Rwanda is a relatively stable Central 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:
Akagera National Park
Volcanoes National Park – home to the mountain gorillas, this park spreads into Uganda and Democratic Republic of the Congo
Nyungwe National Park
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 the US, UK, Canada, Congo (Dem Rep), Germany, Hong Kong, Kenya, Mauritius, 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, is 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.
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 Goma airstrip in DRC.
Uganda several bus companies make the 8 hour journey from Kampala in Uganda to Kigali. The bus costs 15,000 or 20,000 /= (roughly US$7.50-10) depending on the time you chose to travel, early morning being cheaper.
Tanzania has one open border with Rwanda, but this is a far more difficult way to enter Rwanda due to the remoteness and lack of roads in western Tanzania. A bus runs from Mwanza to Benako (both Tanzania) and from Benako buses run onto Kigali. Another town to consider on this route is Ngara (Tanzania).
Burundi there are two ways to enter from Rwanda, and security in the border areas varies. For the intrepid there is a daily direct service from Kigali to Bujumbura operated by Yahoo Car, and since 2007, a new "luxury" service operated by Belvedere Lines.
Democratic Republic of the Congo much of the country remains off limits to many tourists due to instability, though Goma and Bukavu can be visited easily from Rwanda.
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 D.R. 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!
National Museum of Butare in Butare –
Lake Kivu in Western Rwanda – a large lake bordering the DRC, it's a nice place to relax for a week or so
The Genocide Memorial in Kigali – fantastic insight into one of the world's greatest tragedies
The Nyamata Genocide Memorial is a worthwhile complement to the Gisozi Memorial Centre in Kigali. Located in the town of Nyamata, 40 minutes south of Kigali on a newly paved road, the memorial is in a church where over 5000 people were killed during the 1994 genocide. Visitors take a short tour and see the evidence of the genocide that remains there today - victims' clothing piled on benches, the roof pockmarked with bullet holes, and the open crypts behind the church that hold the remains of over 40,000 people from the area. An extremely moving look into one of the places where the genocide was carried out.
The Ntarama Genocide Memorial, just 20 minutes away from the Nyamata memorial, is also worth visiting. Like the Nyamata memorial, this site was a church before the genocide, and was nationalized to serve as a memorial after thousands of people were killed within its walls. The church itself is similar to Nyamata, with victims' clothing and remains visible to offer proof of what happened there, but Ntarama also has a peaceful memorial garden and wall of names in the back of its compound. Ask the resident guide for a tour in English or French, and remember to give them a donation for the site afterwards; it gets almost no support from the government. To get there, take the highway from Kigali to Nyamata and follow the signs for the Ntarama memorial, before you reach Nyamata.
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.
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.
Bralirwa in the north of the Rwanda produces most of the beer and soft drinks available in Rwanda. 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.
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 north-east of Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainly due to the presence of Interhamwe who fled after the 1994 genocide. Whilst Gisenyi and Kibuye are considered safe, the border situation can change at any time - check Foreign Office information and local sources for further advice.
The gorilla trekking is near to the DRC border it 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 RISKY 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.
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|Area||total: 26,338 km2|
water: 1,390 km2
land: 24,948 km2
|Electricity||220V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Government||Republic; presidential, multiparty system|
|Population||9,038,000 (2005 UN Estimate)|
|Religion||Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%, Muslim 4.6%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 1.7% (2001)|