Is Rwanda safe for tourists?

One of the biggest concerns for tourists planning to travel to Africa, more so to Sub-Saharan Africa, is safety or security. Rwanda is located in the central Africa a region known for insecurity so it is understandable when one is concerned before booking that gorilla trekking trip, or a safari to meet the chimpanzees and walk in the canopy of Nyungwe forest, an ancient forest said to have existed since the ice age.

This blog will enlighten you on how safe Rwanda is and how to keep safe in Rwanda

Rwanda, by far is the most secure and safest country in Africa….

Due to her tumultuous past and location in a volatile region, Rwanda has invested heavily in her security systems. Rwanda has one of the most effective militaries in Africa that has ensured insurgencies in the region never spill over into her land, and a police force so professional that ensures everyone in Rwanda is safe and none is above the law!

I don’t know any cities in Africa where you can comfortably walk on a street at night while using your smartphone and not lose it within minutes, it is possible only in Rwanda’s capital Kigali City and in all other towns in Rwanda. Here you walk any street or alley without having to constantly look over your shoulders worrying about getting mugged like it is in most African cities and towns.

The clean and very tidy streets all across the country are well lit and with security cameras.

A few safety concerns and how to keep safe in Rwanda

There is no perfect society, keep this in mind when you visit Rwanda because it is not heaven 😊

Though at very low levels, there are petty crimes such as; pickpocketing, phone snatching, car break-ins

Take the following precautions to avoid any surprises:

  • Do not leave money, passports and devices like phones in your hotel room. If there is a safe keep those that you cannot carry with you in a safe
  • Do not display money in public or show off how you got a lot of money in public
  • Do not leave valuables in the car
  • Ensure the door to your hotel room is locked when you go to bed
  • Do not leave your smartphone unattended to on a table or charging spot. Keep it in your pocket if not in use.
  • Do not give away your email. Some locals will approach you and request for your email to send you soliciting emails.

I need to stress that no one is above the law and you can’t offer a bribe and get away like in most African countries. If you break any law you will be charged without any favor.

Respect the traditions and cultures

Some of things not to do while in Rwanda to keep within the law and respect the local traditions:

  • Do not liter! Rwanda is probably the cleanest country in Africa because effort has been put into enforcing laws against littering. A culture of cleanliness has been developed through communal cleaning activities every last Saturday of the month.
  • Obey traffic rules to the hilt! If you will be driving, the easiest laws to break are the traffic laws such as driving above the speed limit. Ensure you or your driver respect the speed limit and other road/traffic laws
  • The genocide is still fresh in the memories of many adult Rwandans. Please avoid starting a conversation about the genocide with just about anyone because it is very sensitive topic.
  • Rwandan women are some of the most respected and protected in Africa. Disrespecting a Rwandan woman may be one of the quickest ways to earn you jail time in Rwanda. If you are man, avoid bad touches, vulgar conversations etc…
  • Do not take pictures of military sites, government buildings and border crossing points. It is totally prohibited. I need to stress, do not take pictures of any military installation, you will be detained promptly.

Latest 2021 covid 19 guidelines for visiting Rwanda – lockdown guidelines for tourists and organizing tours in Rwanda

Life in Rwanda was getting back to near normal until the Delta variant of the sars-cov-2 virus arrived in June of 2021.

Today is 23rd July 2021 and as I write this, Rwanda is facing the 3rd wave of the covid 19 pandemic because of the highly transmissible Delta variant. Rwanda was forced to reinstate the stricter guidelines to curb the ravaging Delta variant, including stopping public transport, putting curfew from 6pm to 5am. Some districts of the country that are more infected have been placed under total lockdown with no movement allowed except for most essential and no business (except essentials) allowed to operate, and one of these districts is Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda. While inter district travel is forbidden throughout Rwanda.

Luckily, tourism is still open and tourists are allowed to fly into Rwanda and visit Rwanda’s different tourism destinations all of which are open (here are top things to do and see in Rwanda). So you can continue planning your gorilla trek, chimpanzee trek or wildlife safari trip to Akagera Park. But there are guidelines to be followed by all tourism players so as to ensure safety and prevent any farther spread of the virus. You may find the guidelines quite bureaucratic but this is to ensure your safety and that of the locals.

Note that nearly all tourism and hospitability personnel in Rwanda have been vaccinated against covid 19 and these include personnel at parks and other tour destinations, tour guides/drivers, tourist hotels staff.

Planning to visit Rwanda during this latest development of the pandemic and have many questions about what to expect and what guidelines you are to go through? We at Nature Trails East Africa have so far organized two birding trips in Rwanda during this pandemic time and below I shall take you through the guidelines and processes tourists go through, plus also answer some frequently asked questions:

How to prepare before traveling to Rwanda?

