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Introduction

At the center of the Albertine Rift in Rwanda where deep volcanic forces are pressing the continental plates apart, visitors are sure to discover a world of exquisite beauty and biodiversity. Volcanoes dominated the north and Lake Kivu lies to the west. There is a plethora of wildlife inhabiting the national parks. Nyungwe Forest boasts 13 species of primates, including chimpanzees, an enormous troop of Colobus monkeys, Gray-Cheeked Mangabey, and a variety of guenon monkeys. However, natural beauty only tells part of Rwanda's story. City life plays an imperative role in contributing to Rwanda's rich culture. Among the safest and friendliest of African capitals, Kigali has a range of hotels catering to all tastes and budgets, and an assortment of fine restaurants whose menus reflect the country's historical links with Belgium while also embracing other international cuisines.

The earliest known inhabitants of what is now Rwanda were the Twa Pygmies, an ethnic group that still inhabits a small portion of the country. In the late 19th century, Germany officially took control of Burundi and Rwanda, introducing urban development and Christianity. At the end of WWI, Rwanda was passed to a Belgian administration. Chronic ethnic conflict, along with several political and economic upheavals, exacerbated tensions, culminating in the 1994 genocide of roughly 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Tutsis prevailed in July 1994, but approximately two million Hutu refugees fled to neighboring Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and the former Zaire. Most of the refugees have returned to Rwanda, but despite political reform and international aid, the country continues to struggle to boost investment and agricultural output. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Tanzania, has begun to prosecute those directly responsible for the 1994 genocide.

Rwanda has a population of 9.9 million, about 90 percent of whom are Hutu. They were originally Bantu-speaking farmers who for most of the past five centuries were ruled by the minority Tutsis. Kinyarwanda is the language most widely spoken in Rwanda, although English and French are also quite common. Christianity is the dominant religion, adhered to by two-thirds of the population, while tribal religious beliefs are held by 25 percent of Rwandans. Ten percent of residents are Muslims. Music is a mainstay of local festivals and ceremonies, with drums as the dominant instrument. Traditional dances, similar to those staged in Burundi, are also prominent due primarily to Tutsi influences.

The only time that is not ideal for visiting Rwanda is during the rainy season from mid-March through mid-May. The best way to enter the country is via air through Kigali's international airport. There are two flights a day from Nairobi, two per week direct from Brussels and two per week from Johannesburg. The country's bus network is comprised of a large number of modern minibuses, in addition to a few government vehicles.

Rwanda has many options when it comes to lodging, ranging from luxurious up-scale resorts to simple, comfortable lodges. It is advisable not to drink tap water, but bottled mineral water can be bought in all towns. Hospitals are also located in all major towns. Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country, and international phone calls can be made easily. Most towns will have several Internet cafes and computer centers.


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