Rwanda is the Land of a Thousand Hills. It is green with a great climate year round. Kigali is clean and organized with restaurants, a cinema, and lovely homes. And although Kigali is growing, you can still get anywhere you want by car in about 15 minutes. This is Kigali in a nutshell!
Rwanda consists of roughly 4 regions: the rainforest in the south of the country (Nyungwe); the savanna-like area in the east of the country (where you can find Akagera National Park); the lush and green volcanoes in the north of the country (Virunga), where the impressive mountain gorillas live; and of course Lake Kivu in the west of the country, with peaceful towns and waterfront hotels in Kibuye and Gisenyi.
Major roads in Rwanda are not broad and always wind through the mountains, but they are asphalted and quite well-maintained. The country is very small and from Kigali, which is situated more or less in the center of the county, all borders can be reached in about 3 hours.
Many people still associate Rwanda with the genocide, but it has been decades since that tragic event. Of course that period has had a large impact on society and will never be forgotten, but Rwanda has moved forward at an amazing pace. It’s a very clean country–plastic bags are forbidden!–and quite safe. Water, electricity, and internet are all reasonably reliable. Rubbish is collected at the door. Moreover, the social climate is pleasant: people are mild-mannered and sweet. So day-to-day life in Rwanda today is quite unlike anything in Rwandan history.
Visitors to Rwanda need a visa. 30-day tourist visas may be fairly easily obtained online. Rwandan residents may arrange for a special pass that enables them to cross into neighboring countries very easily.
On average, the daytime temperature in Kigali is about 26 degrees C the whole year round. At night the temperature drops to about 17 degrees. Although there are roughly two rainy periods and two dry periods, it can be dry in the rainy season and can rain in the dry season. July and August tend to be drier and hotter, as are December and January. The rain showers can be very heavy, but it seldom rains the whole day.
The principal and indigenous language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda, which is spoken by nearly all Rwandans. As a former Belgian colony, Rwanda’s second language used to be French, but after the genocide in 1994, English began to rise in importance because it was the second language of the new leadership. In 2008, the government removed French from the list of official languages and made English the language of instruction. Many in the younger generation and all people working in government speak some English; nevertheless, French is often the best way for foreigners to communicate with older people.
There are some good clinics and international doctors in the country, for first questions, first aid, treatment of tropical diseases etc. For more complicated issues, people tend to go abroad. Depending on the medical issue, this can be Kenya or South Africa or your home country. A yellow fever vaccination is compulsory, in order to obtain a visa. More vaccinations are recommended, consult your own doctor on this. There is a risk of malaria, also in Kigali, because the altitude in the city variates between 1500 and 1800 meter. But the risk is smaller in the city, than in the countryside. Everybody uses a mosquito net at night and good mosquito repellant especially around dawn is advisable. Some people do take malaria tablets (Lariam or Malerone) -especially short term visitors- others do not.
Not only Rwanda, but also Kigali is situated on hills. The altitude varies between 1500 and 1700 meters in the city. Main roads are asphalted and there are some traffic lights and street name signs. Secondary roads are still dirt and can get bad in the rainy season. There is some public transport, by buses and small minibuses, but these are not conveniently run. Taxi’s are scarse but moto-taxi’s are widely available. Although the city is growing, traffic is not yet chaotic and most of the time you can reach most destinations in Kigali within 15 minutes.
Nowadays there are quite some supermarkets, that have a growing range of products. Imported products are expensive though. Sometimes products are temporarily not available, due to logistic problems. It can happen that you have to visit more supermarkets, to find all the products you are looking for. Of course you can find all local produce for little money on the markets.
There is still little entertainment in Kigali, but there is a bowling alley and a cinema. There are many restaurants, that offer a complete range of dishes and restaurants are still affordable. The music scene is growing and there are many bars and some clubs.
Although there are apartment buildings, they are pricey. So almost everybody lives in a house or people share a house. Most houses are relatively spacious and have gardens. Houses are quite comfortable, but kitchens and appliances can be a bit out of date. Kigali is very safe and so not many people live in a compound. But houses are normally fenced off and usually everybody has a guard/gardener.
For more reading on Rwanda as a tourist destination, see the Bradt guide (5th edition) on Rwanda. Also visit the website of the Rwanda Tourist Board.
For more reading on the country itself, just a small list of many book availables on Rwanda mainly in the IKEREZI bookshop in Kacyru:
- Baking Cakes in Kigali – Gaile Parkin
- A Sunday at the Pool ik Kigali – Gil Courtemanche
- Land of Thousand Hills/my life in Rwanda – Rosamond Halsey Carr
For a more visual impression, watch this short video on Rwanda.