Rwanda is a landlocked country situated in central Africa. Also known as ’the land of a thousand hills’, Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of the River Nile
Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live. Experts estimate that there are only 780 mountain gorillas still in existence – and one third of these are in Rwanda.
Approximately 13 million – Ethnicity/race: Hutu 84%, Tutsi 15%, Twa (Pygmoid) 1%
Total land area:
Total area: 10,169 sq mi (26,338 sq km)
Official: Kinyarwanda, French, and English (all official); Kiswahili in commercial centers
Approx. 1 million
The easiest and most direct way to reach Rwanda is to fly from London to Nairobi, in Kenya, and then connect through to Kigali, in Rwanda. Kenya Airways has an overnight flight to Nairobi which departs London Heathrow every evening, arriving in Nairobi typically around 06:30 in the morning. This then connects directly to an onward Kenya Airways flight to Kigali generally arriving there at about 10:30.
The country lies 75 miles south of the equator in the Tropic of Capricorn, 880 miles ’as the crow flies’ west of the Indian Ocean and 1,250 miles east of the Atlantic Ocean – literally in the heart of Africa
Rwanda, in east-central Africa, is surrounded by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, and Burundi. It is slightly smaller than Maryland. Steep mountains and deep valleys cover most of the country. Lake Kivu in the northwest, at an altitude of 4,829 ft (1,472 m), is the highest lake in Africa. Extending north of it are the Virunga Mountains, which include the volcano Karisimbi (14,187 ft; 4,324 m), Rwanda’s highest point.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Rwanda presents visitors with a pleasant tropical highland climate, although rainfall is not uncommon.
Rainfall: Rainy seasons: March – May and October – November (Average of 110-200 mm. per month).
Average Temperature: 24.6 – 27.6ºc. Hottest months: August, September.
Altitude: Ranges from 1000-4500m above sea level.
Main water bodies: Lake Kivu, Lake Muhazi, Lake Ihema, Lake Bulera, Lake Ruhondo, Lake Mugesera.
Vegetation: ranges from dense equatorial forest in the north-west of the country to tropical savannah in the east.
Highest point: Karisimbi volcano (4,507m
The original inhabitants of Rwanda were the Twa, a Pygmy people who now make up only 1% of the population. While the Hutu and Tutsi are often considered to be two separate ethnic groups, scholars point out that they speak the same language, have a history of intermarriage, and share many cultural characteristics. Traditionally, the differences between the two groups were occupational rather than ethnic. Agricultural people were considered Hutu, while the cattle-owning elite were identified as Tutsi. Supposedly Tutsi were tall and thin, while Hutu were short and square, but it is often impossible to tell one from the other. The 1933 requirement by the Belgians that everyone carry an identity card indicating tribal ethnicity as Tutsi or Hutu enhanced the distinction. Since independence, repeated violence in both Rwanda and Burundi has increased ethnic differentiation between the groups.
Rwanda, which became a part of German East Africa in 1890, was first visited by European explorers in 1854. During World War I, it was occupied in 1916 by Belgian troops. After the war, it became a Belgian League of Nations mandate, along with Burundi, under the name of Ruanda-Urundi. The mandate was made a UN trust territory in 1946. Until the Belgian Congo achieved independence in 1960, Rwanda-Urundi was administered as part of that colony. Belgium at first maintained Tutsi dominance but eventually encouraged power sharing between Hutu and Tutsi. Ethnic tensions led to civil war, forcing many Tutsi into exile. When Rwanda became the independent nation of Rwanda on July 1, 1962, it was under Hutu rule.
While it might have been the gorillas that entice you to Rwanda, it’s the people of Rwanda who will keep you coming back. Ancient traditions of honour and hospitality run strong here, and anybody who takes the time to discover Rwandan culture for themselves will find a proud and unique people, happy to welcome you into their lives and introduce you to their traditions. Music and dance play an indispensable role in everyday life here, and performances range from dashing demonstrations of bravery and prowess to humorous songs, light-hearted dances, and rural artistry with roots in traditional agriculture. Traditional songs are often accompanied by a solitary lulunga—a harp-like instrument with eight strings—while more celebratory dances are backed by a drum orchestra, which typically comprises seven to nine members who collectively produce a hypnotic and exciting explosion set of intertwining rhythms. Below we list different cultural experiences that you can easily incorporate into your trip to Rwanda.
