Photo of NDS student thanks to Katarzyna Dragun 2018. All photos and information shared with full consent of students or families. 

T R A V E L   R W A N D A

after a year living in rwanda and setting up rise i feel that it is my second home. i wanted to make this page to help anyone visiting or thinking of visiting rwanda. any seasoned travellers to africa will be suprised at how clean, safe and developed rwanda is. 

 i hope this helps!

lauren

COSTS

GETTING AROUND

Although Rwanda is better known for high end tourism it is possible to travel on a small budget (<$20/day). Many travelers will find Rwanda cheaper than neighboring countries due to mostly fixed prices and minimal overcharging. Whilst you will pay big money for gorilla trekking and hiking volcanoes national park, Rwanda has much more to offer than Gorillas.

Rwandans are generally very honest so even if you think the price seems high, double think before bargaining the price down as it can be offensive. People outside Kigali especially in rural areas are less likely to overcharge. Expect to bargain if going to tourist markets in Kigali.

There is one main bus station is situated in Kigali in Nyabugogo. This provides both national and international bus services all over east Africa. If you want to get there ask for ‘muri gare’

International busses

 International busses are outside the back of the Nyabugogo bus station around a petrol station. I use modern coast which has twice daily busses to Uganda and Kenya. Prices range from $25-30 to Nairobi.

Travel tip! Get an east Africa visa online before you travel to avoid border delays. Take Ugandan and Kenyan shillings or load up on snacks before you go as most busses don’t provide food or drinks.

Domestic busses around the country

Nyabugogo has numerous bus companies all charging a similar price for travel (usually around 1000/rwf per hour). All the busses have offices which are fixed price tickets (usually displayed on the desk/wall). You state your name and destination and receive a ticket so it’s not possible to be over charged. The busses are clean, comfortable and usually stop once on route.

There   is a smaller bus station (Remera) based at the opposite side of Kigali that has busses to East and central Rwanda. However, you can get any bus from Nyabugogo so if you’re not sure it’s better to head there. Busses generally leave punctually every 30 minutes. If you have a big bag it’s better to use RITCO company as they are bigger busses.

Travel in rural areas

If you are travelling to small villages and towns you will often be limited to tiny over crowded busses that stop every 10 minutes which will be familiar if you’ve travelled around Africa. These leave when full and you pay before getting off (you don’t get a ticket). They should display the prices but they often don’t or are outdated but generally if you are overcharged it’s not by much.

Travel in Kigali

If you are spending a long time in Kigali its worth getting a city bus card. You can buy these from Nyabugogo or Remera station from guys wearing blue vests with ticket machines and top them up there from then on. I’m not sure the cost to buy them (probably not more than 2000 rwf) but each journey  is 200 rwf regardless of distance travelled so they are worth investing in. You simply tap in (not out) when entering the bus. The busses have the destination displayed on the front. I often get on a bus in the general direction I want to go then use a phone map to see when I’m close and walk the rest of the way.

Moto

Motorbikes are a common way of getting around. The prices are negotiable and you are often overcharged (but not by much). Minimum fares usually start from 500 RWF in Kigali and 300 RWF outside. You have to wear a helmet (provided).

Bikes

Bicycle taxi is a really nice, cheap way to travel around. You’ll find them everywhere outside of Kigali and are super cheap (usually not more than 500 RWF even for journeys >10 minutes).

*many moto and bike guys, especially out of Kigali, do not speak English but will usually understand money in French.

Taxi

There’s a new uber-like taxi app out in Kigali called “Move Volkswagen”. I haven’t tried it but it comes highly recommended for both price and good service. If you want something easier I recommend Kigali taxi driver Narsissa (WhatApp-+250788876083) who speaks good English, is reliable and has reasonable prices. You can also pick up taxis from various points around town (they are always white and yellow) but expect to bargain down the price.

Car hire

There are a few places to rent cars in Kigali. I recommend contacting Celestine Uwineza (+250787058133 email: uwicele@yahoo.com). He is trustworthy, professional and can offer a variety of different services if you’re looking for assistance with anything like flat rentals etc.

ruzizi lodge, akagera national park

gisenyi basket ball court

mount. bisoke volcanoes national park

nyungwe national park

PLACES TO VISIT

Gisenyi/Rubavu

This is my favourite place in Rwanda. On the border of the DRC this upmarket beach town has a really chilled out feel and great climate. There is a minimal hassle in Gisenyi and it has some great hang out places and a nice beach. French and Swahili are the more common languages here due to the proximity to DRC.

