Rwanda Travel Advice
Up-to-date, relevant travel information direct from the experts – get Go2Africa’s essential Rwanda travel advice before you go.
For practical advice and what to expect on gorilla trekking from those who have been, read our expert blog on ‘Gorilla Trekking 101′.
Money & Spending
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc but we’d recommend bringing US dollars (post-2003 bills only) or euros in cash (traveller’s cheques usually attract poor exchange rates). Do any necessary banking in Kigali as few opportunities exist outside the capital – bureaux de change establishments usually offer the best exchange rates.
Credit cards – notably MasterCard – are accepted in some of the upmarket hotels and restaurants in Kigali but not in many other places.
Tipping is not customary in most places in Rwanda, with the exception of some higher-end restaurants in town where 10% of the final bill is standard. If you are doing a gorilla trek, tipping is not compulsory but it will be greatly appreciated – amounts vary depending on the size of your group and the level of assistance required. Your porter (if you choose to take one) should usually receive the highest tip, with a second tip distributed between your guides, trackers and security personnel.
Bear in mind that some guides, porters and trackers are former poachers who now rely on tourists and travellers to make a living. Your generosity helps them see the value of keeping gorillas and chimps alive.
It is worth hiring a porter to help you during the trek: he or she can assist you over tricky parts of the hike, offer support and carry your daypack if you find yourself fatigued on the hike back. Tip your porter well for excellent service.
For in-depth tipping guidelines, enquire with one of our Africa Safari Experts – they’d be happy to share their knowledge with you.
Average year-round temperatures are about 12°C / 54°F to 27°C / 81°F.
Rainy seasons: March to April and October to mid-December. The easiest gorilla trekking is during the dry seasons from June to September, and late December to February.
Refer to ‘best time to visit Rwanda for climate charts and advice on the best times of year for gorilla trekking.
What to Pack
You’ll need to be suitably equipped for gorilla trekking in Rwanda – preparation is key. When packing for your Rwanda safari, be sure to include long, thick trousers and long-sleeved tops, long socks or gaiters to wear over your trousers as protection against ants, a pair of light gloves to protect against nettles, a hat, a raincoat and of course a pair of sturdy, comfortable hiking boots (break them in before your trip).
It can get cold and damp on the mountains at altitude so pack a change of clothes and a warm fleece in your day pack, along with sunscreen and insect repellent.
Stinging nettles are one of the gorillas’ main food sources so there are bound to be thick patches of nettles when you encounter a gorilla family. We recommend wearing the thickest trousers possible to protect your legs against scratches and gardening or other gloves to protect your hands (you may have to grasp vegetation from time to time to steady yourself on the trek).
Other useful tips:
Avoid wearing strong fragrances as animals have an acute sense of smell and may retreat from unfamiliar scents.
- Dress in the colours of nature ie browns and greens. Animals are aware of contrast and bright colours, white and strong patterns create the highest contrast against the forest background, once again making game keep their distance.
- Do not wear black or blue as these colours seem to attract tsetse flies and other bugs.
- Ensure your bug spray is environmentally friendly.
- If you can, bring extra stationery, toys or footballs for the village children. Read our useful blog on Easy Ways to ‘Give Back’ on your African Vacation here.
- Consult your doctor or travel clinic about vaccinations and medication to help you cope with the altitude, if necessary. Many of the country’s roads are very ‘twisty’ or windy, so consider bringing anti-motion sickness medication if you get car sick.
Flights & Getting Around
Did you know you can book your flights through Go2Africa? For more information and frequently asked questions, please see our Flights section.
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport: A short drive from Kigali, Rwanda’s point of entry is served by a direct flight from Brussels otherwise you’ll be flying in from Entebbe, Nairobi, Lusaka or Johannesburg.
It’s about a 2.5-hour drive from Kigali to the gorilla trekking destination of the Volcanoes National Park. Transfers in Rwanda are usually conducted in 4X4 vehicles but you can also take a helicopter flight from Kigali to Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Because Rwanda is a small country, the maximum driving distance between major points of interest is about four to five hours long. In Kigali, one of the most efficient and fun ways of getting around is on the back of a local scooter – it’s a great way to get an authentic taste of the city.
Visa & Passport Requirements
A passport valid for at least six months is required by all visitors to Rwanda. Visas are required by everyone except citizens of the USA, UK, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Hong Kong, Kenya and South Africa.
Multiple-entry tourist visas can be purchased from your nearest Rwandan embassy or consulate. Visas are valid for three months and can usually be extended in Kigali on a month-by-month payment basis.
A gorilla-trekking permit is essential. It is important to note that children under 15 are not permitted on gorilla treks.
History & Economy
A land of pre-colonial kingdoms and powerful, cattle-owning dynasties, this tiny Central African country escaped the ravages of the slave trade but was subsequently colonised, first by the Germans and then the Belgians. Independence arrived in 1962 but Rwanda’s post-colonial history has been a chequered one. The 1994 genocide was the nadir but since then the country has gone from strength to strength and punches well above its weight in regional affairs.
Contributing 40% of GDP and occupying 90% of the workforce, agriculture dominates the economy but it’s mostly subsistence farming with little surplus. Cash crops such as tea and coffee do generate foreign revenue as does mining for rare metals but tourism is the greatest foreign exchange earner.
People & Culture
A green and fertile country, Rwanda has long been settled. With over 11 million people crammed into an area smaller than Belgium, it is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. Its earliest inhabitants were the pygmoid Twa, hunter-gatherers who were subsequently displaced by migrating Hutu farmers who now make up over 80% of the population. Next to arrive were the cattle-raising Tutsis who dominated traditional power structures until independence. Note that as a consequence of its history, modern Rwanda tends to ignore such ethnic labels.
A young population (over 40% is aged under 15) the majority of Rwandans are Catholics with Protestants close behind. The country’s official languages are Kinyarwanda, French and English and Rwanda is generally seen as an easy, safe and friendly country to travel around. Music (particularly drumming) and dance dominate the cultural scene and there is a strong oral tradition ranging from poetry to folk stories.
Landscape & Wildlife
Known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, landlocked Rwanda sits literally at the heart of Africa. A country of volcanoes, thickly forested mountain ranges, lakes and rivers, its position on the Albertine Rift Valley puts it at the heart of one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world although much of Rwanda’s hill country and grasslands have been turned over to terraced agriculture and the country’s large animals are restricted to its three reserves.
Most famous of these reserves is the Volcanoes National Park, home to half the continent’s remaining mountain gorillas and Rwanda’s famous gorilla trekking industry. Nyungwe Forest is a haven for other primates including chimpanzees while the little-visited Akagera National Park in Rwanda’s flatter and hotter east is the country’s sole savannah reserve. Birdlife is prolific throughout the country with around 670 species recorded.