Charles Nkurunziza is a tour guide based in the village of Kinigi in north-west Rwanda. It is a gateway into the Virunga Mountains and Volcanoes National Park, where visitors can trek with guides to see mountain gorillas.
He became active in the tourism industry by becoming a guide at Kinigi’s cultural centre. I first met Charles in 2012 while touring Rwanda. He now has the vision of building a school in Kinigi, financed through community tourism projects. Charles believes is personalised tours, with airport pick ups, and shares some of his insights into his region here:
Why do you think people should come to Kinigi?
I live at Kinigi, a village of around 14,000 people, close the Rwandan border with Congo and Uganda, and five volcanoes — Karisimbi, Bushokoro, Muhabura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga. Most people visit to see the mountain gorillas.
I think people should visit Rwanda because of its beautiful landscapes. We call our country “the land of a thousand hills.” It has green, rolling countryside and gives people opportunities to see many different species of primates and birds.
We are a democratic nation and safe to visit, that’s worth saying as perhaps not everybody knows that. Rwanda has developed rapidly following the genocide of 1994.
From where I live it is easy to head into Uganda or combine a visit with safaris in Tanzania and Kenya.
What is your favourite place in Rwanda?
My favourite local place is Kinigi because it provides insights into traditional Rwandan culture and is a lot of fun to visit. Food dances are performed at Kinigi.
I recommend people visit cooperatives, where people can buy handicrafts. A portion of the fees finance the orphanage.
People can go trekking, to see the mountain gorillas, then walk around the village to see traditional dances, how people cook and other activities within homes.
If you were going to take a guest to a meal where would you choose and why?
I usually recommend Lappallote. The staff are very friendly and take good care of customers, no matter where they are from. They serve traditional cuisine, from Rwanda, and also international dishes.
For anybody interested in trying Rwandan food I recommend Imvange, a stew, with potatoes and maize, cooked in a traditional pot. I like it because eating it makes you feel strong. People eat this before going out to cultivate the land or carry heavy things. We call it the spice of Rwanda. The Kings of Rwanda used to eat this kind of food.
If there is a bar or cafe that you could take guests to, which would it be and why?
I like taking guests to the Inzora Café, which has branches in Kinigi, at Muzaze and also in Kigali. I like it because of their good service and reasonable prices.
They also serve urwagwa beer, made from bananas. It is used during ceremonies in Rwanda, including marriages. It is not expensive and people mix it with water.
What is your favourite legend or quirky bit of history associated with your region?
I think the story of Dian Fossey is special. She was an American zoologist and primatologist who studied mountain gorillas for nearly two decades. She is remembered for her book Gorillas in the Mist, which was turned into a film starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey.
She played a key role in conserving mountain gorillas on Mount Karisimbi, an active volcano.
Her tomb is at Karisoke and is one of my favourite places to visit.
If guests can stay in Rwanda for a few days longer what do you recommend they do and see?
I would suggest a visit to the twin lakes — Burera and Ruhondo — which sit beneath steep-sided hills. People can view them from the hilltop or go out onto them using canoes.
Community tourism means an opportunity to stay with local people, in their homes, and experience how they live. A lot of people enjoy cooking local cuisine and helping to cultivate fruit and vegetables.
We have a good road infrastructure and our country is relatively small by African standards. That means visitors can see a lot during a visit, as travelling times are not long.
I would recommend walking in the rainforest of Nyungwe National Park, where it is possible to see 13 different species of primates, including L’Hoest’s monkey and olive baboons. Viewing wildlife in Akagera National Park means opportunities to see hippos and giraffes.
If guests are interested in history and understanding more about the country I suggest they visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the King’s Palace Museum at Nyanza.
You can experience Kinigi and other attractions in Rwanda in the company of Charles via Volcanoes Trinity Guide (tel. +250 7840 35642).
To discover more about Rwanda, visit the Rwanda Tourism website.
Photos illustrating this post are by Stuart Forster.