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Jennifer of the blog, From Mississippi with Love, who previously wrote about Ethiopia, Nice and Cote d’Azur, France, Lebanon, Bhutan, Nairobi, Tel Aviv, Namibia and Victoria Falls, recently went and here are her practical tips to Rwanda.
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The land of a thousand hills made known to most of our generation through the movie Hotel Rwanda. A tragic past containing both colonization and genocide, Rwanda has since moved forward to a brilliant and bright future. The country now boasts of a growing tourism industry, health outcomes among the best in developing countries, and a burgeoning private industry.
Kigali International Airport is a fairly small airport that is pretty efficient and offers wifi. Once you land, you will need to use that wifi to complete the visa process. The tourist visa will last for 90 days and will be renewed every time you exit and reenter the country. For the budget conscious, sometimes it is cheaper to fly into neighboring Entebbe, Uganda, and take the bus into Kigali. However, this will take a bit more time!
Proof of yellow fever vaccination will be required at any destination you fly to as Rwanda is in the yellow fever zone. Beware that plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda, so be sure to conceal that in your luggage if you have any!
Rwanda uses the Rwandan Franc (RWF 847 to 1 USD). Most places will also accept the US dollar. ATMs are located throughout the country, though definitely carry cash as you may not be able to easily withdraw money.
Getting around Kigali is fairly easy. There is a system of motorcycle taxis that are readily available and easy to use. These are the cheapest form of transport, and prices will vary depending on your location and distance traveled. Matatus, or minibuses, also offer an affordable way to travel the city. Unlike most matatus in other African countries, these are still relatively new and well-maintained.
Taxis are more expensive, but also readily available. Most hotels are happy to help you call taxis if you need one, and you can often negotiate with drivers to wait or come back for you for an extra fee. If you’re feeling more adventurous, car rentals are also available.
The official language of Rwanda is French, but English can be used in Kigali.
As the capital city that caters to an increasing number of expatriates and tourists, Kigali has no shortage of things to see, do, and eat. Additionally, excursions out of Kigali are easy to come by given the small size of the country.
- Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre: On the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the memorial center opened and is the site where over 250,000 people are buried. Entry is free, but donations are welcome. The visit begins with a quick video; the audio guide is available for an extra free, with discounts for students or East African Community residents. One of the saddest but truly touching experiences in Rwanda.
- Kimironko Market: Local market that sells fruits, vegetables, rice, and other foods, but also has a secondhand clothing and fabric market.
- Hotel des Mille Collins: The hotel where the events in the movie Hotel Rwanda took place. The hotel has two restaurants, a pool, internet, and a gift shop. Good for wandering around, admiring the artwork, as well as for a drink.
- Inema Art Center: An incredible little art gallery founded by two brothers, Inema is an attempt to tap the potential of art in Rwanda. Incredibly, they use their burgeoning international exposure to help create opportunities for Rwanda’s most underserved — to use creativity as a means to a productive livelihood by holding classes for kids.
- Restaurants: Republika (fantastic terrace seating outside with a delicious array of local food, which we returned to multiple times), Heaven Restaurant (super fresh fruit and vegetable juices and dishes), Rwanda Public Library (café on the roof of the library is a great brunch spot!).
Buying a SIM card or data is an extremely complicated process that will take a lot of time and paperwork. Some bars and cafes will offer free internet, as well as most hotels. If you are comfortable without continuous internet access, this type of intermittent access will allow you to accomplish most things; however, if you are someone that needs to be connected all the time, then roaming options should be explored with your cellular carrier.
Generally, clothing norms in Rwanda is fairly western, and oftentimes there you’ll see girls in high heels and short dresses for a night out. Personally, I would still suggest to dress more conservatively to avoid drawing undue attention to yourself.
Kigali is relatively safe, but do be aware of your surroundings. Pickpockets frequent crowded areas so avoid walking alone after dark. The police are generally helpful, but it may take longer than expected to get any results. We got into a minor car accident on our way out of Kigali and ended up settling with the other party on the spot rather than go through the hassle of a police report after waiting around for two hours.
About the Author
Growing up in rural Mississippi, Jennifer always dreamed of exploring the world. Since those days, she’s developed irresistible wanderlust and called a number of places home: US (San Diego, San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia), England, Malawi, Liberia, Israel, Kenya, and most recently, France. She’s in love with her sports teams (the New Orleans Saints and Manchester City), running (currently training for the Berlin marathon), and adrenaline sports (skydiving, cliff jumping, bungee jumping, sandboarding). One day, she hopes to utilize her love of cooking and sports by opening up her own Southern-style boozy brunch sports pub. Follow her on her blog, From Mississippi with Love or @jennnnnwong on instagram.
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The exchange rate is currently RWF 847 to 1 USD, here it says 1500 LL to 1 USD.
I would add that Rwanda has 4 national languages, Kinyarwanda, French, Swahili, and English. Most of the population speaks solely Kinyarwanda. French is not very useful in getting around and I actually find if someone speaks a second languge it is more likely English, since French has not been taught in schools for many years.