Land change was assessed in the Albertine rift region (ARR) using its central section of north-western Rwanda as case study. This region is one of Africa's most ecologically sensitive environments under severe pressure from human activities. The study maps and quantifies the spatial extent of land use-land cover (LULC) changes between 1987 and 2016 from Landsat images. Transitions between five major land classes were identified in order to understand the trajectory of observed changes. In terms of gains, the forest class, the urban built-up and bare land class increased by 9% and 4% respectively over the study period. The gains of forest were mainly derived from the afforestation of some agricultural lands in the southern part, whereas the gains of built-up and bare lands were mostly from cultivated land which was a net losing class. Forest increase is in line with government's policy to increase the national forest cover to 30% by 2020. Forest losses occurred mostly outside protected areas due to land conversion for settlement and agricultural purposes. Much needed information about changes in LULC over the last three decades is provided. This study demonstrates in a timely manner how to analyse and monitor LULC change and the drivers in an environment where field based research is a challenge due to the mountainous terrain. The ecological richness of the region, which coincides with heightened human population pressure, necessitates the monitoring of land change as input for improving land use planning with focus on conserving biodiversity.