Travel to Rwanda: First Impressions

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read our disclosure and privacy policy for more information.

Last Updated on November 2, 2017 by Audrey Scott

Rwanda.  A country where the first thing that comes to mind when people hear the name: the horrific, tragic genocide of twenty years ago. When we mentioned that we were looking forward to visiting Rwanda, we weren’t entirely surprised by the confused looks and cocked heads: “Why?

Rwanda Travel, Lake Kivu
Another day comes to a close on Lake Kivu, Rwanda.

We weren't headed to see the mountain gorillas as most people visiting Rwanda purely for tourism might do. We'd read about trekking, volcanoes and lakes, but mainly we were curious and wanted to see the country for ourselves. Atrocities should not be forgotten, but we know that people and places are resilient and they evolve, that life moves on. As interested as we were to learn more about the Rwandan genocide and its causes, our focus was to understand better Rwanda’s present and the future it hopes to build.

So what did we find? What surprised us about Rwanda? Read on.

If you're looking for travel tips and recommendations for independent budget travel in Rwanda skip ahead to: Rwanda Travel Tips. If you want more photos, you can find our Rwandan photo gallery here.

1) Rwanda = The Switzerland of Africa?

The “Singapore of Africa” or “Switzerland of Africa.” Whichever analogy you choose, the meaning is clear: order, cleanliness, calm, rules enforced. To a surprising degree.

We arrived in Rwanda after a long bus ride from Kampala, Uganda. Even at the border, we could sense a different feeling crossing into Rwanda – greater calm, slower movement. Streets were wide and clean, with little to no trash to be found. Motorcycle taxi drivers wore helmets and safety vests. Honking was almost non-existent. There was none of the frenzy of humanity and movement we’d become accustomed to in Kampala. This order isn't reserved for cities, either. As we trekked through villages in Musanze district, we found front yard gardens and paths there were also well maintained.

This is an image of Rwanda vastly different than most people imagine — with genocide, chaos, and lawlessness still in mind. After speaking to both locals and expats who had lived there for a while, the emphasis on order began to make sense. To rebuild a country after an atrocity like the genocide, where 100 days in the spring of 1994 left more than one million Rwandans dead (approximately 14% of the population), a society that hoped to recover at all might need a sense of security and stability. In some cases, order and rules can help achieve this.

With stability –- and an eye to human rights as a basis of discourse — reconciliation and rebuilding can occur.

2) Ubiquitous Rwandan genocide reminders

Our visit this year to Rwanda coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. The calendar year is packed with events for remembrance, Kwibuka in the local language of Kinyarwanda.

Throughout the country, we found memorial signs that read Kwibuka 20: Remember, Unite, Renew.  Signs were everywhere, in big towns and small, serving as a reminder that every village and every person was affected by the genocide.

We visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali to learn more about the conditions that led up to an environment where such systematic killing could occur. It very well done and provides the historical and socio-economic background of the Hutus and Tutsis, as well as the propaganda and psychological games that were used to motivate ordinary people to kill their neighbors. The narrative is also quite damning of the role of the Belgian colonial powers in actively fomenting distrust between Hutus and Tutsis. It shines a light also on the fact that the international community turned a blind eye to the events even as United Nations officials working in Rwanda called for help. Although some may argue the exact figures, it’s estimated that as few as 4,000 U.N. troops sent in at the beginning could have prevented the slaughter that unfolded over the next 100 days.  

All that said, the memorial's message is as even and even-handed as one could imagine emerging in the wake of such an atrocity. If you visit Rwanda, we highly recommend spending a few hours there.

We didn’t make any special trips to other genocide museums or memorials, including those that marked mass graves or churches where people were slaughtered. Quite honestly, there was only so much we could digest emotionally.

3) Rwanda, more than mountain gorillas

Most travelers come to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas at Volcanoes National Park and leave, often to nearby countries as part of a broader trip in the region. This is really a shame as the country has some incredibly beautiful landscape, including lakes, volcanos and mountains. Not to mention the opportunity to visit local markets and villages to get a feel for everyday life in Rwanda. Note: We did not go mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda as we were fortunate to see them in neighboring Uganda.

Rwanda Travel, Musanze Villages
Playing games with school kids on their way to class.

