Rwanda has managed to cut its niche as Africa`s hottest new eco-tourism destination. The small country at the seam of East and Central Africa has quickly risen to become the latest fad in every nature lover’s travel diary and a flowering safari destination. A landscape of incessant ascends and plunges, it has rightfully earned the name, the ‘land of a thousand hills.
Squaring only 26,338 sq km, Rwanda is drenched in immense natural brilliance and diversity showcasing: impressive landscapes of precipitous mountains and rolling hills, dense rainforests, volcanic peaks, and mountain gorillas, copious waterways and masses, wildlife sanctuaries and a rich and vibrant cultural heritage.
Rwanda sits cuddled between countries; with Uganda to the north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the west. Its capital is the enchantingly picturesque city of Kigali.
Official Name: Republic of Rwanda
Capital City: Kigali, with a population of approximately 1 million; sits smack in the geographic centre of the country. Kigali became its capital at independence in 1962 and is the economic, cultural, and transport hub of Rwanda.
Area: Rwanda covers an area of 26,338 sq km, 5.3% of which is inland water.
The country is landlocked and therefore has no coastline.
Borders: Rwanda is bordered by Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Tanzania.
Climate: Generally temperate to sub-tropical with two rainy seasons:
- February – April
- November – January
The weather is a bit cooler in mountains with possibilities of frostiness and snow.
Population: 11,689,696 million (2012 est.), 42.7% of whom are under 15 years old and 97.5% under 65 years old., with a growth rate of 2.751%. The majority of the population (81%) is predominantly rural.
Rwanda stands as the most densely populated country in Africa
People: The people of Rwanda are known as Rwandan(s)
- Hutu (Bantu) 84%
- Tutsi (Hamitic) 15%
- Twa (Pygmy) 1%
Religion (2001) – Roman Catholic 56.5%, Protestant 26%, Adventist 11.1%, Muslim 4.6%, indigenous beliefs 0.1%, none 1.7%
Language and Literacy – Kinyarwanda, French, and English (official languages),
Swahili, (the lingua franca of East Africa) is used widely though not official
Literacy: 71.1% of the population over age 15 can read and write.
Currency exchange – There are many forex facilities in the city centre of Kigali: banks, bureaux de change, airport terminals, railway stations, ports, and major hotels. Only banks, Forex Bureaus, hotels, and lodges are authorized dealers as recommended by the company to change money.
Change all your money in Kigali as rarely will you get forex exchange anywhere else.
The US Dollar is the most preferred foreign currency, however, please be advised that US$ bills produced before 2000 are not accepted; while those produced between 2001 and 2004 will fetch a lower exchange rate.
Currency – Rwandan currency is known as Franc. Forex code – RWF. Notes are in denominations of RWF 500, 1,000, 2000, and 5000. Coins are RWF 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100.
Banking – Foreign currency can be changed at banks, foreign currency bureaux, or hotels. Banks in major centres are open from Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1400-1700 and Sat 0800-1200.
ATMs – ATMs are available country wide with 24-hour access. Most have only started to accept international VISA cards, with only very few accepting MasterCard. To avoid getting disappointed, it is highly advisable to travel with cash instead, and preferably US Dollars.
Credit cards – Credit cards are not a common medium of business transactions in Rwanda and are only accepted at a few / major hotels in Kigali, with International Visa being more acceptable than MasterCard. Be reminded that credit card fraud occurrence is a global problem and the usual precautions should be taken.
Travelers’ cheques – Only major banks in Kigali accept Travellers’ Cheques though rarely. To avoid disappointments, it is highly advisable to travel with cash instead, and preferably US Dollars.
Tipping – Tipping is appreciated.
Shopping and business hours – Mon-Fri 0830-1300 and 1400-1730, and Sat 0830-1230
Time – GMT +2 all year-round. Rwanda maintains an almost constant 12 hours of daylight. Sunrise is typically 06.30 and sunset at 18.45.
Electricity – Voltage: 220-240 Volts / 50 cycles – AC
Primary Socket Types: Europlug, Schuko (French Type 2 pin round)
110-120V electronics require plug adapter + step-down transformer.
Most hotels and lodges supply plug adaptors at the reception for 3-pin equipment at a small fee. If there are no electric outlets in the rooms, ask for help at the reception, they should be able to assist. Bring a sufficient supply of batteries.
International Telephone Code: Rwanda country code: +250. To dial out of the country Dial 000 followed by the required country code.
Rwanda has excellent cell phone coverage. Local SIM cards are readily available in most town centres, and cell phones can be purchased in the major towns
Post Offices: Kigali Post offices open Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1400-1700, Sat 0800-1200. Stamps can be purchased at post offices, stationery and souvenir shops, and hotels. The Rwandan postage system is very reliable but fairly slow… Airmail to Western Europe can take approximately two weeks.
The Rwandan landscape is a tease of endless ascends and descends… as far as the eye can see. Volcano Karisimbi which is part of the northern Virunga Mountains is Rwanda’s highest point at 14,187 ft (4,324 m) high. At an altitude of 4,829 ft (1,472 m) above sea level, Lake Kivu in the northwest stands as Africa’s highest lake. Sitting as the country’s lowest point is the Rusizi River at 3117 ft (950 m).
