WHY SHOULD I VISIT RWANDA?
Top 5 Reasons You Should Visit Rwanda:
- Volcanoes National Park – home of the Gorilla Trek
- Nyungwe Forest National Park – habituated chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys
- Akagera National Park – the only Big 5 park in Rwanda
- Lake Kivu – boat trips, lazing on the sandy beaches
- Kigali – modern city and home to the Genocide Museum
What is the Best Time of the Year to Visit Rwanda?
The best time to visit Rwanda depends on why you are travelling to Rwanda. Gorilla trekking, the main reason that people visit Rwanda, can be done year-round, but it is most pleasant during the dry season, June to mid-September. This is also the best time for game viewing in the Akagera, boating on Lake Kivu, and visiting the Chimps in Nyungwe Forest.
Rwanda’s long rainy season is from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent, and also less pleasant.
Which Places Should I Include in My Visit to Rwanda?
As the gorillas are the main attraction, Volcanoes National Park is a must. A gorilla trek can easily be combined with Lake Kivu and Akagera National Park. If you want to spend more time in Rwanda, include the Nyungwe Forest National Park in your itinerary.
Somewhere along the way, it would be of interest to include a trip to the Genocide Museum in Kigali.
How Long Should I visit Rwanda for?
- For a hit-and-run, gorilla trek, three days would be enough, as Volcanoes National Park is only two hours away from Kigali.
- For a short stay (5-7 days), include Lake Kivu with Volcanoes National Park or a combination of Volcanoes and Akagera National Parks.
- For a longer stay (10 days) include Volcanoes, Lake Kivu, Akagera, and Nyungwe, as well as a night in Kigali.
You can also easily combine Rwanda with Uganda and the Serengeti in Tanzania.
What is the Weather Like in Rwanda?
Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a nice tropical highland climate, as well as plenty of rain. There is a temperature drop of approx. 6° for every 1 km change in elevation. There is a distinct climate variation that can be ascribed to change in altitude, but it is quite constant in the same place throughout the year.
From June to mid-September is the long dry season, while October to November is a shorter rainy season with relatively dry seasons in between. During both of Rwanda’s dry seasons, there is often light cloud cover, keeping temperatures cooler, and it occasionally brings light rain showers.
Do I Need a Visa to Travel to Rwanda?
Some countries’ residents will not need a visa to travel to Rwanda. Please consult your travel agent to ascertain whether you will need a visa. A visa valid for up to 30 days on arrival, at point of entry, without a prior application will be issued to all citizens. The Rwandan Government is encouraging all visitors to apply for an e-Visa, which is available online.
Travellers who are visiting Kenya, as well as Uganda may find it helpful to apply for an East Africa Tourist Visa that allows entry to all three countries on a single visa. You can find information on the visa application process at the consular section of your local Rwandan embassy or its website.
What Are the Health Requirements for Travel to Rwanda?
Malaria is a risk in Rwanda. We suggest that you consult your doctor as to what anti-malaria medication to take, as we strongly recommend that you do so. To minimise the risk of contracting malaria, wear long trousers, cover your arms in the evening, and apply mosquito repellent.
A yellow fever vaccination is required if coming from an endemic country. The World Health Organisation recommends the following vaccinations for Botswana: hepatitis A and B, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella, Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), chickenpox, pneumonia, and influenza.
How Can I Travel Around in Rwanda?
- Public Transport – Minibuses serve most of the main towns, but road conditions are poor and very pot-holed.
- Self-Drive/Hire Cars – There are not any international car hire firms available in Rwanda, but local establishments can still be found in Kigali.
- Transfers – Tour companies offer transfers to the various destinations, which is by far the best way to travel.
MORE ABOUT RWANDA
Rwanda is landlocked. Its neighbouring countries include Uganda in the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi on its southern border, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
Rwanda lies on the continental divide, the East African plateau, with the Nile River system running north and the Congo River system west. The Rift Valley lies to the west, and the land drops rapidly from the plateau to Lake Kivu in the Rift Valley. On the east side of the plateau, the drop is gentler across the plateau and further to the swamps on its border. The eastern section of Rwanda is home to the majority of the population.
Most of Rwanda is 915 m above sea level, with much of the central plateau being higher than 1435 m. In the north-west, on the border with the DRC, are the volcanic Virunga Mountains. The highest peak, Mount Karisimbi (4535 m) is snow-capped. Lake Kivu, 1460 m above sea level, drains into Lake Tanganyika through the Ruzizi River. The Kagera River, which forms much of Rwanda’s eastern border, flows into Lake Victoria.
