Discover Rwanda: 10 suggestions for you
10 ways to discover Rwanda. Often called “Land of a Thousand Hills,” Rwanda is a landlocked East African country on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift Valley. With every mountainous landscape. Geographically, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Despite a tempestuous past, Rwanda is experiencing a tourism rebound and is a safe and friendly destination testament to the resilience of its people. For visitors seeking a deeply enriching safari, Rwanda offers an experience that is difficult to find anywhere else. From mountain gorillas in Volcanoes to the volcanic peaks and endless successions of steep cultivated, and it is no surprise that it is the Land of a Thousand Hills.
Tourism is Rwanda’s fastest-growing sector and most notably ecotourism, especially around Lake Kivu, Nyungwe Forest, and of course the world’s famous mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.
How to get to and around Rwanda
There are a multitude of different transport methods to get to and around Rwanda. All international flights land at Kigali International Airport and guests often choose to overnight in Kigali city on arrival. A spectacular road transfer will be needed to get to the next destination of your choice. Or follow your trip route map.
Rwanda’s main roads in the city and urban centers are beautiful and clean, making them generally good to navigate around. Being a land-locked country, road transport remains the main mode of transport used with its fast-growing economy infrastructure has been given priority and this makes it easy to navigate around the country with ease however some roads are generally poor like any other developing country. Looking at self-drive you must give it another thought as it’s generally not the best thing highly recommended rather hire someone to drive you.
Helicopter transfers within Rwanda are available through Akagera Aviation.
Passports valid for 6 months after the intended length of stay are required by all foreign visitors. Nationals of all countries receive a visa on arrival at Kigali International Airport and all land borders. A single-entry tourist visa costs the US $50(exclusions apply for select countries) valid for 30 days. Please note that this is liable to changes, you’re therefore advised to consult the Rwanda Directorate of Immigration and Emigration regularly.
Important information you need to know about Rwanda
The capital city of Rwanda is Kigali. Kinyarwanda and French are the widely spoken and understood languages in Rwanda. English, also the national language is also spoken especially in the main cities, hotels, and national parks. When traveling to Rwanda, basic precautions should be taken, as it is in all countries. Do not carry excessive jewelry and money or leave them lying around.
Use safe-deposit boxes where available, secure travel documents and valuables. Do not walk unescorted at night. If in doubt, seek advice from your guide.
Currency: The local currency is the Rwandan Franc (Amafaranga in the local language).
US dollars are widely accepted; however, dollar bills older than 10 years are not accepted.
Banks and foreign exchange bureaus are available in cities, please check the latest exchange rates before you go to your destination.
Most hostels and lodges accept Visa and MasterCard.
Travel Insurance: Taking adequate travel insurance before traveling to Rwanda is essential and should cover any medical situation such as hospitalization, as well as the cancellation, curtailment of arrangements, and baggage.
Health in Rwanda
The greatest health risks in Rwanda are accidents and malaria. Travelers should consult their physicians before traveling to Rwanda for advice on precautions against malaria.
Travelers should ensure that they are up to date with vaccinations. Rwanda falls into the yellow fever region of Africa, and it is therefore imperative that you obtain a yellow fever vaccination no less than 10 days prior to travel.
Negative RT-PCR test results taken within 72 hours of departure are required to board a plane to Rwanda.
Travelers departing Rwanda must test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours before departure. Please note that the only accepted test is a SARS-CoV2 Real-Time Chain Polymerase (RT-PCR) performed within 72 hours before departure. All other tests are not permitted.
Masks/ face coverings are required in public.
It is advisable not to drink tap water. Bottled mineral water can be bought in all towns – make sure the seal is intact.
Due to the risks of passing on human colds or other illnesses to primates, it is essential that you are in good health if you want to see them.
Please abstain from bringing plastic bags to Rwanda. Plastic bags were banned by law in 2008, any plastic bags in your luggage will be confiscated at the airport or other point of entry.
