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+256 786880735 Contact info@rwandagorillassafari.com

Rwanda Travel Guide For First Time Travelers

Guide for first time traveler in Rwanda

Rwanda travel guide for first-time travelers shares the best attractions and activities to do on your trip. The country is famous for her mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Most visitors come for gorilla safaris, however, there’s so much to explore including the golden monkeys, volcano climbing, Kigali capital city, Lake Kivu, the Big 5 mammals in Akagera and chimpanzees and canopy walk in Nyungwe Forest National Park.
When visiting Rwanda for the first time, you should be mindful of the country’s conservation efforts and practice sustainability. Tourism, political stability and general safety so far has aided Rwanda to progress from the genocide against Tutsi in 1994. Through years of rebuilding and reconciliation, the country put emphasis on environmental protection. There are some things that are forbidden fruit including the plastic bags and eating in public especially in Kigali city which strives to be plastic-free. Most importantly, don’t make racial or ethnic references to locals.

Rwanda is situated in east-central Africa about 359 sq.km (223 sq.miles) south of the equator. She is a member of the East African Community and the single tourist visa offers a chance to visit her along with her neighbors including Uganda and Kenya. The country’s relief is dominated by mountains from Mount Karisimbi 4,519m, (14,787feet) the highest point in the Virunga Massif to Rusizi river 950m in the south-west on the shores of Lake Kivu close to the border with DR Congo. She was nicknamed ‘The land of 100 hills’ and western side of Kigali capital city thrives on gentle sloping Nyarugenge hill also known as Mount Kigali. Rwanda is made up of only 3 tribes including Tutsi (14%), Hutu (85%) and 1% of the Batwa pygmies. The official language is English, which was adapted in 2008, however, French is also widely spoken. The calling code is +250 and the currency is Rwandan Francs with the central bank and stock exchange in the capital city. The time zone is the Central Africa Time (GMT+2). There are 13.6 million people in Rwanda according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), most of the people over 65% are Roman Catholics.

National holidays

There are several holidays celebrated in Rwanda including Kwibuka starting on 7th April when Rwandans spend 100 days of mourning to remember those who died during the 1994 genocide against Tutsi). Other major holidays observed include Umuganda, Rwanda’s community workday. All citizens including his Excellency the president come together every last Saturday of the month to clean their villages, which promotes inclusion, equality, and keeps the environment clean. Most tourist sites except national parks are closed on these days.

Kigali capital city

Rwanda travel guideKigali capital city, which is in the center of the nation, was established in 1907 during the German occupation of East Africa. Developing swiftly into a commerce center under Belgian colonial rule, Kigali officially became the capital of Rwanda at independence on 1st July 1962.

The city is surrounded by hills including Mount Kigali with an elevation of 1,567 (5,833 feet), it provides a view over the city whose population has increased from 859,332 people in 2012 according to the United Nations to 1.2 million people. Kigali is divided into three districts including Kicukiro, Gasabo and Nyarugenge, which are further subdivided into several neighborhoods, residential and downtown areas. One of the busiest spots, the Kigali Union trade center (UTC) is 11 km (23 min-drive via KN 5Rd) from the airport. At the UTC, you can find malls, banks, forex bureaus and carry out any task you may want for instance getting a SIM card.

Despite being a busy city, Kigali is gaining momentum as one of the cleanest cities in Africa (World Economic Forum (WEF). With clean streets, car free zones with internet access, Kigali city is becoming a better place for business travelers and digital nomads.
Technology is changing everything and Rwanda takes advantage of innovation particularly empowering artists. The street art scene in Kigali is booming especially in Nyamirambo, Kigali’s islamic neighborhood.

As you explore Kigali city, take a moment to walk on foot with a local guide and discover the local culture. While there’s a growing influence of foreign aid in Rwanda, some aspects of traditional ways of living still exist in the city. For instance, you may see women carrying and balancing things on their heads. A visit to top attractions in Kigali city is great but you might need to go off the beaten path to get a true sense of local life.