POPULAR NATIONAL PARKS & GAME RESERVES
VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
This corner or northwestern Rwanda is a breath-taking unforgettable place where culture, adventure and conservation intersect.
The “Parc National de Volcans” (or PNV as it’s known by locals) lies along the Virunga Mountains, with 8 ancient volcanoes, which are shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences. While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys.
PNV is also one of Rwanda’s conservation epicenters, where many non-profit organizations base their operations. Visitors can pay homage to the legendary scientist and gorilla advocate Dian Fossey with a hike to her tomb or a visit to the Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund that continues her legacy of research and advocacy to this day.
Near the park, the bustling and vibrant markets of Musanze are a place to immerse yourself into everyday Rwandan culture. Go deep into the earth with Musanze’s caves – one of the area’s newest attractions.
NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
Located in the South West corner of Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is an untouched natural rainforest that is filled with exciting biodiversity.
Covering over 1000 square kilomtres, Nyungwe is surely one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests. It’s believed to be one of Africa’s oldest forests, staying green even through the Ice Age, which explains its diversity.
Home to habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primates species (including a 400-strong troop of habituated Ruwenzori Black & White Colobus), it’s also a birder’s paradise with over 300 species, including 16 endemics, and is home to 75 different species of mammal.
This majestic rainforest is filled with nature and wildlife experiences for you to emerge yourself in. Hiking or even biking the beautiful terrain, tracking the famous chimpanzees, experiencing the canopy walk, witnessing beautiful birds, relaxing by waterfalls are just a glimpse of activities that Nyungwe offers.
Sounds and views collaborate to create a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience. Exploring through the forest, travellers will witness the lush green mountains and cooling mist in a landscape that won’t be soon forgotten.
Cultural activities are also available around the forest.
AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK
A stunning National Park where the past has been revived
Akagera National Park is located in the north east of Rwanda along the border with Tanzania. Although founded in 1934, much of the park was re-allocated as farms and in 1997 the park was reduced in size from more than 2,500 sq km (nearly 10% of the surface area of Rwanda) to its current extent of 1,122 sq km. Since 2010, a joint venture with African Parks has seen Akagera return to its former glories.
It is named after the Akagera River that flows along its eastern boundary and feeds into a labyrinth of lakes of which the largest is Lake Ihema. The forest fringed lakes, papyrus swamps, savannah plains and rolling highlands combine to make Akagera amongst the most scenic of reserves anywhere in Africa. It has exceptional levels of biodiversity and forms the largest protected wetland in central Africa.
Akagera combines well with Nyungwe and the Volcanoes NP to offer a great safari element as it is home to many large plains game species as well as species restricted to the papyrus swamps such as the Sitatunga and the sought-after Shoebill Stork. Notable plains game include elephant, buffalo, topi, zebra, waterbuck, roan antelope and eland. Other antelope are duiker, oribi, bohor reedbuck, klipspringer, bushbuck and impala. Of the primates, olive baboons, vervets and the secretive blue monkey are seen during the day, with bushbabies often seen on night drives.
Of the larger predators, leopard, hyena, side-striped jackal and lion, which was re-introduced last year are present. Plans are underway for the reintroduction of the black rhino too, and this will restore Akagera’s ‘Big 5’ status
Due to its wide variety of habitats, Akagera is an important ornithological site with nearly 500 bird species. The rare and elusive shoebill shares the papyrus with other rarities such as the exquisite papyrus gonolek and countless other water birds that inhabit the wetlands in large numbers.
CONGO NILE TRAIL
Get lost along the lake in Rwanda’s wildest corner.
The Congo Nile Trail is a trail along Lake Kivu that extends from Rubavu, continues through Rutsiro via the Karongi, Nyamasheke districts and ends at Rusizi District.