Rwanda strives to protect, safeguard, and promote the environment – a matter which is written into their constitution and carefully observed by all citizens, who all participate in a community service called “Umuganda” on the last Saturday of every month where they clean the communities.
Safety in Rwanda
it is important and advisable to always check with your guide to know if there are any potentially unsafe areas you should avoid.
Avoid deserted areas, particularly at night. Dress down when exploring the city. Concealed travel wallets are recommended.
Please do not hesitate to ask for help or assistance at any time because Rwandans are very warm and hospital people.
Avoid taking pictures of anything connected with the government or the military, including army barracks, land, or people close to the army barracks, government offices, banks, ports, train stations, and airports.
Important to note: Cotton clothing is the most comfortable during the day. Please take note of specific packing guidelines for gorilla tracking.
Reasons to Visit Rwanda
Rwanda is an ideal destination for a relaxing holiday or vacation. In the next paragraphs, we briefly share some of the reasons to visit some of Rwanda from exceptional offers to not to be missed experiences that match your preferences.
Mountain gorilla tacking in Volcanoes National Park
Another way to discover Rwanda is through mountain gorilla trekking. A wildlife experience with the elegant mountain gorilla is like no other. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Karisimbi (snowcapped), Bisoke, Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura. It protects the steep slopes of the magnificent mountain range, home of the endangered mountain gorillas, and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which welcome evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath.
Adore close encounters with mountain gorillas in Rwanda through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of about 200 bird species and chattering of the rare golden monkey. A wonderful experience to see these gentle primates undisturbed in their natural setting is remarkable.
There are 12 fully habituated mountain gorilla families (Susa, Igisha, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Bwenge, Ugyenda, and Muhoza) living in the Volcanoes National Park, with a few others habituated solely for scientific research. Each group or family consists of at least one silverback along with several females and youngsters.
The families tend to stick to a preferred area, and they are constantly monitored and protected by park rangers, with each group meeting tourists for a strict maximum of one hour per day.
Every day, for each group or family, a maximum of six visitors, accompanied by an expert ranger set out in search of magical encounters of the great apes that call the Virunga Mountains their home. During the search, visitors explore the romantic, scenic landscape, where Dian Fossey carried out her groundbreaking gorilla research, traversing slopes covered with rainforest and bamboo. It takes between thirty minutes to five hours to locate your allocated gorilla family and you are then given the opportunity to spend an hour quietly observing these charismatic creatures.
Visitors gather at the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi at 7am, they are briefed on the dos and don’ts while tracking the mountain gorillas and are allocated a family on the day according to fitness levels.
Enjoy every moment as you watch them foraging, playing, teasing each other, eating, or slumbering in an uncanny resemblance to humans. At times the trek to view them may be onerous, with steep rises covered in dense vegetation but it is always rewarding when you first eyes on these extraordinary creatures.
Gorillas reside in areas where there is an abundance of food plants near the ground and think nothing of climbing incredibly lofty hills to get to them. Try to spend as much time as possible in this phenomenal part of Rwanda, as it is a very special place to be.
The annual “KwitaIzina” gorilla-naming ceremony is a special time to visit the Volcanoes National Park, with guided tours leading to the main event providing an opportunity to meet park staff and conservationists, attend cultural evenings and celebrate in Musanze. Visitors are entertained and engage in discussion about Rwanda’s great strides in gorilla conservation and the challenges that remain.
With only 96 gorilla permits available each day in Rwanda, it is highly recommended to book in advance, either online or through a reputable tour operator. The Rwanda gorilla tracking permit is the highest at US $1500 each thus making Rwanda a luxury gorilla tracking destination. The minimum age limit to track gorillas is 15 years old.
Golden monkey tracking in Volcanoes National Park
The golden monkey is a local subspecies of the widespread Sykes Monkey, also known as the Blue Monkey, and is endemic to the high-altitude forests of the Volcanoes National Park area.
Golden monkeys are playful and inquisitive and often spend their time swinging from bamboo branches or frolicking on the forest floor.
