Rwanda’s tragic past is no longer the focus of this thriving and growing country. It is now one of the safest countries in Africa to visit and boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Known as ‘The Land of 1000 Hills’ the terrain could not be further from the African image of arid deserts and dry bush. Winding roads hug verdant slopes, every inch carved into fields with crops ranging from banana trees to maize. In the valleys are great sweeping tea plantations, rice fields and coffee groves.
The gorilla experiences are superb in Rwanda, with relatively easy access to view these majestic creatures.
Places to visit
Volcanoes National Park – Gorilla Trekking
The highlight of a trip to Rwanda is to trek for the gorillas. Volcanoes National Park is located only 116 km from Kigali, making it a 2 hour drive through the incredible mountains of this beautiful country.
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a globally sought after wildlife experience – and rightfully so. In Rwanda, tourists spend a full hour with gorillas and can get within five feet of these amazing creatures. Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live. Experts estimate that there are only 780 mountain gorillas still in existence and one third of these are in Rwanda. Protected within their Volcanoes National Park (PNV), home to the Virunga Mountains, these majestic mammals have settled into the park’s lush bamboo forests providing a dramatic setting for travellers who want to experience one of the most memorable wildlife experiences this planet has to offer.
The trekking in Rwanda is less strenuous than other countries as the bamboo forests where the gorillas live are easier to hike in and provide better photography opportunities as opposed to denser forests and more rocky terrain found elsewhere.
Volcanoes National Park – Golden Monkey’s Trekking
A great add-on to the gorillas, these striking primates are a treat for the eyes. With their bright orange fur contrasting the green rainforests of the Virunga Mountains, great photos and memories are to be had visiting them. This is a relatively easy hike for tourists, and they can be seen all year. It is never possible to guarantee sightings, but they are very likely. Unlike the gorillas and chimp trekking, there is no age limit therefore this is a perfect opportunity for families.
Nyungwe Forest National Park – Chimp Trekking
Chimpanzee’s can be found and tracked in Nyungwe National Forest. A beautiful hike through the forest will lead you to these fascinating creatures where you can see them up close and personal. Chimpanzee trekking can be done year-round in Nyungwe Forest, and while it is never guaranteed that you will see them, sightings are very common and guides are skilled at tracking them. The experience differs from gorilla trekking as the chimps are running around, so the sightings are a bit more sporadic and rushed, but worthwhile nonetheless.
Whilst in Nyungwe Forest National Park, why not try the canopy walk, which gives you an exhilarating tree-to-eye view of Nyungwe Forest. Located 50 meters above the ground, and 200 meters long, the canopy walk is a great activity for children and adults alike! This hike is very easy, it takes approximately 2 hours to complete. Within Nyungwe Forest National Park you can also visit The Gisovu and Gisakura Tea Factories. Tea is Rwanda’s largest export and you can discover how the tea is harvested and even get to taste the specialty!
After flying into Kigali airport, it’s worth spending a day in Kigali to experience the rich culture and city life. Some of the activities which can be enjoyed are:
A visit to the Genocide Memorial Centre: Rwanda’s painful past has haunted the country for years; however, their impressive recovery story has turned them into an inspiration. The genocide memorial acts as a humbling reminder to those present, and honours those who were lost. This is a worthwhile experience for travellers to gain insight into the history of genocide in Rwanda and it will also help travellers appreciate how far Rwanda has come.
The Inema Art Centre is the ideal place to stop for souvenir shopping including traditional and contemporary handbags, jewellery, linens & artwork. The centre offers community programs and space for 10 artists-in-residence to showcase their products. There are bustling workshops & on the weekends you can find additional activities like traditional dance classes, kids painting class and local performances.
Akagera National Park
Experience a classic African Safari in beautiful Akagera National Park. With Lake Ihema in the background and cooler temperatures, this is a very pleasant safari experience. This park is not just vehicle game viewing – you can enjoy a 1-hour boat ride on Lake Ihema, fishing on the lake or a bird tour with an experience local guide. For something different, why not learn about how a park is run. A behind the scenes tour is a great way for families and school groups to become informed and engaged in the process of managing the park. It is a tour around the park headquarters where clients may meet the staff and gain an understanding about what is involved in the management of the park.
Located in the Northern province of Rwanda and approx 2 hours drive from Kigali are the Musanze Caves. Formed over centuries of volcanic activity from the Virunga volcanoes, these caves give tourists a rare look into Rwandan earth and history. Tours of these caves give adventure seekers a run for their money as they hike through the 2km long cave formations. The guided tours explain the history of the caves from their formation to their various uses in history, such as being acting as a shelter during periods of war.