We focused our time in Rwanda on three areas – the town of Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu, Musanze district in the north and the capital city of Kigali. Although we could have explored other areas such as Akagera National Park and Nyungwe Forest, we were traveling with our friend, Shannon, and found ourselves content to take our time and relax after being on the road for a heavy travel month in Ethiopia and Uganda.

Our first stop in Kibuye on the shores of Lake Kivu with a peaceful (and cheap) guest house Home Saint Jean run by the Catholic church overlooking the lake was just what we needed. I’m almost embarrassed by how much time we spent on the balcony gazing out over the lake, watching the light play games and absorbing the changes in the sky as the day progressed.

Visiting Lake Kivu, Rwanda
Early morning view of Lake Kivu from our room.

Rwanda Travel, Relaxing at Lake Kivu
Late afternoon clouds move in on Lake Kivu for a sunset storm.

In Musanze, the jumping off point for Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda's gorilla treks, we took a couple of day trips by jeep and on foot to see the twin lakes (Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo), the nearby volcanoes, and a scattering of local towns and villages.
Rwanda Travel, Mount Muhabura
Deciding not to take on Mount Muhabura, the extinct volcano behind us.

Rwanda Travel, Twin Lakes
Farms and homes on the hills, Twin Lakes near Musanze district.

If you’re curious about the practical travel details for Kibuye, Musanze and Kigali, we’ve provided them at the end of this article here.

4) First country to ban plastic bags

Open your bags, please,” the Rwandan official asked at the land border crossing with Uganda.

While this is not an uncommon request at borders around the world – officials often search for contraband like alcohol, drugs, banned fruits and vegetables – Rwandan officials hunt for something more curious, plastic bags.

Border officials rifled through our backpacks. When they found a plastic bag, they would force us to remove its contents and hand it over. A bit of an inconvenience, but I was happy to forfeit a few bags for a worthwhile cause. If you’ve ever seen a landscape swamped in plastic bags, you’ll understand what I mean. And you'll understand why Rwanda takes the approach they do.

So it is that Rwanda is the first country in the world to ban plastic bags (2006). And they take it seriously.

Rwanda Travel, Village near Musanze
Village scene near Musanze in northern Rwanda, plastic bag free.

As you travel through the country, you’ll notice that it is remarkably — and quite beautifully — plastic bag free. And when you buy something, the store provides you a paper or woven bag instead.

A nationwide plastic bag ban. It’s possible, and it's an inspiration.

5) Inimitable African head-carrying balance

It’s not as if we'd never seen women carry things balanced on their heads before, but in Rwanda this practice seems to be taken to an entirely new level of artistry and color. A common scene on the street: four or five women walking, talking, laughing and gesticulating dramatically — all while keeping their necks perfectly erect and large baskets of food or agricultural tools on their heads steady.

The posture, strength and beauty of it all — incredible.  Would make the top models in the world jealous.

Rwanda Travel, Local People
No hands needed, Rwandan women show off their posture and strength.

6) The slow food movement is taken literally in Rwanda

One feature that struck us in Rwanda was the glacial pace of food preparation and restaurant service. As in, you often must invest hours and plan ahead for meals.

First off, there is no street food in Rwanda — for hygienic reasons, we're told. So options for a quick bite to eat are slim to none. So we often ate in restaurants, avoiding buffets where food had been sitting around, and ordering items a la carte.

We have no idea what was happening in those kitchens. At times, something as simple as beans and rice, fried chicken or pasta would take an hour or two – or sometimes several – to appear. This happened consistently, independent of the price level of the eating establishment. It progressed to the point where we were forced to strategize food ordering schedules several hours in advance to avoid becoming ravenous and gnawing on our hands.

I’m all for slow food and fresh ingredients, but Rwanda took it to a whole new extreme.

7) Overnight language switch from French to English

Parlez-vous français? Do you speak English?” This is how I approached everyone in Rwanda. I wasn’t linguistically schizophrenic. Rather, I just wanted to cover all communication bases. Older Rwandans often responded in French. Younger folks, English. Here’s why.

Until 2008, Rwandan schools and classes were administered in French language. Then one day, the government declared English the country’s official language in schools. Poof.  That was it.

The reasons for the switch are many: English is more of a universal business language, most of Rwanda’s neighbors are English-speaking, and shared business language promotes trade and exchange. Not to mention, the switch further distances the country from Belgium and France and its colonial history with them.