How to get around

Rwanda travel guideDriving is the most convenient way to get around in Rwanda and can be done by public buses, taxi, motorcycles and safari cars. There are also luxury SUVs available for hire through operators or private tour guides.

Nabugabo is the main bus park where you can as well book buses for those intending to travel from Kigali to neighboring countries including Burundi, DR Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Taxi and motorcycle services can be ordered through apps available for iPhone and Android including YegoCarbs and SafeMoto. They work like Uber, which isn’t available yet in the country. There’s also the Gura ride App for renting a bike only in Kigali city at bike stations found at Marriott Hotel and MTN Remera.

When taking a motorcycle ride, you must wear a helmet for safety purposes and it’s illegal not to do so. Driving in Rwanda is done on the left and Google maps can help navigation. Avoid parking cars on the roadsides because it can attract a traffic penalty.
Traveling out of Kigali city to the national parks and other destinations requires 4×4 vehicles despite the fact that the roads are tarred. The speed limit is 80 km/h, but to drive safely, you should be aware of other road users. Mini Buses and taxis operate in Kigali and other major towns including Musanze, Gisenyi, Karongi, Butare and Cyangungu.

The best time to visit

Rwanda has warm tropical weather and can be visited any time of the year, however. It is recommended that you choose a specific season based on the activities in the itinerary. Generally, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the dry season from June to September and December to February. This is the ideal time for those intending to have a gorilla, volcano climbing or big five safari. Although it’s a dry period, in the tropical forests including Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Parks, you should expect rainfall at any moment of the day. It is important to get your packing list right accordingly. Day temperatures can reach up to 31 °C during the dry season and drop to 14 °C at night. Besides the dry season, you can also visit during the wet season from April to May and October to November. It’s the best time for birding safaris as well as to see green scenery.

Attractions

Rwanda has several tourist attractions that reflect the country’s wildlife, culture, history and adventure.
The genocide sites
Rwanda Travel guideAn estimated 800,000 people were killed during the Rwandan genocide against Tutsi that lasted for 100 days in 1994. There are several sites across the country including the Ntarama and Nyamata churches where mass killings took place and the reconciliation village in Nyamata. There are also memorial centers that were built to honor the victims including the Kigali genocide memorial (KGM), Murambi, Biserero and Nyarubuye.

Kigali Genocide Memorial
The largest resting place for over 250,000 victims whose names, photographs among other identification documents are featured in the exhibition. The center also has a cemetery and gardens, an amphitheater, library, cafe and gift shop. This site is a must-visit on Kigali city tour if you intend to learn about the steps Rwanda has taken to recover from the traumatic past.

Hotel Rwanda
Another remarkable site to visit in Kigali is the Hotel Des Mille Collins in Kigali city, where an estimated 1,268 people both Tutsi and Hutu, hid and remained safe until the war was over. Much of the story is told in the 2004 South African made movie Hotel Rwanda.

The Congo-Nile Trail
Rwanda travel guideCovering 227 sq.km (141 sq.miles), the Congo-Nile trail is the longest cycling route in East Africa. It stretches from Gisenyi in the north via Karongi to Rusizi town (Cyangugu) on the southern shores of Lake Kivu near Nyungwe Forest National Park. The trail is good for biking given that there are less cars along the path. Additionally, there are several ways to explore the Congo-Nile trail including hiking, boating, canoeing and kayaking on Rwanda’s Lake Kivu islands such as Nyamunini islands (Napoleon’s island) known for its fruit bats in Karongi town. The trail is well-mapped out with stopovers and a wide range of accommodations along the way in between Gisenyi and Rusizi. For instance, the cycling path at Cyimbiri offers an opportunity to visit the nearby Gishwati Mukura National Park for golden monkey tracking.

King’s Palace
Situated in Nyanza the 8th largest town of Rwanda, the King’s palace museum is 94 sq.km (2-hour drive) south west of Kigali capital city. It’s a fantastic place to visit en-route to Nyungwe Forest National Park, for those intending to explore the cultural history of the ancient Rwandan monarchy. The museum was built in 2008 in a shape resembling the traditional palace of a Rwandan king. Inside are some of the intellectual, social, and aesthetic features showcasing the African way of life in this modern era.