Rwanda is most infamous for the genocide of 1994. However, it is undergoing a dramatic transformation. For the moment, the country enjoys political stability and tribal unity. This has resulted in tourism again becoming a key contributor to the economy. So, while Rwanda’s scars may run deep, now is the time to help the country look to its future and embrace its newfound optimism.
TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Take a Kigali City and Genocide Museum tour: The Genocide Museum explores the history of Rwanda up to the time of the genocide with the help of using photographs, video, written accounts, and artefacts. The Wasted Lives section also gives insights into the genocides/holocausts in Armenia, Bosnia, south-west Africa, and Cambodia.
- Bird watching at Nyarutarama Lake or Nyabarongo wetlands.
- Enjoy Kigali’s diverse cuisine.
- Discover Rwandan art, both famous and upcoming artists, at Bushayija, Ivuka Arts, and Inganzo Art Galleries.
- Plays, musical performances, and art exhibitions at Ishyo Arts Centre, Shokola Café, and Laico Umubano Hotel.
- Shop at the Africa Gift Corner, Mode Savane, Caplaki Craft Village, ATRAC Craft Village, and COOPAC (KBC) amongst others.
- Sport activities:
- Golf at Nyarutarama Golf Course
- Basketball at Petit Stade
- Tennis at Cercle Sportif, Nyarutarama Tennis Club, or Laico Umubano Hotel
- Get a workout at the Serena Maisha Gym or Laico Umubano Gym
- Jog along the Golf Course or the Prime Minister’s roundabout
- Get pampered at Ituze Spa and Serena Maisha Spa in Serena Hotel
- Enjoy movies at Cine Star and Cine Silver
- Hop between Kigali “happy hours” in the city’s most famous hotels. Other bars include Le Must, Sundowner, and Virunga Sports Bar. Kigali’s resto-bars include Republica Lounge, Papyrus, Chez Lando, and Mangaroca. You can get live entertainment and salsa dancing at Pasadena
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park started its life as Albert National Park, which was managed and run by the Belgian Colonial Authority. In the 1960s, the park was divided when Rwanda and Congo gained their independence.
The Virunga Conservation Area is now shared in between three countries, namely Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo. This conservation area includes Virunga National Park in the DRC, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. Spanning a 160 km² area in the northern part of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park initially consisted of a small area around the Karisimbi, Mikeno, and Visoke volcanoes. It was set aside to protect the Mountain gorillas, which were facing extinction due to poaching.
Volcanoes National Park is home to the largest number of gorillas in the Virunga Conservation Area and is the centre for all Rwandan gorilla safaris. It is the most accessible gorilla safari destination in the world, being only a two-hour drive from Kigali, and hence, one can do gorilla tracking, and on the same day, drive back to Kigali after the trek. The park is also a home to families of endangered golden monkeys.
Dian Fossey is famous for spearheading a conservation campaign for the mountain gorillas, and this ultimately led to her murder in 1985. Poaching continued in the park, which also became the battlefield for Rwanda’s civil war, with many people fleeing to the Kivu region. After the war ended, in a bid to boost conservation and gorilla tourism in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda introduced the annual baby naming ceremony for baby gorillas, which is called “Kwita Iziina” in the year 2005. This has been very successful, and gorilla populations have started to grow.
Other larger species that can be observed in Volcanoes National Park are the spotted hyena, buffalo, elephants, black-fronted duiker, and bushbuck.
The park boasts 178 bird species, including 29 endemics to the Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas Mountains.
About Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla permits are issued on a first come, first served basis. Full prepayment of the permits is required to secure them. If permits are booked at different times (example: two couples travelling together, but booking at different times), the chances are that they will visit different families to each other.
Gorilla trekking may involve up to a two-hour drive on dirt roads to the nearest access point for a particular family of gorillas – it all depends on where the Gorilla families are in the park on a particular day. Trekking can take anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours, but on average, they are between two and three hours. Each group of eight (max number per group) will get one hour to spend with their Gorilla family per day. This is to have as little impact on the Gorillas as possible. The trekking fee is used to pay the park rangers, compensate the villagers when their crops are destroyed by the Gorillas to prevent them from killing the Gorilla, and for the general running of the park.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe is one of the oldest rainforests in Africa, rich in biodiversity and stunningly beautiful. The mountainous region includes a small population of chimpanzees, 12 other species of primate (including the L’Hoest’s monkey, endemic to the Albertine Rift), and is rich in wildlife.
Covering over 1000 km², Nyungwe is one of the world’s most spectacular and pristine mountain rainforests. Home to habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primates’ species, which includes a 400-strong troop of habituated Ruwenzori Black and White Colobus.
