Rwanda is a relatively stable East African country, and easily accessible from Kenya and Uganda. It is relatively easy, safe and simple to travel around. It is landlocked, surrounded by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west.
Rwanda is not only the land of a thousand hills, but also a country rich in flora and fauna and stunning natural beauty in its scenic rolling and breathtaking green savannah. The country hosts some rare species of animals like the silverback mountain gorillas as well as unique birds and insects in the tropical forest of Nyungwe.
It's been nearly two decades since the civil war and genocide of 1994 that devastated this tiny country, and it's come a long way, being now a member of the Commonwealth. It still has to deal with higher crime rates, and some political instability with outbreaks of violence. Expect a warm and friendly welcome to a beautiful country, as well as security advisories.
Rwanda has 3 national parks:
A passport is required to enter Rwanda and a certificate of vaccination for yellow fever is normally required to return back to the country of origin. Nationals of the following countries may visit Rwanda without visa for a period up to 90 days: USA, Germany, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, United Kingdom, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong and Burundi. . If arriving by air, citizens of many other European countries may get an 8 day single entry visa on arrival for USD30, which can be extended by the immigration office in Kigali, although this process is sometimes tedious. Generally, Rwandan embassy and consulates can issue 3 month tourist visas for around the same price without much hassle. Contact your nearest embassy or consulate for more information.
If you are travelling overland, it is no longer possible to obtain a visa at the border. However, visa application can easily be made online. You will within a few days receive an entry visa acceptance by email. Bring this acceptance letter; the visa will be issued at the border. The US$30 visa fee is paid at the border.
There are direct international flights into Kigali from Brussels several times a week on Brussels Airlines, and from Istanbul three times per week on Turkish Airlines. KLM also flies to Kigali directly from Amsterdam. RwandAir has, since the end of August 2011, started flights to Dubai (via) Mombasa using its new Boeing 737-800 and separately to Jo-Burg using the same aircraft. There are also daily flights from Entebbe airport in Uganda, Johannesburg and Addis Ababa. Additionally, there are connections twice a day from Nairobi, and several flights a week to Bujumbura. Note that the Rwandan capital is also easily accessible (3h by road) from the Goma airstrip in DRC.
Several buses run from Dar es Salaam via Morogoro and Dodoma (they all leave Ubungo bus station around 6 - 7AM) to Kahama daily. You will have to spend the night in Kahama and then get a minibus or shared taxi to the border. From the Rwandan side of the border, there are minibuses to Kigali.
Short distances can be travelled either on foot, or by taxi-velo (bicycle taxi). Taxi-velos are widespread, and are relatively inexpensive but not allowed in urban areas. A taxi-velo driver will cycle, and the passenger will sit rather precariously on the back.
Motorcycle taxis (taxi-moto) are also popular, especially in Kigali, a normal journey will cost up to $2. If you look like a foreigner and are walking on the main road, drivers will probably come up to you to offer a ride. Most of the drivers speak basic English or French, some do not.
Taxis are less common, and are best found at taxi stations, by waiting at the taxi sign at bus stops, or by calling them. They are significantly more expensive, even short rides cost 2000 francs, almost $4, and longer rides can be 5,000 or more (almost $10).
Slightly longer distances, indeed the whole country, can be travelled by Matatu (or Twegerane, literaly let's get closer). These white minibuses are found throughout East Africa, and are crammed full of adults, children, and anything else you can think of (bags, chickens).
Kinyarwanda is the chief spoken language in Rwanda. It is also spoken in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo and in the south of Uganda (Bufumbira-area). Kinyarwanda is a language of the Bantu linguistic family. It is closely related to Kirundi spoken in the neighboring country Burundi and to Giha of western Tanzania.
English and French are also official languages, and many residents (particularly in urban areas) will speak one or the other in addition to Kinyarwanda.
Due to the mass movement of people over the past fifty years, a result of the country's war torn history, you will likely encounter several people who speak a handful of other languages spoken in the East African region (Kiswahili, Lingala, Luganda). Most traders in Rwanda will speak enough Kiswahili to make a sale.
