- Written by Dan
Outpost Travel Planner: Rwanda
By Kevin Patterson / Photo by >Ludovic Hirlimann
The Outpost travel planner with the what, where, when, why and how of all things travel to Rwanda
When To Go
Rwanda’s climate can be broken down into four seasons: wet, dry, wet and dry. The dry seasons—from January to February and from June to September—are the best times for gorilla trekking. Though the tropical climate of Rwanda means Kigali enjoys average temperatures ranging from 10 C at night to 34 C in the day, remember that temperatures are cooler in the mountains, so pack layers of clothing for mountain trekking and gorilla tracking.
Flights from Canada to Rwanda can be long, lasting at least 20 hours and involving two or more stopovers. Most flights connect to Kigali International Airport via Brussels and Nairobi. If you’re already in Africa, look into the number of inexpensive buses that link Kigali to Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). If you’re entering over land, check the Canadian Government Travel Reports for updated border security warnings. At the time of writing, the government is advising against non- essential travel to any regions bordering the DRC or Burundi, noting also that the Rwandan-DRC border is subject to closure without notice. Also keep in mind that travel of any kind is currently unadvisable in Uganda in the regions bordering the DRC and Sudan.
Within the cities, most visitors travel by foot, bicycle-taxi or shared minibus. Between the cities, Rwanda’s main roads are paved and in good condition for driving—but only in the daytime and during the dry season. Night driving can get dangerous as roads are not very well-lit and traffic signage is scant. Four-wheel drives are your best bet to ensure safe road passage during the rainy seasons. There is no rail service linking the cities of Rwanda, but you can travel around the country either by bus or minibus. The drawback is that buses can get overcrowded with passengers. And, on occasion, their livestock as well.
What to See and Do
The remote Virunga Mountains—straddling the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC—are home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, the largest living primate on Earth. Dian Fossey famously cohabitated with these shy, non-aggressive gorillas in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, documenting her experiences in her book, Gorillas in the Mist. You can start your gorilla-tracking expedition from Uganda, Rwanda, or the DRC, which reopened its section of the Virunga area in 2004. As of 2007, the permit fee is $500 US, regardless of the country you’re entering from.
Permits for gorilla trekking are in high demand and tours are strictly regulated in the name of conservation—guided tours involve no more than eight people and close proximity to gorillas lasts no longer than an hour—so book your excursion and permit early.
Visit Rwanda’s mountain gorillas (as well as communities of golden monkeys, elephants and buffalo) at the Parc National des Volcans (PNV, also known as the Volcanoes National Park) in the northwest. The park encompasses six mountains, including Rwanda’s tallest, Karisimbi (4,507 metres).
Outside of the PNV, Rwanda’s main attractions are the cities of Kigali, Kibuye and Gisenyi. Kigali is bustling, the perfect place to observe day-to-day urban life in the country. Or, on a more sombre note, visit the Kigali Memorial Centre, where more than 250,000 people slaughtered in the 1994 genocide are buried.
Both Kibuye and Gisenyi are resort towns that lie on the banks of Lake Kivu, one of Rwanda’s great lakes. Lake Kivu lies on the DRC-Rwandan border at 1,460 metres above sea level, and boasts dramatic views of the surrounding mountains.