Independent travel information. Rwanda at a glance.

We went to Rwanda in March 2015, during a complete trip,
8 months, through Southern and Eastern Africa.

If you are planning a budget trip through Rwanda, here we shared some information for independent and low-cost travellers.

We visit Rwanda in March 2015 during 10 days, in public transport, doing couchsurfing and sleeping in small local hotels. You can see all the useful information in detail at the right sidebar menu.


Rwanda is known like the cleanest country in East Africa (and maybe in Africa) and it´s true. Safe and not corrupted. Maybe but we also noticed a weird atmosphere, a lot of police, military army, all with guns, in too many corners of the small country. And Rwanda people don´t look happy, they don´t smile too much, they don´t fell too much freedom maybe. The recent history with the genocide (1994) is a heavy past for them and you can notice it.

What a shame! But for the traveller, everything is OK, easy! Even more organised!
True, you will not see many tourists!
But there´s some tourist infraestructure and even a budget traveller can adapt. Sometimes not too many cheap accommodation options but enough, you will manage.

The country is really beautiful, green, rural, hills and more hills. Easy to travel, compact, good food. Any road in Rwanda is beautiful, up and down, small houses and farms everywhere. Rwanda is a beautiful garden! Enjoy the walks around.
Even if you don´t speak french... now english starts to be widely spoken too.

We liked Rwanda, specially as we were comming from Tanzania, big and dry country, where travelling can be a bit boring sometimes. Here you will enjoy your eyes and distances are short. But true, Uganda is more complete, more diverse landscapes.
Anyway, if you are around Eastern Africa, get the East Africa visa, go and see Rwanda!


   WEATHER IN RWANDA   

Mid march to the end of may it´s the rainy season. But the weather is getting crazy.

We were there at the end of march and had also beautiful days. It was fine! Usually storms and heavy rains, you see them coming. It´s the low season, few travellers, a few places can be closed in remote areas. Good time to negotiate prices.
But true, rainy season is maybe not the best time if going to parks or mountains or remote places… or for camping.


   PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN RWANDA   

Rwanda can be the best country in East Africa (and maybe in Africa) for public transport between main towns. All day long, cheap, new minibuses. And the country is small, so easy to move around. The prices are always written inside the minibuses and vans. No need to argue, great!

ROADS AND DRIVING IN RWANDA
  • Main roads in Rwanda are tarred and in quite good conditions.
  • Kigali has great avenues, even sidewalks!
  • Not too much traffic.
  • Petrol prices: around 800 F/l (1.1€/l).
  • Entering Rwanda by car you have to pay a tax fee (sorry, no list of prices at the border post).
  • You don´t really need a 4WD, except if going to remote places or parks.
Rent a car in Rwanda:
It´s not very popular with tourists as it´s quite expensive. Expect to pay at least 50 € for a small car.



Minibuses:

Called “buses”. Between the main towns, there are many, all day long, usually every hour. You don´t have to wait too long. There are different companies all with new and clean Toyota minibuses (around 30 passengers). Great!
Price: around 1.000 F/h (1.5 €/h)and 60 km. Very correct price!

Kigali: there are local minibuses and buses. They cost between 200 and 500 F in average (less than 1 €), depending on distance. Prices are written on the front of the bus.


Vans:
Called often “minibus”, matatu or dalla-dalla style vans, packed small Toyota vans. Between towns and villages, on secondary roads. Many stops. Price is similar to minibuses, cheap.

Buses:
Big coaches. Only for international routes to Congo, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi. Long way! We didn´t use them as we travelled slowly, with many stops.
Mainly from Kigali. Also a few around Gisenyi-Musanze. Usually a few companies with one departure a day (most of them at the same time).

Taxis, moto-taxis:
A few taxis in the main towns and always many cheap moto-taxis (drivers have always a helmet for the passenger, and cost between 300 and 500 F (less than 1 €) in average depending on distance. Cheap way of moving around. They are everywhere in Rwanda.

  
Bus stations in Rwanda:
Some times called “taxi-park” or “gare routière”, most of the towns have one but not always like in Gisenyi or Kibuye. Usually they are well organised. The companies have offices there. People are helpful and friendly.


