Rwanda Geography, Rwanda is a landlocked republic in Equatorial Africa, placed on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift, a western limb of the Great Rift Valley, on the cut-off point flanked by Africa’s two prime river schemes to the Nile and Congo. The country is over 26,338 km2 mountainous with the highest peak being Karisimbi which is 4,507 m found in the volcanic Virunga chain protected by the Volcanoes National Park.
The largest body of water is Lake Kivu, but there are other numerous lakes around the country, particularly Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi and Mugesera, some of which have unpredictable silhouettes following the contours of the precipitous mountains that enclose them.
About Rwanda Climate
When it comes to the climate, Rwanda has a combination of a tropical climate and high altitude ensuring that most of the country has a moderate constant climate. Temperatures hardly ever drift higher than 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night all the way through the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area shielded within the layout of Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, cyclic variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000 mm of rainfall per annum, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest from February to May.
About Rwanda Economy
Rwanda is for the most part a continuation agriculture economy, however, the country produces and exports some of the finest tea and coffee in the world. That is not all Rwanda produces, other industries include sugar, fishing and flowers that are exported. For more information about Rwanda’s economy and investment opportunities available in Rwanda.
About Rwanda Money
Rwanda’s unit of currency is known as the Rwandan franc (RFR), which is sometimes also abbreviated to ‘Frw’ locally known as “mafaranga”. The only useful bank branch in the country is Banque de Kigali in the capital, which offers cash advances on credit cards and can change traveller’s cheques, neither of which is possible in the provinces. There are ATMs in Kigali, but they are not yet wired to an international network. Most banks and most bureau de change are usually closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
About Rwanda Travel Tips
Passport and Visas
A valid passport with a visa is mandatory. In view of the bilateral agreements, nationals of the following countries may visit Rwanda without a visa for a period of up to 90 days: USA, UK, Germany, Canada, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Sweden, Mauritius, South Africa and Hong Kong. Visas can be applied online or bought upon arrival.
Getting there and away
Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport is located at Kanombe, 10km east of Kigali centre. Airlines connect Kigali with Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Bujumbura (Burundi), Entebbe (Uganda), Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa) and Brussels (Belgium). The following airlines have offices in Kigali: Air Burundi (572113; Ave des Milles Collines), Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways, airways.com; Ave des Milles Collines), Rwanda Express, SN Brussels Airline (575290; www.brusselsairlines.com Ave de la République), South African Airways-Blvd de la Revolution).
Make sure you check the latest security situation carefully before crossing by land into Burundi. The main crossing point between Rwanda and Burundi is via Butare (Rwanda) and Kayanza (Burundi), on the very well-maintained Kigali–Bujumbura road. The border post is called Kayanza Haut. Yahoo Car, New Yahoo Coach and Gaso Bus run daily buses between Kigali and Bujumbura (RFr 4000/5000 for a small/big bus, about six hours), departing about 7 am. There is also a direct road from Cyangugu to Bujumbura, but this is not in such good shape.
Democratic Republic of Congo
Do as much homework as possible before crossing by land into the DRC, as the security situation remains potentially volatile after almost a decade of civil war. There are two main crossings between Rwanda and the DRC, both on the shores of Lake Kivu. Crossing between Gisenyi (Rwanda) and Goma (DRC) was considered safe at the time of research, although only for day trips to Goma, climbing Nyiragongo volcano or visiting the mountain gorillas.
Longer trips into the DRC or overland trips through the country were inadvisable at the time of research. The southern border between Cyangugu (Rwanda) and Bukavu (DRC) is also open, but the security situation around Bukavu is a little more volatile than it is around Goma.
From Kigali, take a minibus to the border town of Rusumo (RFr 1500, three hours). Once across the border, jump on any form of public transport, often a pick up to Ngara. From Ngara, catch a bus (US$10, 12 hours) to Mwanza. The road to Mwanza is mostly good but has some rough sections. Hitching is sometimes possible along this way, as plenty of aid vehicles use the road.
The main border crossing is located between Kigali and Kabale, via Katuna (Rwanda) and Katuna (Uganda). Those travelling directly between Kigali and Kampala can travel by Jaguar Executive Coaches (086 14838), which has a VIP bus (RFr7000) and a standard service (RFr 5000), both departing at 5:45 am, 6:15 am and 9 am from Kigali Nyabugogo Bus Station and taking nine hours. Between Kigali and Kabale there are lots of minibuses, but a change of vehicle at the border is involved.
