Rwanda is visa-free for all African citizens

Here is another momentous announcement out of Rwanda; all African citizens visiting Rwanda no longer require a visa. In other words, Rwanda is visa free for all Africans. The announcement was made by President of Rwanda H.E. Paul Kagame on Thursday, 2nd November 2023 at the 23rd Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Summit held in Kigali. This effectively opens up Rwanda to all of Africa, from Nigeria to Egypt to South Africa, all citizens will not need to pay for a visa to enter Rwanda. Previously only citizens in the East Africa community to which Rwanda belongs were exempted from visa payment.

This is another landmark announcement after recently Rwanda opened up for all travelers from the whole world to be able to acquire visas on arrival. Now, with this new announcement it even gets better for African citizens as they do not need to pay for visas at all. As an African citizen you just have to pack your bags, check the next flight to Rwanda and off to Rwanda, and arriving into one of the cleanest cities on the continent.

With the doors now wide open for African citizens, here is an opportunity for you as an African to experience the “land of thousands hills”.

As an African citizen, what do you know or have you heard about Rwanda? It is the clean streets, her beautiful ladies, the gorillas, the rolling landscape and volcanic mountains or her dark past of the genocide?

What interesting things can Africans do in Rwanda?

Here are some of the interesting things you can do as an African

City tour – experience an utopia in Africa

I have to say Kigali City is a must visit for any African, if not for anything but just to see that modern, clean and safe cities can be built by Africans. At least this may restore hope in you and make you feel good as an African because African cities are synonymous with dirt, crime, slums, bad infrastructure and all that.

Kigali City also has plenty of things to do and see, from wildlife reserves such as Umusambi Villaage Wildlife Reserve, historical places such as the museums about the genocide and history of Rwanda, car-free zones with free internet, amazing art galleries & crafts shops, nice building such as the iconic convention center, amazing nightlife with no worry about your safety anywhere, vibrant suburbs such as Nyamirambo, etc…

Visit Gorillas on special African rates

When it comes to wildlife, Rwanda is known for the gorillas and the gorilla trekking adventure, however the gorilla trek is also known as a very expensive activity that is largely left to the international travelers who can afford. Indeed the gorilla trek is quite pricy with international travelers having to pay $1500 for a gorilla tracking ticket/permit. However, at the moment Rwanda has given Africans a special discounted price of $500. So, visit Rwanda and enjoy the once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Silverback gorilla in the mountains.

Take a safari trip to Akagera National Park

Rwanda is perhaps not popular as a safari country but the country’s only savannah region protected in the Akagera National Park is fast developing into a credible big game destination having all the big five (Lion, Leopard, Rhino, Elephant, Buffalo) and plenty of other wildlife. This in addition to amazing scenery with diverse habitats and landscapes of large wetlands and lakes, savannah, grassy hills and forests, create an amazing safari experience with more than just animals.

The park is also just 2.5 hours’ drive from Kigali City making it so accessible that you can do a day trip and have a chance to see all the big five.

How about a beautiful getaway to Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s biggest lake located along the western border with the Congo, is an excellent place for a getaway and spend relaxation time in resort along the beautiful lake shore from where you can take a boat ride and enjoy the breathtaking scenery along the shore and across the lake visiting the islands. There are also exciting water adventures you can do in Lake Kivu such as paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing, etc…

Here are ideas on short trips you can do in Rwanda

Nyungwe National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

On September 19, 2023 Rwanda has received wonderful news, it has been confirmed Nyungwe National Park has been inscribed on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Nyungwe National Park also becomes the first site in Rwanda to be listed in the UNESCO World Heritage sites which are places of global importance. That is to mean, sites that should be recognized and protected because they possess a biodiversity (in the case of the Nyungwe) or something and that is not found in many places in the world and should therefore be protected for the future generations to find. UNESCO World Heritage sites are therefore of benefit to the whole world not just to the places where they are found.

In 2021 Nyungwe National Park was put on the list of places that were under consideration to be qualified as UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has been long overdue for the site to be recognized and included.

Why Nyungwe National Park’s inscription was long overdue?