Rwanda Travel, Local Kids
A smile and wave, the universal language.

However, the sudden switch meant linguistic confusion as instructors accustomed to teaching in French were suddenly expected to teach in English. Sink or swim, I suppose. As time passes, the level of English will improve as more English-speaking teachers are integrated into the school system. For now, however, it’s an advantage to speak a little French while traveling in Rwanda.

8) Umuganda: Community Days

On the last Saturday of each month, all Rwandans are called upon for Umaganda (meaning “contribution”), a national day of mandatory community service. Rwandans are expected to show up to contribute to public projects, to help build and clean. If you don’t show up, you can expect a fine. (Expats we spoke to told us they are exempt, however. At least no one seems to pursue them should they choose not to participate.)

In addition to helping to keep the country clean and organized, community service days are also meant to strengthen social ties by encouraging all members across society to work together, to know both your neighbors and local government officials better. While this practice has been in place for over a century, it now plays a particularly important role in promoting unity and cooperation in Rwanda’s post-genocide culture and society.

Rwanda Travel, Village near Mt. Muhabura
Tidy roads and village in and around Mt. Muhabura

We didn’t have a chance to witness these community days in action, but I rather like the concept and appreciate the leadership and commitment required to maintain the practice.

9) Heavy influence of foreign aid

Although we’ve seen our share of foreign aid during our travels in the developing world, Rwanda stood out. In Kigali, our ride from the bus station to our hostel alone was striking. We were amazed by the shiny new buildings one after another, each owned and run be an aid organization — international, multinational, religious. Shiny cars, fences, fresh paint all stood out.

In the aftermath of the genocide, the international community contributed heavily to help rebuild the country. Much of this aid was based on need, but it was also doled out in part to assuage the guilt of the international and religious communities who didn’t do more to halt the genocide in the first place. Although the Rwandan government invests in education and infrastructure to help the country become a center for trade and business, aid still plays an outsized role in the country’s GDP (40% of it in 2011).

The effects of heavy foreign aid, both good and bad, are clear as one travels throughout the country. We rarely saw huts or shacks. More sturdy cement homes with shiny new tin roofs were the norm. Schools were in good condition and roads were sealed and so far in good shape. On the down side, one also felt an undercurrent of expectation on the side of local people that foreign money and resources will always be there – a stroke against self-reliance. Begging, even amongst kids wearing clean school uniforms, was the norm as they looked to foreigners for handouts. My hope is that that over time circumstances might conspire so that the Rwandan people believe more in themselves than in others, particularly when it comes to developing their own country.

10) Markets are where the action is

Although Rwanda may aim to be the Switzerland or Singapore of Africa, it’s still Africa. And its markets are where you can still find some action and lingering bits of refreshing chaos. Piles of everything from beautiful multi-colored broad beans to carved chunks of cassava root stir the senses.

Rwanda Travel, Markets
Learning about how to eat cassava at the Kibuye market.

In the open air markets we visited, we found people weren’t especially accustomed to seeing or interacting with wazungu (the plural of mzungu or “white person”). At first, locals appeared a bit wary or uncertain of us, but once we asked a few questions about what they were selling and how they consumed or used them — herbs, root vegetables, beans, sorghum, etc. -– they opened up and the fun ensued.

Note: Knowing how to speak a bit of French definitely helps, particularly among the older crowd.

Rwanda Travel Photo Gallery

Rwanda Budget Travel Tips

From our experience it seems as if most travelers in Rwanda are on a packaged tour and the country is aiming for a non-budget traveler crowd. It is possible to travel on a budget and arrange things independently, but it may take some extra time and effort. While public transportation between towns is efficient and reasonably priced, off track and independently arranged transport can by surprisingly pricey.

Here are our budget travel recommendations from our visit to Rwanda.

Kigali Travel Recommendations

For anything that you might want to know about Kigali – restaurants, bars, markets, shops, excursions, etc. – Living in Kigali is the first place to look. The founder (and our friend), Kirsty, has been living in Kigali for several years already.

Accommodation in Kigali Not a lot of good budget accommodation options in Kigali. We stayed at Discover Rwanda Hostel our first night, but thought the price ($42) was a bit high for a double room with a shared bathroom. On our return trip to Kigali, we were fortunate to stay with a couple of English teachers we met in Kibuye.