The currency is the Rwandan Franc (RWF), which can be divided into 100 centimes. As of November 2012, 1 US Dollar (USD) is equivalent to 617 RWF's.
The smallest-value note is a 500 RWF note, which is the smallest note in physical size, as well. There are also notes in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, and 5,000 RWF, with the larger notes becoming slightly larger in physical size. There are no generally-circulated notes over 5,000 RWF. Since few places in Rwanda accept credit cards, travelers need to carry cash if traveling outside of Kigali, especially if staying longer than a few days.
Coins valued at 100 RWF are commonly used. It is common for most businesses in Rwanda, including currency exchangers and gas stations, to round transactions to the nearest 100 RWF.
There are ATMs all over Kigali, in every bank branch. Depending on your bank, this can be a much cheaper way to get francs because the ATMs use a much better exchange rate than currency exchanges.
The local "Brochettes" (goat kebabs) are delicious and are available in most bars and restaurants. Many restaurants also serve grilled fish and chicken, and frites and frites-banane (fried plantain) are ubiquitous.
In urban areas a local buffet known as "Melange" is sold at lunchtime. This consists of a buffet of mostly carbohydrates such as potatoes, bananas, beans, rice, cassava accompanied by some vegetables and a small amount of meat or fish with sauce.
Note that Rwandan buffets are not all you can eat! You may fill your plate only once, and with practice you'll be able to stack your plate high like some do to make it as close to 'all you can eat' as possible observing the unusual one plate rule. Then of course, the others may shake their heads at you, and give you annoyed stares. Prices run up to USD$10. Most of the buffets offer a salad buffet too. Note that many of the cheaper Melange places don't advertise price, you have to ask.
Many choose to purchase an entree at a restaurant based on the limitations mentioned above, as entrees are hearty (more than one plateful) and exactly what you want. The reasoning is, why call it a buffet as it is not there in abundance for you? Ask, as there are a few places who observe the worldwide norm for buffets.
Kigali has a much better range of restaurants than the rest of the country. Here you can find several Indian and Chinese restaurants, as well as Italian, Greek, French and multi-cuisine establishments charging around $10 for dinner.
Accommodation is usually fairly basic and significantly more expensive than neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Very basic accommodation will cost just under $10; these are usually hostels. Some inexpensive hotels offer rates up to $30. There are a significant number of hotels in excess of $30.
A few nice hotels can be found in Kigali, the most famous of which is the "Hotel des Milles Collines", as featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Movie buffs hoping to stay where the film was set will be disappointed though, as the film was produced in South Africa. The hotel is now open after extensive renovation. Most hotels in Kigali are in the $50 and above range, although there are a few bargains to be had if you look around.
Kigali Serena Hotel is situated in Central Kigali, the commercial heart of Rwanda, and only 10 km from Kigali International Airport. The hotel is an excellent base from which to explore the city and surrounds.
The hotel is very attractive and has facilities including a gymnasium, swimming pool and wifi internet access. Accommodation comprises of 104 air-conditioned rooms ranging from a Presidential suite to luxury suites and smaller deluxe rooms. All rooms feature satellite TV, tea-/coffee-making facilities, mini bar, room safe and telephone. The main restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, while the bar serves drinks on the terrace or in the lounge. There is also a coffee bar that serves light snacks.
There is a relatively inexpensive hotel run by Catholic nuns called St Paul right in the center of town. It's located right behind the church by the same name right across from the roundabout. Twin beds (without self-contained bathroom) cost RFr 8000.
The Mamba Club, located in Kimihurura, is just a short ride from Kigali City Center and has a hostel. The Mamba Club is a recreational facility with bowling, swimming, volleyball, a trampoline, a games center, function/group meeting rooms, restaurant/sports bar, and home to several classes such as hot yoga and zumba. The hostel has both dorm rooms and a private room. The dorm beds are 10 000 rwf per night, and the private room is 20 000 rwf per night. These prices include a locker, hot water shower, linens, swimming pool use, volley ball court use, games room use, and wireless internet access. More information about Mamba Club can be found on their facebook page www.facebook.com/MambaClubHousePage, or you can call the Manager on +250 78 220 8824.
The Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel is located in Kacyiru, a couple of miles from Kigali's main attractions but well served by motorcycle taxis, taxis and buses.
There is a fairly inexpensive hotel called Home Saint Jean (phone number: 0252 568 526) in Kibuye. They have dorms and private rooms.
In most shops you will find milk, water, juices and soft drinks. In most bars the choice is limited to their offering of about 5 different sodas and 5 different beers, Turbo King, Primus, Mützig, Amstel and Skol. Primus, Skol and Mützig are available in small and large sizes, whereas Amstel is available only in 330ml bottles. Note that Rwandans are known for their fondness for large beers and when you order Amstel, small Skol, Primus or Mutzig, it is common for a server to bring out 2 bottles at a time. Bralirwa in the north of the Rwanda produces most of the beer and soft drinks available in Rwanda while Brasserie de Mille Collines (BMC) produces Skol. Inyange produces juices and soft drinks. There are also local banana beer preparations called Urgwagwa, normally brewed at home and available at some shops and bars. Ubuki is made from fermented honey and has an alcohol content of about 12%.
Tourists are usually welcomed warmly in Rwanda, and the country is largely considered safe for visitors. Exceptions are certain places along borders of the DRC and Burundi. Rwandan troops or a militia may be involved in the civil war that still plagues the northeast of DRC, mainly due to the presence of Inherahamwe in Kinyarwanda/AKA 'Interahamwe' (Hutu paramilitary).
They carried out the Rwandan Genocide acts against the Tutsis in 1994. The Interahamwe formed RTLM, the genocidal radio station which was used to broadcast where the Tutsis were fleeing. Interahamwe can be translated this way: Intera is derived from the verb gutera, meaning "to work". The hamwe means "together" and is related to the word rimwe for "one". "Work" was used as slang on racist radios - 'working'someone meant using the machete or killing.
Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was a Rwandan radio station which broadcast from July 8, 1993 to July 31, 1994. It played a significant role during the April–July 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The station's name is French for "One Thousand Hills Free Radio and Television", deriving from the description of Rwanda as "Land of a Thousand Hills". It received support from the government-controlled Radio Rwanda, which initially allowed it to transmit using their equipment.
Widely listened to by the general population, it projected racist propaganda against Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations mission UNAMIR. It is widely regarded as having played a crucial role in creating the atmosphere of charged racial hostility that allowed the genocide to occur.
On occasion, travel by U.S. Embassy personnel may be restricted based on changing security conditions. U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from driving outside Kigali city limits after dark (6:00 p.m.), and are not permitted to use motorcycle-taxis or mini-bus taxis. Visitors are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at step.state.gov so that they will receive the latest security information. (See Enrollment/Embassy Location section above.) Messages sent to the U.S. citizen community are also posted on the U.S. Embassy website.
The Embassy urges you to remain vigilant, exercise caution, and avoid crowds, demonstrations, or any other form of public gathering, due to killings, injuries, and thrown hand grenades in crowds, last incident December 2012.
Gorilla trekking, usually through tour and safari groups, near the DRC border is generally considered safe, due to the large and continuous Rwandan army presence - check re: recent security alerts.
While travelling in twegerane (taxis) in the countryside, don't be surprised if the twegerane is stopped at several police/military check-points. This is done to check IDs, car registration and insurance, so it would be wise to bring at least a photocopy of your passport with you everywhere you go in Rwanda.
Check the U.S. State Department's Consular Information Sheet on Rwanda for continuous information.
