Cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda

Cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda complement wildlife attractions to offer travellers another experience away from the wild for a complete safari package. Many visitors opt to include cultural tours on their Uganda and Rwanda itineraries which are mostly dominated by wildlife experiences like gorilla trekking, game viewing, chimpanzee tracking and bird watching. Cultural tours include community visits that offer visitors an opportunity to interact with some of the most amazing tribes in East Africa including the Batwa pygmies, the Karamojong and the IK of northestern Uganda. 

How cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda compliment other safari experiences 

cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda

Most of the national parks in Uganda and Rwanda are surrounded by cultural communities where tours are organised for visitors to interact with the locals. Through these cultural tours, visitors learn about culture and traditional norms of these communities. Other aspects to explore include economic activities, social life, and entertainment.

Travellers who visit Bwindi impenetrable national park, Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda as well as Volcanoes national park in Rwanda often conclude their gorilla trekking safari with a cultural encounter with the Batwa pygmies who live around these parks. Those who visit Kidepo valley national park in northeastern Uganda for game experience also get to test a cultural interaction with the Karamajong and IK communities that are found around the park. Other safari destinations like Lake Mburo national park, Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison falls national park and Kibale national park also have amazing cultural communities around them that are usually visited. These include the Banyankore, Bakiga, Batoro, Banyoro and Bakonjo who welcome visitors with their amazing cultural traditions such as music, dance and drama as well as their regalia, food and beer.


Uganda is famous as the Pearl of Africa and one of the culturally diverse African countries. With over 56 indigenous groups, each with its unique customs including arts, music, food and dress code. Some of the most famous groups include the Batwa pygmies, Karamojong, and Baganda who are known for their ancient barkcloth making. As such, the country offers a wide range of authentic African cultural experiences with the Batwa pygmies and the Karamojong warriors.


Rwanda has gained a tourism reputation as the “Land of A Thousand Hills” due to its unique mountainous landscapes including the Virunga volcanoes which are home to mountain gorillas.  There are three ethnic groups which include the Tutsi, Hutu, and the Batwa who have united as a single ethnicity from the past genocide against Tutsi of 1994. The process of rebuilding lives has been successful and is reflected in the art and culture and the clean streets of Kigali capital city.  Rwandans are known for their traditional Intore dance, which is a must-see for every visitor.   

Community tours in Uganda and Rwanda

The communities around the protected areas are home to community based tourism projects that benefit local people and the environment as a whole. Each project is set up with a different goal such as to conserve cultural heritage and traditions, mitigate human-wildlife conflicts, provide alternative streams of income for people to depend less on nature, or empower youth and women through skills training. Most communities are ready to host visitors for short visits or even overnight stays which offers an opportunity to engage with locals and participate in unique cultural experiences while creating a positive impact. 

Gorilla Guardian Village

cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda

The Gorilla Guardian’s Village (formerly Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village) is adjacent to Volcanoes national park in Rwanda. This cultural village started to support poachers to stop their illegal encroachment on the habitat for the endangered gorillas in 2005. It has since become a cultural centre, staffed by ex-poachers, dedicated to preserving Rwandan cultural heritage. The center has a large space with several grass-thatched huts that offer accommodation and where cultural traditions are displayed. Visitors can participate in some activities or simply sit back, watch, and enjoy the show. From traditional music and dance performances, visiting the traditional healer for his stunning metaphysics to dressing in a traditional marriage ceremony as a king and queen. Among other experiential cultural activities at the Gorilla Guardian’s village include banana beer brewing, cooking and shooting bow and arrow lessons. Rwandan traditional arts and crafts can be obtained for a cause at the craft shop.

