Rwanda is a landlocked East African country that shares borders with Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Both Kenya and Uganda provide access into the country. While most travelers do not think of visiting Rwanda, it is easier to visit than you might expect. A popular draw in the country is the Silverback Mountain Gorillas, but there are plenty of other things to see and experience. Rwanda has both diverse wildlife and beautiful landscape that is made up of rolling, green hills. The Nyungwe Tropical Forest is a great place for birdwatching and wildlife viewing.
Most people still associate Rwanda with the shocking and devastating war that took place in 1994. While the memories are sketched deep in the hearts and minds of the residents, the country has come a long way toward creating a more peaceful and tolerant country. While you will probably never separate this country from the war in its past, do look beyond that and you'll likely have a unique experience in a less visited, but culturally rich African country.
There are very few places in Rwanda that accept credit cards, particularly outside of Kigali. For this reason travelers will have to carry larger sums of money. This is particularly true when traveling outside of the capital city where ATMs are almost nonexistent. It is good to travel with some US Dollars in addition to Rwandan Francs. You will get the best exchange rate for newer (after 2006), fifty dollar bills.
Hotel costs in Rwanda are slightly higher than the nearby Uganda or Kenyan options. The accommodation is generally quite basic and minimal. There are some nicer hotels in the capital city with the current, best option being the Serana. The nearby hotel, Hotel des Milles Collines, was featured in the movie "Hotel Rwanda." The actual movie was shot in South Africa though so very little will be recognizable to movie buffs.
At A Glance
- Although the thought of Rwanda often brings scary memories into the minds of most people, the country today is actually quite stable and safe. It has a lot to offer travelers who take the time to visit, from diverse wildlife to beautiful countryside. It's easier to travel around than you might expect and can make for a very interesting travel destination.
- There are three different national parks in the country. Akagera National Park is on the border with Tanzania. It has an extensive lake system and several interesting ecosystems. Volcanoes National Park is the place to go to see the mountain gorillas. It crosses the border into both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Nyungwe National Park is in the southwestern part of the country and is a great place to visit the mountain rainforest.
- If you're flying into Kigali from outside of Africa there are several international cities with connecting flights. The most common options are Brussels, Amsterdam, and Istanbul. Look into Turkish Airlines and KLM. More recently RwandAir has started flying to Dubai.
- You'll find plenty of ATMs in Kigali. ATMs usually offer the best exchange rate, depending on your bank. Once you're outside of the capital city there are very few ATMs so make sure you have plenty of money. It's good to have small bills as well.
- Trips within Rwanda are often made by Matatu. These are white minibuses, similar to what you can find elsewhere in East Africa. They are usually packed very full of people and animals so don't expect a comfortable journey.
Top Tourist Attractions
Lake Kivu: Lake Kivu is a large lake in western Rwanda that's a nice place to relax and spend a few days. The lake, which is on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, flows into the Ruzizi River which travels south towards Lake Tanganyika.
The Genocide Memorial: This is an emotional memorial to one of the world's most horrific events which took place in 1994. The memorial itself is free of charge but you can pick up an audio guide for $10 at the entrance. If you spend any time in Rwanda, you should definitely make a point of visiting this memorial.
Parc National des Volcans: Parc National des Volcans is the place to see Silverback Mountain Gorillas. It is probably the most popular travel destination in Rwanda. It's possible to visit as a day trip from Kigali, but if time and money allows, you should spend more time there. At the time of writing (July, 2012) the entrance fee was $750 per person. You are also required to make the trip with an official taxi, which should cost you about $50.
Rwandan cuisine usually includes ingredients such as plantains, potatoes, beans, rice, and cassava. The most common meats are fish, goat, and chicken. Dishes are often heavy on the starches and light on the meats. In the capital city of Kigali you'll find the greatest diversity of restaurants with some western options such as Chinese, Indian or Italian. Western restaurants are generally substantially more expensive than local options, but can provide a little diversity.
Brochettes: Brochettes are local goat kebabs that are quite good and found in most restaurants and bars. The goat meat, which comes exclusively from male goats, is served grilled on skewers with no vegetables. You have your choice of meat type including muscle, liver, intestine, heart, and testicle. The meat is brushed with oil and sprinkled with salt and pepper for taste.
Frites-banane: Fried plantains are quite common throughout the country. They are served alone or as a side dish in many restaurants. It's a light but filling snack at any time of the day.
Melange: Melange is a common lunch buffet that includes beans, rice, potatoes, bananas, a few vegetables and some light meats. They are most common in restaurants found in the city. Do take note that these buffets are not all you can eat. You have one trip to the buffet bar during which you can fill your plate as high as you desire for a set price. They're a great, low cost but filling food option for those who are traveling on a budget.