Rwanda

Rwanda

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  • Day3

    Wake up time was 4.20am for a 5am departure to the airport. The roads are busy already and the overnight construction is still going on - most construction during summer happens at night because of the heat.

    Our flight to Kigali was via Entebbe, Uganda, where we stayed on the plane for an hour while they cleaned around us. The jump from Entebbe to Kigali was the shortest international flight we've been on, 30 minutes. Fortunately for the hosties there were only about 50 people on the flight so they had time to rush some food around before we landed.

    On arrival in Kigali we were met at the plane door by a very welcoming airport staff member who checked our boarding passes (yes, on the way off the plane!), then escorted us across the tarmac to the terminal. First queue was to pay the the entry visa, which we were told had to be paid in cash, US dollars only, but they now also accept credit cards, which slowed things down a bit. Passport control was also high tech, with electronic finger printing done, in addition to taking our photo.

    We were met outside by our drivers for the next 2 weeks, and had a 20 minute drive to our hotel (some road line-marking slowed the traffic to a crawl at one stage while they were hand painting one lane of the zebra crossings)

    Rwanda is known as "the land of 1000 hills", and is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa, with a population of 12 million people in a country one tenth the size of Victoria. The capital Kigali is built around several ridges and valleys, so the distance as the crow flies is not large, but navigating the hills takes some time - and plenty of hill starts! Armed Police or army personnel man most of the major intersections throughout the city 24 hours a day, as a general deterrent, and Kigali is widely regarded as the safest capital city in Africa.

    Dinner tonight was at a rooftop restaurant with a spectacular view over Kigali. Goat cutlets and a Mutzig (local) beer for me, poached line fish and a Tusker (Kenyan) beer for Oliver.

    Stayed: Heaven Boutique Hotel
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  • Day5

    Another public holiday, this time to commemorate the end of the 100 day genocide, but we're unlikely to see any ceremonies out here. We have another early start, 5.30am breakfast and on the road at 6am for a full day game drive. Our destination is Karenge Bush Camp, 110 kilometres away at the northern tip of the park.

    We started spotting wildlife almost straight away with some baboons and zebra in the first 15 minutes, then an avalanche of different creatures - giraffe, waterbuck, vervet monkeys, elephant, topi, crocodile, eland, impala and hippos - and all before lunch!

    Lunch was at the aptly named hippo beach, where more than a dozen hippos lounged around in the mud shallows.

    After lunch our good spotting fortune continued, with sightings of buffalo, a pride of lions, and warthog (and plenty more zebra, antelopes and giraffe). We also saw birds too numerous to mention (Hammerkop were the highlight). About the only animals that live in the park that we didn't see were rhino, leopard and ardvark, the latter being the subject of a running joke that we'll see them next (which was never going to happen as they are nocturnal!)

    The final drive to the campsite was through a heavily forested area where we were inundated with tsete flies in the vehicle (the roof and all the windows were open). If being bitten by a tsete fly is on anyone's bucket list, I can tell you it's not very pleasant!! Thankfully they don't carry sleeping sickness any more, just a very annoying sting (similar to a mosquito, but a sharper pain)

    The bush camp is seasonal and is constructed for 2-3 months each year in the dry season. No concrete is used and all structures are fully dismantled at the end of the season, but they still manage to operate a bar, open air dining room on the deck overlooking the valley, and an outdoor shower and toilet for each tent. Hot water for the shower is bucketed into a drum sitting above a wooden palette, and the shower has a bamboo screen on 3 sides - so you have a great view over the valley as you rinse off the day's dust!

    Dinner was West African chicken curry cooked over an open fire, followed by banana pancakes.

    Stayed: Karenge Bush Camp, Akagera National Park
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  • Day7

    We had a later start today for the trip to Nyungwe Forest, with breakfast scheduled for 7.30am... but I've had my eye on a nearby cache, so this morning was our opportunity to attempt it. It is only 500m from our hotel, as the crow flies, but considerably longer following roads, so I discussed the best route with our tour leader, Aloys. He thought it was too far to walk and suggested taking a moto taxi, but Oliver wasn't keen on sitting on the back of a motorbike in Kigali's traffic!

