Travel to Rwanda
When to visit
Rwanda can be visited at any time, but gorilla tracking tends to be least challenging in the relatively dry months of June to September and December to February. Conversely, last minute gorilla tracking permits are most readily available over the low season of March to May.
Visas and paperwork
A visa is required by all US visitors to Rwanda. For tourist visits of up to 30 days, these can be bought on arrival by air at any land border provided your passport is valid. Those spending longer in the country should buy an e-visa in advance.
Did You Know?
Did You Know?
At a Glance/Highlights
Straddling the northwest border with Uganda and the Congo, Volcanoes National Park protects the Rwandan portion of the Virunga, a series of imperious freestanding volcanoes whose forested slopes provide sanctuary to the same mountain gorilla groups studied by Dian Fossey. Gorilla tracking is the most popular activity, with 96 permits available daily to visit 12 different habituated groups, and it surely ranks among the world’s most thrilling and engaging wildlife encounters. Other activities include tracking Endangered golden monkeys, hiking to Fossey’s former research center and tomb at Karisoke, and the steep ascent to the lovely crater lake at the summit of 12,175ft Mount Bisoke.
One of the most scenic savanna reserves anywhere in Africa, Akagera National Park protects a diverse landscape of acacia woodland, open grassland and rocky outcrops dipping towards a labyrinthine network of swamps and lakes fed by the Kagera River. An exciting program of reintroduction undertaken since 2010 means this park is now home to all the Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and black rhino), along with large numbers of hippo and giraffe, a dozen species of antelope, while a checklist of 530 birds includes shoebill and many other aquatic species. Game drives can be supplemented with boat trips, guided walks and night drives.
Protecting the largest extant block of Afromontane forest in East or Central Africa, Nyungwe National Park is renowned for its exceptional biodiversity. L’Hoest’s monkey is the most conspicuous of 13 primate species, but visitors can also track habituated chimpanzees and a hyperactive troop of 400+ Angola colobus monkeys. A checklist of 270 bird species includes 26 Albertine Rift endemics, while botanical treats include other-worldly giant lobelias and 200 varieties of orchid.
Running for 100km along the Congolese border, beautiful Lake Kivu is hemmed in by the steep green hills of the Albertine Rift escarpment. The most popular resort town is Rubavu (Gisenyi), a short drive west of Volcanoes National Park.
From a travel perspective, Rwanda is practically synonymous with mountain gorillas. It was here, in 1967, on the forested slopes of the spectacular Virunga volcanoes, that Dian Fossey initiated her celebrated study of mountain gorillas, and here too that the Oscar-nominated movie Gorillas in the Mist was filmed. Unsurprisingly, gorilla tracking is now Rwanda’s most popular tourist activity, so much so that it’s become conventional to tag a pitstop visit for that sole reason onto a safari elsewhere in Africa. But Rwanda can also lay claim to being a worthwhile standalone ecotourism destination. Big Five safaris can be undertaken in the revitalized Akagera National Park, chimps and a diverse assembly of rare birds and monkeys inhabit Nyungwe National Park, while the mountain-ringed shores of Lake Kivu provide an opportunity to enjoy some downtime.
All international flights to Rwanda land at Kigali International Airport, which is situated on the eastern outskirts of the capital. There are no direct flights from the US, but several African, European and Middle Eastern airlines offer connecting flights.
Health and safety
Malaria is present in most parts of Rwanda and prophylactics are recommended to all visitors. Crime levels are low, but it is not advisable to walk after dark in Kigali.