During the 15th century, there were two main ethnic groups in Rwanda – The Hutus and the Tutsis. The Tutsis from the north conquered the area and became the ruling power over the Hutus. In 1895, the country came under German rule but was not developed economically and the existing Government continued to be used. Later, a protectorate was taken by Belgium before Rwanda became a United Nations Trust Territory after World War II. At this time, the Tutsis were still the strongest ethnic group although there was much civil unrest and rumblings among the Hutus. In 1961, the Tutsi monarchy was abolished and by 1st July 1962 when Independence was declared, the Hutus had become the stronger political power. By the 1990s, the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) – a Tutsi dominated force, and the Interahamwe – the Hutu’s secretly trained army, were at continuous war with each other resulting in the appalling 1994 genocide in which an estimated one million people were murdered over a 3 months period. The majority of the killings were carried out by the Interahamwe and Hutu military but both Tutsi and Hutu civilians were killed. Since the genocide and war, peace and calm has returned to the country and lives are being rebuilt. There is now a ruling that parliament must be made up of at least one third women representatives as it is believed that women would never permit another genocide to happen.
Geography and weather
Rwanda is a small country located a few degrees south of the equator and has a generally tropical climate, with rolling hills to the east and rugged mountains and a chain of volcanoes to the north-west, where at times, snow and frost can occur.
It is also known as the lightning capital of the world due to intense daily thunderstorms during the rainy seasons (February – May and September – December), particularly in the west of the country.
Visit www.worldclimate.com to get an idea of what the weather will be like on your tour.
Obtaining any necessary visas varies depending on where you are travelling from. Please ensure you check the visa requirements for all the countries you will be visiting on tour. Click here for more information.
It is now easier than ever to fly into Kigali airport and a lot of our group tours in east Africa start in Kigali. From the airport you can take a short arrival transfer or a taxi to our joining hotel. Alternatively, if you are entering Rwanda on a group tour from Uganda, you will cross by road from Lake Bunyonyi.
Please note: A yellow fever vaccination is required for travellers arriving from all countries. Those travelling without will have to pay $40 for a vaccination on arrival.
Please note: It can be very difficult to obtain US dollars in Africa, even in major cities like Cape Town. Many places will not accept any notes that are marked, torn or older than the year 2002, and you may have difficulty exchanging these notes elsewhere in Africa, so please check your cash carefully at the point of purchase.
The monetary unit in Rwanda is the Rwandan franc. For up-to-date exchange rates with your own currency visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. In general, Visa is the only credit card that will work everywhere in Africa. Master Card, AMEX and Cirrus will work in some countries but not in others.
We recommend that you bring cash in US dollars only. When changing money, it is a good idea if at all possible, to get small denomination notes and coins in the local currency as often there is a lack of change when you are making purchases and no-one in Africa ever seems to have change. Please note that it is not possible to withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Africa, only local currency.
Haggling is expected in Rwanda and hunting for bargains can be a real highlight.
Your best buys are anything to do with the gorillas -T-shirts, post cards and carvings of the gorillas are always around. Carvings brought in from the Congo are usually good and slightly different, but can be a little more expensive and you will need to call on all your bargaining skills to get a good price
Tipping in restaurants is at your discretion but you must check the menu for the other hidden taxes as they are not normally included.
Taxis are recommended for all journeys within Kigali. Taxi meters are not normally in evidence, so you will find yourself engaging in a bit of haggling with the driver to agree upon the fare. This can be fun, but it is a good idea to find out in advance, from your tour leader or the hotel receptionist, approximately how much the fare should be. You will almost certainly have to accept that you will pay more than the Rwandans do.
Crime is not a great problem in Rwanda, but you still need to be aware and exercise caution as with anywhere in the world. Don’t walk around lonely back streets on your own, don’t wear expensive looking jewellery or a classy watch and don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket. Don’t carry your camera openly; always have it in a small day pack which is firmly attached to your body, preferably in the front in crowded places. Always wear a money belt or leave your valuables, including your passport, in the hotel security box.
Caution should be taken when taking photos in and around the city. Locals should always be asked prior to taking a photo and it is not uncommon for them to ask for a small donation. Never take photos of police, military personal or buildings. The same goes for any government buildings, banks, post offices or the railway station.
Local food and drink
Most meals are included when camping and lunch is usually included on travelling days in the truck. When staying in hotels or hostels, all meals are at your own expense. As a guideline a simple snack (e.g. a sandwich) can cost as little as US$2.5 and a light meal will cost around US$4-8.
Outside major towns, the food varies little from that found in Uganda. One difference though, is the influence that the Belgians had on the culture while they where ruling the country. Today in Kigali, some of the bakeries have re-opened after the genocide and French bread and pastries are now becoming available again.
In Ruhengeri, the Muhanbura Hotel does an excellent whole grilled chicken with pomme frites (with mayonnaise of course – this being started by the Belgians) and coleslaw for about US$10.
If you are a strict vegetarian you may experience a distinct lack of variety in the food available, especially in small towns. You might find that you are eating a lot of omelettes and other egg dishes. Our tour leaders will do their best to provide interesting vegetarian alternatives when arranging group meals in the campsite, but your patience and understanding is requested.
All drinks such as water, soft or alcoholic drinks are at your own expense at all times. The following is a guideline for drinks bought at the campsites that we use. If bought from shops in the street, prices are likely to be cheaper, but in restaurants and hotels can sometimes be more than double the prices specified below.
1 litre of water -US$1.50
30cl bottle of soft drink -US$0.80
50cl bottle of beer -US$2.00
(All glass bottles taken away from shops in Rwanda will have a deposit added on which varies.)
You should be wary of drinking the local tap water. Bottled water, carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices are widely available and are generally safe to drink.
Most of the campsites / hostels that we use have bars or serve alcoholic drinks. If there is not a bar at the campsite / hostel then there is sure to be one within walking distance. Beware of imported spirits as they are very expensive, so always ask for the local equivalent spirit if you want to remain within your budget.
There are various brands of beers found only in Rwanda including Primus and Muitzig.
GMT/UTC +2. For other time differences please visit www.timeanddate.com
220 volts. Sockets are either three pin, rectangular.