    He offered to go as a detour on the way out of town, but I didn't want to delay the whole group, so he offered to meet us at 7am and take us alone, then come back for the group after breakfast. So we met him at 7am and drove to the cache site, at the entrance of a hotel. Amazingly, the road off the main road was rougher than any we encountered in Akagera! The streets were teeming with children on the way to school (7.30am start) and the hotel staff were interested to see what we were doing. They knew there was an "item" in the area, and that previous finders had looked on the gates, but didn't know exactly where it was. After a few minutes searching, we had it in hand, much to the delight of the hotel chef, gardener and security guards!

    We got back to the hotel in time to squeeze in some breakfast, and still made the 8.30am departure time with ease.
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  • Day3

    Eight of the group headed out of town for a six hour bike ride. Most were old mountain bikes from the mid 1990's but they did as required. After lots of 'good mornings' and high fives with the children we rode on dirt tracks to two different lakes with islands and beautiful outlooks. It appears that few tourists head through here as we were objects of interest when stopped or riding through villages. After a drink in a little cafe, a few bike stunts from James raised some cheers to keep the crowd happy. After crossing over the lake in a boat with the bikes, a short climb led to a stunning descent with cultivated fields and woodlands. The lung busting final ascent on the road bought us back into town for a well deserved cheese toasty with chips!Read more

  • Day17

    Our last day in Rwanda, before our flight to Amman tonight. Qatar Airlines have cancelled all their flights to Kigali, and at the same time cancelled our onward flight to Amman - fortunately our travel agent was onto it quickly and rebooked us a Kenyan Airways flight to Nairobi, then Qatar Airways to Doha, and a new flight to Amman. The net result is that we don't have a 12 hour stopover in Doha and we get to Amman 4 hours earlier, so it's turned out ok.

    Late breakfast - massive smorgasbord of cereal, fruit, hot and cold meats, freshly squeezed juices (bush tomato was the favourite), pastries, cheeses and our favourite new term, active cooking!

    Aloys was available today to take people to the airport, shopping, to museums, church services and caching! A few went to the tail end a local church service (the full service was from 7am - 11am), while Kerry and Ruth visited the Natural History Museum and we went along to attempt the cache nearby.

    The museum staff first told us the cache was inside the museum grounds and we would have to pay $10 USD each to access it. The cache notes indicate it was outside the museum, so we declined her offer and undertook our own search. We found the spot indicated in the spoiler photo, but the cache was gone. The security guard told Aloys she knew the location, but she took us to the previous coordinates, so we went back to the correct spot and found an empty screw top container in the grass that looked like it could have been the cache container. We were carrying a spare log, so we put it in the container and found a more secure hiding spot very nearby.

    We returned to the hotel briefly before heading out again with Kerry and Ruth to the Genocide Memorial - Ruth to check out the souvenir shop, while we took Kerry in search of the cache we missed 2 weeks ago. We had it in hand very quickly this time, while 2 armed guards looked on quizzically - funny how on second look you wonder how you missed it the first time! We can now claim to have competed every cache in one country - I'm sure that won't happen again!

    Back to the hotel for packing, and the atmosphere has hotted up, with a live band playing near the outside bar. Sunday afternoon around this pool was the place to be seen pre-1994 - local families, expats, politicians, military and business people all mingled together and much of the capital's business was done here over a drink.
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  • Day4

    7am breakfast on the outdoor deck of the Heaven restaurant, under the shade of an Umuvumu tree. This is significant because it's the tree which is found in many villages where they hold town meetings, and is a symbol of repair and reconciliation. For this particular tree, the workers cut through the large roots on one side of the tree when constructing the deck - even though the owners gave instructions to leave the trees untouched - but to their amazement, the tree sent down stilts to support and repair itself on the damaged side, and is still going strong today.

    After a fab breakfast buffet including fresh juice (pineapple, Japanese plum/bush tomato and mango), and an omlette toasted in a chipati, we headed out on a city tour.
    It's a public holiday today for Independence Day (it was actually on July 1, but is observed on the next working day), but the streets were still busy with moto-taxis, bicycles and pedestrians galore.