Ferry in Rwanda:
Read the information of Lake Kivu for all the details. Good news: it´s working, from north to south and vv.

Flights Rwanda:
Kigali is the international airport of Rwanda, but flights are more limited than in Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam or Kampala. You can check online to find cheap prices with  SKYSCANNER.
The country is small, so you don´t need to fly inside...not many airports too...

   CHEAP  ACCOMODATION IN RWANDA   

In the main towns, you find local lodges (the owners are mainly Rwanda people). The offer is not always very big, specially if looking for a cheap room and the quality varies a lot, so check a few lodges if possible. Usually double or single (3/4 bed) room with private WC, breakfast not included.
Rooms are not as cheap and good and the offer is more limited in Rwanda than Tanzania, Kenya, and even Uganda.
A few christian organisations (Presbyterians, etc.) also offer accommodation, dormitories and rooms, and prices are usually cheap and correct.
Camping in Rwanda is not very usual except in the Nyungwe NP and around other parks or remote areas.
No backpackers lodges, just a few maybe opening now in Kigali.
If you want expensive hotels, easy to find. There are many, in all the main towns, with many stars and costing many US$...

Prices for cheap accommodation in Rwanda:

There are mainly 2 kinds of rooms in Rwanda:
- single room (often ¾ bed or one big bed, so can be good for 2 people), from around 10.000 F (15 €).
- double or twins rooms, a bit more expensive around 15.000 F (20 €).
They are self-contained rooms usually (private bathroom).Most of the times, not hot shower (and it can get fresh), sometimes TV. Rooms come with towel, soap, toilet paper.
Even the basic rooms have always mosquito nets.


 Lodge and room in Kibungo, close to the Tanzania border


Note: difficult to get these cheap prices in Kigali, the capital city is more expensive and budget offer is limited. We explain in detail in Kigali post.

Couchsurfing in Rwanda:

A very limited active community.  Most of them are foreigners. Mainly in Kigali.

We did couchsurfing in Kigali (with Puerto Rico girl) and Musanze (local family). Fine! Thanks!


   MONEY IN RWANDA   

The Rwanda´s currency is Franc.
In March 2015, the exchange rate was 1 €: 725 F.

Good ATM rate, similar to money changers.

You will find banks and ATMs in the main towns, but not all the ATMs accept international cards. Just try an ATM with a visa/master sign (usually easier with Visa). Usually OK with international cards are Bank of Kigali (it seem that they charge a 2.000 F fee, 3 €... we didn´t try) and Ecobank (no fee, we used them), and they are easy to find in all towns.

Payment by card is not avalaible usually, except in some expensive places.


Money changers: easy to find in the main towns.

For tourist activities (national parks, gorillas, safaris, etc.) and in some hotels, for expensive things, US$ are also used... and probably €, etc. Rates? We didn´t do any.


   FOOD & DRINKS IN RWANDA    

Compared with other East Africa countries, restaurants in Rwanda are always bright and clean. Called “restaurant” or “cantine”. And food is cheap and good.
Rwanda is a good place to eat in Africa!

Most of the hotels don´t have a kitchen for the customers but you can always ask if you want to cook. We always ate in the small restaurants, except when doing couchsurfing.

Self-service style, buffet, “all you can eat” restaurants:

Most of the local restaurants or cantines have food avalaible all day long (late in the afternoon the offer can be more limited).
Perfect for the traveller, usually buffet style, self-service. That means, you take a dish and you put “all you can eat” on the dish, a big mountain as soon as there´s still space, as you pay per dish. This is what the locals do (even some take half of the dish in a “take away” box to eat it latter).

Price is around 1.000 F (1.5 €), more expensive in some places in Kigali.



The “mélange” (mix) is always rice, plain spaghetti, beans (dry, why always no juicy?), spinachs, matoke (green plantain stew), isombe (cassava), French fries. Meat comes with an extra money.

Easy too find snacks in Rwanda, like samosas (the big ones are delicious), boiled eggs, dough balls, chapattis, etc. Usually around 100- 500 F. Fresh and great! In the small shops, markets, people selling them in the streets.
In some towns, you find good "boulangeries" (bakeries). We saw the biggest in Gisenyi. Fresh and cheap.


