About Rwanda is a landlocked republic in Equatorial Africa, situated on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift, a western arm of the Great Rift Valley, on the watershed between Africa’s two largest river systems: the Nile and the Congo. Much of the country’s 26,338 km2 is impressively mountainous, the highest peak being Karisimbi (4,507m) in the volcanic Virunga chain protected by the Volcanoes National Park. The largest body of water is Lake Kivu, but there are other numerous lakes around the country, notably Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi and Mugesera, some of which have erratic shapes following the contours of the steep mountains that enclose them.
A combination of tropical location and high altitude ensures that most of Rwanda has a temperate year-round climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night throughout the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area protected in Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, seasonal variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000 mm of precipitation annually, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest February to May.
Primarily a subsistence agriculture economy, Rwanda nonetheless produces for export some of the finest tea and coffee in the world. Other industries include sugar, fishing and flowers for export. For more information about Rwanda’s economy and investment opportunities available in Rwanda.
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc (RFr), which is sometimes also abbreviated to ‘Frw’. It’s best to come to Rwanda with US dollars or Euros in cash. The only useful bank branch in the country is Banque de Kigali in the capital, which offers cash advances on credit card and can change traveler’s cheques, neither of which is possible in the provinces. There are ATMs in Kigali, but they are not yet wired to an international network. Credit cards can be used in some up market hotels and restaurants in Kigali.
Bureau de change – which are mostly in Kigali – offer slightly better exchange rates than banks. Moneychangers hang around central Kigali and usually give a slightly better rate, but count your money carefully. All banks, and most bureau de change, are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
About Rwanda Travel Tips
Passport and Visas
A valid passport with visa is mandatory. In view of the bilateral agreements, nationals of the following countries may visit Rwanda without visa for a period up to 90 days: USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sweden, Mauritius, South Africa and Hong Kong. Visas can be applied for online or bought upon arrival.
Getting there & away
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport is located at Kanombe, 10km east of Kigali centre. Airlines connect Kigali with Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Bujumbura (Burundi), Entebbe (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Brussels (Belgium).
The following airlines have offices in Kigali: Air Burundi (572113; Ave des Milles Collines), Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, airways.com; Ave des Milles Collines), Rwanda Express, SN Brussels Airline (575290; www.brusselsairlines.com; Ave de la République), South African Airways-Blvd de la Revolution)
Make sure you check the latest security situation carefully before crossing by land into Burundi. The main crossing point between Rwanda and Burundi is via Butare (Rwanda) and Kayanza (Burundi), on the very well-maintained Kigali–Bujumbura road. The border post is called Kayanza Haut. Yahoo Car, New Yahoo Coach and Gaso Bus run daily buses between Kigali and Bujumbura (RFr4000/5000 for a small/big bus, about six hours), departing about 7am. There is also a direct road from Cyangugu to Bujumbura, but this is not in such good shape.
About Democratic Republic of Congo
Do as much homework as possible before crossing by land into the DRC, as the security situation remains potentially volatile after almost a decade of civil war. There are two main crossings between Rwanda and the DRC, both on the shores of Lake Kivu. Crossing between Gisenyi (Rwanda) and Goma (DRC) was considered safe at the time of research, although only for day trips to Goma, climbing Nyiragongo volcano or visiting the mountain gorillas. Longer trips into the DRC or overland trips through the country were inadvisable at the time of research. The southern border between Cyangugu (Rwanda) and Bukavu (DRC) is also open, but the security situation around Bukavu is a little more volatile than it is around Goma.
From Kigali, take a minibus to the border town of Rusumo (RFr1500, three hours). Once across the border, jump on any form of public transport – often a pick-up – to Ngara. From Ngara, catch a bus (US$10, 12 hours) to Mwanza. The road to Mwanza is mostly good but has some rough sections. Hitching is sometimes possible along this way, as plenty of aid vehicles use the road.