    Our first stop was the Genocide Memorial and Museum, which was a very sombre experience. On the site, there are 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide buried in mass graves, where tourists visit to pay respects, and locals visit to have a sense of family, where often they are the only surviving member of their family.

    The museum follows the history of Rwanda from pre colonial days to today, mainly concentrating on the 100 days from April to July 1994 where 1 million people were killed, mostly by machete.

    After the killing stopped on 4 July 1994, a government of national unity was formed, which urged people to rebuild their lives together, without seeking revenge - quite an undertaking! It's hard to imagine how they do it, but Rwandans try to meet face to face with the people who killed their loved ones, or with the survivors of people they themselves killed. They have a determination to move on with life, to get past the seemingly impossible, no matter who or what they must forgive, in others or in themselves.

    They achieved this feat through Gacaca (grass) courts, literally held in the village square, often under an Umuvumu tree. Over the space of 10 years, 12,000 community based courts were convened across the country, and 1.9 million cases heard - those who admitted their part in the genocide, confesed fully and asked for forgiveness face to face with surviving family members, were offered half their sentence as community service building roads, making bricks or building houses for survivors. Many survivors were able to learn the fate of loved ones, locate their bodies and bury them with dignity, often at the Genocide Memorial site.
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  • Day1

    Yesterday we had a beautiful journey here, crossing the boarder from Uganda to Rwanda with the Congo boarder also very close by. The road was twisted and turned through more terraced hillsides and views of large old volcanoes in the distance(one was 4500m). We had the roof at the front open (which is called the beach) as we drove along the quiet roads so enjoyed the views all the more while kneeling as we went. Tourism has recently arrived in Rwanda, since the horrific time it had 20 years ago, and is still very poor so we were constantly asked by people for money for 'studying'. They are very polite though once they know you are nit giving them any money or your email address. We all went out for a meal last night, a nice change from camp cooking. Today has been good just to slow down a bit and get some things done.Read more

  • Day7

    Before leaving Kigali, we went into the city centre to look for some fabric from a "hole in the wall" shop - it was no more than a metre wide, but was stacked floor to ceiling with fabric and plenty of purchases were made (pre cut 3.6m lengths were 5,000 Rwandan Francs = $8)

    We left Kigali just after 10am for the 250km drive to Kamembe, in the south west of the country near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The main roads in Rwanda are very good, but travel isn't fast because of the number of pedestrians and bicycles on the road, the mountainous terrain and a speed limit of 60kph (40kph in the city). The police are very active with traffic patrols and speed cameras.

    Just outside of Gatagara we took a 1.5km detour into the village to visit a pottery outlet, local health centre and grab a cache... or it may have been the other way around ☺

    We visited the King's Palace Museum in Nyanza and did a guided tour of the traditional and modern palaces, before heading on to Butare for a very late lunch - by the time we left it was 5.40pm, so the remaining 3 hour drive to Kamembe was in the dark... which made the pedestrian dodging even more difficult!

    Stayed: Emeraude Kivu Resort
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  • Day8

    Cereal and fruit for breakfast this morning and a civilised 8.30am departure for the Waterfall Hike in Nyungwe Forest. The weather is a couple of degrees cooler in this area, but still pleasantly mid 20s and no rain.

    After a briefing at the rangers station we drove with our guide Christophe to the start of the trail. After tucking our pants into our socks to avoid getting ants up our legs, we set off through the tea plantations, but then the going got tougher once we entered the forest. The path was well marked, but had some steep sections, so the walking poles they provided came in handy. The valley was thick with lush rainforest undergrowth, but only a few birds spotted (and some toads).

    The walk to the waterfall took 90 minutes, so we were looking for a rest and snack. The return journey took a little longer.

    Lunch was at the Gisakura Family Hotel - buffet of beef in tomato sauce, cooked plantain, rice, spaghetti, potato chips and steamed pumpkin.

