Unlike most African states, Rwanda existed as an established kingdom long before Africa was colonized and its borders were not created artificially by the Europeans. Tucked away in the heart of the continent, Rwandans believed their kingdom was the centre of the world and for many centuries, non residents were not allowed.
Finding a highly organized country, with a monarchy and ruling system, the Germans left the existing power structure in place when awarded the country. But in 1911–12, they joined with the Tutsi monarchy to subjugate a group of independent Hutu farmers in the north who’d always lived separately.
Rwanda Topography & Geography
Rwanda famously known as “the land of a thousand hills” is a landlocked republic in Equatorial Africa, situated on the eastern rim of the Albertine Rift, a western arm of the Great Rift Valley, on the watershed between Africa's two largest river systems: the Nile and the Congo. Much of the country's 26,338 km2 is impressively mountainous, the highest peak being Karisimbi (4,507m) 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, notably Burera, Ruhondo, Muhazi and Mugesera, some of which have erratic shapes following the contours of the steep mountains that enclose them.
Climate & Weather
A combination of tropical location and high altitude ensures that most of Rwanda has a temperate year-round climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius by day or below 15 degrees Celsius at night throughout the year. The exceptions are the chilly upper slopes of the Virunga Mountains, and the hot low-lying Tanzania border area protected in Akagera National Park. Throughout the country, seasonal variations in temperature are relatively insignificant. Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1,000mm of precipitation annually, with the driest months being July to September and the wettest February to May.
Primarily a subsistence agriculture economy, Rwanda nonetheless produces for export some of the finest tea and coffee in the world. Other industries include sugar, fishing and flowers for export. For more information about Rwanda's economy and investment opportunities available in Rwanda.
Media of Exchange
Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc (RFr), which is sometimes also abbreviated to ‘Frw’. It’s best to come to Rwanda with US dollars or Euros in cash. The only useful bank branch in the country is Banque de Kigali in the capital, which offers cash advances on credit card and can change traveler’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. Credit cards can be used in some up market hotels and restaurants in Kigali.
Bureau de change – which are mostly in Kigali – offer slightly better exchange rates than banks. Moneychangers hang around central Kigali and usually give a slightly better rate, but count your money carefully. All banks, and most bureau de change, are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Pass port and Visas
A valid passport with visa is mandatory. In view of the bilateral agreements, nationals of the following countries may visit Rwanda without visa for a period 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 for online or bought upon arrival.
An 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).
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 centers, many people speak English.
When to Visit Rwanda
Rwanda can be visited throughout the year. Gorilla trekking and other forest walks are less demanding during the drier months. The European winter is the best time for birds, as Palearctic migrants supplement resident species.
What to Wear while in Rwanda
Dress codes are informal. Daytime temperatures are generally warm, so bring 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, 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 to Rwanda
Binoculars will greatly enhance game drives and forest walks, as will a good field guide to East African birds. Bring a camera and an adequate stock of film. Print film is available but transparency film is not. Toiletries and other essentials can be bought in the cities.
Tele Communications in Rwanda
Rwanda has an excellent cell phone network covering almost the entire country.
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 centers.
Safety and Health in Rwanda
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.