Rwanda is a landlocked East African country with a green, mountainous landscape. Its renowned Volcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillasand golden monkeys. The park encompasses 4,507m-tall Mt. Karisimbi and 4 other forested volcanoes. In the southwest is Nyungwe National Park, with ancient montane rainforest that’s a habitat for chimpanzees and other primates.
Population: 11.78 million (2013) World Bank
Currency: Rwandan franc
Official languages: Kinyarwanda, French, English
Time zone: EAT (UTC+3)
Drives on the: right
Calling code: +250
Destination Rwanda, Travel information
Rwanda is the smallest country in East Africa. Like its neighbor in the North Uganda, it’s also a land locked country and has no Sea port. It is bordered by countries like Uganda in the north, Burundi in the south, Tanzania in the east and Congo in the west.
Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda and is located with-in the heart of the country. The capital city serves as the country’s business center and port entry with the international Airport.
Rwanda has a number of unique tourist sports such as the 3 famous National Parks of Nyungwe, Akagera and Parc Nationale Des Volcanoes. Other tourist sites include, The National Museum in Butare, Genocide memorial sites, the old palace at Nyanza, craft villages, Lake Kivu and its surrounding near-by towns of Gisenyi and Kibuye.
The country has a size of 26,338 square kilometers. It is located 1270km away from the Indian Ocean on the western side and 2000km east of the Atlantic Ocean. The country’s land scape is much mountainous with Karisimbi being the highest peak at 4,507on the Virunga Volcanic ranges. The country’s largest main fresh water body is Lake Kivu.
There are also other small Lakes and Rivers such as Burera, Ruhondo, Ihema, Muhazi, Mugesera and River Akagera.
It is because of this that it’s commonly known as “the Land of thousand hills”.
It is also located on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift which is a western arm of the Great Rift Valley
Population and Economy
Even though the country is small, its Population is about 10 million people. The country’s economy is based on subsistence agriculture.
The country also produces exports like Tea and coffee which are the finest in the world market of agricultural exports. Other industries include sugar, fishing and flowers for export.
What to bring on a safari in Rwanda
Like on any other safari in Africa, when visiting Rwanda, it’s important to carry with you the following items: Warm clothings like jackets and sweaters, Long trousers and shorts,
Long sleeved blouses and shirts, T-shirts, Hiking books preferably water proof, Raincoats
Water containers, Re-hydration mixture, paracetamol and any personal medication, Insect repellents
Lace-up shoes, Hats, Sun glasses, Sun blocks, Torch, Extra batteries, Cameras, Binoculars, Camera films and so on
Volcanoes National Park
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Lake Kivu Beach Holiday
Safety & Security
The country is safe political wise. However, it’s also important to advise our clients not to move with large sums of money, hand bags and expensive Jewelries while in the public. We always advise them to leave their important valuables and documents like Passports, Cameras, souvenir in the rooms and the Hotel.
Lock the room and give the key in a safe place like at the Reception or give it to the General Manager of the Hotel is around.
What to do in Rwanda
- Gorilla tracking in Parc Nationale Des Volcanoes
- Golden monkey tracking
- Hiking on one of the mountains (Mt. Bisoke, Karisimbi, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura)
- Chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest National Park
- Game viewing and wildlife safaris in Akagera National Park
- Visit the Dian Fossey grave
- Kigali city tour (Genocide Memorila sites, cultural performances at the Rwanda National Ballet)
- Boat rides on Lake Ihema with in Akagera National Park and also on Lake Kivu
- Visiting the National Museum in Butare
- Visiting the Old King’s Palace in Nyanza
- Botanical gardens and Artcraft shops in Nyanza
- Community tours and farm tours
- Bird watching around water bodies and also in the forest
- Forest walks in Nyungwe and Parc Nationale Des Volcanoes
How to get to Rwanda
The country has an international Airport called Kanombe which is 10 kilometers away from Kigali City. One can fly to Rwanda with Airlines such as KLM, SN Brussels, Rwandair Express, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Air Tanzania, South African Airways, Air Burundi and Air Uganda.
There are also other means of transport to reach the country from the neighboring countries like Road transport using public transport of Buses and Coaches or private cars crossing borders of cyanika and Katuna from Uganda.
There is also public transport from Burundi and Congo.
When to Visit Rwanda
The country can be visited any time of the year. The wet season is good for chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe forest National Park. The rainy season is also good since the scenery of the country becomes greener and the skies are clear. Rwanda has two rainy seasons and these are from mid February to beginning of June and from mid September to mid December. The dry season is from June to September and is the best for trekking Mountain Gorillas in Parc Nationale Des Volcanoes.
Money Unit and Credit Cards
The country’s local currency is the “Rwanda Franc” and is divided into several small denominations up to RwFr 5000. 1US$ is approximately 592 RwFr and 1 Euro is approximately 838 RwFr. There are several foreign exchange bureaus at the Airport and also in Kigali city.
The banks do not open on Saturdays and there are also services of western union which is used for fast and efficient money transfers. Only major and few hotels in Rwanda do accept credit cards but with extra sur charges. Traveler cheques are not recommended since they are not widely accepted in the country.