    After lunch we went in search of Black & White Colobus monkeys. The guide was in contact with some trackers who had located a group of about 30 near the edge of the forest, so we only had a few minutes walk. We spent almost an hour watching them jumping from tree to tree along defined "roads", playing, grooming and looking after the 3 youngsters in the group (about 3 weeks old, all white). Also spotted Dent's Monkey and a Blue Monkey, who was acting as lookout from the top of the tallest tree.

    Arrived back at the hotel after dark, had dinner in the hotel restaurant after an African "short wait", ie 90 mins! - whole tilapia for Oliver, chicken and maize for me.

    Bed just after 10pm in preparation for an early morning tomorrow.
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  • Day9

    This was the early morning we knew was coming! As chimpanzees build a nest to sleep in each night, the plan was to arrive in the forest just after they wake up and observe their morning rituals... so the alarm was set for 3.30am for a 4am departure.

    We had about an hour to drive to the start of the trek, then up to an hours' walk to where the chimps were likely to be - a number of trackers go out early to locate the group, then a guide with radio communication leads us to them.

    There was a mix up with the meeting time with another group we were joining up with, so we waited on the side of the road for about an hour before we headed to the Cyamudongo Forest. This forest is only 5 square kms and is separated from the main forest by farm land, so this chimp population is isolated. The long term plan is to reposess land in between to build corridors of native vegetation so the animals can commute freely between both areas, and avoid problems with inbreeding.

    We had quite a steep walk down the valley, at one point taking a shortcut through the vegetation to get to the next path, before the chimps moved on. We heard them in the distance before we saw them, so our first sighting of 2 chimps sitting on the path ahead, grooming each other, was rather surreal. They were much bigger than we expected and not quite as docile as we believed - about 3% of their diet is meat, so they occasionally kill smaller monkeys, or other chimps for food. They have also been know to kill humans, if they are threatened.

    There was plenty of movement in the bushes around us, with calls from both sides, then all hell broke loose as a younger male challenged the alpha male, in the bushes just above us. Teeth were bared, branches ripped as a show of agression, and screeching galore as the 2 males fought. It was a reminder that these are wild animals, and we were in their territory. Everyone remained calm and did as we were told (stay still and don't run, even if you think you should!), and the heart quickening moment was over in about 30 seconds. Carla has been observing chimps in the wild for 20 years and had never seen males fighting like this, so it was more special than we first realised.

    We moved around the corner and observed the rest of the group for a while, then moved away and ate our packed breakfast (boiled egg, jam sandwich, cheese and fresh fruit).

    We left the forest via a local village, had an impromptu demonstration of how to tie a baby sling, African style, and headed to the Gisakura Guest House for lunch (buffet of rice, potato chips, beef in tomato gravy, peas, and fresh pineapple)

    As it was the first time we have arrived in Kamembe in daylight, we drove the scenic route to the hotel, and witnessed wedding photos being taken up the road from our hotel. The bride struck a pose for us and we obliged as tourists do!

    As we came into the hotel, the reception staff suggested we order tea now to avoid waiting later - we were happy to oblige! (matoke (plantain) with peanut sauce for me, vegetarian lasagne for Oliver). We did some much needed washing, then tea and drinks on the deck.
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You might also know this place by the following names:

Republic of Rwanda, Ruanda, Rwanda, ሩዋንዳ, رواندا, Rvanda, Руанда, Ruwanda, রুয়ান্ডা, རུ་ཝན་ཌ།, Rwanda nutome, Ρουάντα, Ruando, روواندا, Ruwanndaa, Rouanda, Ruanda - Rwanda, રવાંડા, רואנדה, रवांडा, Ռուանդա, Rúanda, ルワンダ, რუანდა, រវ៉ាន់ដា, ರುವಾಂಡಾ, 르완다, ڕواندا, ລາວັນດາ, Roanda, റുവാണ്ട, ရဝန်ဒါ, रवाण्डा, ରାୱାଣ୍ଡା, روندا, u Rwanda, Ruandäa, ருவான்டா, ర్వాండా, ประเทศรวันดา, Luanitā, رۋاندا, روانڈا, Ru-an-đa, Ruandän, Orílẹ́ède Ruwanda, 卢旺达, i-Rwanda

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