Rwanda should be at the top of every traveler’s bucket list, as it has tons to offer: a chance to see gorillas in the wild, safe and clean cities, bustling markets, spectacular landscapes, and volcanic hiking trails. Unfortunately, however, a lot of people still associate this beautiful and progressive country with the genocide that was committed to the Tutsis in 1994.
Rwanda has made a rapid recovery, and not only is it now currently thriving, it welcomes tourists with open arms. It’s one of the safest nations in Africa, and in the world. The majority of its government officials are women, and it has a great arts scene. In fact, the country is often referred to as “The Future of Africa.”
If you’re thinking of traveling to Rwanda and exploring all the things this country has to offer, you’re probably looking for some advice. This is a travel guide that will provide you with some interesting facts and travel tips as you get to understand why Rwanda is the perfect destination to go to in the next few years to come.
A Tradition: Cow Dung Art
Art that makes use of cow dung might seem pretty strange, but in Rwanda, it’s a means of survival and is one of the cultural practices that was nearly lost during the genocide. Cow dung is dried, then decorated with paints and displayed in geometric or spiral patterns. Although it sounds gross, it’s quite beautiful.
Rwanda is One of Africa’s Smallest Nations
The entire country is comprised of just over 10,000 square miles. This makes it perfect for travelers who are on a budget or on a time limit; you don’t need weeks to explore and enjoy Rwanda, and you’re sure to see everything within a handful of days.
Plastic Bags are Outlawed
Rwanda was the first country in the entire world to ban plastic bags, in 2006. Part of the reason was to aid the country’s industry of agriculture, and the ban is taken very seriously, to the point where officials will search your luggage and backpack when you enter the country and remove any plastic bags. So, be warned.
Murals Are Everywhere
As you explore Rwanda’s big cities, you might be a little shocked at all the murals around you. They’re very colorful and very loud. But, these are more than just public pretty pictures; they are in fact backed by the government, and the purpose behind them is to raise awareness–for both tourists and for locals–about causes such as the refugee crisis and feminism.
Although Rwanda’s pretty landlocked, it is known throughout Africa for its fried fish. This is thanks to the fact that Rwanda’s home to one of the continent’s great lakes, Lake Kivu. This definitely provides lots of jobs for local fishermen, and provides plates that are full of freshwater fish. Besides fish, other popular food in Rwanda includes Isombe (mashed leaves from cassava) and meat brochettes. Here’s some advice on the food you’ll encounter while in this country.
The National Dish: Ugali
A dish you’re sure to find everywhere while you’re in Rwanda is Ugali, especially if you visit one of the country’s many, popular buffets. Ugali is a type of porridge made from cornmeal. It’s not exactly full of flavor, but it’s cheap to make and to purchase, and it’s definitely filling.
You have to try Sambaza while you’re in Rwanda. These come from Lake Kivu and are unique, little fishes that have a strong taste that may remind you of sardines. Due to this, Sambaza isn’t really for everyone, but they’re often sold alongside chips and lemon slices which make them delicious.
The tropical climate of Rwanda and its volcanic soil make it one of the best coffee growing regions in the entire world. Here, you’ll find excellent coffee–however most of it is exported. In order to get your hands on some local coffee, try making a stop at Inzora, which is a trendy rooftop cafe in Kigali, the nation’s capital. This cafe gets all of its beans in-country, from the southwest area of Rwanda. You’re sure to have your best cup of coffee ever at Inzora.
When you sit down for your meal, you might be surprised that one of the sauces that’s placed on your table looks like a medicine bottle. Even though this looks like medicine, you should be careful with adding Akabanga to your food–it’s a chili oil that’s extremely hot, and if you haven’t had it before, you should try it with caution.
Where to Eat in Kigali
If you’re looking for the best fish, there’s a lot of places you can go to find great fried fish. But, many people agree that the Green Corner, which is located in the Nyakabanda neighborhood, has some of the best fish you’ll find. Here, you’ll get heaping, delicious plates of fish and cold beer at plastic tables.