Unique to the Virunga Mountains range, which covers the Democratic Republic f Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda, these delightful golden monkeys are an endangered species only found in Uganda and Rwanda.
There are two habituated golden monkey groups, with one consisting of around 80 to 100 members, and has its home at the foot of Mount Sabyinyo.
Forest walks to find the golden monkeys take place in the mornings from the national park headquarters at 7 am and visitors are permitted to stay with them for strictly 1 hour.
The number of visitors who want to track golden monkeys is not limited and each golden monkey permit costs US $100 per person per trek. Permits can be arranged in advance or booked at the park headquarters on the morning of the activity. Porters can be hired to assist in carrying your cameras or lunch boxes.
NOTE: All activities in Volcanoes National Park start at the park headquarters in the village of Kinigi, 12 km north of Musanze, and 110km from the capital, Kigali. And payment for all these activities is by Bank transfer at least one day before you do the activity and come with a receipt as proof of payment. Asking for more information from your travel agent will solve any unforeseen disappointments.
There are no accommodations within the national park, but several lodges and hotels can be found along its borders.
Kigali International Airport is the nearest airport, so you can travel to and from by road.
Chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest
Nyungwe Forest National Park is a high latitude mountainous rainforest located in the southern part of Rwanda and was conserved in 2005. It is the largest protected mountain forest in Africa covering approximately about 1600 t0 2000 square kilometers.
The protected Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to chimpanzees and monkeys, offering an unforgettable opportunity to see these incredible animals up-close. Research shows that chimpanzees have got around 99% of the original human DNA, and you are yet to find out why.
The forest has two chimpanzee groups fully habituated for tracking. One group is at Nyungwe main forest while the second is found in Cyamudongo, which is a small patch of the forest that is located in the eastern part of Nyungwe forest national park.
Every trek is different, and the jungle’s charismatic chimpanzees are full of surprises. The all-great journey to chimpanzees starts from mainly three reception centers; Kitabi, Uwinka (the main center), and Gisakura, where all tourists meet the park ranger guides.
Visitors going for this activity are expected to be at their specific centers as early as 4:30 am such that they can all drive to the trek starting point at 5 am. At the break of dawn, the expert guide will lead you into the heart of the jungle, on the trail of chimpanzees.
A rustle of leaves, and then then, through the branches, you will spot a chimpanzee gazing down from the fig trees. Or perhaps you will see a group of tree-dwelling chimpanzees catapulting off from the canopy. Visitors are permitted to spend only one hour with the chimpanzees.
The group in Cyamudongo has got approximately 30 members, yet offering the most successful sightings compared to the group in the main center of Nyungwe with about 60 members. This is because of the rugged terrain of the forest, which makes it hard or close to impossible to see the chimpanzees.
A chimpanzee tracking permit costs US $90 per visitor per day, and the minimum age is 16 years. Visitors are advised to bring hiking shoes or boots, long sleeved shirts, a rain jacket, and pants. A visitor must also carry at least two liters of drinking water and snacks to keep you energized as you enjoy the trek.
The Canopy Walk in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, rich in biodiversity and stunningly beautiful with the mountainous region teeming with wildlife. Along with various other activities offered by this spectacular rainforest, visitors can have memorable and photogenic moments walking along the Canopy Walk suspension bridge.
Suspended above a ravine in the lush montane rainforest on Nyungwe National Park, the canopy walkway provides an exhilarating perspective on the ancient treetops and wildlife. This 160m long and 70m high suspension bridge I accessible as part of a guided tour along the Igishigishigi trail, or those hiking the Imabaraga or Umuyove trails. Along the hour’s walk to the canopy walkway from the Uwinka Reception Center, visitors have opportunities to see many butterflies, orchids, and colorful birds, including many endemics to the region.
Chances to encounter thirteen primate species that live in Nyungwe is not out of question, although those wishing to seek them out should opt for a dedicated primate visit.
A guided tour to the canopy walkway costs US $60 per person. Participants must be at least 6 years of age and children accompanied by adults.
