2014 trip report

Goran writes:

Trip report Jan 2014

Places visited Huye, Nyanza, Kigali, Rubavu, Rubona, Musanze, Lake Burera, Volcanoes NP

(NB: some practical info may be outdated as the report is more than a year old).

Exchange rate: USD1=RWF670

I was planning to stay in Rwanda for three weeks maybe, but had to cut my visit short as the Virungas NP in the neighbouring DRC were closed; also, the lack of infrastructure meant paying through the roof for hiking in Volcanoes and Nyungwe Forest NPs. These, together with Congo-Nile bike ride, are left for my next time in the region; hopefully the infrastructure and circumstances will change for better by then.

I would recommend Rwanda, maybe together with Uganda, as an ideal intro to sub-Saharan Africa to those who are visiting the region for the first time.

 

Visa

Seek info elsewhere on this subject as there was no visa needed for many Western nationals when I visited the country.

 

People

Very nice and kind people. I found that I had to make the first step to enter into conversation then they open up.

 

Safety

Felt safe everywhere, no exceptions.

 

Corruption

Not a single instance of corruption that I witnessed. No asking for presents, bribes at border crossing, nothing.

 

Getting to and from Rwanda overland

Uganda: pretty much straight forward. Burundi: no problem there either. Tanzania: got bored with many options depending on this and that in TZ so decided to fly from Kigali to Kilimanjaro International.

 

Ground transportation

Possible to get to most parts of the country by using public transport. Get the ticket from the booking office when possible to avoid overcharging. Also, get on the right bus to avoid paying unnecessary fare. For example, get on the Musanze bus in Kigali if you want to go to Muzance in order to pay the correct fare. You can get onto a bus to Rubona and asked to be dropped off at Musanze then the fare in this case will be for the Kigali-Rubona service; that is, regardless if you get off before Rubona.

 

Bus

There are only few big buses and those serve the Kigali-Kampala route; e.g. Jaguar. All national major bus companies operate those standard 30 seater small buses you see everywhere in Rwanda. I used many bus companies and pretty much all of them offered a decent service. There was no overcrowding taking place and it was always possible to buy the ticket at their booking offices.

 

Minibuses

These are cheap but stop every 5 minutes and overcrowding takes place.

 

Moto taxi

This is a great way to commute within the city and you can even take your luggage with you. Arrange the price before the ride. They’re convenient, cheap and fast and they even provide a helmet!

 

Road safety, conditions and signposting

Main highways were mostly in a good condition. Roads leading to Volcanoes NP trailheads were only suitable for 4×4 vehicles.

 

Rwandair

Got fed up from exploring options of how to make the land crossing from Rwanda or Burundi into Tanzania and decided to fly directly from Kigali to Killimanjaro International. I made the booking a couple of months in advance and wanted to bring the departure date forward. Pleasantly surprised to find that Rwandair allows one change of date free of charge.

 

 

Money

Every town I visited had a working ATM. However, some ATMs were not taking foreign bank cards; a minor annoyance only as there were plenty of ATMs that do.

 

Costs:

Accommodation, food, drinks and public transportation don’t seem to trouble an independent traveller too much. Rwanda can be a ridiculously cheap place to eat if you stick to simple eateries and eat with locals. Casava bread, chunk of beef and beans (large portion) can cost as little as RWF500. Buffet meals from 1k onwards, depends how much meat you want to eat. Sometimes the worst powder coffee can cost 1.5k which is three times more you’d pay for a meal with locals or a third you’d pay for a night’s accommodation.

 

Hikes, bike hires, guides and entry fees for attractions outside of national parks don’t seem to be of the problem either. However, the costs of attractions and activities located within RW national parks are very different story – in a word: expensive! This is typical for the region.

 

Accommodation

Had no terrible experience with accommodation in Rwanda, but do check your room before checking in.

 

Food and drink

Buffet food available and it’s priced per plate so no long waits. This food rarely looks appetising and fresh. I had a quite a few plates and didn’t get any food poisoning so there we go. Good coffee difficult but not impossible to get; found some good coffee places. Tea widely available.

 

Annoyances        

NONE!

 

Inconveniences

A few beggars at Nyabugogo bus station in Kigali; some kids with “Good morning teacher” in the countryside and that was it. Like in the whole of the region: touching on religion can be an unpleasant experience. I found it easier to stop entering religious conversations by telling them that my religion prohibits talking about religion. It worked everywhere!