Try the Ikiruguto, natural and fresh drinking yogurt, served in small or big glasses (200-300 F), delicious.


Water is most of the times not safe to drink, always ask. Bottles are sold everywhere, but there are expensive, around 500-700 F (almost 1€ ) for 1,5 l bottle. Boiled water is fine usually.


Beer: 600-800 F for 50 cl (around 1€), for local brands like Primus, at the bottle shops and pubs (not the expats ones, always much more expensive). Also Urgwagwa avalaible ( banana beer).


SHOPPING IN RWANDA:

Plenty of small - medium shops to buy the basic things everywhere in Rwanda.
Markets and fruit stalls are cheap places to buy fruit and vegetables.
Just a few supermarkets in Kigali (Nakumatt is the best supplied) and a small shopping mall, prices tend to be quite expensive.


   TELECOMS IN RWANDA   

Airtime sellers
Buying a SIM card is easy in Rwanda and cheap, 500 F (less than 1 €), 3G or E net in the main towns.

Airtel, Tigo, MTN are the main companies.
You will need to register with some of them. No compulsory with Tigo, so easier to use this one. Ask.

Easy to find airtime everywhere, more often recharge than a voucher. Minimum 500 F for calls and 1.000 F for internet (around 1 €).

Usually airtime has a limited expire time (24 hours or 1 week).

Try to ask if any special pack internet+calls+sms as they not always exist.

Not too many wifi spots but easy to find an internet shop.


   LANGUAGES IN RWANDA   


Before, Rwanda was a french speaking country in adition to local language. In 2008 english became an official language too.
Now people are getting quite familiar with English in the towns, schools are in englisg now. But many Rwanda people still more confortable with french, so it´s a good point if you speak it.

Usually, communication is not a problem in Rwanda, even if in some rural areas the locals only speak the Rwandan language.



   SAFETY IN RWANDA   


We didn´t feel unsafe in Rwanda. The country is quite organised and OK for the travellers.

There´s lightning in towns, at least on the main streets (great, not many countries around have that!). We didn´t go out at night usually... just in case.

But it´s true that all around Rwanda, you will see many policemen with guns. And you have to get used to it.


   HEALTH IN RWANDA   

Most of the rooms have mosquito nets, even the cheap ones.
Always ask around to check if any malaria cases. But, Rwanda is trying to get a malaria-free country and things are getting better specially in high areas. So don´t worry too much!

There are hospitals in towns and always many small dispensaries. Health system is quite good in Rwanda.

Water is not always safe to drink, but in some towns it is, ask first and try it. In any case, boiled it´s fine. Bottled water is expensive, 500-700 F for 1.5 l (1€).


Hygiene conditions are good in Rwanda. Local restaurants are clean.


   NATIONAL PARKS IN RWANDA   

Rwanda is a very small country and wildlife is not to abundant.
Akagera NP is the game park (and just recovering itself... it can´t rival with other Africa parks).
Rwanda is famous for its mountain gorillas, who live around the volcanoes shared between Rwanda, Uganda and Congo. To see them it´s extremely expensive: in Rwanda 750 $/pp! A bit less in Uganda and Congo. We missed them! This is Africa!
More details in our post about "MUSANZE".

Complete information about Rwanda national parks: RDB (Rwanda Development Board), www.rdb.rw
We didn´t visit any park, it´s out of our budget.


AKAGERA NATIONAL PARK

It´s the game park of Rwanda. Still quite new.
Access is via Kayonza (80 km west of Kigali and 20 km north of Kibungo).

Prices:
Entrance fee is 30 $/pp, car 4.000 F.
Camping inside the park is 20$/pp.
Renting a 4x4 is quite expensive (around 150 $/half day, 250 $/day).
We didn´t go.


NYUNGWE FOREST NATIONAL PARK

Just southwest of Rwanda, the only rainforest of the country where there are chimpanzees. But it´s quite expensive too.
A few details in our post about "KIBUYE".

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