Bigodi swamp walk

In Uganda’s best chimpanzee trekking destination Kibale national park, there’s the Bigodi wetland sanctuary, a community run-conservation project. Bigodi swamp is home to over 200 species of birds and 8 of the 13 primate species in Kibale forest. The swamp is accessible by a 5-km nature trail with boardwalks in some waterlogged sections. Bigodi offers much better opportunities to spot birds and monkeys due to the open nature of the terrain. The Ugandan mangabeys, red colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, L’hoest monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys can be spotted on the guided swamp walk that lasts 3-4 hours. Tourism is managed by Kibale Association For Rural and Environmental Development which trains local guides and artisans. Their offices are in Bigodi traditing center 5km from Kanyanchu park headquarters. Bigodi village walk also features other experiences including visiting a black smith or traditional medicine man for his stunning metaphysics and the banana beer brewing activity. Tinka’s Homestay offers food and accommodation for those intending to stay in the community. 

The Batwa trail, Mgahinga gorilla national park

cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda

Mgahinga gorilla national park is part of the Virunga mountains that straddle the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. The park was gazetted in 1991 along with Bwindi impenetrable forest to conserve mountain gorillas. The conservation policy led to eviction of the indigenous Batwa pygmies from their traditional home and way of living as hunter-gatherers. Faced with hunger, malnutrition, homelessness, and diseases, Batwa became some of the most marginalized communities in the world. Batwa trail on the slopes of Muhabura volcano is accredited by the Uganda Wildlife Authority for those intending to learn about the ancient ways of life including the prehistoric ancient firemaking Batwa style. 

The Ik tribe 

Uganda’s smallest tribe, the IK live on the slopes of mount Morungole near Kidepo valley national park. Located in the remote semi-arid Karamoja sub-region in the north east along the Kenya and South Sudan border. The park is home to 77 mammal species and over 500 species of birds of which some are not found in other parts of Uganda including the Karamoja apalis, side-striped jackals, Aardwolves, ostriches, white-eared kobs, and cheetahs. The region is dominated by the semi nomadic Karimojong cluster of cattle warriors, who are closely related to the Maasai of Tanzania and Kenya. The Ik are a minority group who have maintained a subsistence lifestyle of hunting and farming. The Karamoja cultural tour offers an opportunity to see the Manyattas, the traditional homesteads. Among their customs such as high jump dance. 

The traditional Ankole-Watusi longhorn cows

cultural tours in Uganda and Rwanda

The Ankole-Watusi longhorn cows are thought to have been left by the Bachwezi who ruled much of East Africa. In Uganda and Rwanda, the longhorn cows used to be associated with royal kings among the Tutsi and Bahima communities. However, they’re nowadays owned by many and can be seen anywhere in the countryside. Those intending to explore the rich heritage of the Ankole need to visit specific places to participate in rituals and traditions such as milking the cows, fermentation of milk to obtain cow ghee. Ankole cow cultural tours are available at  the Kamihingo farm near Lake Mburo national park in Uganda, Nshenyi cultural village in Ntungamo district in Uganda and in Rwanda at the King’s Palace museum and the community near Akagera national park.

City tours – markets, genocide memorials and historical sites

Visiting an African city is a great cultural tour that introduces you to the history and culture, and economy of the country. Wildlife safaris to Uganda and Rwanda mostly begin or end in the city and there are options to see its historical sites. Visit the Kasubi Royal Tombs in Uganda’s Kampala capital city. Having suffered a devastating fire in 2010, the tombs are an endangered UNESCO world heritage site.  Kasubi dates back to 1882 and constitutes tombs of four former kings of Buganda kingdom. The Baganda people, with 42 different clans make Uganda’s largest ethnic group.

Most of their sacred objects and customs are stored and practiced under the roof-thatched house that shelters the tombs. Tour the Kigali Genocide Memorial, opened in 2010 during the 10th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. A cemetery for over 250,000 victims, the memorial has transformed from being just a place for remembrance. It is also a place to learn the mistakes of the past and move forward. Through the campaign Never Again, citizens are empowered to stand against ethnic divisions and rebuild lives for good. Rwanda is one of the countries with no ethnicity. Those who visit the tour of the genocide memorial will learn how Rwanda fosters the message of humanity displayed through audiovisual and various arts and crafts products. As part of city tours, visitors are also taken to several market centres in either Kigali or Kampala where they interact with the local population, observe several products sold and may as well buy a few that interest them.