Difference between revisions of "Rwanda"
Revision as of 21:52, 4 January 2013
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 savanna. 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 over a decade since the civil war and genocide of 1994 that devastated this tiny country, and it's come a long way. Shake off your memories of war and expect a warm and friendly welcome to a beautiful country.
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, Great Britain, 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 USD$30, 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 traveling overland, it is no longer possible to obtain a visa at the border. However, visa application can easily be made at . 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).
Bantu 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 dialect of the Bantu language 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, which can be cumbersome since a 5,000 RWF note is roughly equivalent to $8.30 (USD). Since few places in Rwanda accept credit cards, travelers need to make provision to carry around a large bundle of cash if traveling outside of Kigali, especially if staying longer than a few days.
Coins valued at 100 RWF are commonly used. However, smaller coins (50, 20, 10, 5, and 1 RWF) are generally not accepted by street merchants and smaller restaurants and hotels. The only place to obtain smaller coins is through a bank or a large store, such as a supermarket. It is common for most businesses in Rwanda, including currency exchangers and gas stations, to round transactions to the nearest 100 RWF.
Americans traveling to Rwanda will receive slightly better exchange rates by bringing $50 bills or higher (year 2006 or newer) to exchange for Rwandan Francs.
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 the money changers.
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 with 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 the locals do. Prices range from just over a USD$1 to USD$5 or even USD$10 depending on the grade of the eatery and the variety of food available. Most of the upper segment buffets ($3 and above) offer a salad buffet too. Note that many of the cheaper Melange places are unmarked.
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.
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 in the film 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.
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, functions 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 3 different beers, Primus, Mützig and Amstel. Primus 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, 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. Inyange produces juices and soft drinks.
There are also local banana beer preparations called Urgwagwa, normally brewed at home and available only in unappetising plastic containers but now also sold in bottles at some shops and bars.
Tourists are usually welcomed warmly in Rwanda, and the country is largely considered safe for visitors. The possible exceptions are certain places along the Congolese and Burundian borders. Rwandan troops rumoured to be involved in the civil war that still plagues the northeast of Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainly due to the presence of Interhamwe who fled after the 1994 genocide. Gisenyi and Kibuye are considered safe, but the border situation can change at any time: check Foreign Office information and local sources for further advice.
Gorilla trekking near to the DRC border is generally considered safe, due to the large and continuous Rwandan army presence.
While travelling in matutus (taxis) in the countryside, don't be surprised if the matutu drives through 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 passport with you everywhere you go in Rwanda.
The following is an excerpt from the U.S. State Department's Consular Information Sheet on Rwanda, last updated on 1-12-2006:
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 to. 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. There are periodic outbreaks of meningitis in Rwanda. Yellow fever can cause serious medical problems, but the vaccine, required for entry, is very effective in preventing the disease. HIV/AIDS is high among adults at 9% or 1 in 11. Practice safe sex. Avoid intravenous drug use.
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.
It is unusual for a couple to make public displays of affection, even though many men walk hand in hand with male friends. Also, 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 with your smoking.
Rwandans are very private, reserved people and loud public confrontations (shouting matches) or obvious displays of emotion (such as crying) are also frowned upon. If you feel you are being overcharged by a trader, quietly persisting with the negotiation (or your complaint!) is likely to produce results much faster than an angry outburst!
It is also impolite to make eye contact with an elder.
Please understand that Rwanda is still recovering from a civil war and genocide in which over 800,000 people, perhaps a million, were killed. Many Rwandese lost relatives and friends. Remember to be sensitive to this sad fact when dealing with Rwandese. Most people today are trying to forget the tribal divisions and would rather be referred to as Rwandese than Hutu or Tutsi. It is considered impolite to ask someone about their ethnic origin.
There is not much political discourse in Rwanda, 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