Food in Kigali: The highlight of our eating experience in Rwanda was Indian food at the restaurant of Blueberry Hotel in the Nyarutarama neighborhood. Highly recommend the paneer hadee and chicken kalimichi. Not cheap at $8-10 per dish, but portions are huge so it could last two meals. The menu was unusual and extraordinarily deep, and our dishes were nothing short of spectacular and featured a level of flavor and heat we often hope for in Indian restaurants but rarely find.  Also recommended is Republika for carafes of wine and grilled meat.

Motorbike taxis: The best (and cheapest) way to get around the sprawling city of Kigali is on the back of a motorbike taxis. Every motorbike driver will have a proper helmet for you. Most rides will cost you a couple of dollars, but be sure to bargain and note that the first price given is usually the mzungu (white person) price.

Rwanda Travel, Kigali Market
Chili pepper still art at Nyamirambo market in Kigali.

Lake Kivu – Kibuye Travel Recommendations

We chose to base ourselves in Kibuye over Gisenyi as we heard that Kibuye was less developed for tourism and was more laid back than Gisenyi. And that it was. Highly recommend spending a few days in Kibuye to relax.

Accommodation and food: We highly recommend staying at Home Saint Jean, a simple guesthouse connected to the Catholic Church on a hill overlooking the lake. A great laid back feel. There are rooms for all budgets. We took a double room with shared bathroom for $12/night. Bigger rooms with en suite bathrooms directly overlooking the lake are more like $20-$35. We also ate all our meals here. Good, but slow going (see #6 above). Tel: +250784725107

Transportation: Buses connect Kigali and Kibuye regularly (about 2.5 hours), departing on the half hour. We took the public boat from Kibuye to Gisenyi that leaves from a pier near Hotel Golf on Tuesday and Friday at around 1PM (depends on when the boat arrives from Cyangugu), takes around 2 hours and costs 2500 Rfw ($4). We recommend this option instead of the long, winding bus ride.

Musanze / Ruhengeri Travel Recommendations

This town and area are the jumping off points for gorilla trekking and excursions into Volcano National Park, so there's a decent tourism infrastructure here.

Accommodation: We stayed at Amahoro Guesthouse – $30 for a double room, including breakfast. It's in a good location downtown so you can easily walk to things. The caretaker of the house, Muhoozi, is very friendly and welcoming and takes good care of you (including, cooking your beans should you buy them from the market like we did).

Restaurants: La Paillote was our favorite place in town as it had a solid menu of pasta, pizza, sandwiches, and fish plates for reasonable prices ($4-$8). It also serves up good coffee. Many of the cheaper restaurants in town serve up buffets, which we weren't so keen on.  We prefer our food to be cooked fresh to order.

We also cooked our own meal by picking up beans, rice and vegetables (like pumpkin squash) at the market and cooking them in the guesthouse kitchen. Terrifically tasty with the few of the local spices, curry packets and a dash or two of Ethiopian spices thrown in.

Musanze Day Tours: We took two separate day tours with Amahoro Tours, organized at the guesthouse. The first tour was a jeep ride out to Lakes Burera and Ruhondo (aka, the twin lakes), driving through villages and communities along the way. If you do this tour, ask the driver to open the sun roof so that you have good photo opportunities and have fun waving at kids and people along the way. Cost: $80 total for half-day tour, maximum of six people

The second day trip we did was the mountain hike of Rugalika that begins from Red Rocks Guesthouse on the outskirts of Musanze (hop on a motorbike taxi to get there). It goes for several hours up into the hills to a school and then through a couple of villages and rural communities on the way back out. It was a good walk through rural areas, but if you only have time for one we'd recommend the jeep trip to the lakes. Cost: $20 per person.

Volcanoes National Park Treks: Our original plan was to do some trekking in Volcanoes National Park, but as the weather was iffy (cloudy and rainy) and the costs were high we opted for the day trips above instead. In addition to the park fees (usually $75 per person for day treks), you also need to arrange private transport from Musanze to the park entrance ($80/day). Any guesthouse can help you with this.

Transportation: Musanze is a well-connected spot, so you should have no problem getting in and out. It took about an 1-1.5 hours by bus from Gisenyi (Lake Kivu) and then 2.5 hours by bus to Kigali.

