Rwanda: the land of a thousand hills, is a true success story. Sadly, many people still think of the 1994 genocide when you mention Rwanda. A brutal civil war arising from a long-standing conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu groups ripped the country apart for 4 years. Memories and evidence of this violent past are still present but the Rwandan people have come a long way to try to reconcile and rise from its painful past. Today Rwanda is one of the safest destinations to visit in Africa, especially as a solo traveler. It is impeccably beautiful; from its rolling hills to its wildlife to savannas. It’s conservation efforts and wildlife success stories should make it on any wildlife lover’s bucket list.
Getting to Rwanda is very easy and can be a great add-on trip to Kenya or Tanzania. As of January 2018, all foreign nationals can get a visa on arrival at Kigali International Airport or land borders. A single-entry tourist visa costs $50 ($70 for multiple entries), or you can get the East African visa (includes Uganda and Kenya) for $100. And since August 1st, U.S citizens can now apply for a long-term visa (V12) for a stay of up to 6 months! For more info, head to the Rwandan Embassy. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if coming from a country where yellow fever is endemic or experienced an outbreak. The majority of the people speak Kinyarwanda, the national language, but you will also hear English, French, and Swahili, especially in Kigali. Cash is king here! Hotels and restaurants in Kigali will obviously accept credit cards, but if you are planning on venturing outside the capital, you will need some Rwandan Francs or US dollars. The newer and crisp the bills, the better. $1 = 925 RWF. Compared to other East African countries, the cost of things in general is slightly higher in Rwanda. The country’s flag carrier, RwandAir, has direct flights to London Gatwick, Brussels, and many other destinations. Uber is not yet available in Rwanda, but there are Uber-like versions called YegoMoto and Safe Moto. Here are my 10 reasons why I believe everyone should visit Rwanda at least once. Don’t forget to download some free apps to make your stay a bit easier.
Rwanda is safe
Despite its terrible tragedy, Rwanda is one of the safest countries in the world. In fact, the U.S Department of State has given Rwanda a Level 1 travel advisory, the same level as Canada and lower than the United Kingdom or France. The current president, Paul Kagame, has made sure to put in place measures that make security a #1 priority for not only its citizens but visitors. There is a heavy military presence in Kigali that doesn’t feel imposing (though some people might disagree) but rather gives the feeling of security. So to answer the question, Rwanda is safe. Very safe. You can walk around the capital and not worry about pick-pocketers!
Today are only 3 places in the world to see the last remaining 1,000 or so mountain gorillas; The Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda. They are the raison d’etre for most tourist visits to the region. In addition to the Virunga Conservation area shared by all 3 countries, the gorillas can also be seen the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in southwestern Uganda. In Rwanda, you can only trek the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, which is part of Virunga. Because of the risks that humans pose to the gorillas, only 80 people per day are allowed to see them in their natural habitat.
There are 3 main wildlife destinations in Rwanda you need to know: Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe Forest National Park, and Akagera National Park. If mountain gorillas are what you’re after, you want to go to Volcanoes National Park. And the variety is startling. The Virunga Mountains are not only home to the endangered mountain gorillas, but also the rare golden monkey, about 200 species of birds & more. The Big 5 can be found in Akagera together with almost 490 species of bird. Nyungwe has more than a 1,000 plant species and 322 species of bird, plus the mongoose, cerval cat and many more. A 4th national park on the ridges of the Congo-Nile, Gishwati Mukura, has recently been opened after restoration.
| Best month to go: June. It is the start of the long dry season and rainfall is relatively very low. Perfect for gorilla tracking and hiking in Volcanoes and Nyungwe.
Kigali is clean. I cannot attest for the rest of the country, but if it is anything like Kigali, then I know for sure that Rwanda is an extremely clean country. The capital has been named the cleanest country in Africa and the 3rd greenest city in the world! While most countries decided to introduce a tax on plastics in an effort to discourage people from using them, Rwanda decided on a complete ban in 2008. There are plenty of signs, at airports, at border posts, stating that no person is allowed inside the country with a plastic bag. The penalty for anyone found with one is $150 per bag and store owners that carry bags are fined and face months of jail time. That’s costly enough to discourage most people, especially a poor shopkeeper in the village. Hopefully, more African countries can adopt this eco-friendly rule. Places like Tanzania have now become a dumping ground for companies like Coca-Cola. There is now a large manufacturing warehouse for Coca-cola in Dar es Salaam, where although it slightly increased employment in the city, the levels of trash and pollution caused by the resulting plastics on the environment is at an alarming rate! In addition to the plastics ban in Rwanda, there is a once a month clean up program on the last Saturday of the month, where all able bodies Rwandese, including the president, clean the streets.
The Rwandan people
Despite the history of the Rwandan genocide, these are some of the nicest and kindest people you will ever meet. There are 2 major ethnic groups that account for the majority of the population; the Hutu and the Tutsi. But after the genocide, the government policy is to recognize only one ethnic group: Rwandan. From the border post to the hotels and the streets, the Rwanda people are extremely welcoming, as seen in their opening of their borders to those displaced by conflict. Earlier this year, the country became a safe haven for some of the refugees that were stranded in Libya.
Did you know the Rwanda government is the only government in the world with at least 60% female representation. That’s more women than men in government because they have a law that states that at least 30% of seats in parliament must be held by women. What most countries seem to fail to understand is that their country’s economy cannot fully reach its full growth potential if you are excluding half of your population. Take for example, trade. It’s very simple as it relies on basic supply and demand. Women are more likely to spend their moneys on basic good and services that benefit their households. So when making policies that affect things like trade, you need people who understand the role of women in driving general consumption patterns. And who better to understand women than other women.
World Class Hiking
About 3 hours drive from Kigali is Mount Bisoke, a dormant volcano that’s part of the Virunga mountain range and sits inside Volcanoes National Park. Bisoke is formed by the East African Rift Valley, which is still currently splitting across the African tectonic plate and that scientists predict will one day make East Africa a separate continent. Hiking up the mountain is strenuous and steep, but your reward will be a crater lake at the summit!
If you are a java lover like moi, then you already know that Rwanda is one of the major suppliers of coffee to the world. And it is good. It is even better in Rwanda. To revive the coffee industry after the genocide and in an effort to promote reconciliation between the Tutsis and Hutus, the government lifted restrictions on coffee farmers and lowered trade barriers. Rwanda has also focused on producing only high quality coffee beans. And that we can all appreciate.
The nightlife is quieter and relaxed
Unlike its neighbor to the north, Kampala, where the parties don’t stop until the sun rises, the nightlife vibe is much more chilled. There are still places to party and have a good time. K-club is considered the best place to have a good time in Kigali, packed with locals, expats, and travelers alike. There is a swimming pool bar at the famous Hotel des Mille Collines that’s popular on the weekends.
ps. Although the hotel was depicted in the movie ‘Hotel Rwanda,’ the actual filming took place in South Africa.
Solo female traveler approved
If you are looking to explore the continent and hesitant because you are traveling solo, give Rwanda a try. It’s small enough and well connected, the public transit system is reliable, the locals are extremely friendly and welcoming, and security is very tight. If you are a sociable solo traveler, there are plenty of options to join group tours or book vacation packages that offer group activities. Because of the very present security, petty crime is very low and crimes against travelers are extremely rare. But just because Rwanda is very safe, don’t forget to still take the proper precautions as always when traveling.