Know This Before Traveling to Rwanda
Rwanda is a landlocked country located in East Central Africa. It is bound by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Zaire) and Lake Kivu to the west. The country is divided into six topographical regions from west to east. (1.) The Great Rift Valley and Lake Kivu. (2.) The volcanic Virunga Mountains and the high lava plains of the northwest. (3.) The Condo-Nile divide and the central plateaux east of the mountains. (4.) The savannas and swamps of the east and southeast. (5.) The central plain and (6.) the arid desert like area of the southeast. The country’s nine largest lakes are the Ruhondo, Muhazi, Mugasera, Ihema, Rwanye, Burera, Rugwero, Cyohoha and Kivu while the principal rivers are the Kagera, Ruzizi and the Nyabarongo with its tributaries. Few years after the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has become a worthwhile and peaceful ecotourism destination despite what some people still believe: the country has been rebuilt and is a bustle of activity, the people are cheerful and friendly, the roads are in good repair and safe…
Locals are friendly and inviting, although many rural areas are without running water, and a traditional way of life is followed in most areas. Understand that genocide is a part of recent history, in 1994, and is still fresh in everyone’s memory, so avoid the topic.
The principal ethnic group are the Hutu who account for 90% of the population, followed by the Tutsi who account for 9%. The smallest ethnic group are the Twa who are Pygmies and account for 1% of the population. The ethnic alien groups include Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs and Belgians.
The Christian religions are a powerful force in Rwanda today, as witnessed by the great number of active churches throughout the country. Roman Catholicism leads the field with 65% adherence, followed by Protestantism 9%. Some evangelical sects are now gaining ground. There is a small 1% Muslim population, leaving a 25% following for minority and traditional beliefs, some of which may have absorbed traces of Christianity.
Good Friday and Easter Monday, which fall on variable dates, are recognized in Rwanda. Other public holidays are :
1 January (New Year’s Day); 1 February (National Heroes Day); 7 April (Genocide Memorial Day); 1 May (Labor Day); 4 July (National Liberation Day); 15 August (Assumption Day); 1 October (Patriotism Day); 25 December (Christmas Day), and 26 December(Boxing Day).
CACH ON HAND
Credit cards have limited acceptance, and although traveler’s checks and currencies can be exchanged at banks and exchange booths, it is wise to keep a supply of currency on hand, as most businesses will only take cash.
The unit of currency is the Rwanda franc. The US dollar is the hard currency of preference. It may be impossible to exchange travelers’ cheques away from the capital. Credit cards are usually only accepted at the major hotels in Kigali.
WHEN TO VISIT
May to November is generally the best time to visit, avoiding the long wet rainy seasons. National Day, on July 1st, and the Harvest Festival, August 1st, are the two biggest festivals in both cities and rural villages.
A combination of tropical location and high altitude ensures that most of Rwanda has a temperate year-round climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night throughout the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area protected in Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, seasonal variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000mm of precipitation annually, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest February to May.
Local Rwandan cuisine is based on local staples including fish, bananas, and rice or manioc. Some dishes are Isombe, finely mashed leaves of the manioc plant, often served with dried fish, bugali, manioc plant root ground into flour and cooked with water into a porridge, and banana is brewed in some regions into beer.
Follow standard tipping rules and add a 10% gratuity for good service. Taxi fares do not require an additional tip.
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 centers.
Rwanda has possibly the best roads in East Africa. Most visitors who have booked through a tour company will be provided with good private vehicles, usually 4-wheel drive. All of the major centers are connected with local and luxury bus services. Air charter services are available anywhere in the country.
All International flights arriving in Kigali are with SN Brussels, Kenya Airways Ethiopian Airlines, Air Burundi and Rwandair Express.
All international flights arrive at Kigali International Airport,10 Km from central Kigali
There are two flights a day from Nairobi, two per week direct from Brussels and two per week from Johannesburg
PASSPORT AND VISAS
A valid passport is mandatory. Visas, required by all visitors except nationals of the USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sweden, Mauritius, South Africa and Hong Kong, cost USD 60 and can be bought upon arrival.