Pin for later:

Rwanda Travel TipsRwanda Travel Guide

About Audrey Scott
Audrey Scott is a writer, storyteller, speaker and tourism development consultant. She aims to help turn people's fears into curiosity and connection. She harbors an obsession for artichokes and can bake a devastating pan of brownies. You can keep up with her adventures on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And you can learn more about her on the About Page and on LinkedIn.

53 thoughts on “Travel to Rwanda: First Impressions”

  1. Excellent and informative write up! You mentioned people often come here to see the gorillas, but then did not elaborate. Did you end up not going out to see them or is that to be a separate post?

    • Hi Joanne,
      Thanks! We did not see the gorillas in Rwanda as we were fortunate to see them in neighboring Uganda. We will be publishing that Uganda gorilla trekking experience — and how to plan and prepare for it – in an upcoming post. The process is pretty similar for Rwanda, except that fees are higher on the Rwandan side ($750 vs. %600 in 2014). I’ve updated this post to make the gorilla section more clear.

  2. Incredible post, thank you. You’ve really opened my eyes to the possibility of travelling somewhere that seemed a bit of a no-go area to a solo traveller. And it’s interesting to hear about the aid / expectation aspect of Rwanda. I suppose that’s the catch 24 of international aid. It’s hard to see how you’ll ever change the country’s mind set to not rely on aid after 20 years of expecting it. Hopefully I’ll visit one day and see for myself 🙂

    • Hi Victoria,
      That was the goal – to try and dispel some of the stereotypes that Rwanda is a dangerous place. We saw quite a few solo female travelers. Some were there doing volunteer work while others were traveling through the region.

      The aid issue is a tricky one. One wants to provide support to countries that need it like Rwanda did 20 years ago when it face a humanitarian crisis or like other countries dealing with drought or civil war now. Once that initial crisis is over, then it becomes more challenging. Sometimes the scale and way aid is distributed can promote dependency or expectation. Also corruption. We’ve found that the best programs are those that are created with the investment of time, labor or sometimes money from the community so that they are invested in the project and learning through building it. But it’s hard to do this with large scale projects. No easy answers, but the more these issues are discussed the more we can work towards a better path. You might be interested in this movie regarding Africa and perceptions:

    • The current government is no longer the darling of the world due to conflict in Eastern Congo and there have been times where the UK and US have cut or threatened to cut aid to the country as they try to get them to stop messing around the DR Congo. Kagame (the country’s president) has been very clear about the role of aid in his country and is trying hard to move away from it. Sure, on an individual level it will take a lot of time to move away from expectations but as a government initiative, they’re quite clear about doing their thing and are trying to move away from aid, especially since it’s often used as a bargaining tool. Given and taken away, depending on the current political situation.

      My point is that, probably more than most countries in the region, Kagame and his government are very focused on becoming self reliant and limiting their need to depend on aid. This should be the goal of all countries receiving aid, of course, but in Rwanda, reducing their dependency on aid is an issue that’s often discussed.

      Hopefully it’ll get there soon because having the UK and US give and take in an effort to control Rwandan politics is pretty crap.

      • Thanks, Kirsty, for adding more perspective on the aid issue and discussion in Rwanda right now. No matter how “humanitarian” the mission is, there are always strings attached to aid, like you mention. Becoming less dependent on aid means more independence for Rwanda in geopolitical decisions and actions. It will be a process to make up that large part of the GDP that is currently taken up by aid money, but glad that it’s something people are working towards.

  3. Thanks for another excellent post. I recently returned from two months in Rwanda, having traveled to the places you went I can say that your observations were spot on. I loved Home Saint Jean. Although Gisenye is similar as it’s on the northern shore of Lake Kivu, I still recommend that your readers consider a night or two there – especially if they enjoy Kibuye.

    One key item you neglected to comment on is the omnipresence of soldiers and/or police armed with semi automatic weapons on every 2-3 corners or wandering through markets, etc. I understand that you do not want to frighten your readers and also that the presence of these individuals does not mean Rwanda is dangerous but omitting to mention will potentially leave a visitor a bit off balance upon encountering them. In speaking with Rwandans in the various places I visited and asking questions the answer they give about the soldiers was… “in case”. Given Rwanda’s 50+ year history of periodic upheaval this struck me as a powerful statement. HOWEVER the good news is that there has been tremendous progress made and the hopes if the people is that there is no looking back. The next election cycle when Paul Kigami is due to step down will be very telling.