Passport and visas
A valid passport with visa is necessary to enter the country. However, in view of the bilateral agreements, nationals of the following countries may visit the country 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 at the Airport or at different boarder points.
The country’s indigenous language is Kinyarwanda. However, other languages like French and English are also recognized as official languages. Apart from Kinyarwanda, French is also widely spoken throughout the country. English is mainly used in Kigali, the country’s capital and in the other tourist centres.
A valid certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required when entering the country. 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 and bottled mineral water is recommended and can be bought in all towns. Hospitals are located in all major towns.
You are advised to always have a comprehensive travel insurance which covers for your medical costs associated with hospitalization, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country
The country has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country. Therefore because of this, International phone calls can be made easily. SIM cards for different networks are available everywhere and cell phones can be purchased or rented from major shops in Kigali. There are also several internet cafes and computer centers in major towns and near tourist centers.
Apart from Good Friday and Easter Monday which fall on variable dates, other public holidays in the country are:
- January (New Year’s Day)
- February (National Heroes Day)
- April (Genocide Memorial Day)
- May (Labour Day)
- July (Independance Day)
- July (National Liberation Day)
- August (Assumption Day)
- October (Patriotism Day)
- December (Christmas Day)
- December (Boxing Day).
Best Rwanda Accommodation
Accommodation in Rwanda generally falls into two types: hotels in the capital Kigali, and safari lodges and tented camps situated in Rwanda’s parks and reserves, the most popular of which is of course the Volcanoes National Park. Accommodation here provides the ideal base from which to go gorilla trekking – expect clean and comfortable lodges, good food, amazing forest views and plenty of adventure.
Our selection of top Rwanda accommodation includes luxury ranch-style lodges, affordable bush camps and stylish city hotels – ask one of our African Safari Experts for advice on choosing the right lodge or hotel for you.
Africa’s easiest and most accessible gorilla trekking is the main draw card of a Rwandan safari. After arriving at the capital city of Kigali, you are only a few hours’ drive away from the legendary Volcanoes National Park and its habituated but still wild gorilla families.
It was on the bamboo-covered slopes of Rwanda’s Virunga Volcanoes that the late Dian Fossey studied the behaviour of the endangered mountain gorilla for 20 years, followed by the filmmakers who shot Gorillas in the Mist. Now small groups of privileged visitors can experience one of the most memorable wildlife encounters on earth – gorilla trekking through the pristine Virungas rainforest.
Rarely experienced in isolation, a Rwandan gorilla safari combines well with other East African destinations in Uganda, Kenya or Tanzania but there is more to green and hilly Rwanda than meets the eye: it is also home to the primate-filled Nyungwe Forest National Park where there are chimpanzees and fantastic bird-watching opportunities. Akagera National Park, on the other hand, offers big game viewing in a diverse savannah setting.
Lake Kivu is a gorgeous expanse of water surrounded by Rwanda’s gently rolling slopes – in fact, Rwandans call their home ‘the country of a thousand hills’ because of its undulating landscape. Kivu is a great place to enjoy boating, hiking, kayaking and chimp trekking.
Small, compact and easy to travel around, friendly Rwanda has dealt with its past tragedies and offers intrepid travellers and wildlife enthusiasts what is usually a hard-to-gain insight into Central African cultures, wildlife and environments. Simply browse our range of popular tour itineraries and recommended accommodation or contact one of our African Safari Experts for assistance with planning a tailor-made Rwandan safari.
Our top places to visit in Rwanda:
Volcanoes National Park – gorilla treks & bird watching
Kigali – gateway to the gorillas
Lake Kivu – part of Africa’s series of Great Lakes and offers an idyllic shoreside interlude – before or after gorilla trekking – in the quaint town of Gisenyi. Spend your days boating, kayaking and unwinding as you soak up the sun.
Rwanda Travel Advice
Up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get ‘s essential Rwanda travel advice before you go.
For practical advice and what to expect on gorilla trekking from those who have been, read our expert blog on ‘Gorilla Trekking 101’.
Money & Spending
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc but we’d recommend bringing US dollars (post-2003 bills only) or euros in cash (traveller’s cheques usually attract poor exchange rates). Do any necessary banking in Kigali as few opportunities exist outside the capital – bureaux de change establishments usually offer the best exchange rates.
Credit cards – notably MasterCard – are accepted in some of the upmarket hotels and restaurants in Kigali but not in many other places.
Tipping is not customary in most places in Rwanda, with the exception of some higher-end restaurants in town where 10% of the final bill 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. Your porter (if you choose to take one) should usually receive the highest tip, with a second tip distributed between your guides, trackers and security personnel.
Bear in mind that some guides, porters and trackers are former poachers who now rely on tourists and travellers to make a living. Your generosity helps them see the value of keeping gorillas and chimps alive.
It is worth hiring a porter to help you during the trek: he or she can assist you over tricky parts of the hike, offer support and carry your daypack if you find yourself fatigued on the hike back. Tip your porter well for excellent service.
