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 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. A 90 day visa is issued on arrival free of charge for nationals of Burundi, US, UK, Democratic Republic of Congo, Germany, Hong Kong, Kenya, Mauritius, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Tanzania and Uganda . If arriving by air, citizens of many other European countries may get an 8 day single entry visa on arrival for USD$60, 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 www.migration.gov.rw/singleform.php. You will within a few days receive a entry visa acceptance by email. Bringing this acceptance letter, the visa will be issued at the border. The US$60 visa fee is paid at the border.
I'm not a plastic bag!
Thin plastic bags are prohibited in Rwanda. Luggage will be searched at the border and even at police checkpoints throughout the country to make sure you are not carrying plastic bags. Prior to the ban, one-time use plastic bags plagued city streets and threatened the delicate environment. Today, Rwandan cities are almost litter-free and some of the cleanest in Africa!
There are direct international flights into Kigali from Brussels (twice per week). 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 (3hrs by road) from the Goma airstrip in DRC. [Rwanda Flights Travel]
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 on to the boarder. From the Rwandan side of the boarder, there are minibuses to Kigali.
In 2009, Rwanda & Tanzania announced a plan to build a railway line between Isaka, Tanzania and Kigali.
Short distances can be travelled either on foot, or by taxi-velo (bicycle taxi). Taxi-velos are widespead, 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 from 40c-$1.
Slightly longer distances, indeed the whole country, can be travelled by Matatu (or Twegerane, literaly let 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 tonal language of the Bantu language family (Guthrie D61). Kinyarwanda 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 January 2010, 1 USD = 567.7 RWF, 1 EUR = 801.5 RWF, and 1 GBP = 924.5 RWF.
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.
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, wheras 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. Inyanze 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.
Accommodation is usually fairly basic and significantly more expensive than neighboring Uganda and Tanzania. Very basic accommodation will cost $8-$20.
A few nice hotels can be found in Kigali - including the famous "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. (Note: as of October 2008, the Mille Collines is temporarily closed for renovation. Reopening date currently unknown.) Most hotels in Kigali are in the $50 and above range although there are a few bargains to be had if you look around.
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 at restaurants. Rwandan women are rarely seen smoking in public or out in bars unaccompanied.
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 their views or even if seated at a table where national politics is discussed.
Office Rwandaise du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN)
Street Address: Boulevard de la Révolution no 1, Kigali, Rwanda
Postal Address: BP 905, Kigali, Rwanda
Tel: (250) 576 514 or (250) 573 396
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in Canada
53 Gilmour Street, Ottawa, ON K2P 0N8, Canada
Tel: (613) 569-5420
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in the UK
120-22 Seymour Place, London W1H 1NR, UK
Tel: (020) 7224 9832
Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in the USA
1714 New Hampshire Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Tel: (202) 232 2882