Rwanda is popularly referred to as the Land of A Thousand Hills. This is basically due to its mountainous landscape comprised of inter-locking and rolling hills that make up the largest part of the country. The country is located within the Albertine rift valley and also share a significant part of the Greater Virunga Landscape. This area is rich in biodiversity protecting a variety of rare species including the endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys and several bird species including Rift valley endemics. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, the country’s home to mountain gorillas is Rwanda’s major tourist highlight. Tourism is Rwanda’s leading foreign exchange earner and the highest contributor to the country GDP.
Rwanda is a small state with an area of about 26,338 km2 and a population of about 12 million people with relatively limited natural resources. However, gorilla tourism accounts for the biggest economic growth and development of the country. According to Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the country received about USD $ 438 million in tourism revenue in 2019 thus contributing about 15.1% of the country’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of USD $ 9.14 billion.
In order to diversity her tourism sector and create more tourist experiences in addition to gorilla tours and other wildlife safaris, Rwanda has utilised its tourism revenues to develop the art and culture industry. Although the country has only three ethnic tribes namely; Tutsi, Hutu and Batwa, the culture and heritage of Rwanda is rich and diverse. For instance, Kinyarwanda traditional dance (“Maraba” performed by the Intore) is one of the most captivating African dances which is increasingly becoming iconic in the world of travellers.
The Tutsi were primarily keepers of the long horn Watusi cows, the Hutu are cultivators while Batwa pygmies are descendants of the ancient forest dwelling and hunter gatherers of East and Central Africa.
Rwanda’s cultural heritage and historical sites are increasingly becoming one of the established tourist destinations attracting a big percentage of the country’s visitors.
Rwanda was ranked among the top 10 fastest growing economies in the world in 2020 according to Borgen Project, a non-profit organisation, thanks to the significant contribution from the country’s tourism sector.
Here are some of Rwanda’s major cultural heritage sites that are worth visiting for a deeper understanding of the country’s amazing culture and history.
National Museums in Rwanda
There are about 8 national museums of Rwanda located in different provinces of the country. But, the list of museums in Rwanda is over 13 with art galleries and centers mostly found in Kigali city. They are some of the most captivating cultural attractions to visit in Rwanda.
King’s Palace Museum and Gallery
This museum is located in Nyanza district southern province along the road to Nyungwe forest national park some 88 km from Kigali city. King’s Palace Museum exhibits the greatest works of art you muse see. The art gives a detailed look into the history of Rwanda from 15th century during the time when much of Africa was under kingdoms. One of the most famous kings who ruled Rwanda before declaration of Rwanda is called King (mwami) Mutara three Rudahigwa. He lived in a beautiful traditional place which has been restored through establishment of the King’s palace in 2008 to preserve Rwandan art and cultural heritage.
King Mutara most prestigious possession next to his wife was the Long horn Watusi cows locally known as Inyambo. The long horn cows were brought back to the new palace and can be visited for photo-shoots and folklore of Queen Nybingi and her influence on the Jamaican Rastafarian rhythm in addition to the museum exhibits and Maraba Rwandan traditional dance performance. The place also features restaurant that serves Rwandan traditional food as well as continental dishes.
Visitors will enjoy a tour of the king’s palace, Rwesero art gallery and take part in traditional dances and also visit the long horn cattle. The museum is open daily from 8:00 pm to 17:00 pm and closed on 7th April on genocide. The museum also closes from 11 am during the national environmental cleaning day Umuganda every last Saturday of the month.
Museum of Environment
The museum opened in the Rwanda safari peak season of 2015. The Rwandan Museum of Environment is situated near Lake Kivu in western province. The museum is more of a center for educational center for environmental conservation. The museum displays the use of clean and sustainable energy (both renewable energy sources like solar and hydro power which is no-renewable. The museum exhibits include herb garden on the roof of the building.
Visiting the museum will give insight into a general environmental situation of Rwanda. Understand why Kigali Rwanda is among the list of top green and sustainable cities in Africa according to World Economic Forum (WEF). This comes through Rwanda environmental campaigns like Umuganda which an adaptation of the clean up the world campaign. Umuganda is a national holiday in Rwanda. It occurs every last Saturday of the month where all citizens lead by the president spend the entire day cleaning their respective villages and planting trees. In addition to generation of solar energy about 12.230 MW generated from five solar energy plants such as Jali, Ndera, Nasho, Rwamagana etc while the hydropower capacity is about 235.6 MW.
Kandt Museum House
Formerly known as the natural history museum, the museum was renamed in 2017 to honor Richard Kandt who was the Germany colonial governor of Rwanda. Kandt House is located downtown Kigali city and easier to access on city tour. The museum has three galleries, with one displaying socio-economical life, another history of Kigali before, during and after colonialism and the third section includes a temporal exhibits of natural history such as snakes and crocodiles. The view of Kigali and its surroundings is also most stunning when standing at the museum.
Rwanda Art Museum
This museum enhances the impact Rwanda traditional art has had on the modern architectural landscape in Kigali city. The iconic Kigali Convention Center (KCC) was built out of a design of a traditional hand woven basket called Agaseke, a symbol of family and mother in Rwanda.