If you’d like to sample local cuisine to the beat of local music, the Republounge has delicious local foods, bursting and colorful decor, and live music every single weekend. This spot is a favorite for both locals and tourists, because the food is so tasty and the atmosphere is so great.
If you’re looking for a great place to celebrate a special occasion, you can find a Michelin Star restaurant in Kigali with Fusion. Fusion offers dining by the poolside, and you can order a variety of meals that are world-class, such as fusion meat, fish, and Italian pasta dishes. Obviously, this comes at a cost, but there’s nowhere better if you’re looking for a special occasion in Kigali.
Rwanda is bursting with opportunities. You can visit the Genocide Memorial Centre in Kigali, and it’s important to do this especially if it’s your first time in this country in order to appropriately and respectfully understand its past. This center functions as a place of remembrance for the thousands of victims of the genocide that took place 1994, as well as for people who are struggling to come to terms with the dark event in the country’s history.
If you’d like to give something back to the country you’re visiting, the Nyamirambo Women’s Center is a great place to do so. The center was founded in 2007 by eighteen Rwandan women, and the purpose of it is to end discrimination and violence that’s based on gender. Tourism here is used in order to raise money for local women. They offer tours, and sell souvenirs of accessories and clothing, so it’s a great place to shop as well.
Another must-visit is the Kimironko Market, where you can pick up lots of local food to cook, and gifts. You’ll find produce from other nearby countries as well, and local women sell the shoes and clothing that they make by hand. It can get overwhelming–the market becomes very busy, so fair warning.
And, obviously if you’re in Rwanda, you might as well visit the gorillas. In 1981, the population of gorillas in the wild of Rwanda was just 242, and now, it’s over 1,000, thanks to conservation efforts. It’s a great time to visit and get the once in a lifetime experience of viewing gorillas in their natural habitat. You’ll have to apply for a permit and only a certain number of people are allowed on guided treks per day, but it’s not something you will ever regret doing.
It’s also impossible to talk about Rwanda without bringing up its great body of water, Lake Kivu. This lake is absolutely glorious, and it has incredible views. You can stay in guesthouses near the lake and even camp along its shore. It’s also easy to find boat tours, so you can explore all of Lake Kivu’s islands. The beaches are picturesque and very clean, perfect for a sunset walk.
Is it Safe to Visit?
The answer is absolutely. It’s very uncommon for crimes to be committed against tourists in Rwanda, and the country has one of the lowest crime rates in all of East Africa. The only thing you really have to look out for is all the traffic on the roads, and it’s important to keep in mind that crossing the road is not the same as it is in America, so you need to be very careful. And, if you hitch a ride on a motorcycle, don’t get on unless the driver offers you a helmet.
It’s completely safe to travel in Rwanda by yourself. There are many good links to public transport, and the locals are friendly. Whether you’re backpacking your way through Africa, or you’re on a luxury tour that includes seeing the gorilla, you don’t need to worry; you’ll feel right at home.
You’ll experience a pretty high altitude in Rwanda, which gives it a mild tropical highland climate. The average temperature for Kigali is 21 degrees Celsius, which is great news for people who don’t enjoy high heat. The rainy season extends from March to May, and many people prefer to visit during the dry season, but the temperature is pretty stable no matter what. From December to February, you’ll encounter the dry season, which means Rwanda is the perfect winter getaway.
Unless you already live in Africa, you do need a visa in order to enter Rwanda. However, you don’t need to get one before you arrive–you can purchase one on arrival for about $30 and they’re very easy to get. A standard visa grants you access for 30 days.
Rwanda has a national carrier that began in May 2017, RwandAir. Its first flight went from Gatwick to Kigali, and it currently runs three times a week. You can also get flights to Kigali from Cape Town, Accra, Dubai, Johannesburg, Harare, Mombasa, Lagos, Nairobi, and Mumbai on the RwandAir airline. You can also use another airline, such as KLM, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airlines, Coastal Aviation, and Brussels Airlines.
Contributor: African Lobelia