Hiking or Biking the Congo Nile Trail
The Congo Nile Trail is a trail along Lake Kivu that extends from Rubavu, continues through Rutsiro via the Karongi, Nyamasheke districts and ends at Rusizi District. It is 227 km of beautiful landscapes, including rolling hills and clear water. The entire trip takes 10 days if hiking or 5 days if cycling however the trip can be done in sections if you do not have the time to complete the entire trail. Trails give stunning views of the Lake Kivu coastline and offer adventurous travellers an exciting way to discover Rwanda.
Rwanda is the perfect destination to visit the gorilla’s, especially if you are limited with time or adding it as an extension to a Tanzanian or Kenyan safari. Rwanda is a small country with good roads and accessibility so you can enjoy this once in a lifetime experience, even if you only have 3-4 days available. For those interested in the history of the Rwandan genocide, a visit to the memorial centre in Kigali is well worth it. There are many options within this beautiful country and it is well worth a visit.
We can tailor make an itinerary to suit you or here are some suggested Rwandan itineraries.
Republic of Rwanda
Area: 26,388 sq km
Population: 8,648,248 (recorded at the last census in 2011)
Borders: Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo
Time Zone: 2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time
Religion: Roman Catholic 65%, Protestant 9%, Muslim 1%, Indigenous beliefs 25%
Languages: Kinyarwanda (official), French (official), English (official) and Kiswahili (Swahili) used in commercial centres.
Dialing Code: +250
Rwandan society consists of two main ethnic groups, the majority Hutus (83%) and the minority Tutsi (15%) with the earliest inhabitants, the Twa pygmies making up the balance. While the Hutus are the largest ethnic group, the economic and political power has long rested with the Tutsis. This has been a constant source of friction and the catalyst for the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutus in the early 90s. Agriculture and breading livestock are the two traditional occupations with a large percentage of the people living in the rural areas, where they live in family collectives rather than villages. It is a country with some devastating history however has come through it and now provides a fantastically unique holiday for travellers.
Best Time To Travel
Although gorilla trekking is regarded as a year-round activity, the best time to visit Rwanda for a gorilla trek is during the short dry season from mid-December to early February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions. The best time to go to Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe however is during the two rainy seasons, March-April or November-December as the apes are easier to locate. Food is harder to find in the dry seasons and the chimp families often range far into the forest interior.
Rwanda has a temperate climate with two distinct rainy seasons. The “long rains” will happen during March-April whilst the “short rains” are common in November-December. For other months of the year, it is mostly clear blue skies. Average temperatures are moderate with day temperatures ranging around 25-30º Celsius and this stays fairly consistent throughout the year. The mountain regions have colder temperatures with frost and sometimes snowfall in the upper reaches.
Currency & ATM access
The main currency in Rwanda is the Rwandan Frank (RFW). USD is widely accepted in tourist areas however it must be USD notes printed on/after 2003. Older notes printed before 2003 are not accepted in Rwanda or many other African countries.
Kigali may be the only place you can exchange USD into local currency and this will be needed for purchases in more remote areas and local stores.
Credit cards are not widely accepted, only at a few major tourist spots and large hotels. Travelers cheques are not advised, as you will pay extremely high fees to cash them.
At the time of writing AUD$1 = RFW640.
Australian passport holders do require a visa to enter Rwanda and at the time of writing this, below are the guidelines for obtaining it:
- Applications should be made online at: www.migration.gov.rw
- Applications for an Entry Facility should be made at least two weeks prior to your arrival in Rwanda.
- Complete the application form and click ‘send this application.’
- Rwandan Immigration will then e-mail you an Entry Facility Letter as an adobe pdf attachment, within 2 working days of receiving your application.
- Take a copy of your Entry Facility letter for presentation to your airline.
- You will be issued with your visa upon presentation of your Facility letter and payment of your visa costs (in US$ cash) at an Official Customs and Entry Point upon your arrival in Rwanda.
- The cost for the visa is USD$60 for a 3 month tourist visa.
In Rwanda, the voltage is 240 and the frequency is 50 Hz. For charging cameras, phones etc, you will need the 2 pin European adaptor. If combining Rwanda with other East African countries, a multi adaptor might be of use as many other countries in the area are the British adaptor.
Power outages are common in Rwanda therefore it’s worthwhile carrying a torch with you and always recharging appliances when the power is available.
It is important to visit your travel doctor before travelling to Africa, as there are a range of vaccinations he/she may recommend based on current information.
Currently, the only mandatory vaccination is Yellow Fever and you may be asked to produce the Yellow Fever vaccination certificate upon arrival into the country. Other vaccinations that may be advisable are Hepatitis A/B, Tetanus, Typhoid and Cholera.
Taking a malaria prophylactic is also recommended and your doctor can advise which type is best suited for you.
Tipping is not customary in most places in Rwanda, with the exception of some higher-end restaurants in town where 10% is standard. If you are doing a gorilla trek, tipping is not compulsory but it will be greatly appreciated – amounts vary depending on the size of your group and the level of assistance required.