    On a sidenote I suggest your readers who plan to visit consider reading A Thousand Hills by Kinzer for an excellent recounting of the history of colonial Rwanda to near present. Additionally if they want to go deeper with specific travel advise about Rwanda they might want to check out:

    • Thanks for recommending my site! Another great read is a book of the same name called ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ by Rosemond Carr. A really inspiring lady. You might also want to check out ‘A Thousand Hills to Heaven’ by Josh Ruxin which gives a quick history but focused more on the present day… something that not a lot of books have done so far.

      Great article, guys, ad thanks for the plug. 🙂

      • Hi Kirsty,
        Well, your site has the best information for Kigali and general Rwanda information, so of course we’re going to recommend it 🙂 Thanks for the book recommendations as well. Adding them to my Kindle wishlist.

    • Hi Senorfix,
      Glad to hear that our observations from a short time fit your longer experience in Rwanda. Thanks for mentioning the guards. I will add something about that so travelers won’t be alarmed by them and understand they are part of the “regular” routine (i.e., no alerts). We spent most of our time in smaller towns like Kibuye and Musanze we didn’t see the armed soldiers and guards as much as you might see them in Kigali (based on our short experience there). And as we had seen something similar in Ethiopia I didn’t notice their presence that much. I certainly never felt threatened by them.

      Yes, Living in Kigali is a fabulous site! We recommended it in the Rwanda Travel Tips section as well.

      • Great article! Everytime i find an article promoting tourism in Rwanda, am always thankful. Tourists get here mainly because of the mountain gorillas. Your article clearly portrays that there is much more to see and do in Rwanda. Thank you for encouraging tourists to visit our country.

  4. Wow, that sounds amazing. Didn’t expect the country to be in such good shape at this point. I’m definitely impressed.

    • Hi Matt,
      It is quite impressive to see the investment and results in rebuilding Rwanda after the genocide. That’s why it’s so important to be able to travel and see for oneself as we don’t always get the full story via media reports.

  5. Very well article which reflects the reality. Scoott, it is a good job really. And I welcome Victoria and other tourists to come to Rwanda. I am a Rwandan citizen.

    • Thanks, Kagabo! Appreciate your kind words about this piece, especially as you are Rwandan and know the country so much better than us.

  6. Really interesting post. I realise there’s so much I don’t know about Rwanda. I’ve always wanted to go see the gorillas but now I see there’s so much more to discover there. What a fascinating country!

    • Hi Charlie,
      Thanks, glad you enjoyed this! It seems a shame to us that people usually leave Rwanda so quickly after mountain gorilla trekking as there is so much more to the country and culture to explore. We hope this article helps people decide to stay and see more of the country.

  7. This was such an eye opening post for me as I knew almost nothing about Rwanda. I feel a little ashamed of myself right now but reading unexpected posts like this one encourage me to do my further research. Thank you for the beautiful article.

    • Hi Matin,
      That’s the goal here – to open people’s eyes to something that they might not have known and encourage them to keep researching and learning. Glad you enjoyed this!

  8. We also traveled from Uganda to Rwanda, and the difference between the two is truly remarkable. We visited the gorillas, and also spent time in Kigali. For those interested, the genocide museum there is incredibly, incredibly well done.

    With some of the incredible steps that have been made in the country in the last 15 years, there are some really difficult issues yet to be resolved. The stability that Rwanda is enjoying and has enjoyed is most definitely coming at a price. Perhaps a price that is worth paying, but nonetheless…I think it will be telling to watch what the future holds. There is an interesting piece from last year on these issues (governance and aid, particularly) that, even if you disagree with the premise, is (I think) good food for thought:

    It is an incredibly beautiful place, with inspiring people, and so much to offer. I would absolutely love to return to see more of the country, particularly Lake Kivu, as you did.

    • Heather, thanks for sharing your experiences from traveling in Rwanda and the article about Kagame. It’s very well done and thorough. We felt that there was always a bit of a big brother watching feeling while in Rwanda, and that people were quite reserved in their talks with strangers about politics (while in Uganda people were very open about how much they disliked their politicians). This is why we write that the stability the country has now is good, but it also needs to respect human rights. One hopes that Rwanda will be able to move towards more open discourse and freedoms while keeping the stability.

