The country we call Rwanda has been settled and populated by hunter-gatherers since the Stone and Iron Ages. Today the population of Rwanda is composed of three distinct ethnic groups, the Hutu (about 90%) the Tutsi (about 9%) and the Twa (just 1%) and ethnic rivalry has been responsible for a great deal of trouble in the country in the last century, culminating in the 1994 genocide in which Hutu extremists massacred nearly 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu. Even today, twenty years later, it is still considered taboo to ask a Rwandan about his ethnicity.
The population of Rwanda is largely rural, with more than 90% of the people living in the country where subsistence farming is the main activity. Coffee and Tea are also farmed extensively for export.
The Rwandans have a rich cultural heritage which is passed down from one generation to the next, and music, dance and story-telling feature prominently in all ceremonies, social gatherings and festivals. The most famous of the dances performed is the intore, or dance of heroes which is performed by the men and tells the story of heroic feats of bravery on the battlefield. Drums are used extensively to accompany the dancers. Today the legacy of this musical tradition is showing itself in the popular music industry, where hip-hop is a very popular genre in the country.
The best way to reach Rwanda is by air. Several airlines have flights to the Gregoire Kayibanda International Airport just outside the capital, Kigali, from Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and Brussels, Istanbul, Doha and Amsterdam.
Everyone visiting Rwanda needs to have a Passport that is valid for 6 months after the date of their visit. It is advisable to contact your local embassy/consulate to see if you will need a visa to visit the country - currently the following countries do NOT require a visa to visit Rwanda:
Visitors from all other countries will need to apply for a visa before their visit. As of January 2014 you can apply for a combined tourist Visa to visit Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda.
Rwanda is still a new player in the tourism business. Accommodation standards vary considerably from one place to the next, and most resources have been allocated to developing tourism infrastructure close to the wonderful Volcanoes National Park, where you will find a few really comfortable and beautifully located Lodges that offer excellent hospitality. There are also a few boutique hotels and lodges in the other principle tourist areas, but it is wise to plan your trip well in advance, especially if you are coming to visit during the prime Gorilla-trekking months of June-August, when accommodation can be scarce.
Getting from place to place by public transport can be quite an adventure in Rwanda, and will give you the opportunity to meet some of the locals, who still regard tourists as something of an oddity.
There is a good road system and there are plenty of modern minibus taxis which serve all the main routes. The privately run scheduled services are your best bet...they are less crowded and usually stick to a reasonable schedule.
It is possible to drive yourself around, but car-rental is not widely available. However, your tour operator or hotel will be able to organize a vehicle if you would like to do some private exploring; the perimeter of Lake Kivu is best explored by 4X4.
If you are visiting Lake Kivu you can organize a motor-boat transfer to see some of the lakeside villages and towns.
Before leaving home check that your Health Insurance covers international travel and buy insurance if necessary. It is also advisable to purchase travel insurance that covers emergency evacuation, in the unlikely event of accident or a serious medical emergency.
Rwanda is blessed with a superb temperate tropical highland climate. It is pleasantly warm at around 26-28C for most of the year during the day, with the average low around 16C, although it can be cooler in the mountainous regions due to the altitude. The rainy months are mainly Feb-May and again from Sept-Dec. It is easier to track the Gorillas during the dry months of June to August, which is the prime season for this activity.
Anyone travelling to Rwanda should check that they are up-to-date with all regular vaccination: MMR(Measles-mumps-rubella), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio and your annual flu vaccine. Additionally it would be wise to consider being vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, typhoid, meningitis and rabies. Malaria prevention is recommended and, if applicable, protection against STIs, including HIV-AIDS is important. Yellow Fever is a risk in Rwanda and anyone over the age of 1yr requires proof of this vaccine as an entry requirement.
Lake Kivu may contain the fresh-water parasite known as Bilharzia. If you decide to swim in the lake you should take the necessary medication when you return home, or request to be tested for Bilharzia at a tropical medicine centre on your return.
Medical facilities are extremely limited in Rwanda and you should carry all your own medication with you. If you have a significant allergy or medical problem you need to wear a MedicAlert bracelet. In an emergency dial 912 for an ambulance.
The local currency is the Rwanda Franc (RWF).
Credit cards are not widely accepted outside of Kigali, and ATM’s are scarce and unreliable. You are advised to travel with US Dollars and exchange them at a local bank or at the airport.
There is no restriction on the import of foreign currency, but you must declare it on arrival and exchange it within 8 days.