Also, visible plastic bags could be confiscated on entering Rwanda. This is fine and no problem with respecting the rules – applauding their environmentally friendly policy. However, travellers tend to pack their bits and pieces in plastic bags within their luggage for whatever reason. We were asked to open our suitcases; customs officers do want to see occasionally what’s inside the luggage. We were asked to open our luggage when entering Rwanda from Burundi and all plastic that resembled a carrier bag got confiscated; bags used for wrapping and protection were left alone. If this happens when entering Rwanda the helpful hawkers should have a paper bag for sale at a cost of RF100.

Community work takes place in the morning hours on the last Saturday of the month. This is when good citizens clean their streets, cut the grass and attempt to repair the damaged infrastructure. Almost all non-essential business is nonoperational during this time and that inconveniently affects bus travel as well as visits to catering establishments.

 

Overcharging

Overcharging or attempting to overcharge takes place everywhere; restaurants in particular. The best thing is to learn the prices and then just give them exact money without even asking how much the product costs. You can learn about the costs just by observing what locals pay when buying food/drink on a bus; how much they pay for the minibus ride etc. It gets better longer you stay and you know when someone makes a rip off attempt.

 

Language

Many people struggled to speak English but I always found someone who did. English understood and spoken by young people and also by those employed in the tourism industry. French is far better option as all who went to school speaks it; I found that many middle-aged people tend to prefer speaking French. It looks like English has been imposed on the population. I noticed signs of frustration, guilt or even mild embarrassment if they were unable to help in English.

 

 

Travel literature

Bradt Guide to Rwanda was educative but some practical information is outdated. Ignore the street names in maps in the Kigali section. Also, some maps are missing information. The only poor bit was the info on getting to and from Burundi.

{Note from Philip – Goran is referring to the 5th edition here, not the 6th edition published in Dec 2015, which has been fully updated & uses new street names for Kigali. Getting to and from Burundi is probably a moot point in light of recent events there}

 

Arranging gorilla tracking

 

Possible to arrange everything independently. See this on how to do it:

 

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/africa/rwanda/independent-gorillia-tracking

 

And also see the Musanze section below.

 

 

What follows is my personal account of experiences travelling through parts of Rwanda with practical information that hopefully some may find useful. It also includes recommendation on things I’d do differently if I’m to repeat the experience.

 

NB: some practical info may be outdated as I visited the country some 18 months before this travel report was written. I did a quick research on prices now and I think that some 10% should be added to all prices I quoted in RWF.

 

 

Kabale (Uganda) – Kigali

It’s easy to travel to Rwanda from Kabale. Kabale – Katuna border crossing was UGX10k on boda boda then I think it was RWF1000 (it was cheap) for the local mini bus to Kigali. It departs from the junction 5 min walk from the RW immigration post.

 

I’d definitely exchange a very little cash, maybe leftover UGX for RWF at the border crossing once in Rwanda. This is just in case that BPR’s ATM is dry; this ATM is located when approaching the junction where you get the minibus to Kigali.

 

Kigali

Surprisingly orderly, clean and very friendly. Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit. The entrance is free, but you should really get the audio guide tour for RWF9k- a poignant experience. Good buffet lunch served at the memorial’s restaurant and they had wifi there. Did the Kigali centre on foot. Did Mt Kigali on foot too, got lost but managed to see the city from above. The instruction in the Bradt guide how to get there are pretty clear on page 120. Once in the residential area (where the road ends) follow the signs to Fazenda Sengha. Then the signposting stops making sense; follow your intuition.

 

Street names

This was annoying – nobody knows where you’re going if you ask for directions using the official address. The best thing would be to locate your place of on the map, then note the area name and a nearby landmark, or police station, post office or a large famous hotel then foot it from there.

 

Nyabugogo bus terminal

Busy but orderly. Buses and minibuses serve every part of Rwanda as well as Kampala, Uganda and Bujumbura, Burundi. The biggest concentration of beggars and persisting sellers in Rwanda. Nyabugogo to city centre should be between RWF500-700, but be prepared to guide the moto taxi driver as chances are they won’t have a clue where you want to be dropped off – see the street names section above.

 

Moto taxi

Excellent, they even provide you a helmet!

 

Airport

Take a taxi if you’re arriving at Kigali’s airport at night. Otherwise, it’s possible to get a moto taxi maybe 200m away from the terminal builiding. Moto taxi congregate at the barrier before you enter the car park as they’re not allowed inside the airport grounds. Moto taxi from Nyabugogo to Kigali Airport is around1.5k. Kigali Airport has free wi-fi.

