The land of a 1000 hills and home of the mountain Gorillas
Rwanda is a small, land locked country in eastern / central Africa. It has five volcanoes and 23 lakes as well as several rivers. A large part of the country has an elevation of between 1,500 and 2,500 meters.
In prehistoric times as much as one third of Rwanda was covered with montain rainforest. Today the only large tract of forest left in Rwanda is Nyungwe in the southwestern part of the country; it covers almost 1000 square kilometers. Some areas of forest are also found in the Volcanoes National Park in the northeast, but most of the natural vegetation here is bamboo forest and open moorland.
The highlands in large parts of the country are now dominated by the terraced agriculture that gives the Rwandan countryside its beautiful and pleasant character. The eastern part of Rwanda has entirely different vegetation, the typical African bush, a mix of savannah and grassland dominated by acacia trees as well as
- large tracts of marshlands and swamps.
- Land area; 26,340 sq km
- President; Paul Kagame
- Official languages; Kinyarwanda, French, English & Kiswahili
- Population; Approximately 9 million
- Capital; Kigali
- Natural resources; Tin, gold and natural gas
- Average temperature; 24 – 27 degrees. Hottest in August – September
- Elevation; 1000 – 4500 meters above sea level
- Vegetation; from equatorial forest in northwest to savanna in the east
- Land use; 48% agriculture use, 23% forest, 20% grazing land, 9% other
- Main exports; Coffee & Tea
- Local Currency; Rwanda Franc
- Credit cards; Only accepted at few major establishments
WHEN TO VISIT RWANDA
Rwanda can be visited any time of the year, read more about the various seasons.
Rwanda can be visited any time of the year even during the rainy seasons as the scenery then is greener and the skies are clearer. The wet seasons season is the best time to trek chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest as they during dry season’s wander further away into the forest and consequently are harder to spot.
There are two rainy seasons. The long rains from mid February to beginning of June and the short rains from mid September to mid December. Although it can be raining quite heavily in the mountains these periods, it is no problem to travel these periods either.
The main dry season lasts from June to September and is the best time to trek the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. It is also worth noting that with the above mentioned, the climate is not uniform throughout the country. It is drier in the east than in the west and north. Sometimes the volcanoes can even be capped in snow. Kigali and Volcanoes National Park can become rather chilly. The areas around Lake Kivu are generally rather sunny and pleasant all year round.
Practical health tips when traveling to the warm heart of Africa.
Rwanda is a pleasant country to visit and does not present any major health hazards. The main towns have hospitals although for any serious problems Kigali is the best place to get help. All towns normally have a well-stocked pharmacy although the individual traveler should bring any known personal medication along.
As one always should when traveling to any remote area, it is wise to consult your doctor 6-8 weeks prior to departure for updated advice on health care and precautions. It is strongly recommended to up date personal immunization protection for tetanus, polio, diphtheria, hepatitis A and typhoid. Yellow fever vaccination is required for all visitors over 1 year of age and as the vaccination is not valid until 10 days after vaccination it is important to have this done in good time as this will be checked upon arrival to Rwanda. This dangerous virus is spread by mosquitoes and is on the increase in the world.
Malaria is less prevalent in Rwanda than in many other African countries but as it does exist in most parts of Rwanda using prophylactic drugs and preventing mosquito bites will reduce the risk of getting malaria. Lariam / Mefloquine and Malarone are currently the 2 most commonly used prophylactics but medical advice should always be sought by the individual prior to departure. Persons with certain medical conditions should not take Mefloquine. It is also important to try and avoid mosquito bites between dusk and dawn, as this is the period when the malaria-carrying mosquito is most active.
Useful advice on recommended equipment when trekking and traveling through the land of a 1000 hills!
Personal trekking equipment
The following is a suggested list of items to bring along, specifically if your safari includes trekking the gorillas and / or the chimpanzees. It is highly recommended that visitors prepare themselves and attain a reasonable level of physical fitness prior to doing a trek, as the terrain is mountainous and at times fairly steep. During periods of rainfall the terrain can be muddy and slippery.
- Good, waterproof hiking footwear. Good grip soles important.
