Mini Travel Guide: Rwanda

Rwanda is a popular travel destination for gorilla sightings! Learn more in this mini travel guide to Rwanda that comes to us from the lovely Kat Fallon! This is one of many Mini Travel Guides in which locals and expats give us the inside scoop on what makes their place great.

mini travel guide to Rwanda
I have lived in Kigali since August 2011 and work at Generation Rwanda, an organization which provides university scholarships and support services to orphans of the 1994 genocide and other vulnerable youth. I live on the edge of a market with two adopted street puppies!
Must do in Rwanda

Must Go in Rwanda

Gorilla Trekking in Virunga National Park

Who could pass up hiking a volcano and seeing Dian Fossey’s beloved mountain gorillas? Head up to Virunga National Park, and walk among the bamboo forests as you scout out those massive silverback gorillas! You will see buffalo, golden monkeys, and gorilla families among the lush rainforest. You can book a tour through the Rwanda Development Board’s Tourism and Conservation Office. It’s way pricey (for non-Rwandan residents, the price is $500 and is about to be raised to $700) but is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Take a bus to Gisenyi

Not only is Gisenyi, the Rwandan city which borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo and has beaches lining Lake Kivu, a fun and relaxing vacation spot, but the bus ride will show you the best part of Rwanda: its stunning landscape. Make sure to stare out the bus window at the deep green crop fields and clay houses on terraced slopes. You will have a chance to really see this “land of a thousand hills.”

Murembi Genocide Memorial

Of the many genocide memorials throughout Rwanda, Murembi is the most jarring. Murembi was converted into a memorial building from a school where some 45,000 Tutsi men, women, and children were murdered in April 1994. The museum displays the skeletons and mummified bodies of the thousands of people killed in the school; among the bodies are infants. This is a chilling and deeply emotional experience for most people, but among the beauty and liveliness of modern Rwanda, it is important to never forget that genocide occurred only 18 years ago.

Must do in Rwanda

Must Do in Rwanda

Party in Nyamirambo

While it may not be the swankiest part of Kigali, it is definitely the liveliest! Nyamirambo is the Muslim section of Kigali, with beautiful teal mosques and gritty streets filled with clothing shops. It has been referred to as the “Brooklyn of Kigali.” On a Friday night, Nyamirambo doesn’t sleep. Check out High Table, Amigo’s, or Spectra.

Visit a social enterprise and shop!

What’s better than helping a woman support her family and walking away with a gorgeous bag for only $5? Cooperatives and social enterprises, especially those which focus on providing economic opportunities to vulnerable women, are everywhere. Many of the social enterprises also support the women with business skills, microfinance loans, and English trainings. Buy some woven baskets, yoga bags, earrings, or crafts for all of your friends back home! Gahaya Links is a great option for gorgeous and well-made handicrafts.

Must eat in Rwanda

Must Eatin Rwanda 

Passion fruit or tree tomato juice

Or, if you’re feeling really crazy, ask for them mixed together! These thick, fresh, and delicious juices are common, whether you’re at a pricey restaurant or a hole-in-the-wall joint.

Classic buffet

Most everyone eats at a buffet for lunch, which is a cheap and very filling option. All of the buffets offer essentially the same options of classic East African foods: ugali, a porridge-like maize dish; matoke, made from steamed plantains; isombe, which looks like spinach but is in fact cassava leaves flavored with fish; and of course, fries with mayo. And buy yourself one of those $1 Primus beers while you’re at it!

cultural tips for traveling in Rwanda

Cultural Tips for Traveling in Rwanda

Understand that the past is in the past, but be aware and respectful. The beauty of the country is everywhere, not just visually, but in the smiles of people and the success of country. However, remember that the 1994 genocide touched everyone in Rwanda. Don’t ever ask someone if they are “Hutu” or “Tutsi.” Be aware that many people are uncomfortable with their pictures being taken. Don’t treat the people you meet as victims though; realize that their smiles and laughter is real, and allow yourself to look past the horrors of the past to see the beauty of the present.

cheap travel in Rwanda

Travel on the Cheap in Rwanda

Motos and matatus are your best friend! Cabs are very expensive; while the motos (motorcycles) are not the safest option, they are surely the fastest, and accidents in Rwanda are much rarer than in neighboring countries. Matatus may take a while, but they cost less than 50 cents to travel across the entire city of Kigali.

Knowing just a few Kinyarwanda words will get you everywhere. Ask a Rwandan for a few basic phrases and write them down in a notebook. Simply giving a little tisk and saying “Ni meshi!” (It is expensive!) can make all of the difference when buying one of those beautiful baskets or colorful fabric.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kat! Anybody else have Rwandan travel tips to share?

photo one by loud waterfall photo, for sale here, photo five for sale here

7 Comments

Sue @ SimonsSistaSaw

Perfect timing! I booked an African trip today and have a few weeks unplanned when I get to Dar Es Salaam. Rwanda and Uganda and their silverbacks both appeal so this guide is a treat!

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Anonymous

i love this! i was in rwanda for a couple of months (lived in butare) a few years back with school and this brings back so many memories! we never saw the gorillas since we were students and didn't have much money but went travelling to the edge of the national park and also to the edge of congo. the landscape is so stunning, so lush and green! we were also very impressed with the people, the way they could be so affected by the genocide (sometimes regularly seeing the people who killed their family members) but still wanting to move on, to forgive and help rebuild the country. rwanda will always have a special place in my heart

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Kim

My alma mater does a program where they sponsor Rwanda students to come to the US and study at a bunch of different schools. They were the pilot program. Since I speak French fluently(though I won't say they really spoke it super well), I was an English tutor for a number of them. They were all very shy around me and I never got to know very much about them. It's nice to see some about the country they came from outside of what I know about the genocide.

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Mary

I think this is my favorite mini travel guide so far. Such great insight into a place you might not think of to travel. Now, I want to! 🙂

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Peter Lee

Rwanda is a beautiful place which is mainly famous for it's Rwanda is famous for their music and their dances. The people are absolutely incredible. Friendly, generous, giving, hospitable. All this in spite of their recent history. From the places I have seen Ruhengeri and I must say it is one of the most beautiful places in the whole country.

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Heather Francisco

I think Rwanda is a good place to spend our vacation. My sister who used to live there told me that it is such a beautiful place and with what Peter said, people there are absolutely nice .

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