The steep forested slopes have well-maintained footpaths, which can become muddy especially when it rains. Therefore, it is essential to wear suitable footwear and take a lightweight raincoat.
Game viewing in Akagera National Park
Akagera is on the relatively warm and low-lying plains comprising savannah, woodland, wetland, and a dozen lakes. This largely open expanse is ideal for game viewing, and the plan is to ensure that the big five game roam the park in greater numbers over the course of time. Game viewing is the main activity though the park is small as compared to many other savannah parks in Africa.
Poaching in Akagera has been cut by the introduction of a helicopter, a canine unit, and rhino trackers which assist in monitoring the movements and safety of the animals. The perimeter fence that was completed in 2013 has made a big positive impact in protecting the 8000 large animals in this national park.
Akagera National Park is a to go place to see animals. It is known as a “gem of Rwanda” with animals such as lions, eastern black rhinos, buffalo, elephant, antelope, zebra, giraffe, baboons, monkeys, 490 bird species, African swallows, warthogs, mongoose, hippos, crocodiles, to mention but a few.
Night game drives are also possible in Akagera National Park at US $40 per person and can be arranged separately from the park.
Self-drives are allowed in the park. The EAC registered cars pay US $7 whereas foreign-registered cars pay US $25 plus double for the Safari vehicles or buses.
The fantastic drive from the south to the north in a day will give you an opportunity to view many animals hence a great adventurous experience as well as the magnificent views from the mountain across Lake Ihema towards Tanzania, a highlight of any visit to Akagera. While on the boat trip, large pods of hippos, Nile crocodiles, and abundant waterbirds on the island in the middle of the lake are seen.
The only way to explore the park is by vehicle. Sleeping within the park is possible, at various lodges.
Rwanda’s largest lake, Lake Kivu, is in the western part of the country and is surrounded by magnificent mountains and has deep emerald, green waters covering a surface area of 2,700 square kilometers and is one of the African Great Lakes.
Lake Kivu lies between the border between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and empties into the Ruzizi River which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika. The lake forms two large fingers, one completely within the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and another one split between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
Several parks are located nearby the lake for example Volcanoes National Park, home to active volcanoes and primates such as mountain gorillas, and Virunga National Park, which is a terrific location to witness the wilds of the heart of Africa.
Lake Kivu offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and picturesque lodges and huts and ports such as Rusizi, Karongi, and Rubavu speckle the shoreline.
On the northern edge of the lake lies Rubavu previously known as Gisenyi, a large town lined with fading old mansions, hotels, and trendy bars ideal for sundowner cocktails. It is one hour drive from Volcanoes National Park, a perfect place to relax after gorilla tracking.
Karongi, halfway along the lake is a popular beach resort with hillsides covered in pines and eucalyptus serving as the backdrop to the sparkling lake. At dusk and dawn, the voices of local fishermen singing carries across the water as they paddle simultaneously. Karongi is notable for its bustling Saturday market and the Museum of the Environment, which incorporates a collection of stuffed animals and mounted butterflies, and its rooftop garden of well-labeled plants used as traditional medicine.
For adventurous travelers, an exciting way to explore Rwanda is a kayaking tour on Lake Kivu, or mountain biking or hiking one of the Congo Nile Trails.
A short ride on a local boat leads to the islands of Gahinga and Nkobo, both of which support abundant birdlife.
Main ports on Like Kivu are most easily reached by road. Rusizi is about 220km southwest of Kigali via Huye and Nyungwe National Park, Karongi is about 135km west of Kigali and Rubavu is 155km northwest via Musanze. A 200km road connects the three main ports to each other, as does a twice weekly ferry service.
Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is the perfect starting point for an unforgettable one of Africa’s most fascinating experiences.
Kigali is Africa’s most organized and cleanest city and home to Rwanda’s only international airport. Vibrant and colorful, Kigali spreads over scenic ridges and valleys, with the city center located high on one hill and the government quarter on another.
