Give me your Rwanda travelogue
February 5, 2008 7:26 AM   Subscribe

Have you been to Rwanda since 1994? Tell me everything you can.

I'm probably going to Rwanda for March, and I am interested in anything you can tell me about what you experienced and what I can expect there. In addition, any practical tips would be appreciated - hotels, getting around, weather, appropriate work attire for a woman, restaurants, money, ATMs (?), cell phones (I have a SIM card), etc. Money is not really a concern. I'll be in Kigali and elsewhere. I'll be there for work, but haven't ruled out a trip to see the gorillas. If you have tips about that, I'll take them as well.
posted by n'muakolo to Travel & Transportation around Rwanda (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have some friends in Kenya who you might be able to contact who have spent significant time working in Kigali. Drop me a line. I should note that because of the current Kenya crisis, I would not expect your stay in Kigali to be hospitable. The fuel shortages there are becoming remarkably apparent.
posted by parmanparman at 7:53 AM on February 5, 2008

I was there in 2004 - mainly Kigali but also did a trip to see the gorillas (amazing, btw). Mefi Mail me for more information.
posted by buddha9090 at 11:24 AM on February 5, 2008

Best answer: I travel to Rwanda regularly and just returned from there on Friday. As far as what you can expect from the people, here's some generalizations: I've found them to generally be very friendly and accommodating. They really don't like to say "no". They are rather reserved in comparison to folks from neighboring countries. This probably has to do with the history...

Regarding the crisis in Kenya, the difference was minimal compared to my previous visits. Transport was maybe 5% more expensive when traveling long distances. As far as things making your trip diffiucilt, I'd be more worried about the earthquake that happened yesterday than the crisis in Kenya. But that's not really a big deal either according to those I've talked to.

The Hotel Impala is a nice place to stay. The have free wi-fi that works about 50% of the time. It's located right in the center of the city and is very new. It's a good value compared to the other hotels in the area. Certainly better than Okapi which is about the same price and right next door. Both of these hotels are in walking distance of restaurants and internet cafes.

This website has a good list of hotels (rates too), but I only have experience with Okapi and Impala. Another that I've heard good things about is Chez Lando, but It's farther from the center so the walking around is more difficult.

Safety: Rwanda is incredibly safe from a crime perspective for a tourist. The only risk is pickpocketing. In all my years there, I've never heard of violence befalling a tourist. Do watch out for the drivers though, they can be crazy.

Clothing: Wear whatever you like in the city, no problem there. In the rural areas, dress is also not a big deal. I don't know that I'd walk around in a miniskirt (if I were a woman) in the villages, but T-shirt and Jeans is fine. Unless your personal style is really outrageous, I wouldn't give attire a second thought. Whatever makes you feel comfortable.

Weather: The rainy seasons are feb-may and sept to dec. It will probably rain a lot when you are there. The climate is surprisingly mild for a country on the equator due to it's high elevation. Kigali is at about the same altitude as Denver. You may need a sweater at night. Definatly bring a raincoat.

The currency is the Rwandan frank and it exchanges for about 540 RWF/$. Things are pretty cheap: a steak, French fries and a coke costs about 6$ at a nice restaurant. The beef there is very good, especially when you order grilled brochettes. The chicken is not so good in my experience.

The gorillas are pretty awesome, but I think it costs about 500$ for 45 minutes with them these days. The guides let you get really close to the gorillas, I spent a good 15 min less than 10' from a silverback. You have to make reservations in advance to ensure a spot in a group.

Cellphones are simple over there, if you have a gsm phone, just buy an MTN sim card and a bunch of prepaid phone cards. Rates go down after midnight. Calling the US after midnight costs about $0.30 per minute if I recall correctly. Local calls and texts are very cheap.

Motorcycle taxies are a great way to get around if you like a little adventure. The guys in the green vests are licensed by the government and they are required to give you a helmet. You should wear the helmet and stay aware of traffic while you are riding a moto taxi. Always negotiate the price before begin the journey. Getting around Kigali should cost about 3-500 RWF per trip.

Always negotiate with taxi drivers and shopkeepers, but not at resturants. People will try to charge you a "muzungu" price. Muzungu means white man but they use it for all westerners.

When you are driving around the countryside, little kids will chase after you car and yell muzungu! muzungu! Chupa Chupa! Chupa means bottle. It is acceptable to toss them empty water bottles out the car window as you pass. Just make sure they don't hit anyone and that they land in a safe place so the kids don't get hit by a car when retrieving the bottle. Sometimes when village kids are feeling feisty, they will yell "muzutu" instead of "muzungu". "Muzutu" means "asshole" and they get a kick out of seeing you mistake "muzutu" for "muzungu" and continue smiling as they call you an asshole. There is no malice behind this, it's just kids being kids.