The birdwatching is superb, with over 322 bird species, including red-collared Babbler and 29 other Albertine Rift Endemic species. Butterflies are also a common sight, with at least 120 species.
There are 75 mammals in Nyungwe that are known, such as the serval cat, mongoose, and leopard to name a few. Cultural activities are also available around the forest.
Akagera National Park
Akagera National Park is located along the border with Tanzania in the north-east. Subsequent to its founding in 1934, much of the park was re-allocated as farms in 1997. This reduced the park, which was nearly 10% of the surface area of Rwanda, by almost 55%. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera reclaim its former glory.
The Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary is the source of the name of the park. The river feeds into a series of lakes, the largest of which is Lake Ihema. This lake and river system form the largest protected wetland in central Africa. The park shows exceptional levels of biodiversity. The forest-fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains, and rolling highlands combine to make Akagera amongst the most scenic of reserves anywhere in Africa.
Akagera is almost unrecognisable today compared to just 20 years ago when it was on the verge of being lost forever. While peace was finally restored in the 1990s after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis, Akagera’s demise was just beginning.
Battling for their own survival, returning refugees cut down forests for timber, killed the wildlife for food, and used the plains for their livestock. Lions and rhino were hunted to local extinction, and the park’s animals were replaced by large herds of cattle. The biodiversity of the area was severely affected, and the park’s value was diminished to the point of not existing at all.
In 2017, 18 eastern black rhinoceros were reintroduced after a ten-year absence, and two new male lions were introduced to enhance the genetic diversity of the growing pride, which had tripled since their reintroduction in 2015. Other large predators include the leopard, hyena, and side-striped jackal. With poaching essentially halted, the park’s key wildlife populations have continued to rise. More than 44000 tourists visited the park in 2018 alone.
You can find over 500 bird species in the park, which is due to its wide variety of habitats. The rare shoebill, the papyrus gonolek, and countless other water birds inhabit the wetlands in large numbers.
Akagera can be easily combined with the Nyungwe Forest and the Volcanoes National Park. It provides a wonderful great safari element to the trip, as it is home to many large plains game species, as well as the swamp dwelling Sitatunga and the sought-after Shoebill Stork. Amongst the plains game that can be on a game drive are the elephant, buffalo, zebra, topi, waterbuck, roan antelope, and eland. Other antelope are duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck, and impala. Of the primates, olive baboons, vervet monkeys, and the secretive blue monkey are seen during the day, with bush babies often seen on night drives.
Part of Africa’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Kivu, 2700 km² in area, lies in the west of Rwanda. It is surrounded by magnificent mountains. It is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest in Africa.
Rubavu, previously known as Gisenyi, is a large town on the northern edge of Lake Kivu, a one-hour drive from Volcanoes National Park and the perfect place to relax after gorilla trekking. Once a colonial beach resort of note, Rubavu’s waterfront is lined with fading old mansions, hotels, and trendy bars on the lakeshore, ideal for sundowner cocktails.
Karongi, halfway along the lake, is a popular beach resort area with hillsides covered in pines, and eucalyptus serves as a backdrop to the sparkling lake. At dawn and dusk, the sound of local fishermen singing carries across the water as they paddle in unison.
From Rubavu in the north, the Congo Nile Trail extends across 227 km of breath-taking landscapes all the way to Rusizi in the south of Lake Kivu. The trail gently curves back and forth, as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake, with eucalyptus trees lining the road and every inch of the hills seemingly terraced with bananas.
For adventurous travellers, an exciting way to explore Rwanda is a kayaking tour on Lake Kivu, or mountain biking or hiking one of the six off-the-beaten path stages of the spectacular Congo Nile Trail.
GENERAL INFO AND HISTORY
There are three main groupings of people that make up Rwanda: Twa; Hutu; and Tutsi. The Twa, who make up less than 1% of the population, are pygmies, forest dwellers that survive on hunting and gathering. When the Hutu arrived in the area, they moved deeper into the forests.
The Hutu arrived in what is present-day Rwanda and Burundi from the 5th to the 11th century. A clan-based social structure, the Hutu clans were ruled by kings or Bahinza. The Bahinza derived power from the superstition that they were able to cause rain, as well as protect crops from insects and cattle from disease. The Hutu were agriculturalists.
The Tutsi first migrated gradually into the area in and around the 14th century. The Tutsi used their combat skills and prosperity due to their ownership of cattle to achieve economic, political, and social control over the Hutu. Over time, the Tutsi king or Mwami took land ownership away from the Hutu, and the land became the property of the Tutsi king.