 

Rwandair

Not any longer at the main roundabout in the heart of city centre, now known as KN2 Roundabaut and previously called Place de la Constitution. It is now located at the north side of the roundabout inside the Union Trade Centre (UTC Mall); it’s inside the same shopping complex where the Nakumatt supermarket is – everyone knows Nakumatt. BTW, Burbon Coffee at the UTC mall is good!

 

 

Tourist Information Centre

(useful for those picking up the gorilla tracking permit)

Tourist Information Center in Central Kigali is open Monday to Friday: 7am-5pm, Saturday and Sunday: 8am-12am, Every last Saturday in the month: 12am to 2pm Closed on Public Holidays

It’s on the main roundabout in central Kigali inside that brand new building with a little white Eiffel Tower on the top of it – impossible to miss. Enter through West Gate and the offices are on the ground floor. Ignore the security at the entrance if they tell you that the offices are closed on Sunday – I collected and paid for my permit on Sunday at 8.30am.

 

Tourist Information Center

KN 4 Avenue

Building: Grand Pension Plaza, Downtown

P.O. Box: 6239 Kigali, Rwanda

Tel: +250 252 573 396/576514

Email: reservation@rwandatourism.com

 

Accommodation

I stayed at Auberge de Nyamirambo, but wouldn’t recommend it. It’s far too far from the city centre and maybe a good 20 mins walk from Nyamirambo centre itself; it’s almost half way on KN2 between Nyamirambo and Mount Kigali. The mattress was covered in plastic which made it a hot and sticky sleeping experience; they served no food and no coffee. There were a couple of cheap eateries around the hotel though. The nearest place I could have a coffee was 10 mins down the road towards Nyamirambo at CCS (Coffee Chips Shop – I know!). The staff at Auberge de Nyamirambo was nice and friendly – French spoken only. There was a good convenience store (supermarket) across the road and the internet shop on the other side of the road.

Minibuses ply the road and it’s very easy to get to Kigali city centre; bus 404 will take you to where the prison underneath city centre is or even to Place de l’Unite National for only RWF100. Otherwise, moto taxi to city centre is RWF500. RWF700 from Auberge de Nyamirambo to Nyabugogo bus terminal.

It would be OK to stay at Nyamirambo, but only in the area where the mosque is; that is, the centre of Nyamirambo as it seemed to have everything a traveller needed. BTW, many places in Nyamirambo mentioned in the 5th edition of Bradt aren’t there any longer.

 

Huye

Kigali-Huye for RWF2.5k on Horizon. All bus companies’ booking offices and their terminals are near each other in the very town centre of Huye and spread along the main road.

Went to CxC just outside of the town centre for a mini coffee lecture on how the quality coffee is sourced to benefit the small producer. The place is a paradise to coffee lovers; the best cappuccino in the country for RWF500. The National Museum of Rwanda is nice with lots to learn from the tastefully arranged exhibits.

I stayed at Motel Ineza for 5k per night. Cold shower and no wi-fi. The accommodation was clean and the staff friendly. Torch needed in case you want to go to town centre after dark.

Dinner at Faucon. Good food and huge portions at reasonable prices, but do check the bill carefully before parting with cash. Faucan Supermarket next door and the internet shop the door after.

The worst instant powder coffee at Café-Resto aux Delices for 1.2k.

 

Nyanza

Huye-Nyanza for RWF600 with Horizon, regular departures.

Rukali Palace Museum (6k entrance fee + 2k photo permit) some 20 mins from town centre is a good place to learn about Rwandan royal past. The palace itself is interesting with lots of good stories and some really great black and white photos. The reconstructed royal hut is the reason you’re going to Nyanza. And the huge horns of royal inyambo cattle have to be seen to be believed!

Not sure that I enjoyed Rwesero Palace Museum as much, far too contemporary pieces of art inside for my liking. A separate ticket of 6k has to be purchased in order to visit the palace inside; a visit to Rwesero is no longer included in the ticket for Rukali Palace Museum. Also, have exact money ready if you want to visit Rwesero. Or be prepared to remind the staff to give you your change back. Nice views of the surrounding countryside from Rwesero.

I had my lunch at the eatery next door to Horizon bus offices. Buffet food for 1k per plate, good selection of vegetables in particular.

