One Week in Rwanda: The Ultimate Itinerary

Rwandan landscape with tea plantations and lake

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Despite being one of the smallest countries in Africa, Rwanda has plenty to offer the adventurous traveler, and seven days won't be enough to see it all. Nevertheless, you can see many of this landlocked gem's top attractions in a week, from the culturally rich capital of Kigali to Volcanoes National Park, famous around the world for its mountain gorillas.

We opted to include Nyungwe Forest National Park in our itinerary because its activities are more uniquely Rwandan. However, if you wish to take a break from forest trekking and experience open plains and Big Five game instead, you can always substitute this stop for Akagera National Park. The choice is yours—but if you’d like our recommendation for the best way to spend a week in Rwanda, read on. 

01 of 07

Day One: Kigali

Panoramic view of Kigali CBD, Rwanda

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After touching down at Kigali International Airport and collecting your rental car the night before, wake up feeling refreshed at the Radisson Blu Hotel & Convention Centre. This is our top pick in Kigali because of its convenient location in between the airport and the main tourist attractions. Day one begins with a five-minute drive to Shokola Café, a local favorite situated on the top floor of the Kigali Public Library. It’s the perfect place to sample your first cup of authentic Rwandan coffee and to fuel up on breakfast while admiring the balcony’s sweeping city views. 

When you’re finished, take a five-minute stroll to the next street over, where Niyo Art Gallery represents the best of Kigali’s flourishing contemporary art scene. Browse the work of the gallery’s resident Rwandan artists in the light-filled exhibition space, or head out into the courtyard to watch them at work. This is a great opportunity to stock up on meaningful, unique souvenirs. 

Next, collect your car for the brief drive to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. Although emotional, this is an essential stop if you wish to get an insight into the tragedies that have shaped Rwanda’s recent history. Exhibitions explain the background, events, and aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, which began in April 1994 and saw almost one million Tutsi slaughtered by rival ethnic group, the Hutu. A quarter of a million victims are buried in mass graves at the memorial, and you can pay your respects to them there. 

Upon leaving the memorial, embark on the 2.5-hour drive to Musanze, the gateway to Volcanoes National Park. Your accommodation for the night is Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, a peaceful choice located amid verdant gardens on the road from Musanze to the park headquarters. After settling into your Deluxe Room with its king-size bed and rainfall shower, the day draws to a close with a three-course dinner at the hotel’s volcano-view restaurant. 

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02 of 07

Day Two: Volcanoes National Park

Family of gorillas, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

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Day two starts early, with breakfast at the hotel followed by a 10-minute transfer to park headquarters at Kinigi. You need to arrive by 7 a.m., in time for your gorilla trekking briefing. Please note that gorilla permits must be booked well in advance – the hotel can help you with this. During the briefing, you will be assigned to one of the park’s habituated gorilla troops. Depending on which you get, the trek to find them can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours – but the effort is well worth it for the hour you will get to spend observing these great apes in their natural habitat. Be sure to come prepared in sturdy, worn-in hiking shoes. 

When you return from the gorillas, head back to the hotel for a hearty three-course lunch. All meals are included in your room rate, so it makes sense to take full advantage of them. Whether you have time for an afternoon adventure will depend on how long your morning trek takes – but if you do, we recommend going on a 2.5-hour tour of the nearby Musanze Caves. On your journey through the mile-long cave system, your guide will tell you all about the resident bat colony, the massacre that took place here during the genocide, and the periods of conflict when the caves were used as a refuge by local people. 

If you don’t have time to visit the caves or feel too tired after your gorilla trek, this afternoon can also be spent enjoying the hotel’s pool, garden, and massage service before sitting down to dinner.

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03 of 07

Day Three: Karisoke Research Center and Musanze

Close up of a golden monkey, Rwanda

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On day three, we suggest a slightly later start. After breakfast, head back to park headquarters for the 30-minute drive to the Karisoke Research Center trailhead. From here, it’s a ten minute hike to the research station founded by the legendary primatologist, Dian Fossey. It was here that Fossey lived and worked from 1967 until her murder in 1985, devoting her life to the study and conservation of the park’s gorillas. After touring the center, you can head out on a 1.5-hour hike to visit her grave. Fossey is buried alongside roughly 20 of her gorilla friends and on the way there, you have a good chance of spotting other primates and forest wildlife. 