Nyungwe National Park protects an ancient forest that has been around since the last ice age thousands of years ago. This longevity has enabled it accumulate and protect an incredible biodiversity. The forest has a lot of species that are not found anywhere else on the planet and researchers are continually discovering new wildlife most of which is not found outside Nyungwe and the Albertine Rift valley. Moreover, there are very few forests of this kind left in Africa and therefore elevating Nyungwe to a UNESCO heritage site is vital in preserving important global ecosystems that have been threatened by human settlement and exploitation. Many such forests in Africa have been depleted.

Nyungwe is also an important water catchment for the region and the continent of Africa as it contributes water to two major rivers in Africa, that is, the world’s longest river the Nile River (the farthest known source of the Nile is found in Nyungwe) and the Congo River. Nyungwe also provides 70% of the fresh water in Rwanda.

What does this new status mean for Nyungwe National Park and Rwanda?

This status is very vital for Nyungwe National Park as it brings it at the forefront of conservation efforts. Nyungwe will now attract more funding for conservation as a world heritage site. This therefore helps the survival of this vital ecosystem.

Rwanda getting her first UNESCO World Heritage site is an achievement worth celebrating and is a testament to the massive effort the government of Rwanda has put in protecting and preserving her natural resources. Rwanda is dedicated to protecting the natural resources and the ecosystems amidst the immense challenges and pressures these places due to an increasing and demanding population. Seeing what Rwanda has done with the recovery of Akagera National Park which is was nearly no more but now has all the big five, the turn around seen at the Volcanoes National Park whose gorilla population is growing every year that many baby gorilla are named during every during the Kwita Izina gorilla naming ceremony,  this shows Rwanda needs to be commended as one of the biggest conservation successes in the world.

What do in Nyungwe National Park

If you are visiting Rwanda then a UNESCO Heritage World Heritage site should on the list of places to visit. Nyungwe provides an array of experiences for the nature lover. The most popular activity is the chimpanzee trekking, an activity that gives you a chance to track down a community of chimps and spend an hour around them and it is one of the best wildlife encounters you can have. If you are visit Rwanda for the gorilla trekking, the best way to compliment meeting the gentle giants is going to Nyungwe for the chimpanzee trekking.

There is a canopy walk adventure in Nyungwe National Park that is highlight you should not miss. The walkway provides breathtaking views across the forest and a chance to see monkeys and birds at eye level.

Nyungwe National Park is a birdwatching heaven that provides the best opportunity to tick off the Albertine Rift endemic species including the Rwenzori Turaco

Other activities to do in Nyungwe National Park include nature walks on several trails leading to beautiful parts of the park such to a waterfal, tracking the colobus monkeys, visit a tea estate on the edge of the forest. Night walks are also available in Nyungwe to enable discover the nocturnal life of the forest you won’t see during the day.

What is the best time to visit Rwanda?

Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills is a bucket list destination mostly for the famous gorilla trek, which can be supplemented with other exciting experiences and adventures such as chimpanzee trekking, volcano hiking, big five safaris in Akagera National Park, and art and culture tours among others.

After deciding to visit Rwanda the next question on the minds of travelers is what could be the best time to make the trip to Rwanda?

Well, first of all and very important to know, Rwanda is one of the easiest, if not thee easiest country to visit in Africa because no matter where you are from you do not need to apply for a visa in advance. No! You simply fly to Rwanda and have your visa given to you on arrival with no hustle. This is an “open door policy” Rwanda operates.

You can visit Rwanda at any time of the year, it is beautiful and safe all the time. However some factors may influence on the best time for you to decide to visit which I discuss below:

Best Weather season (dry season vs wet season)

There are two weather seasons in Rwanda (dry season and wet season) and the best time to visit Rwanda is during the warm/dry season which is from June to mid-September and from December to February. The dry or warm season receives little to no rains which makes travel and outdoor activities much more convenient. Thankfully the long dry season from June to September coincides with the summer time when a lot of people take vacations.

However, it is not entirely bad visiting Rwanda during the wet/rainy season from March to April and October to part of December when there are more frequent rains, because the scenery is at its best and there are no crowds so you will have near exclusivity at a lot of activities. However you have to be ready for any interruptions by rains (be ready with rain gears). Also be ready for harder trekking because of the slippery and muddy trails, but gorillas, chimps and other wildlife in the mountains is ever more beautiful.