There are regular minibuses from Kigali to Katuna (RFr 1500, 1½ hours). Across the border, in Katuna there are minibuses (US$0.50) and special hire taxis (US$8 for the car) to Kabale. There is also a second crossing between Ruhengeri (Rwanda) and Kisoro (Uganda), via Cyanika. The road is in excellent shape on the Rwandan side however, it’s in poor condition on the Ugandan side. Frequent minibuses link either side of the border with Ruhengeri (RFr 500, 25km) or Kisoro (US$0.60, 12 km).
In addition to the indigenous language of Kinyarwanda, French and English are official languages. French is widely spoken throughout the country. In the capital and other tourist centres, many people speak English.
When to Visit
Rwanda can be visited throughout the year with so much to do for example Gorilla trekking and other forest walks. These activities are less demanding during the dry months. When it is the winter season in European that is the best time for bird watching because birds fly all the way from Europe as Palearctic migrants hence supplementing resident species. On average, the daytime temperatures are around 24°C except in the higher mountains, which take up a lot of the country.
They usually range between 10°C to 15°C, hence the country can be visited at any time of year. The dry season from mid-May to mid-October is easier for tracking mountain gorillas, but the endless hills are barren, a contrast to the verdant greens of the wet season. The peak season for gorilla tracking is July and August; travelling outside this time means it is easier to arrange a permit. It rains more frequently and heavily in the northeast, where the volcanoes are covered by rainforest. The summit of Karisimbi (4507 m), the highest peak in Rwanda, is often covered with sleet or snow.
What to Wear
Dress codes are informal as the daytime temperatures are generally warm, so you can carry lots of light clothing, supplemented by light sweaters for the cool evenings and heavier clothing for the Parc des Volcans and Nyungwe. When tracking gorillas you will need to wear sturdier clothing to protect against stinging nettles and solid walking shoes. A hat and sunglasses provide protection against the sun, and a waterproof jacket may come in handy in the moist mountains.
What to Bring
Binoculars will to a great extent improve game drives and forest walks, as will a good field guide to East African birds. Bring a camera and an adequate stock of film as well as print films are available but transparency film is not. Toiletries and other essentials can be bought in the cities.
Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country where international phone calls can be made easily. Appropriate SIM cards for the network are readily available everywhere, even in remote towns and cell phones can be purchased or rented from major shops in Kigali. Most towns of any size will have several Internet cafes and computer centres.
Safety and Health
A certificate of yellow-fever vaccination is required. Much of Rwanda lies at too high an elevation for malaria to be a major concern, but the disease is present and prophylactic drugs are strongly recommended. It is advisable not to drink tap water. Bottled mineral water can be bought in all towns. Hospitals are located in all major towns.
Rwanda has possibly the best roads in East Africa. Most visitors who have booked through a tour company will be provided with good private vehicles, usually 4-wheel drive. All of the major centres are connected with local and luxury bus services. Air charter services are available anywhere in the country.
Hiking and Biking
Rwanda is known for its fine road network though with little traffic, offers wonderful opportunities for long bicycle trips across the verdant hills and valleys. Mountain biking and hiking can be enjoyed on the thousands of kilometres of fine rural trails linking remote villages, crisscrossing the entire country.
Boat ride on Lake Kivu
There used to be ferried on Lake Kivu that connected the Rwandan ports of Cyangugu, Kibuye and Gisenyi, but these services were suspended at the time of research. Speedboat charters are currently the only option between these ports, but they are very expensive.
Bus and train
The country’s good road system and plenty of modern, well-maintained minibuses serve all the main routes from dawn ‘til dusk. Minibuses leave when officially full – which means when all the seats are occupied, unlike neighbouring countries where many more are squeezed in.
The best minibuses are privately run, scheduled services operated by Okapi Car, Trans Express 2000, Atraco Express and Virunga Punctual. Destinations covered include Butare, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Ruhengeri, and departures are guaranteed to leave – hourly in many cases. They are less crowded and drive more carefully than the usual minibuses, but cost a little more.