    • Thanks, MG! Makes perfect sense to us and that’s what we’re hoping to do here – provide a bit of our personal experience with some perspective or objectivity about the country.

    • Kara, definitely agree with you there! Even if it’s for a couple of hours where people come and work together to build and support the public good that builds community spirit. Would love it if other places incorporated the same idea.

  9. Oh the mountains! I just love to see and experience the adventure of going into the mountains. It’s just that I can feel a sense of solitude and tranquility whenever I see the city/village view from the mountain top. Rwanda’s beauty really reminded me of my ideal place to visit. I think Im gonna add it on my travel list. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Hi Cristy,
      Although Rwanda doesn’t have huge mountains it is full of lakes and wonderful vistas to enjoy that peace and solitude you mention. Hope you make it there to see for yourself!

  10. what an interesting read! I have special interests in Africa, although I’ve only been to Uganda. I love that they don’t use plastic bags. We need a ban like that in India- the trash here is incredibly bad. I would love to see the gorillas and couldn’t in Uganda because it was just a couple months from the world cup bombings so buses weren’t safe. Would love to go back. Great post & happy to have found your blog, not sure what took me so long.

    • Hi Rachel,
      Also thought the plastic bag ban was fantastic. Actually, Bangladesh has an effective plastic bag ban in place as well. Perhaps India can learn from its neighbor 🙂

      Hope you have a chance to return to Africa to see the gorillas and explore a little further. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  11. Rwanda has been in my bucket list.. it’s about time that I put this on the top! Zero plastic bag.. that’s quite amazing. And no slouching women.. I’m so jealous.

    • Rachel, glad this piece helped to put Rwanda further up on your travel wish list. The plastic bag ban is something that I wish other countries would adopt. Rwanda shows that it is possible to implement and enforce.

  12. What an interesting and inspiring post. Thank you for providing such a thorough look at what I can imagine is a beautiful country. I have wanted to visit Rwanda since hearing so many good things about it over the last few years. I was fortunate to have worked for about 10 years with Mathilde Mukantabana and learned a bit about Rwanda and the genocide from her (she lost much of her family). She is now the Ambassador for Rwanda to the U.S. You might enjoy this short video she made about the 20th anniversary of the genocide:

    • Jenna, so glad you enjoyed our post that tried to paint a picture of Rwanda today by looking at a few details and what makes it unusual. You must have learned so much more about the country from working for Mathilde Mukantabana and hearing her stories from the genocide, but also the rebuilding. Thanks for sharing the video and her vision for the country.

  13. I’ve heard about the zero plastic bag policy, but I didn’t expect Rwanda to be that clean and orderly. Sounds like a gem of Africa, indeed. Speaking of foreign aid dependence, that reminds me of East Timor. People there used to rely on foreign organizations so much to sustain their economy. But after they left, the East Timorese found a new source of wealth: oil. However I don’t know whether Rwanda has enough natural resources to propel the country the way diamond did to Botswana. So for the time being foreign aid might still need to remain in the country to prevent it from falling apart. Thanks for giving me such valuable insights on Rwanda!

    • Bama, we weren’t expecting this either in Rwanda. We had just come from spending two weeks in Ethiopia and two weeks in Uganda, so the contrast with the calm, clean, orderly streets and feel felt even more pronounced.

      Rwanda doesn’t have any natural resources (that they’ve found, at least) so as I understand the goal is to develop an educated population and have a strong technology infrastructure (I’ve heard there is a lot of investment in high speed internet cables) to be a sort of trading and business hub. But, there’s a long ways to go as most of the population is employed in small agriculture. That said, Rwandans are resourceful and creative so there are many opportunities as well.

  14. This is such an interesting post. Have had a little bit of a fascination with the country since looking into the business environment there for a project at university, but had no idea what it was really like to live there or even be a tourist there. I’m amazed that it is somewhere you’d associate with rules and order, and it makes me feel really happy and positive – it’s heartwarming to hear about how the people of a country can collectively turn a situation around and successfully transform a nation from a place of war and chaos to a lovely place to live. Thank you so much for sharing this little insight into the country, it’s so inspiring!

