What Rwanda has achieved in its short period without turmoil or colonisation is a pipe dream for many countries. Small yet bursting with its bounty, Rwanda has successfully balanced out development and animal needs to create a safe haven for all that is within its boundaries.
A tour of Rwanda is often described as an emotional rollercoaster. There are not many feelings you will encounter here: exhaustion, elation, awe, devastation – if you ever thought that a country could not make you cry, you may be surprised to discover that Rwanda is top of the list for many reasons.
Rwanda’s history, a very recent one at that, has been turbulent. The civil war and mass genocide in 1994 brought Rwanda to its knees, however, now the country is firmly standing on two feet and its capital is set to impress. Taking some time to explore Kigali will bring you up to speed on what has happened here and is an essential part of Rwanda’s tourism. Today, Kigali is one of East Africa’s most up-and-coming cities and is one of the best introductions to Rwanda you’ll find!
Away from the city, you’ll find what most come here for, the ultimate Rwanda safari tours in the country’s national parks. Gorilla safaris in Rwanda are just one of two opportunities in Africa that you have to view these muscular creatures. With more than half of the mountain gorilla population found in Volcanoes National Park, you’re in for the nature experience of a lifetime!
Rwanda’s nature experiences don’t stop at Volcanoes, hopping between Akagera and Nyungwe national parks, you’ll see why this tiny country is so special. The conservation efforts and attention to the preservation and regeneration of this land are some quite unlike anywhere you have been before.
Yes, Rwanda is one of the most expensive parts of Africa but spending a day or two here, and you’ll see that this little part of East Africa sets the bar high!
When You Should Be Going to Rwanda
The dry season in Rwanda is from mid-March to mid-October. This is the best time to visit if you are looking for gorilla trekking in Rwanda (and you should be!) Although, this is a long dry season, do not be surprised if you are struck by the odd rain shower while in the rainforest; this is how this beautiful ecosystem thrives.
Outside of these months, you can expect long periods of rain that will make your tracking experience more challenging with muddy tracks.
Although Rwanda is a year-round country to enjoy, there are specific seasons that match specific regions, particularly if you want to spend time in the national parks. Due to Rwanda’s proximity to the equator, there is not much difference in the temperatures throughout the year.
Your Rwanda Travel Hot List
Between Rwanda’s infamous rolling hillsides is Kigali, one of the most exciting places to be in East Africa.
Modern, fresh and thriving Kigali is as green as its surroundings. This beautiful city has earned the badge of Africa’s safest cities, and quite rightly so. With a plethora of skyscrapers and international hotels popping up in its city centre, Kigali boasts an all-round cosmopolitan vibe that its investors aimed to create.
Sadly, it hasn’t always been this way. In 1994, Rwanda was in the middle of a civil war that crippled the nation. At the heart of it was the mass genocide that took place in just 100 days when nearly 500,000 Tutsi and Hutu people were killed. Now in the face of progression, Kigali tours balance the need for travellers to learn about the atrocities that Rwanda faced, while still embracing the modern culture that the city has successfully strived to achieve.
Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda’s Hiking Experiences
Rwanda is home to 340 of the 780 remaining mountain gorillas, all of which are found in Volcanoes National Park. Hiking in Rwanda doesn’t get much better than this, but it doesn’t come without a challenge!
For a chance to hang out with mountain gorillas, there is an arduous trek at the high altitude of the park that can take up to six hours in total like in the day trip on this 6-day Rwanda gorilla tour, although trekkers sometimes find that it takes just two, particularly in the dry months.
Once you and your guide have successfully tracked a gorilla family, you’ll have an hour to observe their behaviour and take photographs. There are a total of 10 families in the park, there’s no telling which one you will see!
Also endemic to the Volcanoes National Park are the beautiful, yet slightly strange-looking golden monkeys. Enjoying the high altitude of Volcano National Park with its cooler climate just as the mountain gorillas do, the golden monkeys of Rwanda are much easier to find. As playful creatures, golden monkeys love to bounce between bamboo trees and roll around on the floor.
Trekking to find the golden monkeys will often take you on another route to the gorillas, as you’ll learn on this 3-day Uganda gorillas and Rwanda golden monkey tour. Their behaviours and requirements in everyday life are very different.
Rwanda Safari in Akagera National Park
As central Africa’s largest protected wetland, Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s top safari destination! However, it hasn’t always been this way.
After the mass genocide that saw the war end, refugees returning to Rwanda in need of shelter took to the forests for materials and the savannah for livestock. The results were catastrophic for Rwanda’s wildlife which saw the near extinction of many species. Since 2010, Akagera National Park has slowly been brought back to life as the balance has been restored across the country. The park is slowly starting to thrive as much as the rest of the country.