227 km (141 miles) of beautiful landscapes, including rolling hills and clear water. The entire trek can be completed in a 10- day hike. However, the trip can be done in sections if travelers do not have the time to complete the entire trail. Trails give stunning views of the Lake Kivu coastline and offer adventurous travelers an exciting way to discover Rwanda.
Biking the Congo Nile Trail can be completed in 5 days, with rich views and immersive cultural experiences along the way. This trail appeals to adventure travelers and is a great way to experience Rwanda. The trail can also be split up if visitors do not have the time to commit to the 5 day journey. However, it is an experience worth selling to those who crave an off the beaten path adventure.
Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where the critically endangered mountain gorillas live.
Gorilla tracking in Rwanda is often described as “life changing” and with good reason. With only an estimated 880 Gorillas left in the world, to see these gentle creatures in their natural habitat is a truly unique moment.
Gorillas make their homes in and amongst the bamboo-covered slopes of the Virunga Mountains in the Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda. Trek to see them and you’ll be introduced by your expert trackers and guides to one of the fully-habituated families of mountain gorillas and you can stay with them for an awe-inspiring hour, often crouching just a few feet away, whilst the gorillas go about their daily lives.
Hikes in the mountains can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours + depending on the family allocated to your group and their location. The journey back can take just as long, but you are often carried along by the euphoria you feel at seeing the gorillas!
Expert guides give a pre-trek briefing on specific protocols and rules for visiting the gorillas that live within an altitude of 2500 and 4000m. Porters are available to help carry backpacks and cameras, as well as helping you with your footing along your hike which can be hard work, but well worth it.
TIME IN RWANDA
There is no time difference between winter and summer months in Rwanda; it’s always two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT+2).
CURRENCY IN RWANDA
Rwanda’s currency is the Rwandan franc (RWF). Currently (Jan 11), £1=Rwf920, and US$1 = Rwf580; you can check the latest exchange rates
RWANDA’S INTERNATIONAL DIALLING CODE
Rwanda’s International Dialling Code is +250. Calling from Rwanda, you need to dial 0044 for the UK, or 001 for the United States, followed by an area code and local number.
FOOD IN RWANDA
The food in Rwanda varies from mediocre to good. Fresh fruit and the Belgian-inspired cuisine are usually good; otherwise, whilst hygiene standards are generally high, results can be variable.
The diet for most local Rwandese people consists mainly of sweet potatoes, peas, corn, beans, millet and fresh fruit, including avocados, mangos and papayas. Umutsima (cassava and corn), isombe (cassava leaves with eggplant and spinach) and mizuzu (fried plantains) are some of Rwanda’s traditional dishes. Drinks include local beer and ikigage, a locally brewed beer made from sorghum.
TRAVELLING IN RWANDA
With your own 4WD vehicle and driver, travelling in Rwanda is fairly easy. Although major arterial routes are tarred, roads in the more rural areas are not and can be in poor condition.
HEALTH IN RWANDA
There are medical facilities of Western standards in Kigali; elsewhere facilities are rudimentary. It is generally wise to you are be up-to-date on vaccinations for typhoid, tetanus, polio and diphtheria. Many travellers also have the Havrix vaccine to guard against infection by hepatitis A and a yellow fever certificate is usually required for entry into Rwanda. Malaria is widespread throughout lowland Rwanda, so malaria precautions are generally essential.
That said, it’s vital that you always check the latest recommendations with your own doctor or travel clinic before you travel. (The Scottish NHS site can also be a useful travel resource for medical information about Rwanda.)
LANGUAGE IN RWANDA
The main language spoken in Rwanda is Kinyarwanda (a Bantu language, also known as ‘Rwanda’ or ‘Ruanda’). French is widespread and English is also spoken by many people who are in contact with visitors.
VISAS FOR RWANDA
Travellers with British passports, as well as American citizens, generally do not need to purchase a visa when travelling to Rwanda; currently (Jan 2011) passports are just stamped on arrival. However, always check with your local Rwandan Embassy for the latest regulations; UK nationals will find details on the Embassy of the Republic of Rwanda in London website.