The town itself it not worth visiting so make your way to the beach front. Take a moto from the bus station 500-600 rwf) and start off at luxurious Serena hotel where you can pay 5000 rwf to use the amazing swimming pool all day, grab some food, use the private beach or gym (added cost). From there you can walk along the beach (20-30 minutes) to the DRC border where you will find American owned Calafia cafe. Calafia is the best cafe ever. Set in a beautiful, peaceful garden overlooking the lake this colonial style house has amazing food and coffees.   They have good WiFi and you could just spend all day there.

If you like sport there’s a public football and basketball pitch near Serena where people will usually let you join in a game. You can also rent paddleboards, speedboats and kayaks from Serena.

The Catholic Church has a range of very affordable, good quality accommodation. Kivu peace view and  D’accueil Saint Francois Xavier (more central and quiet-behind the basket ball court and large church) both have ensuite doubles from 15000 rwf per night with affordable meals and good wifi. You can also get rooms for 15000 rwf per night at most of the guesthouses on the road that runs behind Serena hotel along the lakefront but the quality isn’t as good. Closer to the border you can get rooms for as little as 5000 rwf per night but they are quite sketchy.

Kibuye

Kibuye is a smaller, hotter town around 3 hours from Gisenyi on Lake Kivu. The draw here is nice beach front guesthouses where you can just relax. My favourite is Home St Jean. It’s really tranquil and set at the top of a hill with amazing views as well as a private beach. Private rooms start from 10,000 rwf per night but they also have dormitories and longer rental apartment options. It’s a good place just to go and get a coffee or a meal (very reasonable prices). If your looking for something more upmarket try Rwiza village which also has a private beach/great views but has beautiful private cabanas.

Is it safe to swim in lake kivu?

There are no dangerous animals that live in lake due to high levels of methane but there remains debate on whether schistosomiasis/bilharzia is present in the lake. I’ve always swum in the lake (including under water) and to my knowledge remain disease free. A fun thing to do is jumping off the jetty on Gisenyi public beach into the lake (at your own risk!).  Note that the lake will be completely full of untreated human faeces but if you’re willing to not think about that it’s a great swim. 

Tip!  If you do go swimming froma public beach wear a t shirt and shorts otherwise you will get much unwanted attention.

Nygugwe national park

This is a beautiful forest along the border of Burundi. It’s one of the last remaining forests of its kind in the world and is home to chimpanzees and other jungle animals. Better still it has a huge rope walk canopy which is great fun. Just outside of the park is Kitabi Eco Lodge which is a reasonably priced community initiative place run by locals. It’s very simple but you can sleep in traditional Rwandan huts or camp and the view across the park is epic. From here you can go chimp trekking or visit the canopy walk.

Tip! Its quite cold here at night so bring warm clothes.

Kigali

Kigali is such an underrated city. Here are my top places to visit:

Coffee shops

The coffee in Rwanda is the best and a whole host of trendy coffee shops have sprung up all over Kigali where you can fritter away the day spending your life savings on coffee and liking, swiping and browsing on the super fast WiFi.

Inzora-a hipster rooftop cafe inside a quirky book shop

Shokola- based inside the new and amazing public library

Cafe neo/impact hub in Kiyovu area- cool rooftop cafe which hosts events and a shared work space. Check out their website for upcoming events.

Ethical alert!! Question coffee-sells Rwandan coffee grown as an income generation project for women

Not a coffee shop but also worth visiting is twisty blends smoothie shop in ex pat central Kimihurua. They have the most delicious smoothies which you can grab on your way back from visiting super trendy waka gym and fitness centre or bowling at mamba.

Nyamirambo Women’s Center-a women’s cooperative centre selling really beautiful things in African fabric (http://www.nwc-umutima.org/products.html). They also do community walking tours on a Saturday where you can visit a local persons house for a traditional meal, go to the local market and all that other good tourist stuff.

Azizi Life- Azizi life- a social enterprise that support various cooperatives. They sell high quality products and also offer a variety of fun classes in basket weaving etc.

Cooperative shop- a shop selling goods from some of Rwanda’s best charities and social enterprises. This is the place to buy your ethically sourced gift! It’s near the US embassy and Niyo arts gallery. Also visit Imagine We publishers next door, a social enterprise publishing company created and managed by young Rwandans. They sell an eclectic mixture of harrowing genocide autobiographies and fun children’s books.

Peace House Ministries- this is the place to visit for any Christians. Peace house are a great faith based organisation that do an amazing job helping street children and prostitutes through a variety of livelihood and social activities. They have a cute shop to fund the program and often accept volunteers. Contact before visiting. 

The Shop (KG 550) and The Hope Shop (KG 180)-

Previously the same shop now split into 2, both these shops are worth visiting. They have really beautiful and unique products from social enterprises and charities across Rwanda. 