The Hutu-Tutsi relations took the form of a client-patron contract called the ubuhake. The Hutu indentured themselves to a Tutsi lord giving him agricultural products and personal service in exchange for cattle and the use of land. The ubuhake eventually became a feudal-type class system through which land and cattle, and therefore power, were in the hands of the Tutsi minority.
The Tutsi class system was headed by the Mwami, who was considered to be of divine origin. In the middle of the 16th century, Mwami Mibambwe I Mutabazi was able to reduce the power of the neighbouring chiefs and centralize the monarchy. Early in the 19th century, Mwami Kigeli IV established the borders that were in place when the Germans arrived in 1894.
In 1885, the Conference of Berlin handed control of the area that later became Rwanda and Burundi over to the Germans. Nine years later, German Count von Götzen became the first European to travel to Rwanda. He later became the governor of German East Africa.
The Belgians, the Germans, and the British wanted possession of the Rwandan and Burundian territory, but in 1910, an agreement handed control of Rwanda and Burundi to the Germans.
The Germans ruled indirectly through the political structure that was created by the Mwami. The Germans warred against the Hutu chiefs in the north that were not under the Mwami’s control, subjugating them. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Germans ordered extensive coffee planting, demanding tax in cash, not agricultural products, in order to force the plantation of coffee. It was also at this time that the missionaries arrived in Rwanda, establishing missions and schools.
During World War I, the Belgians took control of Rwanda and Burundi. In 1923, the League of Nations handed the supervision of Rwanda and Burundi to the Belgians. The Belgians broke the power of the Mwami, modified the ubuhake system, and put an end to paying tribute. The League of Nations determination required the Belgians to integrate the Rwandans into the political landscape, which led to limited political representation in the government. In 1952, the Belgians implemented the Ten-Year Development Plan. The plan was a series of broad socioeconomic reforms, with the goal of promoting political progress and social stability. This eventually resulted in handing the Tutsi minority political, economic, and social domination over the Hutu majority.
In 1959, the Belgian administrators declared a state of emergency and called in ground forces and paratroopers from the Congo to restore order to the seven years of escalating civil unrest between the Hutu and Tutsi. A new election of communal councils took place the same year with the aim to diffuse the imbalance of Tutsi power. The UN General Assembly and the Trusteeship Council recommended that the future stability and success of the region depended on them forming a single united Rwandan-Burundi State.
The Belgian authorities, after the failed elections in 1960, granted de facto recognition to the republican Rwandan State in order to avoid more social unrest. Belgium, according to the UN, was still accountable for fulfilling their Trusteeship agreement. They were asked to supervise the elections and ensure the establishment of stable transitional governments in both Burundi and Rwanda. In April 1962, both countries decided that a political marriage was impossible due to the unresolvable long-standing historical antagonism between their two countries. That same year, the General Assembly voted to terminate the Belgian Trusteeship Agreement, and days later, Rwanda gained independence.
In 1962, Rwanda became independent and a new constitution was ratified. In 1963, the Tutsi invaded Rwanda, but were repelled and in retaliation, over 12 000 Tutsis were massacred by the Hutu. 1964 the economic union of Rwanda and Burundi was terminated, and Rwanda introduced the Rwanda Franc. In 1973, president Grégoire Kayibanda was overthrown in a bloodless coup.
Major General Juvenal Habyarimana partially suspended the constitution and dissolved the National Assembly. In 1974, Zaire, Burundi, and Rwanda agreed to cooperate in matters of defence and economic affairs. In 1975, Habyarimana launched Le Movement Révolutionnaire National pour le Développement (MRND) as the nation’s sole political party with himself at its head. Not surprisingly, he was re-elected in 1983 and 1988.
In 1990, between 5 000 and 10 000 Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) rebel group of Tutsis invaded Rwanda from neighbouring Uganda, starting the Rwandan civil war. With the help of Zaire, Belgium, and France, they were forced back into Uganda. The RPF resorted to guerrilla attacks and gained control of much of the north of the country in 1992. In 1993, negotiations between the RPF and the Rwandan government led to the signing of the Arusha Accords in July, allowing RPF personnel and other refugees to return to Rwanda.
In the meantime, and new constitution, which legalised opposition parties, was signed. 12 new parties were formed, and in March 1993, three of the major parties reached an agreement with the president, a Hutu, on forming a transitional government.
The cease-fire with the RPF ended on 6 April 1994 when President Juvenal Habyarimana and the President of Burundi were killed in an airplane crash on their way back from Dar es Salaam. It is still unknown who launched the attack, with the RPF blaming Hutu extremists in the Rwandan government and the government claiming that the RPF was responsible for the attack. Ethnic violence again erupted, and so started the Rwandan genocide.