The main border crossing is located between Kigali and Kabale, via Katuna (Rwanda) and Katuna (Uganda). Those travelling directly between Kigali and Kampala can travel with Jaguar Executive Coaches (086 14838), which has a VIP bus (RFr7000) and a standard service (RFr5000), both departing at 5.45am, 6.15am and 9am from Kigali Nyabugogo Bus Station and taking nine hours. Between Kigali and Kabale there are lots of minibuses, but a change of vehicle at the border is involved. There are regular minibuses from Kigali to Katuna (RFr1500, 1½ hours).
Across the border in Katuna there are minibuses (US$0.50) and special hire taxis (US$8 for the car) to Kabale. There is also a second crossing between Ruhengeri (Rwanda) and Kisoro (Uganda), via Cyanika. The road is in excellent shape on the Rwandan side however, it’s in poor condition on the Ugandan side. Frequent minibuses link either side of the border with Ruhengeri (RFr500, 25km) or Kisoro (US$0.60, 12km).
In addition to the indigenous language of Kinyarwanda, French and English are official languages. French is widely spoken throughout the country. In the capital and other tourist centers, many people speak English.
When to Visit
Rwanda can be visited throughout the year. Gorilla trekking and other forest walks are less demanding during the drier months. The European winter is the best time for birds, as Palearctic migrants supplement resident species
What to Wear
Dress codes are informal. Daytime temperatures are generally warm, so bring lots of light clothing, supplemented by light sweaters for the cool evenings and heavier clothing for the Parc des Volcans and Nyungwe. When tracking gorillas, wear sturdier clothing to protect against stinging nettles, and solid walking shoes. A hat and sunglasses provide protection against the sun, and a waterproof jacket may come in handy in the moist mountains.
What to Bring
Binoculars will greatly enhance game drives and forest walks, as will a good field guide to East African birds. Bring a camera and an adequate stock of film. Print film is available but transparency film is not. Toiletries and other essentials can be bought in the cities.
Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country. International phone calls can be made easily. Appropriate SIM cards for the network are readily available everywhere, even in remote towns, and cell phones can be purchased or rented from major shops in Kigali. Most towns of any size will have several Internet cafes and computer centers.
About Safety and Health
A certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required. Much of Rwanda lies at too high an elevation for malaria to be a major concern, but the disease is present and prophylactic drugs are strongly recommended. It is advisable not to drink tap water. Bottled mineral water can be bought in all towns. Hospitals are located in all major towns.
Rwanda has possibly the best roads in East Africa. Most visitors who have booked through a tour company will be provided with good private vehicles, usually 4-wheel drive. All of the major centers are connected with local and luxury bus services. Air charter services are available anywhere in the country.
Hiking and Biking
The fine road network, with little traffic, offers wonderful opportunities for long bicycle trips across the verdant hills and valleys. Mountain biking and hiking can be enjoyed on the thousands of kilometers of fine rural trails linking remote villages, crisscrossing the entire country.
There used to be ferries on Lake Kivu that connected the Rwandan ports of Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi, but these services were suspended at the time of research. Speed boat charters are currently the only option between these ports, but they are very expensive.
Bus & tram
Rwanda has a good road system, and plenty of modern, well-maintained minibusses serve all the main routes from dawn ‘til dusk. Minibusses leave when officially full – which means when all the seats are occupied, unlike neighboring countries where much more are squeezed in. The best minibusses are privately run, scheduled services operated by Okapi Car, Trans Express 2000, Atraco Express and Virunga Punctual. Destinations covered include Butare, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Ruhengeri, and departures are guaranteed to leave – hourly in many cases. They are less crowded and drive more carefully than the usual minibusses, but cost a little more.
When to go
The average daytime temperature is around 24°C, except in the higher mountains, which take up a lot of the country, where the range is 10°C to 15°C. Rwanda can be visited at any time of year. The dry season from mid-May to mid-October is easier for tracking mountain gorillas, but the endless hills are barren, a contrast to the verdant greens of the wet season. Peak season for gorilla tracking is July and August; traveling outside this time means it is easier to arrange a permit. It rains more frequently and heavily in the northeast, where the volcanoes are covered by rain forest. The summit of Karisimbi (4507 m), the highest peak in Rwanda, is often covered with sleet or snow.