I’ve always ever wanted to travel to two countries in Africa – Rwanda and South Africa. I’ve always known that I want to travel to these two destinations alone, to enjoy them as a solo traveller. Lucky for me, when I mentioned this to a friend living in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, she offered an open invitation to host me, which I finally took up this November.
How to get to Rwanda
Several airlines offer the Nairobi – Kigali service including Rwandair, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines. From Monday 25th November 2019, JamboJet, the low-cost subsidiary of Kenya Airways will start flying to Kigali as well.
Road trip lovers may opt to take the bus from Nairobi to Kigali. Modern Coast, Mash are some of the bus companies that ply this route. The ride takes you across the expanse of Uganda on a ride that takes about 16 hours.
As a Kenyan citizen, you do not need a visa neither a passport to get into Rwanda! Your ID is sufficient which makes travelling to Rwanda really, really easy! You get an Interstate Pass which your entry and exit visas will be stamped.
Things to do in Rwanda
Kigali is a dream, especially if you come from a busy city like Nairobi. The streets are super clean and devoid of the masses like many towns around the world. The road network is excellent with no single pot hole. The vehicles in Rwanda are left-hand drive and motorists drive on the right side of the road. It appears motor bikes are an East African phenomenon. In Kenya we call them boda bodas, in Rwanda they are called ‘motos‘. Rwanda is not called the land of a thousand hills for nought! Those hills are so real, just take a walk around the neighbourhood to experience them. What I love most however about Kigali is the orderliness! It makes living in this city bliss even if for a few days.
Kigali Genocide Museum
While not an easy site to visit, the Kigali Genocide Museum is a must-do when in Rwanda. The Rwanda genocide that took place in April 1994 is a heartrending moment in the country’s history. A walk through the winding corridors of the museum will illuminate the events that preceded the war as well what happened during and after. Outside the museum is a wall with names of the victims. Over 800,000 lives were lost in the genocide. There are 233 museums all across Rwanda. The Kigali Museum is the largest.
Kigali by night
Kigali comes alive beautifully at night. The convention center lights up in blue, yellow and green which are the national flag colours. Watching the city lights from high up one of its many hills, makes Kigali seem magical. The nightlife in Kigali is best experienced in Kismenti! I danced to Sauti Sol’s Extravaganza which was being performed by this really entertaining band!
Located four hours from Kigali, Gisenyi formerly known as Rubavu, is a town situated by Rwanda’s largest lake, Lake Kivu. I took public transport – Virunga Express – from the Nyabugogo stage to this small town. As with Kigali, the roads are excellent and there are lots of motos so I decided to take one to my hotel. If you’re looking for high end accommodation then Lake Kivu Serena will fit the bill perfectly. For budget options, Paradise Malahide, Palm Garden Resort, Inzuu Lodge, Inzonzi Beach Resort are sufficient.
Swim, go on a boat ride on Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is a freshwater lake, one of the many along the Great Rift Valley. It is shared between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda and pretty much dominates a huge portion of western Rwanda. There isn’t much of a beach but the waters are so inviting! No crocodiles or hippos lurk in these waters so it is safe to a dip. Alternatively take an enjoyable boat ride around the lake. In the morning, you can hear fishermen singing as they go to fetch the catch of the day.
Visit Bralirwa Brewery
Mutzig, Primus, Amstel, Heineken are just some of the fine Rwandan beers. These are brewed by Bralirwa, the country’s largest brewery. The brewery allows visitors to its premises to see the beer production process with prior notification via email which can be found in the company’s website.
Visit Goma, the Rwanda – DRC border
There are two Rwanda – DRC border points; the VIP border which is used by dignitaries and the small border used mostly by traders who pay a toll to cross over. It is said to be the busiest border in Africa with an estimated 45,000 people crossing it daily. I was flabbergasted by the sheer number of people! Women carrying huge loads on their heads, young men looking to make a quick buck by helping them out, money changers, moto riders offering transport.
The best time to visit though is in the evening when the border is about to be closed. The traders make a mad dash to the gates so as not to be locked out in the neighbouring country. It’s quite the sight! Also Goma has such a lit party scene! With their lingala music, the Congolese are hands down the best dancers on the continent!
Halfway between Kigali and Gisenyi (two hours drive) is Musanze, a quaint town located at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park. The park is dominated by the Virunga massifs which are a series of mountains that run between Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. Due to its location, the weather is pretty cool. I stayed at Migano which is a cafe and hotel in the main street, a walking distance from the bus park.
The main reason many people visit Rwanda is to trek the endangered mountain gorilla, found only in the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. In Rwanda, the gorillas are found in Volcanoes National Park which is accessed through Musanze and Kinigi towns.
Gorillas are such a huge part of Rwandan culture that the country has a gorilla naming ceremony Kwita Izina held every September in Musanze. The event attracts a local and international audience and is usually presided by Rwanda’s head of state.
Visit Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund
Dian Fossey was an American primatologist who lived in Rwanda and spent her days researching about gorillas and their preservation. You can learn about her work at her research center in Musanze.
I wish I had more time in Rwanda. I would have loved to visit Akagera and Nyungwe National Parks. I know I will go back to this beautiful country, it’s too amazing to resist!
Thanks for reading xo!