Rwanda is one of Africa’s most fascinating destinations. With its rolling hills, mountain gorilla trekking, classic game parks, and ancient villages, it has the perfect mix of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
The country has also enjoyed an excellent record of political stability, with no significant upheavals since the 1994 genocide. As a result, the number of tourists visiting Rwanda has increased dramatically, boosting its economic position in Africa.
However, given Rwanda’s long history of violence and unstable neighboring nations, you may have reservations about visiting the country. Fortunately, we’ve got your back. Read on to find out why this tiny Eastern African nation should be at the top of your travel bucket list.
Is Rwanda Safe to Visit?
Rwanda is safe to visit due to its long political stability, authentic, hospitable culture, and thriving economy. However, there are some safety concerns travelers should consider before planning their trip.
These issues include social unrest, petty crime, and occasional border tensions between Rwanda and its neighboring countries. The international community has also accused the government of human rights violations and corruption.
Other challenges to be aware of include poor health care and LGBTQ stigma. Below is a comprehensive explanation of each concern and mitigation strategies for travel.
Crime in Rwanda
Since the 1994 genocide, crime in Rwanda has been on a downward trend and is currently considered low by world standards. However, petty crimes still exist, especially in crowded markets or public transportation stations.
Some common street crimes you should be aware of include pickpocketing (or mugging), physical assault, robbery, theft, fraud, and credit card scams.
As a visitor, you can reduce your chances of being targeted by practicing basic safety precautions such as:
- Remaining alert while walking in crowded areas
- Avoiding confrontations with local people
- Keep your valuables out of sight (don’t wear flashy jewelry)
- Always lock your car when leaving it unattended
- Carry what you need for the day and leave other valuables at your hotel/hostel
- Avoid walking alone late at night
- Don’t accept food or drinks from strangers
But if you fall victim to one of these crimes, report immediately to the nearest police station. Surprisingly, Rwanda National Police is relatively efficient and reliable compared to other African countries.
Also, if your hotel provides a security guard for the premises, ask for their contact information just in case an emergency arises.
Importantly, update your travel insurance policy before embarking on your journey. Should something happen, it’ll protect your interests in terms of medical costs and property loss claims.
Avoiding Bad Neighborhoods in Rwanda
Most parts of Rwanda are safe to visit. However, there are some neighborhoods that travelers should avoid, especially those within 10 kilometers of the borders with Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
These areas are known havens for rebel forces and other criminal organizations due to their proximity to porous international borders. For instance, the Rwanda-Burundi Border has seen clashes between rebel groups and government troops.
As a result, the two countries’ relationship remains strained, with each side imposing and enforcing trade, economic, and diplomatic sanctions on the other.
Various Governments have since issued travel advisories warning against visits to these regions, particularly Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Similarly, the Rwanda-Democratic Republic of Congo border region is also deemed unsafe as it’s home to several militia groups. And just like the Rwanda-Burundi border region, the DRC area sees regular violent outbreaks.
Worse, cases of sexual violence, kidnappings, and armed robberies have been reported in this region, particularly in Kibuye, Cyangugu, and Gisenyi.
Before visiting such regions, you should exercise extreme caution and consult with your respective embassies for up-to-date information.
Rwanda Political Situation
There is no doubt that Rwanda has made tremendous political strides in the past two decades. It’s ranked as the eleventh most peaceful country in the Sub-Saharan Africa region by the Global Peace Index.
The ranking reflects the Rwandan government’s efforts to stabilize the country following the atrocities of 1994. Furthermore, Rwandans enjoy a variety of liberties and rights, including freedom of speech, the right to assembly, and freedom of religion.
The government has enacted laws to guarantee equal treatment for all races and genders. However, recent reports indicate that the Rwandan government has been suppressing opposition parties, stifling media freedom, and restricting speech and assembly.
