Butare is close to the Burundi border in the south east of Rwanda. It is a small town with a relaxed atmosphere, best known as the educational centre of the country, having been the location for the first ever secondary school in 1928 and, since 1963, has been the site of Rwanda's national university. Butare is mostly known for its historical museums including the national museum of Rwanda and King's Palace museum.
During colonial times Butare was the administrative centre for the region which served the joint territory of Ruanda-Urundi with only Bujumbura being a larger town. In 1962 it reverted to it's original name of Butare having been known as Astrida from 1935 after the Swedish wife of Belgium's King Leopold III. It was thought at the time of independence that Butare would become the capital of Rwanda, but as Kigali with its more central location in the country took on that role, Butare has remained a sleepy feeling small town, though it has the greatest number of students in the country, having the national university and other training schools and colleges here.
For the visitor, Butare is a great place to stop on the way south to Nyungwe Forest and there are some small but nice hotels and local guest houses . The National Museum is well worth spending a few hours visiting with a truly fascinating range of displays about the history and geography of the country and its people. It opened in 1988 and was a gift from Belgium's King Baudouin I. Sitting on 20 hectares of land they often have Intore dancing displays in the grounds. There is a traditional craft training centre and gardens containing indigenous plants.
Most of the displays are labelled in both English and Kinyarwanda. The various rooms contain exhibits about Rwanda's geography and geology, the early human occupants and their farming and tools, the introduction of cattle and other animals and the brewing of the famous 'banana beer'! There are displays of handicrafts and traditional household items, potter, mats and baskets. There is even a full scale royal hut in the style of the king (similar to that at Rukali).
At Nyanza, nearby, there is the Palace of the former King. There is a great handicraft shop and an interesting market. Just outside town is the Huye Tinnery where you can watch the process from start to finish and buy some attractive products. On the fertile slopes of Mount Huye west of Butare is good coffee growing country. This is a very scenic area and you can visit the coffee washing station and the process of drying and bagging. If you have time, wander round the tree lined peaceful residential streets. There are a few interesting buildings including the Old Customs House and the Librairie Universitaire. 40km west of Butare is the little town of Gikongoro which is surrounded by dramatic hills. There is a good hotel here, The Golden Monkey Hotel.
Near Gikongoro is a very dramatic genocide memorial to remember the 40,000 - 60,000 people who were killed here where they were sheltering in the school on Murambi Hill.
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