As Rwanda’s safari destination, Akagera has become somewhat of a safe haven and lasting hope for many endangered species as captive animals are translocated to the national park. The translocation of animals like lions and rhinos will help increase the biodiversity of the region and hopefully save them from extinction as the ecosystem is restored.
One of the smallest of Africa’s Great Lakes, Lake Kivu is a mind-blowing introduction to the Great Rift Valley and a taster of Africa in its greatest power. Lake Kivu is as old as time.
Sitting on the Albertine Rift of the valley, Lake Kivu borders Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, it connects to Lake Tanganyika, the second-oldest lake in the world, through the Ruzizi River. As part of the Rift Valley, Lake Kivu is a crater lake that remains here due to the volcanic activity that the area is known for.
Although Lake Kivu is a freshwater lake, the millions of years of volcanic activity have generated large amounts of methane gas, as well as carbon dioxide which has resulted in a lot of industry around it. However, as the lake is so large, the settlements that surround Kivu remain relaxing. After having an adventurous Rwanda vacation trekking in search of gorillas and chimpanzees, Lake Kivu is a welcome escape with a beach to enjoy.
Chimpanzee Rwanda Trek in Nyungwe Forest National Park
One of Rwanda’s largest and leading national parks, all thanks to the chimpanzee trekking opportunities here; Nyungwe Forest National Park is a must when going to Rwanda.
This Afro-Montane park is bountiful, to say the least. To get a feel for its beauty, a canopy walk will take you for a stroll among the treetops across hanging bridges where you might see some monkeys swinging by – there are a total of 13 primates species here! However, the true reason everyone comes here is to see one of our closest relatives, the chimpanzee.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is home to two chimpanzee groups that hang out in separate areas of the park. One has around 30 chimpanzees while the other has an impressive 60 inhabitants. A trek in Nyungwe Forest on a Rwanda tour will take you past swamplands, bamboo thickets and open woodlands in search of them!
How to Get Around Rwanda
Rwanda has a well-connected network of roads making getting around the country fairly easy. Here’s how you can choose to travel;
The private bus service, which includes both buses and minibuses, is considered to be one of the most efficient in East Africa thanks to the country’s small size and good roads. Tickets can be bought in advance that will guarantee you a seat for what will be a scenic journey no matter where you go.
For a more intimate and private experience, hiring a driver with our Local Experts will allow you to cruise from one destination to the next in optimum comfort. Better yet, each trip will be like a mini-tour, with expert knowledge in some of the best places to stop along the way to make your journey an easy-going and fulfilling experience.
Although Rwanda has a good road network, hopping between national parks sometimes requires a 4WD for a more comfortable journey for your Rwanda safaris.
Self-driving car hire in Rwanda is not popular just yet! The only option that will take you outside of Kigali is to hire both a driver and a car, as above.
Rwanda has two domestic airports that will connect you between Kigali and Cyangugu which takes you to Lake Kivu, one of the smallest of Africa’s Great Lakes. This is suited to those looking to travel to Rwanda for a short period of time.
Cycling enthusiasts will be delighted to hear that Rwanda is becoming a popular ‘bike packing’ destination as an alternative way to explore Rwanda on a tour. As the country is reputed for its good roads, cycling here is a joy with challenging steep ascents that reward you with downhill stretches.
Where to Stay When You Visit Rwanda
Travelling in East Africa can be expensive! Rwanda’s accommodation options are limited in some parts of the country and tend to cater to a mid-to-high-end budget;
On the outskirts of Volcano National Park, there is a small village that is made up of luxurious accommodation options nestled in the mountains of one of the most adventurous parts of Rwanda – gorilla treks start here!
Each of the lodges found here is spectacular in its own way. Traditional in exterior yet modern in the interior, each lodge has a unique design that melds the rustic and the elegant together. What’s more, no matter where you stay, you’re guaranteed a lush green view!
This thriving city is a must during your time in Rwanda. To make the most of your Kigali travels, you’ll find that most of the accommodation options are right in the very centre of the city. Here, you’ll find all of your sightseeing activities within reaching distance on foot.
Kigali’s city centre is clean, green and bustling with life where you will find lots of restaurants and cafes to break up your day with some downtime.
After trekking, adventuring and learning more about Rwanda, Lake Kivu is a continuation of your experience that encourages you to relax! Accommodation options in Lake Kivu are spacious, open and often very luxurious.
A surprise to most, Lake Kivu has a beach on the Rwanda side where most hotels are situated. Although you will want to spend time on the beach, these beautiful hotels and lodges often have pools too. Designed to blend with their surrounds, each option you find here will guarantee amazing views of the lake.
Akagera National Park
Around Akagera National Park there are just three accommodation options available, however, each has its own range of options that will satisfy a mid to high-end budget. Each of the lodges found on the edge of the park sits on the riverside with game viewing opportunities presenting themselves on decking areas, and sometimes, from the poolside!