Talking Through Art- a charity which provides employment for Rwandans with disabilities through weaving beautiful baskets. Their gallery also has a very nice ensuite room with 2 large beds, a small kitchen and is in a peaceful compound (20,000 rwf per night). Contact them via their website.

Here is a dull but practical suggestion. T2000 supermarket (known by its French name ‘tay duh mil’) is probably Rwanda’s biggest store selling everything you could ever need. It’s all imported from China and is the worst quality ever but the only place where you can buy many products.

Arts galleries

Inema arts gallery-Although massively pretentious and too cool for school, this place is admittedly kind of cool. The art will set you back an average of $2000 USD per piece but it’s good to look around. They have parties every Thursday night which anyone can attend. These draw most of Rwanda’s young ex pat and hipster crowd and are a good place to mingle if you like mingling. HOWEVER if you enjoy travelling with a conscience I advise to visit Niyo arts centre. The guy that owns it used to be a street boy and now re invests a large proportion of art sales back into programmes for street children.

Akagera National park

The joy of akagera is that its the only national park in which you don’t need a guide and can drive freely through, only paying the entry cost which uis about $25. I would advise renting a car and doing this. If that’s not an option then you can do day tours from Kigali (more pricey). Be aware the road is quite bumpy and you may ruin your rental car- a 4x4 is recommended. Although you won’t see the big 5 Akagera is amazingly beautiful with rolling mountains, lakes and a super luxury accommodation that is worth paying out for.

Musanze

Musanze is the epi centre of the volcanoes national park tourism but is surprisingly dull with an often quite high level of tourist harassment at weekends. Musanze does have a few highlights that are not to be missed if passing through.

Handspun Hope-

On the outskirts of Musanze towards gisenyi is an interesting social enterprise that employs over 120 women in hand spinning expensive merino wool and making beautiful wool products. They do a tour for 10,00 rwf. Book in advance.

Crema coffee- a fantastic American-Rwandan venture with delicious, reasonably priced food and drinks. They have fast WiFi and a cute cooperative shop based in the back of the shop. It’s on the main Gisenyi-Musanze road with parking so it’s worth breaking your journey up by visiting.

Miganos and La Paliotte are tourist favourites for a range of western meals from 3000-7000 rwf. Most local restaurants serve buffet style meals for 1000-2000 rwf.

Stay

If you want to visit the volcanoes national park I would advise to stay in Kinigi which is a small, more attractive village outside the park rather than in Musanze itself. Musanze does have some cheap accommodation options. You can get a private ensuite single with a nice breakfast at the centre Fatima Pastoral Centre for 15,000 rwf/night. There is also a much more upmarket Fatima hotel which has a nice pool and fast wifi you can use for 3000 rwf.

 

The twin lakes just outside of Musanze would also be a more pleasant place to stay and visit. Here you can do boating, bird watching and camping. La paliotte has an island which you can camp on (prior booking needed through la paliotte). Although not actually on the lake, domis pacis is nunnery on the top of a mountain with epic views over the lake that is open to tourists. They have nice food and cheap accommodation. It’s about 15km up a dirt track from Musanze as you head out on the Kigali road.

ETIQUETTE

Rwanda is a very conservative country. I would not recommend wearing revealing clothes like short shorts. Most Rwandans dress very smartly and women usually cover their legs completely. Whilst people are welcoming and friendly, you will find people very reserved compared to other African countries. English is not widely spoken outside of Kigali and literacy remains low through all of Rwanda. You can buy a useful, concise language card from imagine we publishers.

Tip! Taboo conservation topics:  the genocide, anything vaguely negative about the government or sex!

The last Saturday morning of every month is ‘umuganda’ where it is mandatory for local people all over Rwanda to clean the streets and do community house repairs. Whilst foreigners are not obliged to do this, transport usually doesn’t run until around 11am and moto drivers can get in trouble for driving you. Friday afternoons are reserved as ‘sports afternoons’ (not mandatory but a good excuse for everyone to leave work early).

 akagera national park

kabaya (not for tourists!)

rwiza village, kibuye

ruzizi lodge, akagera national park

calafia cafe, gisenyi

akagera national park

NYGUGWE NATIONAL PARK

SERENA HOTEL GISENYI

akagera national park

HINTS & TIPS

If you’re staying in Rwanda for a while, go to the MTN centre with your passport and get a SIM card. You don’t need any contract, just pay as you go. You will find people in yellow jackets all over the country selling credit (airtime). You can then use this for calls, texts or mobile data.

Rwanda is not very diverse or cosmopolitan. If your going to be in the ethnic minority when you visit you will definitely feel it outside of gisenyi and kigali. Oh you'll see. Just you wait.