 

Rubavu

Kigali-Rubavu 3 hours for 3k with Virunga. BTW, the scale in Bradt’s guide map page 212 is wrong, should read 10km and not 20km.

Rubavu bus station location has changed since Bradt’s 5th edition map was researched. It is now somewhere above C1 or D1 on the road leading to Grand Barriere border with the DRC; Grand Barriere is maybe 5-10 mins walk from the bus station.

Rubavu is a pleasant place to hang around for a few days. I was hoping that Virungas NP in the neighbouring DRC would reopen so I can track gorillas there as well as climb Nyiragongo. This didn’t happen so hopefully one day I’m hoping to be back to this region to do the volcano hike as well as the Congo-Nile bike ride.

 

Accommodation

Stayed at Methodist Church Centre d’Accueil and it was not good. The place is falling apart and they had problems with water supply; this accommodation should definitely be delisted from every guidebook.

Kivu Coffee Shop serves snacks and a decent quality coffee. It’s next door to the souvenir shop and the cultural centre. The girl who works there speaks English and she’s super friendly and helpful; told me to be careful with my belongings if taking a swim at town’s beach.

The Bistro at White Rock close to Petite Barriere border with the DRC might be a little bit pricey, but the ambience is phenomenal with the terrace overlooking lake Kivu. There was a power cut one night and I counted something like 30+ flashes of lightening over the lake in one minute. And it went on like that for two hours – spectacular! Anyway, the chicken curry is good and so is their chicken with stir-fry veggies. Bradts says the drinks are expensive, maybe the spirits and cocktails are, but Primus was 1k and Coke RWF500 – not terribly dissimilar to other places. The Bistro has wi-fi.

Bought my postcards at Lake Kivu Serena hotel’s souvenir shop. This hotel has its private stretch of beach and a swimming pool. I forgot to ask if non guests can use their swimming facilities.

The walk to Rubona along the main road is nice. I visited the viewpoint at the village of Gitsamba. The viewpoint is maybe another 2km away from the junction with the main road and clearly signposted. The views of Lake Kivu are great and it’s possible to see Rubavu, Goma in the DRC and Rubona. Annoying kids with “good morning teacher” though- that’s all they knew in English. There is this nice lodge La Bella in Rubona close to entrance of the methane extraction plant area. Very pleasant with plenty of birds so don’t forget your binoculars. I had my lunch there, beef in tomato sauce and rice for 4.3k before heading back to Rubavu on moto taxi.

I think I’m going to stay in Rubona and not in Rubavu on my next visit to Rwanda.

 

Musanze for Volcanoes NP and Lake Burera

Rubavu-Musanze for 1.1k in one hour on a bus; Kigali-Musanze 1.7k with Kigali Safaris. This was the first time I had to deal with touts and it was boring having to get rid of two persistent ones at Musanze’s bus terminal. Apparently, arranging 4×4 transportation to trailheads and gorilla tracking is a big business in Musanze. Musanze should have everything you need: cheap and decent accommodation, plenty of food choices, supermarkets and it is probably the best value for money town in Rwanda.

I don’t think there are any major sights in Musanze, but travellers tend to base themselves there for hiking volcanoes, tracking gorillas or visiting Lake Burera. There were signs for visiting caves all over the town; didn’t have time to visit any and to be truthful, had no idea where to look for the caves; one sign in Muzanze was pointing to the Rubavu direction and there was another sign at the entrance of Volcanoes NP, which is some 5k from Musanze, stating that caves are only 200m away in the direction of the village?! Would these be the same complex of caves, is it worth visiting, where is or where are the entrances etc? – maybe someone else can help.

Bradt: La Paillote Gorilla Place (not to be confused with La Paillote Restaurant) is not there any longer and Lava Café is gone too.

I stayed at Tourist Resthouse Hotel and this was a great budget option for a single traveller; 8k gets you a clean room and hot water. Sylvia the receptionist was kind and super helpful. No wi-fi. Internet shop, the cheapest in Rwanda, is one block away opposite La Paillote Restaurant; they won’t allow wi-fi connection but you’d need to use their PCs.

Vision 2020 restaurant is OK, but my hotel had a better buffet. The final cost depends on how much meat you put on your plate.

 

Lake Burera

RWF400 on a minibus from Musanze to the village of Kidaho, then 2k on moto taxi from Kidaho to Musangabo Peninsula viewpoint, this include 30-45mins wait. I’d walk if I had someone with me as the viewpoint is only 4km away from the village. The views of the lake are great and the setting sun behind the Muhabura volcano was spectacular. I’d definitely recommend late afternoon, but not too late as you want to be back in the village at least one hour before dark in order to secure transportation back to Musanze.