Her current president, Paul Kagame, has been in power for nearly two decades and shows no signs of relenting. Civil society, human rights advocates, and opposition parties have accused him of authoritarianism.
Nonetheless, the president has presided over relative peace and stability, attracting investment and stimulating growth.
As a result, the social environment has improved, investment has increased, and the economy has expanded significantly. While Rwanda is politically stable, it never hurts to be cautious and seek up-to-date information.
Safe Transport Options
Rwanda is landlocked, and the options for international transport are limited to flights and long-distance buses. The country has one major airport, Kigali International Airport, which serves regional and major cities globally, including Nairobi, Johannesburg, and Brussels.
Conversely, long-distance buses are available to neighboring countries such as Uganda and Tanzania. You can buy tickets at the bus terminal or through a travel agent. Alternatively, you can hire a private driver with a vehicle to drive you around Rwanda.
Surprisingly, the country’s public transportation system is decent and the most popular mode of transport for locals. Public transportation includes minivans, taxis, and Boda Bodas (motorcycles often used as public transportation).
It’s also cheap, so you don’t have to worry about being stranded in the middle of nowhere. You can catch a taxi on the streets or by hailing one at the designated taxi stops. However, be wary of Boda Bodas, as most are unlicensed and uninsured.
If you choose to take a motorcycle as your preferred mode of transportation, negotiate the price beforehand. Minivans are the most common mode of public transportation within Rwanda.
You can easily hail them at their designated stations or flag them down if they pass you on the street. However, most are poorly maintained, overcrowded, and lack safety features like seat belts. Be sure to only ride with reputable companies.
Rwanda LGBTQ+ Safety
Rwanda is a conservative country, and the LGBTQ+ community is stigmatized. Although the country is a signatory to the UN joint statement on violence and discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity, violence cases are not uncommon.
The country’s constitution only allows marriage between a man and a woman, and any act or conduct intended to promote homosexuality is illegal. Furthermore, LGBTQ persons have little legal protection and are vulnerable to harassment, violence, and jail.
As a gay traveler, you might want to exercise caution. Avoid public displays of affection, as the population does not accept homosexuality. Always keep your head on a swivel and be observant of your surroundings.
Never put yourself in a situation that could lead to unsafe situations, as it can quickly escalate into violence. There are a few friendly establishments in the capital city of Kigali, but it’s best to keep your profile hidden.
And if you find yourself a victim of violence, report the incident to the authorities promptly and file a report with your respective embassy.
Gorilla Trek Safety
Gorilla trekking is one of Rwanda’s biggest tourist attractions, and the government has made significant efforts to ensure the creatures’ safety and protection. Located in the Virunga Mountains, this is one of Africa’s most ecologically diverse national parks.
Nonetheless, as a visitor, you must follow a strict set of rules to ensure the gorillas’ safety, including:
- Clean your hands before embarking on the gorilla trek
- Refrain from using flash photography to avoid startling the gorillas
- Stay at least 200 meters away from the gorilla while eating or drinking
- Always obey the guide’s instructions and keep to the path
- Keep the environment clean
- Avoid making body gestures, sudden movements, or loud noises
- Make it a point to stay in your group
While the Rwandan government has put stringent measures to ensure your safety, it’s still important to remain vigilant. These regions occasionally experience civil unrest, bandits, and rebels who might attack tourists.
The best option, hire an experienced guide who knows the terrain well enough to evade these dangers.
Rwanda Health Warnings
Like other African countries, Rwanda has its share of health hazards. Being a developing country, poor sanitation, hygiene conditions, and lack of potable water led to disease outbreaks.
Malaria, yellow fever, bilharzia, and HIV/ AIDS are just some of the diseases prevalent in the country. Although the government has made remarkable progress in the health sector, visitors are advised to vaccinate against these diseases.
For instance, you must get a yellow fever vaccine and present the certificate at the immigration desk on arrival. Check here for a list of recommended vaccinations for Rwanda.
