Situated at the heart of the Albertine Rift, Rwanda is one of Africa’s most biodiverse regions and a haven of rainforest endemism. The extraordinarily beautiful, small country is home to more than one third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, who live in the high-altitude cloud forests of the iconic Virunga Massif.
A densely-populated country with most people living in rural areas, Rwanda has shown great courage in recovering from the memory of the horrible 1994 genocide. Today, Rwanda is a stable, well-run and peacefully united country that ranks among Africa’s safest destiations. The optimistic energy of the people has earned their country the moniker ‘Remarkable Rwanda’ and it regularly features on ‘must-visit’ lists.
BEST TIME TO VISIT
In the heart of Africa, just south of the equator, Rwanda’s relatively high altitude provides it with a remarkably pleasant tropical highland climate, albeit also with plenty of rain. Although it’s regarded as a year-round activity, there are quite some some differences in the weather patterns throughout the year.
- The best time to visit Rwanda is during the short dry season from mid-December to February or over the long dry season months of June to September. These periods offer by far the easiest hiking conditions (for gorilla trekking) and the lowest malaria risk. The dry season does not necessarily means sunny season as there is often a light cloud cover, which helps to moderate the temperatures.
- Rwanda’s long rainy season lasts from about March to May, when the rain is heavy and persistent. This is by far the worst period of the year to visit the country as walking trails are extremely muddy. October to mid-December is defined as Rwanda’s short rainy season, and during this time you may encounter occasional light showers, mainly in the afternoon. Rwanda’s rainy season has one advantage: it’s the best season for spotting chimpanzees as they are easier to locate (in the dry season, when food is harder to find, the chimpanzees often withdraw far into the jungle’s interior).
HOW TO GET THERE
Most travelers arrive in Rwanda via Kigali International Airport, the main gateway for all destinations in the country. More and more airlines now offer direct flights to Kigali, including KLM, Brussels Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Rwanda’s national proud, its flagship carrier Rwandair. Click here for a continuously updated list of airlines that offer direct flights to Kigali.
It’s also possible to arrive in Rwanda overland as part of a multi-country itinerary. Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. Visiting Congo and Burundi is off limits these days (due to unpredictable security situation and the potential for violent civil unrest), but the land border crossings with Uganda and Tanzania are open and many tourists combine these countries with Rwanda in one single holiday.
Requirements for entry into Rwanda differ from country to country, and are subject to change. Prior to departure, always check with your government and your nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate what documents you need for travel to Rwanda.
- You need a valid passport. The passport must be valid for six months after entry into the country. You need one blank page on your passport for entry stamps.
- You need a visa to enter Rwanda. 30 day tourist visas are available on arrival for $30 USD. You can pay in cash (sterling, US dollars or Rwandan francs) or by Visa/Mastercard. Payment by credit card may not be available at all land border crossings.
It’s pretty easy and straightforward to get around in the small country of Rwanda, with most places of interest located within a few hours drive from the capital Kigali. Rwanda has one of the best road systems in Africa, with a well maintained network of paved two-lane roads. The only gravel roads you’ll encounter are those in the more remote areas or within the national parks.
- When you book a trip to Rwanda, you’re most likely to do so via a tour operator that will arrange a driver who doubles as an informal guide. Most tourists in Rwanda explore the country’s three National Parks (Akagera, Volcanoes and Nyungwe) with a driver in a four-wheel drive vehicle. For my own travels, I used Uber Luxe Safaris and I was extremely happy with their service (I highly recommend them).
- If you are on a budget, you may consider public transport (e.g. privately run buses and well-maintained, modern minibuses), which is more organized than elsewhere in East Africa, with regular, scheduled departures. Most towns are small enough to negotiate by foot, but both Kigali and Butare sprawl over several steep hills – you’ll need to catch a minibus or a taxi to get around.
- If you have money to burn, private flight and helicopter transfers are also available (and can be arranged via your tour operator or lodge).
INSPIRATION, HIGHLIGHTS & TRAVEL TIPS
There are many reasons why Rwanda should be on your bucket list:
- Track mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
- Observe chimpanzees in the wild at Nyungwe National Park
- Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial
- Unwind at Lake Kivu
- Take a tour of a tea or coffee plantation
- Go on safari in Akagera National Park
- Climb a volcano
- Hike to Dian Fossey’s tomb
- Learn about Rwandan culture at Butare’s Ethnographic Museum
- Stay at Hotel Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)
Rwanda is a small country and it’s easy to explore all of its highlight within a short time frame. I suggest the following one week itinerary in Rwanda:
- Day 1 & 2: arrival & exploration of Kigali (including tour of the Genocide Memorial).
- Day 3 & 4: 3 hour drive to Akagera National Park, and exploration of the park (home to the Big Five) by game drives and boat.
- Recommended lodge: Magashi Camp by Wilderness Safaris
- Day 5 & 6: 5 hour drive to Volcanoes National Park, with gorilla tracking the next day
- Day 7 & 8: 6 hour drive along Lake Kivu to Nyungwe National Park, with a capony walk in the rainforest and chimps tracking the next day.
- Recommended hotel: One&Only Nyungwe House
If you have more time, I highly recommend to spend some additional nights to unwind in Volcanoes National Park and/or Nyungwe National Park.