More than its picturesque scenery, spotless streets and amazing hospitality, Rwanda offers visitors a very special travel experience.
Some say that experiencing a country first-hand (read: roughing it) is the best way to get the truest sense of the place and way of life. Others prefer the peace of mind offered by a tour guide.
Whichever kind of traveller you are, Rwanda will make you feel welcome.
City Guide – Kigali, Rwanda
Rwanda has one international gateway for arrival by air, Kigali International Airport, which is located at Kanombe, 10km east of Kigali’s city centre. SAA has a code-share partnership with RwandAir, Rwanda’s national carrier flies to/from Johannesburg.
When to go
The best time to visit Rwanda is during Jun–Aug & mid-Dec–mid-Mar as this is the most comfortable climate to head to the national parks and for gorilla/chimp tracking. Baby gorillas are named during the Kwita Izina ceremony in september and this is the ideal time for hiking. Apr–May can by rainy, but fewer travellers means gorilla permits are easier to obtain.
Kinyarwanda is the national language of Rwanda, and the first language of almost the entire population of the country. It is one of the country’s official languages alongside French, English, and Swahili.
Currency & Costs
The currency is the Rwandan franc (RFr) Daily costs range from $50US – $100US but certain important items can be very expensive (a deodorant costing R25 in SA costs R100). Bargaining is perfectly acceptable at any market or stall and is essential with taxi and moto-taxi drivers, who will often put the prices up for foreigners. There are many drivers who do not put prices up for foreigners, so consider this before entering into negotiation.
Kigali is relatively safe and friendly as far as African capitals go. Keep your eyes open and your wallet out of the reach of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas. Avoid walking after dark if possible, especially alone. Take extra precaution in the area between New Cadilac Nightclub and Carwash bar
Explore the city on a moto (taxi-bike): You need to hang on tightly to the driver, as he weaves the bike in and out of traffic, but this is the quickest way to get around town (about RWF500 a ride). They’re generally fast but safe, and there’s nearly always a helmet for the passenger.
Minibuses cruise the streets looking for passengers. All advertise their destination in the front window and run to districts throughout the city. They charge a flat price of RFr200.
Taxis are not metered but a fare within the city centre costs, on average, RFr3000 to RFr4000, and double that out to the suburbs or later at night. A trip to the airport costs a standard RFr10,000.
Mobile phone & Internet access
Internet access is widespread and very cheap in Kigali. All but the cheapest hotels offer free wi-fi, as do many of the more upmarket cafes and restaurants. The Rwandan government is halfway through implementing a plan to provide free wi-fi in all public spaces across the city (and eventually across the country), but for most travellers the easiest option will be to purchase a SIM card with a data package from a local mobile phone provider such as MTN or Airtel.
What to eat
Sample local cuisine. In a world where fast-food franchises are fast dominating the food sector, Rwanda’s mercifully free of these outlets. Instead, there are staple dishes like nyama choma (grilled goat meat – about RWF3 000-5 000 for a plate) and matoke (a deep-fried or mashed green starchy banana, often served with salsa).
Where to eat
I loved the different variations of matoke served at the Serena Hotel in Kigali, while locals hail Nile Grill as the best nyama choma spot in town.
Where to go
The Kigali Genocide Memorial pays tribute to more than 250 000 Rwandans who were murdered by Hutus during the country’s 1994 civil war. There are also many other deeply moving memorials around the country. Entrance is free of charge. As a way of helping sustain the memorial, you can hire the informative audio tour device that will help you navigate the the memorial garden and graveyard.
Pick up a souvenir or two. Kigali might not offer high-end malls, but you can find beautiful arts and crafts, handmade accessories, Kitenge cloth and more. Prepare to spend anything from RWF2 500-50 000 for an artwork.
Try Caplaki Craft and Kimironko markets, both in Kigali. If time allows, visit the Shokola Coffee Shop for a freshly brewed cuppa.
What to do
A gorilla safari is definitely worth doing. Prepare for some serious bush-whacking as you navigate the Volcanoes National Park to spend time with these primates in their natural habitat.
For something less strenuous and expensive, golden monkey trekking is a popular pursuit.
A picnic at Lake Kivu, in the Gisenyi District (three-and-a-half hours from Kigali) is another good option.
Gaze out from the Presidential Suite balcony at the Serena Hotel, the MTN Bourbon Café or the Sun City Hotel in Nyamirambo.
by Kemong Mopedi
Kemong Mopedi’s trip was sponsored by Serena Hotels and Thousand Hills Expeditions.