Ethnographic Museum
Rwanda travel guideFormerly known as the national museum of Rwanda, the ethnographic museum is located in Huye town, the country’s academic center. Huye is 39 sq.km (48 min drive) south of King’s palace Nyanza, therefore easy to combine both sites en-route to Nyungwe. Visiting the ethnographic museum offers an opportunity to dive deeper into the past and present times of Rwanda. Tremendous research was done about the African cultures including traditional economic systems and natural resources, which are well displayed in state-of-the-art artifacts, drawings made with pencil as well as visual images. While at the museum, you should also check out the Queen’s CommonWealth Botanical Garden.

National parks

Rwanda has only 4 protected areas including Akagera, Volcanoes, Nyungwe Forest, and Gishwati Mukura national parks. These protected areas contain rich biodiversity including over 700 species of birds, big five mammals, mountain gorillas and 12 primate species including chimpanzees and black and white colobus monkeys. Find out the park that best suits your holiday interests.

Volcanoes National Park
Rwanda travel guideVolcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The protected area is part of the Virunga Massif and contains 3 dormant volcanoes including Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Gahinga. In addition to the primates, the park also offers volcano climbing including the famous Dian Fossey Tomb Hike.

Nyungwe Forest National Park
Nyungwe forest national park is part of the Albertine rift valley and the eastern Afro-montane biodiversity hotspot therefore a great place for nature lovers. The protected area is famous for harboring 12 primate species including chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, Hamlyn’s monkey, red colobus monkeys, Demidoff’s poto. Most visitors go there to track chimps and colobus monkeys that have been habituated for tourism. However, the park offers a canopy walk, 13 hiking trails, community tea and coffee experiences. Kamiranzovu waterfalls and Mount Bigugu hike (2,367 m) are some of the beautiful and popular bird watching trails.

Akagera National Park
Rwanda travel guideThe only savanna protected area in Rwanda, Akagera National Park has an inspiring conservation story that saw restoration of big five mammals including lions and black rhinos. The park is worth visiting for a classic game viewing experience with boat cruises and day and night game drives. The park contains habitats like savanna plains, rolling hills, riverine forests along the Kagera River, lakes and papyrus wetlands supporting rich biodiversity including the big five mammals and over 500 species of birds. Lake Ihema, the largest lake, is home to hippos, Nile crocodiles and water birds including the Shoebill stork and papyrus Gonolek. Wildlife in Akagera National Park was almost destroyed and a joint partnership between RDB and the African Parks Network began in 2010 to restore biodiversity, which has been a success with the recent survey indicating that the population of lions, lions and African elephants have increased. The Akagera Management Company has also promoted tourism by adding more visitor experiences including nature and community walks. You can learn about the conservation story through the behind-the-scenes experience at the park headquarters.

Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is 90 sq.km long and 48 km (30 miles) wide and has a maximum depth of 220 meters (722feet). The lake stretches across the border between western Rwanda and eastern DR Congo. Rwanda has about 42% of the lake with several developing resort towns including Gisenyi resort in the north, Karongi in between and Rusizi in the south. Both of these are important destinations for those intending to enjoy Rwanda beach holiday. Rwanda’s only public beach is found in Gisenyi, which is the largest of the 3 towns mentioned above. However, several accommodations in Gisenyi offer private beaches and access to the lake, which can be booked through tour operator.

The waters of Lake Kivu are free from Bilharzia, crocodiles and hippos good for swim safely. Besides, there’s a variety of water sport activities including boat cruises, kayaking, standup paddling and fishing.
Fishing on Lake Kivu in particular is a unique cultural experience. Lake Kivu is home to over 26 fish species of which the local Isambaza is significant among the locals. Traditionally, the local fishermen make a ritual of singing when going for their catch. The lake Kivu singing fishermen have become famous and witnessing them is a highlight for those intending to visit Lake Kivu.
For more details about Rwanda, Africa Adventure Safaris is at your service. Contact us for travel guide and safari packages

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