trip With Us

We only feature hotels that we can vouch for first-hand. At many of them, Indagare members receive special amenities.

Get In Touch
Indagare employees walking up stiars

Enjoy 30 Days On Us!

Start your Self Planner
membership trial today.

Unlock access to 2,000+ first-hand hotel reviews, 300+ Destination Guides and the most up-to-date travel news and inspiration.

Already a member?

Welcome back,
log in to Indagare

Not a member?

Forgot Password

Enter your email and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Type the first 3 letters to begin