As safari accommodation options, the lodges are all-inclusive with very few restaurants or facilities outside of the accommodation.
Food and Drinks to Try in Rwanda
Can’t live without potatoes? You’re going to love Rwanda!
Popularly known as Rwanda’s national dish, brochettes are the skewers of all barbecue lovers’ dreams.
Found everywhere from street corners to fine dining restaurants into the centre of Kigali, brochettes are made up of a mix of meat and vegetables that are marinated in Rwanda’s special spices and grilled to perfection!
To complete the dish, you’ll get your skewers with plantain or potatoes, or both.
The beer that you cannot leave Rwanda without trying. Urwagwa is one of the most traditional beers you’ll find. The beer is created by mashing up bananas and plantains and fermenting them with sorghum flour underground to create the alcohol content.
As the purest of homebrews, there is no way to tell how high the alcohol content is, ask your local brewer before trying!
Now for the potatoes! Cooked in helpings of butter on a skillet, baby potatoes are halved and sizzled away until crispy to make the perfect accompaniment to any meat dish – ibirayi!
A go-to among locals, Isombe is a vegetarian dish that is light and filled with all the nutrients you could possibly need in a meat-free meal. It starts with cassava leaves, which make a regular appearance in just about every Rwandan dish.
Pounded and boiled to make your base, the cassava leaves are then fried with aubergine, peppers and onion. To mix it all together, the peanut butter adds in that protein boost you need and creates the paste that completes the dish!
No Rwandan menu is complete without plantain, and Agatogo is the best way to enjoy it! Agatogo is a plantain stew with a tomato base. A variety of vegetables and either meat or fish are mixed together with plantain and cooked for a long period of time to create a hearty, healthy and flavoursome dish that is only made better with all the spices that are thrown in too!
Festivals in Rwanda
Rwanda Film Festival
Having showcased thousands of African films since starting in 2004, the Rwanda Film Festival is one of the biggest international competitions on the continent.
During the festival, budding young producers, actors and filmmakers are taught by the masters through workshops and classes. With a focus on the youth of East Africa, this festival brings about opportunities through an exchange of ideas and creations.
This is the biggest event in Volcanoes National Park that you could be lucky enough to experience.
Kwita Izina is the annual gorilla-naming ceremony that was inspired by the Rwandan ancestral naming ceremony of a newborn child. Now a major event in September, there are many workshops and activities that take place over a week aiming to observe and reflect on the progress that Rwanda has made with gorilla conservation. Of course, traditional music and dancing are also incredibly important in the week’s celebrations.
The final day of the event is when the new babies of the year from gorilla families are named. Participants walk around pictures of the babies and discuss what names are best based on their unique traits and characteristics.
Kigali UP Festival
A small yet very popular festival, Kigali UP is rapidly becoming East Africa’s most sought-after music festival. With artists from around the world taking to the stage in the capital, Kigali UP is your perfect blend of blues, reggae, hip-hop and pop to cater to a wide variety of musical flavours that will get you dancing.
Kigali UP takes place in the summer months and is a must while in the city at the time!
Hobe Rwanda Festival
Another of September’s cultural events that have to be put on the calendar, Hobe Rwanda Festival is about as Rwandan as it gets. Hobe offers a platform for local artists of all kinds to celebrate the country’s music, dance and art.
While the stage is open to international artists too, Hobe is very much a local celebration of creativity at its finest.
Things to Know Before You Go to Rwanda
Visa: You can obtain a visa at your chosen port of entry to Rwanda. The visa costs are around $50 US for a single entry visa or $70 US for a multiple entry visa.
Currency: Although US dollars are widely accepted in Rwanda, the Rwandan Franc is the official currency. At the time of writing, 1 USD dollar is equal to 980 Rwandan Francs.
Language: In Rwanda, the official language has been English since 1994, however, French was introduced into the country after 2008. Residents tend to speak one or the other. There is also Kinyarwanda which is Rwanda’s other official language that goes into other East African countries too.
Safari Rules: Following safari rules are essential for a safe and enjoyable experience, this includes basics like wearing seat belts and staying inside the vehicle at all times.
ATMs: Outside of Kigali, where there are many ATMs, there are very few. Before leaving the city, make sure you have enough money for the rest of your trip.
Rwanda Gorilla Permits: Rwanda is considered a luxury trekking destination. The cost of a gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda is around $1500 US depending on the season.
Make Your Rwanda Tour Happen!
At Tripfuser, we create unique experiences that are tailored to your travel needs. Browse our range of fully-customisable tours to Rwanda to see what is on offer in this beautiful country.
If you can’t quite find what you are looking for, click ‘design your own trip’ and answer basic questions that tell us a little bit more about your requirements and you’ll be matched with one of our Local Experts in Rwanda who best meets your travel desires. Soon, you’ll have an example of a trip that will take you on Rwanda’s gorilla trekking tours and more!