The museum has a permanent art exhibition with paintings, pictures displaying the best of art in the 21st century. Exhibits include those drawn by locals and international artists. In addition, the museum also hosts temporary and a moving art studio show where visitors are offered an opportunity to try their art drawing skills and get a chance to be featured.
Besides being a place to learn about arts, the museum a historical site. The events that started the 1994 Rwandan genocide against Tutsi started here on 6th April, 1994 with the shooting down of a plane that killed President Joseph Habyarimana who was of Hutu tribe. The Rwanda art museum is located in a former presidential palace in Kanombe 4 kilometers from the Kanombe airport.
Campaign Against Genocide Museum
Every year on 6th April, 1994 Rwanda commemorates the Rwandan genocide against Tutsi. The civil that lasted 100 days led to loss of about 800000 people and also leaving the economy is shatters. Rwandans started a campaign “Never Again” to educate the youth, bring reconciliation and justice between Hutu and Tutsi.
The morning period known as “Kwibuka” which means to remember, unite and renew lasts for 100 days with citizens lighting the flames at various burial grounds. Many visitors visit Rwanda specifically for the genocide tour in Kigali city. The largest Rwandan genocide memorial center is Kigali Genocide Memorial located in Kigali city where 250000 victims are laid to rest. Other Rwandan genocide memorial centers to visit on Kigali city tour include Nyamata church, Murambi genocide memorial, Biserero Memorial, Nyarubuye memorial and Ntarama genocide memorial.
Art galleries to visit on Kigali City Tour
Best art galleries and centers to experience Rwanda art and culture or take with you a souvenir are found in Kigali City and its neighborhood known as Kacyiru. Art centers in Kigali display the Rwandan art scene that includes various street art murals featuring local and international artists, paintings, sculptures, photography, traditional crafts, wood carvings, drum performances etc.
Because of this, Kigali city has become of the best places to see street art in the world.
Inema Art Center
This is an outdoor art gallery with a garden located in Kacyiru, a neighborhood in Kigali city. Inema Art center is the most captivating art scene in Kigali. It’s the place where many visitors go to buy arts and crafts. The center also hosts weekly events such as live music performance on thankful Thursdays evenings, art and Yoga class every Wednesday. The outdoor gardens feature coffee shops and restaurant to eat, drink and enjoy your time.
The Streets of Kigali
Those who want to see street art than the art galleries, there’s the Kigali city mural walking tour that takes you to colorful street art scenes. This street art walking tour is offered by Go Further a social enterprise that aims to transform Rwanda through art and culture. Places in Kigali city to explore for street art include Kimisagara and Kacyuri. The iconic artistic murals include Okapi mural done by a Belgian artists Roa. Other local artists have put up murals such as gorilla and Sunbird which are found in Nyarugenge in Kigali.
Kigali Center for Photography
This is the only art gallery in Kigali dedicated to photography. The Kigali center for photography features ever changing scenes of photographs taken by locals across the country. Visiting photographers are given space to display their photography skill. The center goes on to teach young Rwandans photography skills through their learning for Change Program.
Azizi Life Studio
This art studio in Kigali is entirely dedicated to traditional Rwandan art. Azizi Life Studio is a place to and shop souvenirs such as Agaseke baskets, wooden carvings, jewelry, pottery and small items such as key holders, hand bags, clothing etc.
The Aziz studio features Rwanda’s most famous painting called Imigongo, a traditional form of art made using cow dung. The Imigongo paintings are made by women and teaches you history of the country from its pre-colonial to modern times.
Cultural Villages in Rwanda
Visiting museums gives you great a common look into culture and art of Rwanda but may not give you to the fullest a village lifestyle and the multi-cultural experience. You need to go an extra mile and look at Iby’Iwacu cultural village in Musanze district Northern Province and a walking tour in Nyamirambo, Kigali Province.
Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village
Gorilla garden village formerly known as Iby’iwacu cultural village is located in Musanze district. This is a community based organization situated a few kilometers from Volcanoes National Park, one of the best destination for gorilla tours in Africa. It was established in 2005 to help conserve mountain gorillas through improving the livelihoods of people who live and depend on the natural forests. Iby’iwacu village is visited in the afternoon after gorilla trekking. The cultural tour introduces you to the traditional Rwandan culture and village lifestyle. Visitors participate in demonstrations like dressing as traditional king/ queen, taking part in traditional Maraba dance, grinding millet or sorghum, bow and arrow shooting, gardening etc.
Most importantly, proceeds go direct to support families. Projects that change lives of people like reformed poachers include agriculture support like goat rearing, improving health, clean water and education facilities, art and craft making like basket weaving.
Nyamirambo Womens Center
This is a women’s social enterprise offering cultural experience to support women in tourism development in Rwanda. The center offers a souvenir shop, outdoor cooking class that introduces you to the traditional Rwandan dishes and lifestyles.
Nyamirambo is multicultural village with people of different religions such as Muslims, Anglican and catholic. The most fascinating site is the Nyamirambo mosque and Nyamirambo food market. There’s also an eco-lodge nearby offering accommodation for visitors who want to sleep and have more time to go on the Nyamirambo walking tour. This tour takes you through the village markets, street art scenes and local food shops.