Medical and dental facilities are limited, and some medicines are in short supply or unavailable. Travelers should bring their own supplies of prescription drugs and preventive medicines. In Kigali, Americans may go to King Faycal Hospital, a private facility that offers limited services. There is also a missionary dental clinic in Kigali staffed by an American dentist. An American-operated missionary hospital with some surgical facilities is in Kibagora, in southwestern Rwanda. Another hospital with American physicians is in Ruhengeri, near the gorilla trekking area, and a Chinese hospital is in southeastern Rwanda in Kibungo. There is also a very good hospital near Lac Muhazi, where even people from Kigali go. The U.S. Embassy maintains a current list of healthcare providers and facilities in Rwanda. This list is included in the Consular Section’s welcome packets for American citizens.
If you will be visiting an area of Rwanda with malaria, you will need to discuss with your doctor the best ways for you to avoid getting sick with malaria. The malaria risk is moderate in all regions per the CDC. Ways to prevent malaria include the following: Taking a prescription antimalarial drug. Using insect repellent and wearing long pants and sleeves to prevent mosquito bites. Sleeping in air-conditioned or well-screened rooms or using bednets. All of the following antimalarial drugs are options for preventing malaria in Rwanda: Atovaquone-proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. Yellow fever is a risk; vaccination is recommended. Cholera outbreaks occur in Rwanda periodically; most recently in 2009.
Louse-borne typhus has occurred at epidemic levels.
Schistosomiasis may be acquired by swimming, wading, rafting, or bathing in contaminated fresh water. Swimming and bathing precautions are advised (see below).
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection is reported, but travelers are not at risk unless they have unprotected sexual contacts or receive injections or blood transfusions.
Other infections include: African trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness transmitted via the tsetse fly). Lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis,a tropical disease. Infection occurs when filarial parasites are transmitted to humans through mosquitoes). Onchocerciasis (Onchocerciasis is often called "river blindness" because it is found often in fertile river deltas and causes blindness. The blackfly is the carrier).
Rwanda is a very conservative society; most people dress modestly, especially women. Wearing shorts or tight skirts and skimpy tops is likely to get you stared at twice as much as normal.
Greetings are extremely important in Rwanda. It is impolite not to return a greeting or to start a conversation without a proper greeting. Younger persons must greet older persons first, and women greet men first. When being introduced for the first time or when greeting a professional colleague, Rwandans shake right hands and may place the left hand under the right forearm as a sign of respect. Some young urbanites “kiss the air” near each cheek while shaking hands.
Usual greetings include Muraho (Hello, it's been a while), Mwaramutse (Good morning), or Mwiriwe (Good afternoon/evening). The initial greeting is usually followed by Amakuru? (How's the news?) or, among close friends, Bite se? (How are things going?). The typical response is Ni meza (Fine) or Ni meza cyane (Very fine).
Avoid eye contact with a superior or elder. The distance between people when they converse indicates their relationship: friends require little or no distance, while superiors must have more. Friends of the same sex often hold hands while walking or talking, but such public contact between members of the opposite sex is not appropriate.
Pass items to an older person with both hands. Rwandans toss their head to the side while uttering 'eh' to express disbelief, usually when they are listening to a personal experience. Pointing with the finger or hand is impolite; instead, the head is used, with the chin and mouth jutting in the direction indicated.
Rwandans will generally never eat or drink in public, apart from restaurants. Rwandan women are rarely seen smoking in public or out in bars unaccompanied. Although there is no smoking ban in most public places like bars and restaurants, generally it's not encouraged. Sometimes people may complain of being disturbed by your smoking.
Rwandans are very private, reserved people and loud public confrontations or obvious displays of emotion are frowned upon. If you feel you are being overcharged by a trader, quietly persistence is likely to produce results much faster than an angry outburst
Understand that Rwanda is recovering from a civil war and genocide in which approximately a million people were murdered. Many lost relatives and friends. Remember to be sensitive to this extreme tragedy when associating with people. Most people today are trying to forget. It is considered impolite to ask someone about their ethnic origin.
There is not much political discourse in Rwanda due to erupting violence, unlike in many neighboring countries such as Uganda and Kenya where people talk freely about the government and political issues, people in Rwanda will be uncomfortable if asked about their views or even if seated at a table where national politics is discussed.
Office Rwandaise du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN)
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in Canada
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in the UK
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in the USA