Best time for some tours/activities

Best time for trekking and safari

Trekking in the mountains to see the gorillas and golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park and chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest is best done during the dry season (June to Sept, Dec to Feb) because the trails will be dry and therefore hiking is easier. However the animals are seen throughout the year.

The big game safari in Akagera National Park is also better done in the dry season as you can explore all trails easily with no worry of getting stuck in the mud. Wildlife may also be easier to see because of the shorter dried grass. The grass and bushes are thicker during the wet season which can hinder animal sightings. However the wet season brings the best scenery in Akagera with lush greenery landscapes.

Best time for birding

To get the best from your birding tour to Rwanda the best time to visit Rwanda is during the bird migration season. The Palearctic birds escaping winter start arriving in October and leave by May, so if you want to record the biggest checklist of birds in Rwanda the Palearctic migration season is the best time to visit, more so from the time after December when they start putting on the colorful plumage.

However, if your interest is only the resident species, more so the Albertine rift endemics then any time of the year is fine, more so after the migrants have left so that your identification is easier.

Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony

Kwita Izina gorilla naming day in Rwanda is one of the most beautiful ceremonies to attend in Rwanda. The Kwita Izina ceremony is about naming baby gorillas that were born in the last year and it is a colorful and eventful ceremony where Rwandan cultures and traditions are at display through dances and songs. The ceremony is carried out at the foot of the Virunga mountains in the north of Rwanda. It is attended by international celebrities and important persons that are invited to give the gorillas names.

You can plan your gorilla trekking trip for during the Kwita Izina ceremony which is often planned for the first week of September

Is there a bad time to visit Rwanda?

It is safe to visit Rwanda all throughout the year, but these times may feel uneasy for you while in Rwanda so may be you can avoid visiting, or may also be a good time to visit for these particular experiences

Kwibuka (Genocide remembrance)

Every month of April on 7th Rwandan remembers the Genocide against the Tutsi, a dark time in the history of Rwanda which casts such a blanket of misery all across Rwanda. The ignites the horrors of the genocide for those that were alive or lost their loved ones during the genocide in April 1994.

The mood on this day and next subsequent is so sad that as a visitor you may feel such uneasiness and a feeling of emptiness may grip. This is possibly the worst time to visit Rwanda.

Umuganda day – cleaning day (last Saturday of the month)

Not necessarily a bad time to visit Rwanda, actually it may be a good time to visit and witness how Rwanda has managed to be one of the cleanest and tidiest countries in Africa through Umuganda day. Umuganda day is the last Saturday of every month when all citizens get out with shovels, brooms, rakes and other tools to clean their communities. No one is exempt except those involved in emergency services such as health and security.

The downside to this day is that for the first half of the day the country is literally under quarantine from 8am to 11am so no movement is allowed. If you need to get somewhere you may be highly inconvenienced by this.

Required vaccinations for visiting Rwanda

Visiting Africa comes with concerns about health for many travelers, rightly so because of the frequent epidemics and disease outbreaks on the continent. However, Rwanda has a relatively good healthcare system that it is the only country in sub-Sahara Africa where every citizen has a mandatory health insurance cover. Rwanda is also notable for swiftly and efficiently responding to any epidemics and disease outbreaks in the region which is an assurance to travelers that their health is not so much at risk while visiting as compared to many countries in Africa. That said, you will need to vaccinate against diseases as a requirement for you to be allowed into Rwanda and also as a necessary protection against particular diseases or infections common in this region of Africa.

What are the required vaccinations?

Yellow Fever

A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate (yellow card) is mandatory for all travelers flying into Rwanda. The yellow fever vaccination should be taken at least 10 days before traveling.

Rwanda is not on the list of the yellow fever risk areas, but neighboring countries of Uganda, Burundi and D.R. Congo are, so in addition to being a requirement you are also protected as the infection is not far.

Covid -19

Travelers flying into Rwanda and are fully vaccinated do not need to take a PCR test before flying to Rwanda. A fully vaccinated person is one that has at least 2 shots.

