Rwanda is a relatively stable East African country, as well as being easy, safe and simple to travel around. It is surrounded by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Plugs: Two-pin round
Dialling code: +250
Currency: Rwandan franc – $1=671RWF
Language: Kinyarwanda, French, English, Kiswahili
It’s been nearly two decades since the civil war and genocide of 1994 that devastated this tiny country, and it’s come a long way. Growth has been good, driven by coffee and tea exports, and expanding tourism. Rwanda is also trying to reinvent itself as a regional tech hub, by rolling out free citywide and eventually nationwide wireless connectivity.
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It’s been a busy year for RwandAir, which announced codeshare agreements with Air Uganda and South African Airways, along with the formation of a strategic alliance with Kenya Airways. RwandAir also added Accra (Ghana), Douala (Cameroon) and Juba (South Sudan) to its route network.
On the hotel front, 2013 saw the Protea Hospitality Group sign a deal to open the Protea Hotel Kigali, whilst Carlson Rezidor will open both a Radisson Blu and a Park Inn by Radisson in 2014.
Other international groups with their eye on Rwanda are Marriott and Starwood. The latter announced the signing of four new Sheraton hotels in Mauritania, Rwanda, Guinea and South Sudan in 2013. The Sheraton Kigali is expected to open by 2018, whilst Marriott hope to open their Kigali property in December 2014.
Kigali International Airport is the country’s primary airport. It is the main air gateway for all destinations in the country, and in addition serves as a transit airport for Goma and Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Kigali International Airport is small but efficient, and only 10 minutes from the city centre.
“The airport experience is quick, poses no problems for business travellers, and flights generally arrive and depart on time,” says Karin Sieberhagen, Sales & Marketing Manager South Africa for Serena Hotels. “You are not allowed to take plastics into Rwanda, which is very eco-orientated, and the arrival of baggage is reliable and fast, as is the customs processing.”
The Pearl Airport Lounge in Kigali welcomes passengers of any airline and class of travel. It is located airside after the security checks next to Gate 1 and is open 24 hours a day.
“You can find taxis outside the airport, where they also have a very helpful information desk should you require assistance with getting into Kigali,” says Sieberhagen. “While you wait at the airport, there is a popular Rwandan coffee shop brand, Bourbon Coffee Shop, which I recommend.”
Kigali accommodation includes the Hotel des Milles Collines, which featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Movie buffs hoping to stay where the film was set will be disappointed though, as the film was produced in South Africa. The hotel is now open after extensive renovation.
Hotels within an eight kilometre radius of Kigali International Airport include: Hotel Chez Lando; Top Tower Hotel; Step Town Motel and Stipphotel.
The most recognisable brand name is Serena, with the Kigali Serena part of the group that also has properties in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Uganda.
Serena will get some serious competition in 2014, when the likes of Radisson Blu, Park Inn by Radisson, Protea and Marriott make their presence felt.
Few places in Rwanda accept credit cards, so travellers need to carry cash, particularly if travelling outside of Kigali. International ATMs are increasingly available, yet unreliable in Rwanda, and ATMs in Rwanda accept only Visa ATM cards.
Rwanda, along with Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana, has simplified the visa application process by offering e-visas. Biometric border management is also in place.
A passport, valid for six months from the date of entry is required to enter Rwanda, along with a certificate of vaccination for yellow fever.
Nationals of the following countries may visit Rwanda without a visa for a period of up to 90 days: USA, Germany, Tanzania, DRC, Uganda, Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, United Kingdom, Sweden, Singapore, Hong Kong and Burundi. If arriving by air, citizens of many other European countries may get an eight-day single entry visa on arrival, which can be extended by the immigration office in Kigali.
It’s important to note that a single-entry visa on arrival is only available to nationals who do not have a Rwandan embassy or consulate in their country. Generally, Rwandan embassy and consulates can issue three month tourist visas for around the same price as the eight-day single entry visa, without much hassle.
Local SIM cards can be purchased at many local stores and at Kigali International Airport. Travellers should be sure to check whether their local SIM can make international calls and send text messages, as these services often have to be specifically activated.
There are three active Rwanda mobile network operators: MTN, Tigo and Airtel.
MTN and Tigo’s networks each reach more than 98% of the population, whereas Airtel’s population coverage currently stands at 15%.
All travellers need to provide of yellow fever vaccination. There are special precautions for malaria (moderate risk), hepatitis A and typhoid. Food is generally safe to eat if well-cooked and hot. If in doubt, stick with larger restaurants in the cities or your hotel. Medical and dental facilities are limited, and some medicines are in short supply or unavailable in Rwanda.
Rwanda is largely considered safe for visitors. The exceptions are certain locations along the borders of the DRC and Burundi.
“You feel safe and traffic generally flows, as there is much less congestion than in some other regional capitals,” says Sieberhagen. “Many people speak French, and English is spoken as a second language.”
Travellers need to understand that Rwanda is recovering from a civil war and genocide in which approximately a million people were murdered. Many lost relatives and friends. Remember to be sensitive, as most people today are trying to forget, and it is considered impolite to ask someone about their ethnic origin.
Rwanda is a very conservative society – most people dress modestly, especially women.
Greetings are extremely important in Rwanda. It is impolite not to return a greeting or to start a conversation without a proper greeting. Younger persons must greet older persons first, and women greet men first.
Pointing with the finger or hand is impolite – instead, the head is used, with the chin and mouth jutting in the direction indicated.
“Kigali is a lovely city,” says Mbali Mngomezulu, Sales and Marketing Director for Birchwood Hotel & O.R Tambo Conference Centre. “No non-biodegradable plastic bags are allowed into the country via the airport, there are MTN hotspots throughout the city, and the Serena Hotel is lovely, with good food and great service.”
Air Uganda – www.air-uganda.com
Brussels – www.brusselsairlines.com
Ethiopian – www.ethiopianairlines.com
Kenya – www.kenya-airways.com
RwandAir – www.rwandair.com
SAA – www.flysaa.com
Turkish – www.turkishairlines.com
Alpha Palace – www.alphapalacehotel.com
Chez Lando – www.hotelchezlando.com
Dereva – www.derevahotel.com
Golf Hills Residence – www.golfhillsresidence.com
Gorillas Hotel – www.gorillashotels.com
Hellenique – www.helleniquehotel.onlc.fr
Hotel des Milles Collines – www.millecollines.net
Iris Guest House – www.irisguesthouse-rw.com
Isimbi – www.hotelisimbi.com
Kigali Serena – www.serenahotels.com
Lemigo – www.lemigohotel.com
Le Printemps – www.leprintempshotel.com
Manor Hotel – www.themanorrwanda.com
Okapi – www.okapihotelrwanda.com
Step Town Hotel – www.step-town.com
Stipp Hotel – www.stipphotelrwanda.com
Top Tower Hotel – www.toptowerhotel.com
Umubano Hotel – www.umubanohotel.rw
Europcar – www.europcar.com