 

Gorilla tracking, Volcanoes NP

I met people who were under impression that the gorilla tracking permit can only be arranged through agencies which is not true.

You can book your permit in person or by phone +252 57 65 14 or by writing to: reservation@rwandatourism.com but you can only pay by bank transfer if you’re doing booking from abroad. You can pay USD750 in cash or with bank card at RDB offices in Kigali, Rubavu/Gisenyi or at Volcano NP entrance gate – this option should be only considered by those who are flexi, not constrained by timings and OK to hang around for a while – otherwise, if tight with time then do book well ahead and pay by bank transfer.

If you book online you can then collect the permit at RDB offices in Kigali, Rubavu/Gisenyi or at the Volcano NP entrance gate. The booking is only confirmed once they have your money in their bank account.

If you’re travelling around the region with plenty of time on your hands, and don’t want to log in your bank account in the internet shop then send a reservation request. They may hold your request for a few days so you can pay in cash or with bank card at their offices.

Tourist Information Center in Central Kigali is open Monday to Friday: 7am-5pm; Saturday and Sunday: 8am-12am, Every last Saturday in the month: 12am to 2pm and Closed on Public Holidays. It’s on the main roundabout in central Kigali inside that brand new building with the little white Eiffel Tower on the top of it – impossible to miss. Enter through West Gate and the offices are on the ground floor. Ignore the security at the entrance if they tell you that the offices are closed on Sunday – I collected and pay for my permit on Sunday at 8.30am.

 

Tourist Information Center

KN 4 Avenue

Building: Grand Pension Plaza, Downtown

P.O. Box: 6239 Kigali, Rwanda

Tel: +250 252 573 396/576514

Email: reservation@rwandatourism.com

 

No idea about opening times of other RDB offices allowing the collection of your permit.

 

The tour operators recommend to spend the night in Ruhengeri/Musanze before visiting gorillas. You don’t have to spend night in Musanze, but it’d be much easier if you do. The hotel in Musanze should be able to arrange 4×4 transportation and it should cost anything up to USD100.

In case it’s only one person then it’ll be cheaper to take a moto taxi from Musanze at 6.30am to the entrance gate for USD3 (Sylvia the receptionist negotiated the details with my moto taxi driver the night before), then share 4×4 with others who already arrived by one and then pay for your share.

In the unlikely event that no one wants to take you with them, then it’s possible to arrange 4×4 with rangers at the park entrance for USD100 per 4×4, driver and waiting time included.

The only disadvantage of doing it this way is that you’ll be visiting the group of gorillas not of your choice, but out of choice of whomever you depend on the 4×4 transportation. What I did was: I made my mind up which group I want to visit, placed my request discretely onto the park rangers (remember, they have the final say on what group you’re going to visit), joined the party who had the same preferences and only then I asked for help with sharing 4×4. Worked perfectly well for me and the chances are high it’ll work for you considering that only two of us came to the gate without their prearranged 4×4 and c.60 others in at least 25 4x4s.

 

Also, bear in mind that some gorilla groups are harder to reach than others and require moderate to high levels of fitness. The gorilla families’ section at the bottom of this page should be helpful in placing your preference at the park gate:

 

http://www.rdb.rw/tourism-and-conservation/gorilla-trekking.html

 

Visiting the Susa family

 

Rough drive followed by a gentle to moderate hike. The hike gets harder from the bamboo forest upwards and it becomes almost torturous having to climb steeply into the gorilla territory proper. The nettles are ferocious and they even go through the toughest of jeans. The sting is not just itchy but painful; on a positive side, discomfort disappears after 10 minutes providing you don’t scratch! Then all trouble get forgotten once you reach gorillas some 3-4 hours from the place you got off your 4×4. The sight of some 40+ of them appearing from bushes around is something that may leave you shaking with excitement. Not saying anything else in order not to ruin that special element of surprise.

 

 

One thought on “2014 trip report

  1. Ariane Umurerwa (@ArianeUmurerwa) says:

    Aww, I am Rwandan and I think you can guess how it feels to read something like this. I was just talking to a lady from Canada. She has been in Rwanda for one year now, and she told me that she has been around giving some expertise help but that she has not stayed in one place for so long… In fact she mentioned that it is not easy to communicate with people (English issue)… Hopefully this will get better too..

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