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Essential Rwanda Travel Tips: A Guide for your Journey

by Catherine Carey | November 14, 2023
travel tips for Rwanda Kigali

Is Rwanda your next destination? Nestled in the heart of East Africa, Rwanda is known because of its lush landscapes, vibrant cities, serene lakes, and dense forests teeming with wildlife. It has also got a very rich culture. Here we will give you some Rwanda travel tips to make the most out of your trip. 

Do I need any vaccines to travel to Rwanda?

It is mandatory to get a yellow fever vaccination and carry your official vaccination certificate to travel to Rwanda if you come from a country with risk of yellow fever transmission. 

Vaccines against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever, rabies, meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia and influenza are recommended. You can check more information about vaccines for Rwanda here

Malaria and Dengue are risks if you travel to Rwanda. You can ask your doctor about malaria prophylaxis before your trip. 

Rwanda is open for tourists after Covid-19 and you no longer need to show proof of your status.

Do I need a SIM card for Rwanda?

One of the most important travel tops for Rwanda if you want to have internet connection is how to get a SIM card for Rwanda. Although you'll likely find free Wifi in restaurants, shopping malls, and hotels, it is recommended to have a SIM card for Rwanda. Free Wifi can be low and unsecure. You can get a prepaid SIM card in international airports, mobile stores, convenience stores, or online (through websites like Amazon). 

The best option is said to be to buy the SIM card in mobile stores. You can get one from MTN,  Airtel, or Airalo. MTN offers plans from 2 GB for 30 days for RWF 2,000 ($1.80) to 30 GB for 30 days for RWF 10,000 ($8.98). Airtel offers plans from 1.5 GB for 30 days for RWF 2,000 ($1.80) to 95 GB for 30 days for RWF 30,000 ($26.95). 

Remember! You will need to bring your passport when you buy a SIM card. Your local Sim card will be registered on your name and your passport number. You will be able to buy 1 prepaid SIM card per passport. 

You can also get an eSIM or prepaid SIM card online. This way you will have internet from the very first moment you arrive in Rwanda. For example, Airalo offers options like 1 GB for 7 days for $9 and 3 GB for 30 days for $24.

What to pack for Rwanda?

When traveling abroad it is essential to know what to pack and what it is not necessary to take with you. Here are some Rwanda travel tips when it comes to what to take with you to Rwanda:

  • Comfortable, light, informal clothes 
  • Avoid dark colored clothes since they attract tsetse flies
  • Comfortable and covered-toes shoes
  • Sunglasses, hat and sunscreen
  • Strong insect repellent
  • Pack lightweight in a backpack if possible.
  • Swimwear and sandals for when you are at your camp or lodge.
  • All kinds of plastic bags are banned, don’t bring them into Rwanda.

In addition to these recommendations, you might wonder what to pack for a safari. You should wear Khaki, green, beige and neutral colors clothes, a shirt with long sleeves and jeans (especially for the nights), t-shirts and shorts, jacket and binoculars and cameras. You should also think of grabbing a snack and water in a little backpack.

If you are thinking of gorilla trekking you should be prepared for a muddy situation. You will need ankle boots that are waterproof and with good grip like some hiking or walking shoes. It is also a good idea to wear long hiking socks to tuck trousers in and gloves to protect your hands. 

As for clothes and other essentials, you can pack the same you would for a safari. Most emphatically, you should wear long trousers and long-sleeved tops because you will most likely have scratches from vegetation and be bitten by insects if not.

What is the currency of Rwanda?

The Rwanda currency is the Rwandan franc. You can change euros or dollars in the Rwandan main banks and larger hotels. 

Credit cards are accepted (Visa and to a lesser extent MasterCard) in establishments in the more touristy areas. Nevertheless, we recommend taking cash with you. There are ATMs in Kigali and other major cities, but not all of them accept foreign cards. When you spot one that works for you, you should get all the cash you might need there. 

Although the currency in Rwanda is the Rwandan Franc, USD are also accepted in many places like hotels and safaris. 

Lastly, keep in mind that it might be difficult to cash in travellers checks in Rwanda outside the capital, so make sure you make allowances for that. 

Rwanda currency

Is tipping mandatory in Rwanda? 

Tipping is not mandatory in Rwanda. It is to show gratitude to those who have provided some sort of service. Some of the people you can tip in Safaris in Rwanda are drivers, guides, porters, and the wait staff.

You can consider tipping between 10-20$ to guides, 5$ per person and trek to national park guides, 10$ to hotel or lodge staff, 5$ for the waitstaff and maintenance, 10-15$ for safari drivers and 5$ for trackers, rangers and porters. Tips are usually paid with cash. You can use Rwandan francs or US dollars. 

