A quick few Rwanda notes: Sept 2010
For the full story of our travels, you’re welcome to have a look at the Blog on www.pictureafrica.org or http://africapicture.blogspot.com/. The purpose of this thread is to mention the places we stayed in Rwanda, how much we paid and how we found it. I’ll also mention the annoyances of the country to hopefully prepare future travellers a little better.
Rwanda caters well for aid workers, UN and embassy staff with big budgets and thick wallets. It is not a camping destination and tourism is very limited indeed. Saying that, it is a phenomenally beautiful country and our visit was rewarding and life changing. We found MTN to be the best and cheapest cell phone company and their Internet was cheap and efficient. It is as simple as walking into a store in Kigali and buying a sim card… and having it activated for internet while you are in the store. Fuel was expensive, but cheese and wine was cheap and distances small. They do drive on the right side of the narrow roads which makes driving a RHD Land Cruiser quite tricky.
We entered the country at the Rusumo Falls border with Tanzania. Border crossing could not have been easier and there was not a single tout in sight! No visa was required, the Carnet made customs happy and we were in and out, without paying a single penny in about 30 minutes. We changed Tanzania Shilling for Rwanda Francs at the first Bureau we saw right at the border. The rate was fine.
Our first destination was Centre St Joseph which offers camping in car park. It is in the town of Ngoma at S2 08.899 E30 32.956. I read about it from www.gapyear4x4.com who had a great time there and paid very little for it. We arrived at lunch time, so decided to head on to Kigali.
In Kigali we camped at One Love (T4A) for $10 per person. The facilities were negligible and driving a big 4x4 with roof top tent instead of backpacking or on a bike proved a bit of an issue. We camped in the car park after not being allowed to drive into the camp site. The night we were there was incredibly noisy with dogs and people and security guards chatting. We were absolutely plagued by mosquitoes despite our netting on the roof top tent and didn’t actually sleep one bit.
We tried to obtain Gorilla permits, but the system was off line, so ran out of the city and headed to Kibuye on the southern part of Kivu Lake. After shopping around a little and being offered camping at $15 per person in a dirty lake side spot, we settled on Hotel Centre Bethanie (T4A) which is run by the Presbyterian Church and serves as a conference centre. The room was HUGE and the bed, with mozzie net comfortable. The shower was hot and nice and the restaurant was inexpensive. The rate for a double room was $30 and we had dinner for about $8 each. They also have, believe it or not, free wifi at a very fast speed.
We headed back to Kigali after that and got our gorilla permits for three days later. It was a Friday and the weekend was full, as expected. Although you can pay by VISA, they obviously charge 5% extra, so cash in king. If you have small bills in US$, get rid of them here as you get a worse rate on them. We tried one or two hotels but $40 could get us nothing that I was willing to stay at. The one place which had great promise, but was full was also Presbyterian Church run and at S1 56.914 E30 04.049. I forget the name, but its in LP.
We headed out of the city again, refusing to be subjected to One Love again and ended up camping at La Palisse hotel (T4A) on a lakeside some two hours south east of the city. Contrary tot what T4A may tell you, they do not have a camp site. They agreed to us camping, but wanted to charge us $40 a night!!! We negotiated down by actually driving away and being followed to $20 for the two of us. The setting was fantastic! The facilities were almost non existent, but it was quiet and offered a great sleep. There is very little in the area, so not really worth going all that way for a none camp site.
Next on our agenda were the Genocide sites. We went to the two main churches which words can not explain! Nyamata Church (T4A) was one and Ntarama Church Genocide Memorial (T4A) was the other. Warning here! You need to feel strong and emotionally very stable before venturing there, but if you are, it can well be a life changing experience. Next stop was the Kigali Genocide museum which is the formal and main museum. Well worth a visit and it is free! You do pay $1 for an audio tour thingy through and without it you’d be lost. Lonely Planet has a good description of what it entails.
Refusing another night of hell in One Love we headed to Gisenyi and unfortunately did not know about the camping someone else described here: http://www.horizonsunlimited.com/hubb/sub-saharan-africa/camping-and-banks-in-rwanda-52567. instead we stayed in another Presbyterian Church place for almost no money for a fantastic room with en suite and ate more food than you can imagine for about $1 a piece in their restaurant. Centre d'accueil de I'Eglise Presbyterienne is the full name and it can be found at S1 41.836 E29 15.720. We didn’t do anything per say in Gisenyi apart from chilling out. BTW, the Palm Beach Hotel as on T4A and described in LP does not exist any longer. In its place is a $250 a person hotel with a car park full of UN and World Food Aid Land Cruisers…
Before the Gorilla trekking we stayed at Kinigi Guest House (T4A). It is less than 1km from the actual park office and offers fantastic rooms for $50 per double, including breakfast. Dinner cost us about $10 a person, so not anything that will totally break the bank. The shower in our room was cold, but after complaining we were moved to a different room with a hot shower. They also offered dorm rooms, but I did not ask about rates.
The Gorilla trekking was phenomenal and could be described as our second life changing experience in Rwanda. The $500 per person seems steep and still hurts, but as a once in a lifetime thing, it is well worth it. We met many Americans who bought permits for consecutive days, in case they didn’t see the Gorillas on the first visit. I wouldn’t worry about that too much. There is a rule of keeping 7m away from the animals, but no one told the Gorillas about this, so they come right up to you! There is also a rumour that you’re not allowed a video camera. We took a small Sony HD and a couple of DSLR’s and even a monopod and no one minded.
Getting money seems to be the hardest thing to do in Rwanda. At about S1 56.712 E30 03.660 is a big shopping mall with safe parking. Apart from having a fantastic super market downstairs, with the cheapest cheese in Africa and a great selection of wine, it also had a bank that will give you US$ on your VISA for a 3% fee. The best advice is to take enough large bill $ from the country you came from, but then again, getting $ in Africa is a pain in the arse as it is. I find this bizarre in every country where the government prefers it to their own currency…
Rwanda is incredibly densely populated! Finding a place to stop to have lunch or take a break or have a pee without being discovered and swamped by locals is virtually impossible. Saying that, there was zero hostility and the locals were curious about us and what we were doing. We stopped for some vegetables by the road side and by the time we left we had 70 followers around us.
Getting rid of your excess Rwanda Francs is not so easy either. We exchanged for Uganda Shillings right by the border and got a terrible rate! Best advice would be to empty your wallet into your fuel tank and at $1.55 a litre, that won’t be difficult.
No worries about missing the campsite. If your had a roof tent, then you would have been in the parking lot again. The camping is for normal tents on the lawn in front of the rooms with no access except on foot. Like at One Love, you park in the lot and then walk your gear in... if you can.
Great information, thank you!
In Kigali there's a new place to stay, Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel. Camping is available for $10 per person or dorms for $15 (breakfast included). The facilities are much better than One Love. They have a self catering kitchen, bar / lounge, tv, wifi. Some directions here.
Also to get cash on international visa cards the atm at Eco Bank on Ave de la Paix works fine with no extra fees.
Check whether you need a visa before coming to Rwanda. If you do it isn't possible to get it at the border without first completing the online application and printing out the confirmation that gets emailed back. We met people in Uganda who had been turned back at the border because of this.
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