In villages, people will be very curious about you and will stare at you to no end. It's good to greet them with "muramutze" (AM) or "mwirewe" (PM). "Muraho" also works any time of day. "Amakuru" means "how are you?", but literally, it means "News". In fact, the local TV news show is called "Amakuru". The proper response to "amakuru?" is "nimeza", which means "I'm fine". "Thank you" is "marakoze". The word for money is "amafaranga", you'll probably hear the kids yelling this at your car as well. Don't throw them money, only bottles.

Language: French is very useful. If you plan to get by with English, you will need to be patient.

Night clubs: two night clubs that I can recomend are "cadillac" and "club planet". Fairly upscale and frequented by forigners and wealthier Rwandan alike. If you are looking for something more local and gritty check out "sky hotel disco". Things generally don't get poppin' till after midnight. Stay aware of pickpockets at the discos.

Be very careful about talking about the genocide, it is still a very sensitive subject. Under NO circumstances should you mention "hutu" or "tutsi" (the two tribes that were on opposite ends of the genocide) unless you are talking with somone who appears to be VERY open to talking about the genocide and you are in private. Some folks are more forthcoming than others, but do not initiate the conversation. Pretty much everyone you meet in Rwanda over the age of 20 has been through a tremendous amount of suffering during those horrible years.

For more info on the genocide, I recommend "We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families" (A general overview, pretty depressing), and "Machete season" (Interviews with the killers, very disturbing but is useful for understanding the mentality behind the atrocity)

The Kigali genocide memorial is very well done and I highly recommend a visit. It is some very heavy stuff though, so be prepared to be a bit shaken-up on your way out.

Feel free to MiFe mail me if you want more info. I may even be there in March and I could show you around a bit. It's an amazing place and I hope you have a great trip!
posted by Popcorn at 12:11 PM on February 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

Also, check out Kigali on Google earth, they just updated the images and the resolution is very high. A great way to get an idea of the layout.
posted by Popcorn at 12:13 PM on February 5, 2008

Also, some other destinations in Rwanda

Gisinyi Town is a large city on the north shore of Lake Kivu. There are some nice beach hotels there and the lake is beautiful. It is right across the Congolese border from Goma in DRCongo. They are essentially the same city. Goma is a bit of a nut house and depending on political conditions in congo, you may want to skip Goma. On the flip side, it is amazing to see the difference between Rwandan and Congolese culture on opposite sides of the same city.

There is also a city called Kibuye that is a bit quieter than Ginsinyi and is also on the lake. It's a bit more scenic too. If you're looking for a relaxing getaway, Kibuye is probably your best bet. The lake in both cities is safe to swim in. I have done so many times with no problems. This is in contrast to Lake Victoria (the next lake up the rift valley in Uganda) which is full of parasites.

Finally, there is Akegera National Park in the east of the country. I've never been there, but it is supposed to be pretty amazing. Feb-March is the best time to see animals (so I hear). The terrain is much more savanna-like than in the western part of the country. As I understand it, you can go on "Kenya-style" safaris there and see lions and giraffes and the like.
posted by Popcorn at 12:35 PM on February 5, 2008

I just came back from Rwanda, and my gf currently lives and works there, (I'll try to get her to write something for you later)...

Buy a Rwandan Sim card and just re-up while you're there (your phone needs to be unlocked and be quad-band of course, call your carrier and they'll help you out) ATT charged me an insane amount for hardly any talk time...

Popcorn has it amazingly right about most things. I'll say get up on a foggy day before sunset and go walking, the sun looks amazing as it breaks through the fog...

Personally I was getting insane amount of staring in Kigali, although after thinking about it, it was more Rwandans trying to figure out where I was from (I guess I don't look like a normal Mzungu).

And I loved taking the motobikes too! Much safer than in Uganda...
posted by stratastar at 1:00 PM on February 5, 2008

Here's some more info from a MeFi Mail

Every time I go there I take doxycycline for malaria. I think the altitude makes it less of an issue but its defiantly there to some degree. Expats I know don't take anything if they are staying for a long time and they sometimes get malaria.

Regarding money, I don't think there are any international ATMs there, but that may be changing. I bring US dollars and exchange them there. You get the best exchange rate for new 100$ bills in good condition. Try to get them post 2004. I do my exchanges at the forex places that are two blocks uphill and one block to the right from the main roundabout.

I don't use a guide book as I'm usually with some locals who I work with.

Cultural taboos: None that I can think aside from treating the genocide with sensitivity. Maybe I was a little too strict in saying not to mention it at all in casual conversation. Some locals will have no problem talking about it, just tread lightly, allow them to decide how deep they want to go, and don't mention the tribal names where you can be overheard.

Also, purple is the color used to represent death/mourning so keep that in mind when giving gifts or if you are painting houses or something.
posted by Popcorn at 8:48 AM on February 7, 2008

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