Rwanda became independent from Belgium in 1962. Belgium was "awarded" the country, which had previously been a German territory, as part of settlement after World War I. It is important to understand the effects of this colonialism in order to understand the tourism possibilities today. As with its neighbors, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) to the west and Burundi to the south, the indigenous people of Twa, Tutsis, and Hutus spread across the artificial borders. Each colonial regime favored one or the other of the tribes, helping to foster conflict that erupted into what is perhaps the world's worst case of modern genocide in 1994. This is perhaps what most people from the United States think of when they think of this beautiful small country nestled in the lush Virunga Mountains, especially since the 2004 Oscar-nominated film Hotel Rwanda.
Between 1962 independence and the conflicts of the early 1990s, Rwanda travel was undertaken primarily by the adventurous in excellent physical condition who came pretty much with one goal only—to track the highly endangered gentle giants that are mountain gorillas in their natural rainforest habitat. During that time, Rwanda accommodations consisted primarily of rough camping sites, a few basic hotels in the capital of Kigali, and a few very basic bandas and guesthouses in the town of Goma at the foot of the mountains.
Beginning in the late 1990s, as peace, stability, and reconciliation began to take hold, Rwanda travel became safer and safer. There have been significant improvements in the tourism infrastructure, including good hotels in Kigali, and some excellent wilderness and wildlife lodges. Other parks boasting different wildlife have been improved. In addition to the Volcanoes National Park (home of the mountain gorillas), itineraries now include the Nyungwe Forest where there are chimpanzees and Ruwenzori colobus monkey. Volcanic Lake Kivu is also a popular destination, with lovely white-sand beaches and colonial-era villas and hotels. Akagera National Park offers savannah, mountain, and swamp landscapes with wildlife like hippos, a variety of antelope, giraffes, crocodiles, and more. The lovely Akagera Game Lodge here serves as an excellent base for traditional safaris like the ones available in nearby Tanzania and Kenya.
More adventurous travelers may arrive in Rwanda in overland vehicles from Burundi and Tanzania. Most visitors, however, arrive on flights to Kigali airport. There are direct flights from Amsterdam and Brussels in Europe, as well as from several other African countries. Many people combine a safari in Kenya and/or Tanzania with a visit to Rwanda, so arrive from Nairobi, which has numerous flights.
Do note that Rwanda travel to track mountain gorillas is a slog up mountain slopes and through thick forests that is not for those in poor physical condition. On a few lucky days, your small group (there are strict limits on how many people are allowed in a group) may find gorillas after a pleasant walk of less than an hour. Most often, however, it can take hours, up and down steep slopes, cutting through thick vines, knee-deep in mud, and in pouring rain. Everyone who has ever seen these magnificent creatures will, however, tell you that it was worth every blister and mosquito bite.