Rwanda, officially the Republic of Rwanda (Kinyarwanda: Repubulika y'u Rwanda; French: République du Rwanda), is a sovereign state in central and east Africa. Located a few degrees south of the Equator, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. All of Rwanda is at high elevation, with a geography dominated by mountains in the west, savanna in the east, and numerous lakes throughout the country.
Rwanda is not only the land of a thousand hills, but also a country rich in flora and fauna and stunning natural beauty in its scenic rolling and breathtaking green savanna. The country hosts some rare species of animals like the silverback mountain gorillas as well as unique birds and insects in the tropical forest of Nyungwe. The country is enjoying an increasing number of visitors, whose main interests are the mountain gorilla tracking in the Parc National des Volcans, the primates of Nyungwe Forest and game drives at Akagera National Park.
Expect a warm and friendly welcome to a beautiful country, as well as security advisories.
President: Paul Kagame
Currency: Rwandan franc
Population: 10.94 million (2011) World Bank
Government: Unitary state, Republic
Official languages: French Language, English Language, Kinyarwanda language
National Day: 1st July
Industry: Coffee and Tea factories, Cotton and Textile, Tobacco, plastics, soaps.
Agriculture: Coffee, Tea, pyrethrum.
Rwanda, "The land of a Thousand Hills", Rwanda is a green undulating landscape of hills, gardens and tea plantations. It offers tourists a one of a kind journey - home to one third of the world remaining Mountain Gorillas, one third of Africa's bird species, several species of primates, volcanoes, game reserve, resorts and islands on the expansive lake Kivu, graceful dancers, artistic crafts and friendly people. All of Rwanda is at high elevation, with a geography dominated by mountains in the west, savanna in the east, and numerous lakes throughout the country.
Reasons to visit Rwanda
There’s magic in the air
Rwanda just has a magical aura to it that you need to experience. It’s the “land of a thousand hills” and it lives up to its name–with mountains beyond mountains. And, through the mountains floats Rwanda’s famed mist. The country has a special spirit to it. I feel at ease in Rwanda–it’s clean, safe, and friendly.
Rwanda has purpose
The country is going places and, if you go there now, you can still say you were there before it was big. Credit is due, largely, to Rwanda’s leadership who, after the genocide, has worked to make the country a better place. President Kagame is particularly focused on making Rwanda the next Switzerland or Singapore. And it shows. The tech industry is growing quickly, the country is wired with fiber optics, and they are attracting big name corporations taking a look at making Rwanda their Africa home base. The streets are clean–they even outlawed plastic bags in country, which are seen littering the sides of the roads in every other country. From economy to environment, Rwanda has targets in every sector and the country is working together to achieve. The overarching goals become a middle-income country by 2020.
You can get my head around Rwanda
Some countries are so large that it’s hard to get a feel for them. I’ve grown up in the U.S., but there are major, diverse regions of my country in which I have yet to set foot. Rwanda, on the other hand, I can drive across in about 4 hours. I’ve been to Volcanoes National Park in the north, the shores of Lake Kivu in the West, and the hills of Butare in the south. I still have a much left to explore and I know I can get there.
This is reason enough to visit Rwanda. There are real mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s forests and you can spend an hour with them–within FEET of them. You drive deep into northern Rwanda, and then hike into the forest guided by gorilla trackers. A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life.
But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.
Finally, Rwanda is interesting because it has a history worth knowing. The Rwanda Genocide is barely behind us and it’s reality is still ever-present. The Genocide Memorial is a must see for any trip to Africa. Beyond the genocide, it’s sometimes troubled past with colonization and occupation has shaped Rwanda in ways that continue to impact culture and language.
If you are considering an adventure in the near future, Rwanda gets my highest recommendation.
There are many international flights to Rwanda. In particular amongst the airlines are SN Brussels, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Air Burundi and Rwanda Air Express. The airport is located 10 Km from central Kigali.
Best Travel Period
Rwanda can be visited throughout the year. Gorilla tracking and other forest walks are less demanding during the drier months. The European winter is the best time for bird watching, as Palearctic migrants supplement resident species.
Passports and Visas
A valid passport is required by all nationals referred to in the chart above to enter Rwanda. Visas for Rwanda are required by all nationals referred to in the chart above, except:
Nationals of Germany, Sweden, the UK and the USA for stays up to three months, and all travellers require a yellow fever vaccination certificate.
Note: Nationals not referred to in the chart are advised to contact the embassy to check visa requirements for Rwanda.
A single-entry visa on arrival is only available to nationals who do not have a Rwandan embassy or consulate in their country. Those who this applies to should visit www.migration.gov.rw.
A certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required. Much of Rwanda lies at too high an elevation for malaria to be a major concern, but the disease is present and anti-malaria 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 (RFr). The US dollar is the hard currency of preference. It may be impossible to exchange travellers' cheques away from the capital. Credit cards are usually only accepted at the major hotels in Kigali .
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.
It is advisable to bring light and practical clothes, supplemented by light sweaters for the cool evenings and heavier clothing for the Parc des Volcans and Nyungwe. While tracking gorillas, wear solid walking shoes and sturdier clothing to protect against stinging nettles. A water proof rain jacket is important.
What to bring
Remember sun screen lotions, sunglasses and hat. Binoculars will greatly enhance game drives, forest walks and bird watching. Bring a camera and an adequate stock of film.
Food and drink
Food is generally safe to eat if well-cooked and hot. If in doubt, veer towards larger restaurants in cities and those aimed at tourists, which will have undergone government safety checks. Avoid buying food from the side of the road and don’t drink tap water. Use bottled water or otherwise boil or sterilize. Milk is unpasteurized and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.
Transportation and communication
Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country. International phone calls can be made easily. Appropriate SIM cards for the network are readily available everywhere, even in remote towns, and cell phones can be purchased or rented from major shops in Kigali. Most towns of any size will have several Internet cafes and computer center.
All of the major centers are connected with good road infrastructure. The fine road network, with little traffic, offers wonderful opportunities for long bicycle trips across the verdant hills and valleys. Mountain biking and hiking can be enjoyed on the thousands of kilometers of fine rural trails linking remote villages, crossing the entire country.
Gorilla Permits can be arranged by a local Tour operator, or can be purchased directly through the Office-The Rwanda Tourism Board, at the headquarters in Kigali, or at their office in Ruhengeri.