A reader writes:
We spent two weeks travelling around Rwanda in the early European summer and I wanted to share a few things that might be useful for others considering independent travel around the country – which is very easy to do.
Overall a fantastic city. The Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel is great value (we had a private room) and a really nice set-up with good communal areas, a basic but decent breakfast, and quiet location – noise in the hostel itself wasn’t too bad either. While it’s a bit of a distance from the centre of the city (we walked in about an hour and a half) there is quite a bit nearby that’s worth going to including Café Magda, Shokola Lite, and the Great Wall of China restaurant. I’d also recommend Sol e Luna for very good pizza and a fantastic view over Kigali. We also ate at Africa Bite, which was good but not amazing, and quite hard to find.
The Genocide Memorial is not as visible on the approach as the guidebook makes out. Also, Kimironko market is well worth a visit for things like traditional baskets and cloth.
We also stayed at the Goodnews Guesthouse which is not in the guidebook, but it should be as it was excellent. $60 a night, with probably the best breakfast we had in Rwanda and a decent restaurant – Ben, the owner, also picked us up from the airport for $20.
We picked up our gorilla and golden monkey passes in Kigali, from the RDB office in the centre of town – go to this office rather than the large one to the east of the city, as that one was shut on a Sunday and seems to be more of an admin rather than public building. The office we went to shuts by noon at the weekend.
Travelling from Kigali to Huye/Butare & Nyungwe
As a few people have said before this is perfectly possible to do independently. While we could have done the whole journey in one go on the same bus, we broke it in two. We did the first step from Kigali to Huye with Volcanoes (which drops you at the office in the centre of Huye rather than at the bus station) and the second bit from Huye to Gisakura with Sotra on the way and Impala on the way back. We had to buy a ticket for the whole journey (5,000) to Rusizi on the border but asked the driver to let us off at Gisakura – quite easy to spot as it’s the first group of buildings you come to after emerging from the forest, and everyone on the bus made sure that the bus stopped! On the way out we bought tickets from the Sotra office in the centre of Huye although it’s quite tricky to find (in an office just behind the Gemeca petrol station) and not quite in the location on the guidebook map. The buses themselves leave from the bus station north of the town centre which is not actually marked on the map, near the museum (a rough patch of ground by the Kobil petrol station) – not from the bus station near the stadium. We did get a sense that quite few things were changing and under development in the town, so things may be like this temporarily. For the way back, our hotel in Gisakura booked us on seats on the bus on the way back, which was needed as it was otherwise full when it came passed.
There’s not a huge amount of room on the minibuses so you’ll need to be able to cram it between your legs and/or on your lap – you might have trouble with full-size bergen rucksacks. The express minibuses (as opposed to the local, stopping ones) didn’t seem to put anything on the roof, but they did have a small boot which was sometimes used.
Huye / Butare
There are a few changes to what’s specified in the guidebook. The Matar supermarket seems to be closed, as does the Cheers café – just lots of building work being done. The location of the bus station is now further north than specified, towards the museum – we ended up getting a moto-taxi to it as the bus to Risizi went from there rather than the town centre.
The Ibis hotel is a great place for food and drinks, better than Hotel Faucon which was more on the basic end of the spectrum with only one option at lunch, but cheaper. The CxC Coffee Shop is well worth a visit towards the south of the town.
The Motel du Mont Huye was a great and affordable place to stay – they had rooms available when we arrived, which was lucky as our reservation from the day before which had been phoned through when we were in Kigali did not seem to have been recorded – levels of English and French amongst the staff are limited. The restaurant in the motel is basic but fine, although we did take nearly an hour and a half to get our food.
Nyungwe National Park
Couldn’t recommend this place highly enough. It takes about five hours to reach from Kigali so we did three nights, at the Hilltop Hotel. They’ve recently put their prices up to $200 per night but we negotiated down to $150 a night – they don’t seem to have too many guests, and we were the only ones there on one night. It’s a great hotel, with a fantastic view, very friendly and helpful staff, good lunches and dinners (although always having three courses was sometimes a bit much).
We did the Waterfall trail on one day and walked to the start from our hotel, so didn’t need any transport – an absolutely superb trail. We also did chimp trekking for which we did need a 4×4 and driver, which the hotel organised for us – it was $150 for the morning which seemed quite pricey but was necessary. This was possibly the highlight of the trip as we saw the chimps on three separate occasions and had a great guide. But it was incredibly tough and strenuous, much, much more so than gorillas – but I got the impression it can sometimes be easier depending on where the chimps are. I’m also not sure how easy this would have been if we’d had tried it in the wet season.
Travelling from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park
We used Virunga Express which took us to Musanze, which was fine. I’m not sure how typical it is but we got practically the only real hassle of our trip in the bus station and (stupidly) ended up being persuaded into taking a taxi (his mate’s car in reality) by someone who claimed to be a representative of Amahoro tours, to Kinigi for 15,000 which was at least 5,000 more than we should have paid. He claimed buses didn’t run on Sundays, although we say lots coming back from Kinigi. However, if we had got the bus we would have still have a km or so to walk to the hotel, as it’s outside of the (very small) village. On the way back our driver (in the 4×4 we hired) kindly dropped us at the bus station in Musanze and we quickly bought tickets there for the bus back to Kigali (1,700 each way).
Volcanoes National Park
We stayed at the Kinigi guesthouse which I would really recommend. It’s a great location for gorilla trekking at it’s only about 300m from the RDB office where you meet in the morning. There’s a basic but decent restaurant but make sure you order breakfast the night before, and a nice communal seating area inside with a fire, and an outdoor terrace.
Our hotel booked our 4×4 and driver for two days (one for gorillas and one for golden monkeys) at $100 per day, which we needed to pay the driver in cash. It was provided through Amarhoro tours who were excellent, particularly our driver Safari.
We visited the Kwitonda gorilla group which was a large group, including three silverbacks and several babies. It was a pretty easy walk and shorter than some, so if you want something harder or longer maybe consider another group. While we didn’t have time to do it, we heard a lot of good things about the trek to Diane Fossey’s grave.
Golden monkeys was a completely different experience but well worth doing.