    • Thanks, Catherine! Glad you enjoyed it. And since you have a bit of a personal connection to Rwanda with your university project that makes the place more “real” in your eyes. The country certainly still has its share of issues to deal with regarding poverty, economic growth and making sure that people’s human rights are not disregarded in the name of “stability”, but it is very impressive what Rwanda has accomplished over the last twenty years. Looking forward to following along in its future.

  15. I was recently in Rwanda myself and was pleasantly surprised at how clean it was – without a doubt, the cleanest country in Africa I’ve visited so far. The plastic bag ban, I’m sure, is a major contributing factor to that. Rwanda (and Uganda, in my opinion) is a highly underrated travel destination so it’s great to read a post that highlights the positive aspects of the country we never see on TV.

    • Yes, Rwanda was the cleanest country we visited in Africa as well and we LOVE the plastic ban (saw it work effectively in Bangladesh as well). Wish more countries would adopt this as well. Agree that these countries are underrated travel destinations in East Africa and I hope more visitors go to see for themselves that the reality on the ground is much different than what they might remember from the news.

  16. Very interesting this post, you were able to show a side of Rwanda that people don’t know. Unfortunately we don’t have a vision so when we think of Rwanda, but this post changed my vision. Congratulations!

    • Gabriela, very glad to hear that this piece changed some of your perceptions about Rwanda and you were able to see it in a different light.

  17. Hi Daniel and Audrey,

    I love this place! And I am really impressed with the way that you have conveyed how clean, organised and safe Rwanda actually is. I travelled to Rwanda twice, once to volunteer with a charity called FVA and a second to returning to work on a fair trade project. I love the way that Rwanda is so forward thinking compared to most other African countries, and that certainly came across in your blog post.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Hi Amy,
      Glad you enjoyed this article and that you felt that it accurately reflected the reality (and approach) in Rwanda. Each time we talk about this aspect of Rwanda, most people are really surprised. As you know, Rwanda surprises in so many different ways 🙂

  18. Rwanda is such an amazing country – so sad more people don’t get to experience it. I was able to visit a friend teaching English in Kigali a few years ago and couldn’t believe how friendly and beautiful the people were. The goats intestines went down a bit tough, but plenty of that magically brewed strong beer helped!

    • Jeff, I think Rwanda, and especially Kigali, surprise most visitors. We understand why a few friends have chosen to live in Kigali after visiting. And we have to say that English teachers there are also really friendly – we met some by chance at Lake Kivu and they offered us a place to stay in their house when we came to Kigali. So nice.

      We somehow avoided the goat intestines…kind of thankful for that 🙂

  19. Hi Audrey,
    Thanks for this great article. I am heading to Rwanda in 2 weeks, and it’s quite tough to find first hand information for independent travel.
    One question: did you book anything in advance or just showed up and decided once you were at the location?
    Cheers, Gilles

    • Hi Gilles,
      Glad this article was helpful! We booked accommodation in advance for Kigali as the budget options were limited and we wanted to secure a bed. As for the other options we either called (we bought a Rwandan SIM card) from the bus to check that they had a room or just showed up at the door. Outside of Kigali, accommodation was pretty easy to sort out.

      Have a great trip!

      • Thanks Audrey!
        I have already booked for Kigali, as I don’t feel like looking for a hotel after an intercontinental flight. But I will follow your advice and improvise on the spot, it’s much more pleasant and flexible.
        Thanks again and… Merry Xmas & All The Best for 2017
        Cheers, Gilles

    • Hi,
      Dear Gilles,

      I can help you if you want to find a place meeting your budget. Your will buy only the fuel to show you the different places with my car. If interested, you can inform me two days before at [email protected]
      Or call +250788302383. I traveled a lot, so I enjoy to help others. The visa is asked on line, I hope you are informed.


  20. Honestly this has been the most helpful guide to Rwanda I have found! Thank you! And your photos are beautiful too! I have planned a trip to Rwanda for August but I had no idea what to do outside of Kigali. You’ve given me some inspiration! 🙂

  21. Good stuff guys!

    Even 5 years after you wrote it, this is still the best blog post on Rwanda we read. Honest insights and opinions and plenty of detail. Not much seemed different from how you described in when we visited in Feb 2020 (…for good and bad.)

    And yes the inimitable head balancing definitely deserved to be featured in your list. Admiring their talents made the windy road endlessly interesting!

    Keep Rwandering!

    Chris from The Unconventional Route


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.