On a fascinating guided Kigali city tour, history, architecture, and culture collide. The vibrancy of Kigali is beautifully showcased as you venture to where the first modern building was built, which laid the foundations for Kigali. Next, navigate through busy neighborhoods for an authentic taste of Kigali life. The rapidly increasing number of visitors and investors who are attracted to what has been addressed as one of the friendliest and safest cities in Africa has led to the tremendous development of the city.
The city tour highlights include the Genocide Memorial Center, sensory stops at the city market with a section for the tourists that features souvenirs, a visit to the Museum of Natural History, a ride on a motorbike through the town, interact with the artisans of the Inema Art Center, Enjoy the colorful dance and musical performances, and a meal at the hotel made famous by the movie “Hotel Rwanda” the Hotel Des Milles Collines.
People and Culture of Rwanda
Rwanda is a country of mainly three groups of people: the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa or Pygmies. The Hutu dominate other groups with over 84%, the Tutsi with 15%, and the Twa with 1%.
Unlike many African countries, Rwanda has been a unified state since pre-colonial times, populated by Banyarwanda who share one language and cultural heritage.
Music and dance are an essential part of Rwandan ceremonies, celebrations, social gatherings, and storytelling. The most well-known traditional dance is the Umushagiriro or cow dance performed by women, the Intore or dance of heroes performed by men, and the drumming also traditionally performed by men. Live dance performances can be seen at cultural villages, museums, and as entertainment at many lodges and hotels across Rwanda the Gorilla Guardians village in Musanze, and the National Museum of Rwanda having regular performances.
Art and craft are produced throughout the country, while most originated as fully functional items rather than purely for adornment. Weaving and basket making is a traditional art still used today to make dry containers for storing food and medicines. These are also known as peace pots and have traditional values such as commemorating weddings or as a welcome gift. Pottery can still be seen in many towns today using traditional Batwa techniques. Pots are still used for cooking and storing liquids. Other locally made items include wood carvings.
Do you know why Kigali is Africa’s cleanest city?
Rwanda is not Africa’s cleanest country by accident. A joint effort called “Umuganda” translated as coming together in a common purpose to achieve an outcome is the reason! Umuganda is when Rwandans from all walks of life come together to work for the good of their neighborhoods and their nation at large. This happens on the last Saturday of every month. On this day, all shops close, buses stop running, traffic disappears from roads, people set aside their personal businesses and contribute their efforts to public works around the country which include picking up litter, tree planting, building houses for the vulnerable, and much more. During this social activity, all visitors are warmly invited and those interested are welcome to take part.
Where to stay in Rwanda
Rwanda has generally elegant accommodations located in Kigali the capital, safari lodges, and tented camps in the parks and reserves. These accommodations provide the ideal base from which to go gorilla tracking. Expect clean and clean comfortable lodges, delicious food, amazing surroundings, and views, and plenty of adventure.
Below is a selection of some recommended hotels and lodges for you.
|One and Only Nyungwe||Nyungwe National Park||Luxury|
|One and Only Gorilla’s Nest||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|Radisson Blu Hotel and Conservation Center Kigali||Kigali||Luxury|
|Bisate Lodge||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|Virunga Lodge||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|Kigali Serena Hotel||Kigali||Luxury|
|Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel||Nyungwe Forest||Luxury|
|Akagera Game Lodge||Akagera National Park||Classic|
|Amakoro Songa Lodge||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|MagashiAkagera||Akagera National Park||Luxury|
|Kigali Marriott Hotel||Kigali||Luxury|
|Hotel des Milles Collines||Kigali||Luxury|
|Lake Kivu Serena Hotel||Lake Kivu – Rubavu||Classic|
|Cormoran Lodge||Lake Kivu – Karongi||Classic|
|Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel||Volcanoes National Park||Classic|
|Ruzizi Tented Lodge||Akagera National Park||Classic|
|Nyungwe House||Nyungwe National Park||Luxury|
|Singita||Volcanoes National Park||Luxury|
|Tiloreza Volcanoes Ecolodge||Volcanoes National Park||Resort|