Tipping is usually done at the end of a safari activity, at the end of each day, or the end of your trip. You can safely leave your tip at the main tip box in the reception lounge of many accommodations, but keep in mind that the tip will be shared equally amongst the staff. If you want to show gratitude to someone in specific, just give them directly the money.

Travel tips for Rwanda: How to travel around Rwanda 

There are multiple options of transport in Rwanda. It is easy enough to travel around Rwanda as major roads are well paved, but smaller roads can sometimes get muddy during the rainy season as they are sometimes unpaved. If you want to travel to remote areas and national parks it might be easier to rent a 4x4 with a driver. In Kigali and bigger cities you can travel by taxi, motorbike taxi or public bus. 

If you want to rent a car in Rwanda you must present your driving license and also an international driving permit. The cost of renting a car in Rwanda is around  $70 a day depending on the model of the car. Remember, if you are going to rent a car, you must be careful. Traffic accidents are common and some roads can be quite bad. You will generally find children playing on the roads, and people meandering quietly along them.

If you are going to Kigali, on the first and third Sunday of each month motos vehicles are banned from 7 am to 12 pm to promote the preservation of the environment.

You can travel around Rwanda and neighboring countries by plane if you are short on time and want to get around the country quickly. You can find flights from the main two cities: Cyangugu and Kigali. If you want to travel around East Africa, you can also apply for the East African visa which gives you access to visit Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda.

Rwanda tourist attractions 

Rwanda is a country full of things to do and see. Here are some of our top recommendations: 

  • Kigali is one of the cities in Rwanda to explore. It is the capital of Rwanda and in there you can explore the Kigali Genocide Memorial which serves as a tribute to the victims of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. In Kigali, you should also see the Nyamirambo neighbourhood, where the Women's Centre stands out. Back in the day it was a place where women came to learn, read and write. Now, they organise visits to the neighbourhood and its market, with food included.
  • Volcanoes National Park in Ruhengeri is one of the few places in the world where you can witness the famous mountain gorillas up close in their natural habitat. Before engaging in a gorilla trekking Rwanda at Volcanoes National Park, tourists must get a gorilla permit prior to the actual date of trekking. 
  • The Akagera National Park, less than 3 hours from Kigali to the east. There you can see gorillas, lions, elephants, antelopes, zebras and rhinos. 
  • Nyungwe Forest National Park, one of Africa's most important forest conservation regions, is home to a variety of distinct biodiversity, including 1,068 plant species, 322 bird species, and 75 mammal species. The majority of visitors come to this rainforest to track chimps that park rangers have habituated to humans. 
  • Lake Kivu, one of Africa's Great Lakes, is known for its stunning scenery and picturesque shoreline. Visitors can enjoy water activities like swimming, fishing, and boat tours while taking in the breathtaking views.

city of Kigali in Rwanda

When is the best time to travel to Rwanda?

In Rwanda, the weather in Rwanda is very stable, with an average temperature of 22/23 degrees all year round. Rwanda is just south of the equator but is also mountainous so it has a temperate tropical climate. There are two seasons, dry, from June to September and rainy from February to May and September to December.

You can enjoy Rwanda and its wildlife at any time of year. If your visit to the country is to do a route to see the Gorillas, the best time is during the dry season, which goes from December to February or from June to September. These are the seasons when the gorillas are most visible.

Is it safe to travel to Rwanda?

Is Rwanda safe? Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa. The crime rate is very low, apart from some sporadic pickpocketing. To avoid being mugged, some Rwanda travel tips are not going out at night alone, or carrying valuables. 

Occasionally there can be cases of violent crime, but it is never against tourists and usually due to disputes between inhabitants. 

However, some border areas do have problems and should be avoided, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Giseny/Gona and Cyangugu/Bukavu's border crossings.

Rwanda advises its nationals not to travel to Uganda. This does not affect foreign tourists at all, although you may encounter additional controls. The border area with Burundi is another area to avoid due to the tension between the two countries.

More Rwanda travel tips

  • It is advisable to always carry a copy of your passport and visa during your stay in Rwanda.
  • As in most countries, drugs are not welcome and drug use is severely punished by law.
  • Even though homosexuality and public affection are not prohibited by law, they are not accepted by the general society. It is best to avoid public displays of affection.
  • It is forbidden to take pictures of Kigali airport, government facilities and military camps. The security forces, both military and police, have an obvious presence and enjoy great power in the country. Avoid any altercation or discussion with law enforcement.
  • One of the most important Rwanda entry requirements is to have a visa to enter Rwanda. The Rwanda visa can be applied for online and can help you with your application. You will also need Health insurance Rwanda, it is compulsory to enter the country.