Most people travel to Rwanda to trek with the endangered mountain gorillas. Yet, many others hold off on this once in a lifetime adventure because they buy into the idea that Rwanda, like much of Africa, is unsafe.
Yes, the country isn’t as developed to European standards, and yes, it’s neighbours tend to be a bit batshit crazy, but that’s all part of Rwanda’s charm. Its imperfections make it one of the top destinations in Africa, and at the moment it’s also one of the cheapest.
But travel to Rwanda doesn’t need to be difficult. With tourism growing each year, the infrastructure is improving, and it’s becoming easier than ever before to explore the Land of a Thousand Hills.
If you’re thinking about planning a trip Rwanda, here are the essential travel tips to know before you leave home.
1. Getting there (Flight Plans):
Alliance Express flies directly from Kigali to Entebbe (Uganda), Johannesburg (South Africa), Nairobi (Kenya) and Bujumbura (Burundi). In partnership with SAA and SA Alliance Air, it also flies from Kigali to the USA via Johannesburg and to London via Entebbe. Other international flights are with Sabena (Brussels), Kenya Airways (Nairobi), Ethiopian Airlines (Addis Ababa), Air Tanzania (Dar Es Salaam) and Air Burundi (Bujumbura). All international flights arrive at Kanombe Airport, 10km from central Kigali. An airport tax of US$20 is levied upon departure.
2. Passport and visas information:
A valid passport is mandatory. Visas, required by all visitors except nationals of the USA, Germany, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo, cost US$35 upwards depending on place of issue. Nationals of countries without an embassy can obtain a visa on arrival by prior arrangement with their hosts, who can arrange a facilities.
Health & Safety:
A certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required. Much of Rwanda lies at too high an elevation for malaria to be a 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.
The unit of currency is the Rwanda franc, which traded at around US$1 = Rfr 400-450 in September 2000. The US dollar is the hard currency of reference. It may be impossible to exchange travellers’ cheques at a good rate (or at all) away from the capital.
When to Visit:
Rwanda can be visited throughout the year. Gorilla tracking and other forest walks are less demanding during drier months. The European winter is the best time for birds, as Palaearctic migrants supplement resident species.
What to bring on your visit:
A pair of binoculars will greatly enhance game drives and forest walks, as will a good field guide – for birders, Van Perlo’s Illustrated Checklist to the Birds of Eastern Africa is the only guide to describe all the species found in Rwanda. Bring a camera and an adequate stock of film. Toiletries and other essentials can be bought in the cities, but it is easier to bring all you need with you.
Language for communication and interaction:
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.
Accommodation in Rwanda:
International business hotels exist in Kigali and Gisenyi, while comfortable midrange accommodation is found in all main tourist centers.
Banking and business hours:
Most banks, shops and offices are open from 8am to 5pm on weekdays, with a lunch break being taken between noon and 2pm. Banks are open from 8am to noon on Saturdays.
Food & Meal plans:
Good western food with a discernible Belgian influence is served in tourist-oriented restaurants and hotels in all centers. Rwandan favourites include goat kebabs, grilled tilapia (a lake fish), ugali (a stiff maize porridge), matooke (cooked banana) and potatoes.