- Change of shoes, suggestedly comfortable sports shoes or similar
- Comfortable socks & T-shirts
- Raincoat or rain poncho, preferably also covering head.
- Long trousers / jeans of good quality to protect against stinging nettles
- Long sleeved summer jacket for nettle protection and a sweater for chilly evenings
- “Day back pack” to carry change of T-shirt, socks, sweets, camera, raincoat, snacks etc
Camera with plenty of light sensitive film, for digital cameras extra memory card!
Hat and high level sunscreen
- Water container – 2 liters capacity suggested
- Sweets, chocolates etc
- Walking stick (can also be arranged locally)
- Re-hydration mixture, paracetamol and any personal medication
Rwanda’s vibrant capital offers a few pleasant surprises!
Rwanda’s capital is beautifully located on a number of hills. It is conveniently located in the center of the country and is well connected with good roads to all boarder crossings. As such it is a good base for safaris to all the places of interest in Rwanda. The population of Kigali has since independence grown from 25,000 to an estimated 600,000.
Although not very many attractions are found here it is one of Africa’s safest cities and the atmosphere is pleasant. There are several good hotels and restaurants well worth a visit. The visitor can join a very interesting city tour and however horrific, a visit to the genocide museum is a sobering experience and as well recommended.
There are a number of good bars and nightclubs, which however safe and fun offer the same hazards as such establishments do worldwide. Normal caution and care should be taken when visiting such places anywhere in the world.
MONEY AND CREDIT CARDS
Come prepared – how to make the financial aspect smooth during your visit.
The local currency is the “Rwanda Franc” and there are several denominations up to RwFr 5000. Be careful, as some older and newer notes are rather similar. One US$ = Approximately 720 RwFr (March 2015). There are several foreign exchange bureaus in Kigali offering similar rates, the most widely accepted currencies are US$, Euro and to a certain extent also French Francs and Sterling Pounds. There is currently (March 2015) one exchange bureau at the airport. Banks are generally not open on Saturdays and queues can here be long and rather slow. For fast and efficient money transfers there are several Western Union offices in Kigali and most other towns have at least one Western Union office.
Few establishments accept credit cards so be careful to check this before running up a bill at for example restaurants. Major hotels, restaurants and lodges do although accept some credit cards, sometimes with an extra charge added on tope of the bill.
Travelers cheques are not recommended as they are not widely accepted and if you do decide to bring some of your travel budget in travelers cheques it is very important to bring all documents related to them including the purchase receipt, you will not be able to change travelers cheques if you do not have all related purchase documents as well as a valid, internationally accepted personal identification.
LITTERATURE AND FURTHER READING
Read more about the various aspects of Rwanda and its attractions.
1. Rwanda, The Bradt Guide – By BOOTH, Janice & Briggs, Philip. The Globe Pequot Press Inc, 2004
2. The Larger Mammals of Africa – By STUART, Chris and Tilde. Struik 1997
3. The Kingdon field guide to African Mammals – By KINGDON, Jonathan. Academic Press 1997
4. Southern, Central and East African Mammals of Africa – By STUART, Chris and Tilde. Collins 1983
5. The safari Companion – By ESTES, Richard. Green Books ( UK)
6. Field guide to the Birds of East Africa – By WILLIAMS, J & Arlott. Collins 1980
7. Illustrated check list to the Birds of Eastern Africa – By VAN PERLO, Ber. Collins 1995
8. A biography of the Continent – By READER, John. Hamish Hamilton 1997
9. Rwanda – World Bibliographical Series volume 154 – By FEGLEY, Randall. Clio Press 1993
10. Gorillas in the mist – By FOSSEY, Dian. Hodder and Stoughton 1983
11. Woman in the mists – By MOWAT, Farley. Futura 1987
12. Island Africa – By KINGDON, Jonathon. Collins 1990
13. Through a window – By GOODALL, Jane. Houghton Mufflin 1991
14. The Rwanda crisis – History of a genocide – By PRUNIER, Gerard. Hurst & Company 1998
15. Eyewitness to a genocide: The United Nations and Rwanda – By BARNETT, Michael. Cornell University 2002
16. Hope for Rwanda – By SIBOMANA, Andre. Pluto Press 1999