For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average year-round temperatures are about 12°C / 54°F to 27°C / 81°F.
Rainy seasons: March to April and October to mid-December. The easiest gorilla trekking is during the dry seasons from June to September, and late December to February.
Refer to ‘best time to visit Rwanda for climate charts and advice on the best times of year for gorilla trekking.
What to Pack
You’ll need to be suitably equipped for gorilla trekking in Rwanda – preparation is key. When packing for your Rwanda safari, be sure to include long, thick trousers and long-sleeved tops, long socks or gaiters to wear over your trousers as protection against ants, a pair of light gloves to protect against nettles, a hat, a raincoat and of course a pair of sturdy, comfortable hiking boots (break them in before your trip).
It can get cold and damp on the mountains at altitude so pack a change of clothes and a warm fleece in your day pack, along with sunscreen and insect repellent.
Stinging nettles are one of the gorillas’ main food sources so there are bound to be thick patches of nettles when you encounter a gorilla family. We recommend wearing the thickest trousers possible to protect your legs against scratches and gardening or other gloves to protect your hands (you may have to grasp vegetation from time to time to steady yourself on the trek).
Other useful tips:
- Avoid wearing strong fragrances as animals have an acute sense of smell and may retreat from unfamiliar scents.
- Dress in the colours of nature ie browns and greens. Animals are aware of contrast and bright colours, white and strong patterns create the highest contrast against the forest background, once again making game keep their distance.
- Do not wear black or blue as these colours seem to attract tsetse flies and other bugs.
- Ensure your bug spray is environmentally friendly.
- If you can, bring extra stationery, toys or footballs for the village children. Read our useful blog on Easy Ways to ‘Give Back’ on your African Vacation here.
- Consult your doctor or travel clinic about vaccinations and medication to help you cope with the altitude, if necessary. Many of the country’s roads are very ‘twisty’ or windy, so consider bringing anti-motion sickness medication if you get car sick.
Flights & Getting Around
Did you know you can book your flights through Savannah Explore? For more information and frequently asked questions, please see our Flights section.
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport: A short drive from Kigali, Rwanda’s point of entry is served by a direct flight from Brussels otherwise you’ll be flying in from Entebbe, Nairobi, Lusaka or Johannesburg.
It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Kigali to the gorilla trekking destination of the Volcanoes National Park. Transfers in Rwanda are usually conducted in 4X4 vehicles but you can also take a helicopter flight from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Because Rwanda is a small country, the maximum driving distance between major points of interest is about four to five hours long. In Kigali, one of the most efficient and fun ways of getting around is on the back of a local scooter – it’s a great way to get an authentic taste of the city.
Visa & Passport Requirements
A passport valid for at least six months is required by all visitors to Rwanda. Visas are required by everyone except citizens of the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Kenya and South Africa.
Multiple-entry tourist visas can be purchased from your nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate. Visas are valid for three months and can usually be extended in Kigali on a month-by-month payment basis.
A gorilla-trekking permit is essential. It is important to note that children under 15 are not permitted on gorilla treks.
History & Economy
A land of pre-colonial kingdoms and powerful, cattle-owning dynasties, this tiny Central African country escaped the ravages of the slave trade but was subsequently colonised, first by the Germans and then the Belgians. Independence arrived in 1962 but Rwanda’s post-colonial history has been a chequered one. The 1994 genocide was the nadir but since then the country has gone from strength to strength and punches well above its weight in regional affairs.
Contributing 40% of GDP and occupying 90% of the workforce, agriculture dominates the economy but it’s mostly subsistence farming with little surplus. Cash crops such as tea and coffee do generate foreign revenue as does mining for rare metals but tourism is the greatest foreign exchange earner.
People & Culture
A green and fertile country, Rwanda has long been settled. With over 11 million people crammed into an area smaller than Belgium, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Its earliest inhabitants were the pygmoid Twa, hunter-gatherers who were subsequently displaced by migrating Hutu farmers who now make up over 80% of the population. Next to arrive were the cattle-raising Tutsis who dominated traditional power structures until independence. Note that as a consequence of its history, modern Rwanda tends to ignore such ethnic labels.
A young population (over 40% is aged under 15) the majority of Rwandans are Catholics with Protestants close behind. The country’s official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English and Rwanda is generally seen as an easy, safe and friendly country to travel around. Music (particularly drumming) and dance dominate the cultural scene and there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories.
Landscape & Wildlife
Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, landlocked Rwanda sits literally at the heart of Africa. A country of volcanoes, thickly forested mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, its position on the Albertine Rift Valley puts it at the heart of one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world although much of Rwanda’s hill country and grasslands have been turned over to terraced agriculture and the country’s large animals are restricted to its three reserves.
Most famous of these reserves is the Volcanoes National Park, home to half the continent’s remaining mountain gorillas and Rwanda’s famous gorilla trekking industry. Nyungwe Forest is a haven for other primates including chimpanzees while the little-visited Akagera National Park in Rwanda’s flatter and hotter east is the country’s sole savannah reserve. Birdlife is prolific throughout the country with around 670 species recorded.