When you return, it’s time to detour through Musanze for a quick lunch at laid-back Migano Café (think tasty burgers, sandwiches, and salads), before continuing on for the 1.5-hour drive to northern Lake Kivu. Your destination is the blissful Kivu Paradis Resort, with its lakefront location and rustic, African-style rooms set amid gorgeous tropical gardens. By the time you’ve unpacked, it will be time for sundowners overlooking the water, where the fishermen are heading out for their evening session. Dinner is hosted at the atmospheric hotel restaurant and features Lake Kivu specialties such as grilled tilapia and deep-fried, sardine-like fish known as sambaza. 

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04 of 07

Day Four: Lake Kivu

Rwandan village on the edge of Lake Kivu

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Day Four is dedicated to relaxation, and as the only truly relaxing day of our itinerary, we suggest you make the most of it. There are plenty of activities on offer at the resort, allowing you to do as much or as little as you like. Sign up for a soothing massage, perhaps, or spend the morning sunbathing on the private beach. The extensive gardens are known for their varied birdlife, while kayaking and fishing tours give you the chance to experience Lake Kivu from the water. If you’re up for more hiking, you can even join a guided tour of a local village or coffee plantation. On this day, all meals take place at the hotel. 

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05 of 07

Day Five: Nyungwe Forest National Park

Misty treetops of Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

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After breakfast on day five, it’s time for the lengthy transfer to Nyungwe Forest National Park. The drive takes roughly four hours, and your final destination is the ultra-luxurious One&Only Nyungwe House. As your big splurge for this trip, the resort spoils with an exclusive location on a private tea plantation surrounded by virgin forest. Each of the luxury suites overlook the treetops from their generous balconies, while outdoor showers and rain-soaking tubs allow you to unwind in perfect privacy. Dining is all-inclusive here too, so be sure to arrive in time for your three-course lunch. 

In the afternoon, there are plenty of ways to explore your surroundings. These range from the decadent (a visit to the hotel’s five-star forest spa, anyone?) to the culturally enriching (a tea plantation tour and traditional tea ceremony, perhaps, or a visit to the craft stalls of local Banda Village). Dinner is a four-course extravaganza served in the magnificent dining room, where floor-to-ceiling windows overlook stunning tea plantation views. Expect farm-to-table cuisine inspired by traditional Rwandan recipes and served in gourmet style. 

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06 of 07

Day Six: Nyungwe Forest National Park

Chimpanzee mother and baby up a tree, Nyungwe Forest National Park

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On day six, you’re up before dawn again, this time for a guided chimpanzee trekking experience into the heart of ancient Nyungwe Forest National Park. On your journey through the forest in search of one of two habituated chimpanzee troops, look out for the park’s other 12 primate species, including endangered golden monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, and Ruwenzori colobus. Once you find the chimpanzees, you’ll have an hour with them – during which time you’re likely to be astonished by the familiarity of their behavior as our closest living relatives. Note that permits for this activity must be booked through the Rwanda tourist board in advance. 

The afternoon is reserved for the longest transfer of your trip, a 5.5-hour drive back to Kigali. We recommend staying at the Radisson Blu again, since they offer convenient luggage storage ahead of your departure the next day. If you feel exhausted after your busy day, the hotel’s own Filini Restaurant serves excellent Italian fare. Otherwise, nearby eatery The Hut is renowned as one of the best in the city, specializing in global dishes infused with uniquely Rwandan flavors. It’s also a great spot for sitting with a pre-dinner cocktail, admiring inspiring views of the surrounding Kigali hills. 

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07 of 07

Day Seven: Kigali

Piles of dried beans for sale at Kigali market, Rwanda

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On your last day in Rwanda, make the most of your time by getting up early and heading to Rwandan-Belgian bakery Baso Pâtissier for breakfast. Exceptional coffee and flaky fresh croissants, beignets, and cream puffs give you the energy you need for a morning tour at the Nyamirambo Women’s Center, located a ten minute drive away. You have two options. The first is a walking tour of the capital’s historic Nyamirambo neighborhood, including visits to a local hair salon, tailor’s shop, and two mosques followed by a traditional lunch at the home of the center’s renowned cook, Aminatha. 

Alternatively, skip the walking tour and opt to spend the morning learning to prepare authentic Rwandan cuisine. Under Aminatha’s guidance, you will shop for ingredients at the local markets, prepare them in her courtyard kitchen, then cook them over traditional charcoal stoves. In total you will make six dishes to be shared as a delicious last lunch in Rwanda. Possible inclusions range from staples such as ugali (stiff maize porridge) and isombe (pounded cassava leaves) to stews made with plantains, meat, and peanuts. After lunch, it’s time to fetch your bags and head back to the airport, in time for your flight home.