A short time after the crash, in Kigali, Hutu members of the MRND and CDR became victims of organized murder campaigns. The government fled to Gitarama as the RPF approached the capital. By April, thousands had been killed in Kigali. The killing of Tutsis then spread to other parts of Rwanda and continued for weeks. The Rwandan government forces were no match for the RPF and were forced to retreat.
On June 22, a French force of 2500 landed in Zaire, and then crossed into Rwanda and set up what was called the “safe area” on the south-western Zaire border. By this time, it was estimated that half a million people had been killed. On July 4, the RPF completed the capture of Kigali, Butare, Ruhengeri, and Gisenyi. Except for the French-occupied zone, the RPF now controlled all of Rwanda. On July 17, the RPF announced that Pasteur Bizimungu had been chosen to be President of Rwanda. The next day, the RPF declared that the war was over. A measure of stability was restored with a number of countries recognising the new government. A new Transitional National Assembly of 70 representatives was inaugurated in Kigali in accordance with the Arusha accord.
In early December, a study of the murder of Tutsis was presented to the UN panel by three African jurists. It concluded that “overwhelming evidence points to the fact that the extermination of Tutsi by the Hutu was planned months in advance. The massacres were carried out mainly by Hutus in a determined, planned, systematic and methodical manner, and were inspired by ethnic hatred.” It also stated that there were “serious reasons to conclude that Tutsis also carried out massacres, summary executions, violations of international humanitarian law and crimes against humanity with regard to Hutus.”
Early in 1995, on January 7 to be exact, President Bizimungu met with the presidents of Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, and also the Prime Minister of Zaire with the aim to discuss Rwanda’s domestic difficulties and the problem of refugees. About 2.5 million Hutu refugees remained in Zaire, Burundi, and Tanzania, many reluctant to return. More refugees from Rwanda continued to swell these numbers.
Within Rwanda, judicial proceedings resulted in about 23 000 arrests being made. This unprecedented large scale of arrests overwhelmed the inadequate legal and penal system. Many detainees died in custody from disease and overcrowding. It is reported that this figure was as high as 300 per week. In April 1995, a new Rwandan political organization, Retour de la Democrate au Rwanda (RRD), was inaugurated, claiming to represent the Hutu refugees. In December, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda made its first formal indictments for genocide, charging eight unnamed local officials in Kibuye with the crime.
Genocide trials began in Rwanda in December 1996. By mid-1997, 142 cases had been tried, with 61 people being sentenced to death. The trials were denounced by international human rights organizations, as they claimed that many did not have adequate legal representation and were not offered the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. In late 1996, the Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire (AFDLC) led by Laurent Kabila broke up the main Rwandan refugee camps in Zaire.
Bizimungu resigned in March 2000 in a dispute over the make-up of a new cabinet, and Kagame became president.
Kinyarwanda, French, and English. French is widely spoken throughout the country.
Rwanda is a developing country and has undergone rapid industrialisation, although agriculture is the highest contributor to the GDP. Agriculture is mainly in the form of subsistence farming. Due to large numbers of returning refugees, land sizes are shrinking, and this affects food production. Crops grown in the country include tea, coffee, sorghum, bananas, potatoes, and beans. Coffee and tea are exported.
Livestock farming, mostly traditional in nature, includes cows, goats, sheep, pigs, chicken, and rabbits, Shortages of land and water, insufficient and poor-quality feed, and regular disease outbreaks, which the veterinary services are ill-equipped to handle, are major constraints to growth.
Fishing takes place on the lakes, although stocks are rather depleted. Live fish are being imported to try to revive the fishing industry.
Rwanda’s mines have cassiterite, wolframite, sapphires, gold, and coltan.
Rwanda has made tremendous gains in their effort to provide electricity to the whole country, with a great number of new areas being electrified. The potential for hydroelectric power is great and Rwanda is working together with Burundi and the DRC to exploit this potential.
Rwanda’s industrial sector is mainly focused on domestic production and not on export. Rwanda produces beer, soft drinks, bottled water, cigarettes, farming implements, soap, furniture, shoes, cement, plastic goods, textiles, plastic pipes, and roofing materials
Tourism, the country’s leading foreign exchange earner since 2011 has been of the fastest growing sectors of the economy.
Rwanda Money and Currency
The unit of currency is the Rwanda Franc. The US dollars is widely accepted at tourist establishments, but for buying local goods, it is good to have the local currency. You will receive change from the locals only in the local currency.
Now that you know more about Rwanda as a travel destination, as well as the history of the country, perhaps you are ready book your next adventure with Q2 Travel?