Furthermore, take anti-malaria tablets before and during your trip to reduce the risk of contracting malaria. While in the country, sleep under a mosquito net, use insect repellant, and wear long sleeves. Avoid drinking Rwanda’s tap water or from its rivers and stick to bottled or boiled water.
Finally, maintain a high personal and food hygiene standard to ensure you don’t contract any preventable illnesses. If you feel sick, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Things to Consider
Here are a few things to keep in mind as a visitor to Rwanda:
- Do not dump plastic bags carelessly; otherwise, you’ll receive a hefty fine of $61 or even jail time.
- Avoid discussing genocide with the locals, as it can be sensitive and offensive.
- Do not take photos of government, military installations, or border patrols.
- Keep right when driving.
- Respect and appreciate the local customs.
- Choose a reputable tour guide who’s well-versed in the culture and history.
- Watch out for pickpockets, scam artists, and petty thieves.
- Beware of handouts from strangers.
- Avoid drinking or using a mobile phone while driving.
- Follow and abide by the country’s laws and regulations.
Frequently Asked Questions
Let’s look at some frequently asked questions about visiting Rwanda:
Do they speak English in Rwanda?
Yes, they do. Kinyarwanda, a Bantu language, is Rwanda’s national language and the mother tongue of 99.9% of the population. French, English, and Kiswahili make the list of the four official languages in Rwanda. However, they represent a small percentage of Rwandan people, who mainly speak Kinyarwanda. You can get around using Google Translate or hiring an interpreter for your stay.
Is Rwanda cheap for tourists?
It all comes down to your personal preference and budget. Rwanda is a reasonably priced destination for tourists seeking an authentic African experience without spending a fortune. A hotel room costs around $5, while food and drinks fall between $5 and $10, depending on the location and quality.
What is the best month to visit Rwanda?
June to September are the best months to visit Rwanda, as you’re likely to spot the most magnificent Gorillas in the wild. It’s also a drier period and less mosquito-ridden than the rainy season, so your outdoor activities will be more leisurely.
However, if you want to experience Chimpanzees at their best, visit during the rainy season, which runs from March to May and June to September. Generally, Rwanda is a year-round destination with varying offerings depending on when you visit.
Is Kigali safe at night?
Kigali, like any other city in the world, is safe at night as long as you follow some basic safety rules. For example, don’t wear flashy jewelry or clothes that might attract unwanted attention, be aware of your surroundings, and never walk alone.
If you go out late at night, ensure that you have a reliable ride home or a group of people with you for company.
What should I wear in Rwanda?
Rwanda is a conservative country, so it’s always best to dress respectfully. For women, this means avoiding exceedingly short skirts or low-cut tops. Men should avoid going around shirtless, but shorts are okay, provided they’re not too revealing.
And, since the country is generally warm all year round, light attire will suffice. Remember to bring sunglasses and a hat for sun protection.
Do I need a visa to go to Rwanda?
The requirement of a visa depends on how long you plan to stay. All visitors get a 30-day visa when arriving in Rwanda. So, if you plan to stay 30 days or less, you don’t need to apply for or have a visa.
If you plan to stay longer than 30 days, you’ll have to apply for an extension on your visa. It’s worth noting that all U.S. citizens must have a passport that is valid for six months after the date of entry into Rwanda.
Does Rwanda require Yellow Fever vaccination?
A Yellow Fever vaccination is only mandatory for travelers coming from Yellow Fever endemic countries. Yellow Fever endemic countries change often but are mostly located in the African and Southern American continents.
So, Is Rwanda Safe to Visit?
Rwanda is a safe country to visit and provides its visitors with an enriching experience. Ensure to follow the same common safety precautions that you would at home.
Don’t leave your belongings unattended in public places; avoid walking at night in secluded areas; if you feel threatened or unsafe, call for help or report to the police. Follow these simple rules and you’ll set yourself up for a successful vacation. Happy travels!