Not required but necessary

The following are not required for your entry into Rwanda but for your safety are necessary for you to take:

  • Malaria – take prescription medicine before, during and after
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles – Mumps – Rubella
  • Tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis
  • Polio
  • Seasonal influenza

Do you need any vaccine the gorilla trekking?

At the moment you are not required to take any vaccination for gorilla trekking and the mandatory testing before the trek was lifted.

Is there a best time to visit Akagera National Park?

When it comes to the classic big game safari, Rwanda has just one place to go and that is Akagera National Park. Akagera national park located in the east of the country protects the country’s only savannah environment as the rest of the country is mostly mountainous and forest.

An area that had been reduced to nearly a bushland where poachers had leeway thanks to the misrule & conflicts of the yesteryears, Akagera National Park is now on the way to becoming one of the top wildlife safari destinations in the region – thanks to African Parks organization that has ensured that this is one of the most protected parks on the continent. All the “big five” are now present in the park after the reintroduction of rhinos and lions whose numbers are steadily growing. Recent periodic censuses of wildlife in Akagera National Park have shown a steady increase in numbers of all animals in the park. Safaris in Akagera are becoming more exciting every other day as one can now find a herd of elephants (previously you would be lucky to spot a solitary individual far away), and have better sightings of other big game such as giraffes, buffaloes, zebras, and antelopes, among others.

One can therefore look forward to a rewarding big game safari experience in Rwanda other than just the famous gorilla trekking in the Virunga mountains or the chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe forest.

But, as a park that is steadily recovering her wildlife numbers one may ask if there is a best time to visit Akagera National Park and also if there is a time one should avoid the park?

Dry season vs Rainy Season in Akagera National Park

You will visit Akagera either during the dry season or the wet season which are the two weather seasons of Rwanda.

Visiting Akagera during the dry season

The dry season runs from June to early September and from December to February.

Most people visit Akagera National Park during the dry season. The dry season provides the best weather for the safari trip to Akagera because the trails are dry allowing you explore every possible trail of the park and reach every possible corner of the park to discover more wildlife. The dry season also allows you spend as much time out in the bush as possible without the interruption of rain.

The downside of the dry season is that, during the really hot time, such as the month of August, the animals move closer to the permanent water sources and to areas with more fresh grass which may be far away from the safari trails. You may therefore see fewer animals during a certain time of the dry season, especially August which is the hottest month.

Visiting Akagera during the wet season

The wet season runs from March to May and late September to November.

The wet season is not a favorite time for many to travel to Akagera National Park. One, because the rains may interrupt your experience while out in the bush making your safari drives shorter and therefore less productive. The safari trails also become muddy and may be unpassable in some areas limiting the access of some parts of the park. A sturdy 4X4 safari truck is highly recommended if you will visit Akagera during the wet season. Also, the grass is taller and bushes thicker which could make sightings of smaller animals much harder.

On the other hand, the wet season could be the best time to visit Akagera National Park. The scenery is surreal during the wet season and the lush greenery is breathtaking.

Animals will tend to be closer to the safari trails during the wet season. They do not have been closer to the unreachable water sources as there is enough water in pools throughout the park. So as much as the rains will make some parts of the park unreachable, some of the big animals may be easier to find during this time than during some time when it is really hot during the dry season.

Is there a time to avoid Akagera National Park?

There is not such a time that one will go to Akagera National Park and fail to see plenty of animals or not enjoy the savannah. It is only if you will try to compare Akagera with the great safari destinations in the region such as Masai Mara of Kenya or Serengeti of Tanzania or Murchison Falls Park of Uganda, that you will be disappointed. Akagera is a recovering park but that is making tremendous strides and will catch up soon. If you have visited any of these popular reserves in the East Africa region and want to supplement your experience then do not go to Akagera, or if you go, please keep an open mind and enjoy the bush, because what Akagera may luck in a big volume of animals makes up with an amazing scenery.

You may also not want do a safari trip to Akagera during August if extremely warm weather is a turn off for you. Avoid going during April too if you are not ready to be inconvenienced by near daily heavy down pours as this the wettest month of the rainy season.