National museums and historical sites
The history of Rwanda is best told through its 6 site museums which are under the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda.
- Ethnographic Museum located at Huye
- Art Museum located at Nyanza-Rwesero
- Ancient History Museum located at Nyanza-Rukari
- Presidential Palace Museum located at Kigali-Kanombe
- Natural History Museum (Kandt House) located at Kigali-Nyarugenge
- Environmental Museum located at Karongi
The National Museum of Rwanda in Butare is the flagship of the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda. Also known as the Ethnographic Museum – Huye, the museum showcases an anthological brief of what Rwanda is all about through time. This is the very museum that houses the Rwanda Genocide Archive.
The Museums are open every day from 8 am – 5 pm with the exception of the following public holidays: 1st January, 7th April, 1st May, 4th July, and 25th December
- The Ethnographic Museum at Huye opens from 7 am – 7 pm
- On Umuganda- community work day, which is the last Saturday of every month, the museums open at 12 am
The vegetation of Rwanda is largely savannah grassland with small areas of tropical forests covering the western border with larger tracts taken up by Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park as well as the areas north and south of Lake Kivu.
Rwanda is one of the world’s last havens for the endangered Eastern Gorilla commonly known as the Mountain Gorilla. Predominated by primates, Rwanda collectively showcases 189 mammal species and boasts some729 bird species. The display on the mammal menu includes such species as the ‘BIG five’, blue monkey, mantled guereza, lion, African wild dog, and swanks the world’s largest hippo park with a population of approx 21,000 individuals.
Visa and Health Certification
A valid passport, valid for the proposed duration of your stay is required for entry into Rwanda. A valid entry visa is also required and may be obtained in advance from the Rwandan Embassy or High Commission in your country of origin.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required ONLY if you are arriving in Rwanda from an infected area.
A number of vaccinations are recommended for visitors to Rwanda (check with your doctor at least 8 weeks in advance).
Malaria is endemic in tropical Africa and protection against it is necessary.
HIV/AIDS is a serious problem throughout Africa, and an estimated 2.9 % of the Rwandan population is HIV positive.
Medical / Travel insurance
Travelers to Rwanda are recommended to obtain medical / travel insurance prior to arrival.
Only limited medical facilities are available. In the event of a serious accident or illness, an evacuation by air ambulance to Kenya or South Africa may be required.
Rwanda enjoys the best security in Africa, but visitors must take the same precautions as they would anywhere else in the world.
Try not to attract unwelcome attention. Make use of the safety deposit facility provided by hotels and lodges. Valuable items such as large amounts of cash and irreplaceable documents should be locked in the hotel safe. Never leave money and/or valuables in the vehicles or rooms unattended, keep them in a safe place.
Visitors are advised against walking at night, or in areas other than those recommended by their tourism representatives. If you must go somewhere, request the company of a trusted guide or use a taxis rather than walking around.
Visitors are also advised to ignore the attentions of any other persons who may approach them with unsolicited requests.
Rwandan tap water is not safe to drink. Bottled water is readily available.
Hospitals and doctors
Only limited medical facilities are available. In the event of serious accident or illness an evacuation by air ambulance to Kenya or South Africa may be required. Contact your doctor or Rwandan embassy at least 8 weeks before start of your travel to verify whether you require any vaccinations or other preventive measures.
Traveling to Rwanda
Numerous international carriers serve Rwanda, and Kigali is the hub of the country. Most tourist hotels and tour operators have vans and buses to transport guests. Taxis are readily available at the airport
Internal air travel
Rwanda has an internal air network with several domestic and international Airports. Rwandair as well as other international carriers operating to domestic destinations. Before using internal or regional carriers, it is advisable to check the airline’s accreditation and confirm that they operate in line with the ICAO safety standards.
Do’s and don’ts
- Smoke in a public place
- Deface a Rwandan banknote
- Urinate in public
- Sunbath topless
- Hire a prostitute
- Buy or take illegal drugs
- Remove wildlife products from Rwanda
Due to environmental reasons, plastic bags have been banned. Visible plastic bags will be confiscated on arrival at the airport.
Taking pictures of government buildings, national flag, government and military officials and bases, embassies, and airports is prohibited. It is considered courteous to ask people if you may take their picture before doing so, particularly in the more far-flung rural areas. If you want to photograph people ask your driver to request the people before photographing them.
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You need a visa to enter Rwanda. You can either get a visa on arrival at the airport, or before you travel. You can apply for single entry and transit visas on the evisas website. You can also apply for these, and other types of visa, at the Rwanda High Commission in London.
The charge for the visa on arrival is US$50 in cash while the charge for processing the E-visa application yourself via the correct Rwanda government website (http://evisa.go.ke/evisa.html) is US$52.53 including credit card fee.
Single Entry Visa is allowed to Indian travellers who wish to stay in Rwanda for a short period. … Indians who travel to a Rwanda for tourism purpose or business purpose or medical purpose. The applicant needs to mention the purpose of his visit. Rwanda tourist visa and Rwanda work visa are the single-entry visas.
The official processing duration for a Rwandan visa as per the official Rwandan Consulates’ site is 14 business days. However, this duration does vary between 2 and 15 days depending on the Embassy to be contacted.