1. Take a covid test

You are required to take a covid 19 PCR test, and have a negative result within 72 hours (3 days) to the time of arrival in Rwanda. Note that the 72 hours is counted from the time of collecting your samples.

It does not matter whether you are fully vaccinated, you must take the Covid 19 test and have negative results.

You will print out the results that you shall present on arrival at Kigali International Airport.

2. Book a 24-hour quarantine hotel at your cost

You will undergo another covid 19 test upon arrival in Rwanda and quarantine in a hotel for 24 hours as you wait for your results. Therefore, before traveling to Rwanda you must book a hotel for the 24hrs. There is a list of designated quarantine hotels of different budgets. Book the hotel and receive a confirmation from the hotel which you shall also present on arrival. Here is a list of designated hotels. https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/src/Designated%20Hotels.pdf

You will pay for the hotel at checking in.

3. Fill the Passenger Locator Form

Next, you must fill the Passenger Locator Form before taking your flight to Rwanda. Here is the link to the form: https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/ The Passenger Locator Form is an online portal Rwanda will use to follow you up in case you or someone you are traveling with has developed covid 19 symptoms. You will also use this platform to track your covid 19 test results as they will posted to your registered account. To fill this form, you must have booked your flight, done your test, and booked your quarantine hotel and received the confirmation. You can fill the locator form a few hours to taking the flight.

Arrival at the airport

1. Another mandatory test on arrival at your cost

On arrival at the airport, you will be warmly received by the immigration officers, your covid 19 negative test document & hotel confirmation checked.

You will pay for your covid test which is USD60 that you can pay in cash or using your visa card.

You will then proceed to waiting nurses in nicely set up testing tents where they will collect samples from your throat.

You will be given a printed receipt confirming that your samples have been collected for the test, and the receipt also includes a unique ID number that you will use to check your results by texting a code on the phone, or logging into the passenger locater. You will be guided on how to do this.

After sample collection you will continue to the immigrations’ booths for visa clearance and you continue to the exit.

2. 24 hour Hotel Quarantine

At the exit, you fill find an airport official with a list of all arrivals and their respective quarantine hotels they booked.

Your hotel driver will be waiting, you get into the car and driven to the hotel for your 24 hour quarantine as you wait for your results.

The results come back within 24 hours, and typically by after 8 – 12 hours most travelers have received theirs. You will check for your results after this time by logging into Passenger Locater Form platform or dialing the code on your phone. The hotel will also keep checking for you.

Otherwise you are not allowed to leave your room until your results are back (negative). All meals will be provided in your room.

Once the hotel confirms your negative results you will be free to leave your room and continue with your travels.

3. 7 Days hotel quarantine for passengers coming from Uganda and India.

Rwanda recognizes neighboring Uganda, and India as countries with highest infections of the sars-cov-2 virus (especially the Delta variant) and all travelers coming from these two countries, or have been to these two countries in the last seven days mush undergo a 7 day quarantine time instead of 24 hours. This is to eliminate any possibility of the variant slipping through.

There is another set of designated 7 day quarantine hotels different from the 24 hour. They are listed here https://travel.rbc.gov.rw/travel/

This is also at your own cost.

The 7 day quarantine can take a toll on you. In case you are not ready for it and yet you have to travel to Rwanda, you can transit through another country (say Kenya) and spend a week before continuing to Rwanda. This way you will only do the 24 hours hotel quarantine

4. What happens if I test positive on arrival in Rwanda?

If your results come back positive, you will be picked from the hotel and taken to a health facility where you will be treated.

All treatment is at your own cost.

Once you test negative you will be free to continue with your travels in Rwanda.

Traveling in Rwanda during lockdown

Inter district travel is not permitted, but tourists can travel throughout Rwanda and cross the different districts after attaining a pass/permit issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB).

The requirements to get a pass are: a negative covid 19 test done in the last 120 hours, and a confirmation from your destination e.g. hotel booking or activity do in the park.

Visiting the Rwanda parks during the pandemic and lockdown

Rwanda has 4 national parks including Volcanoes National Park, Akagera National Park, Nyungwe National Park and Gishwati – Mukura National Park.

All the above parks are open for tours.

However, each park requires having a negative covid test result of within 72 hours before visiting the park.

The primate parks which are Volcanoes National Park (gorillas, golden monkeys), Nyungwe National Park (chimpanzees and monkeys) & Gishwati – Mukura national park (chimps & monkeys) require a PCR test which takes longer to get results coming back within 24 hours. Therefore plan accordingly.

PCR testing centers in Rwanda can be found in districts of Kigali, Musanze near Volcanoes National Park, and Rubavu district. There is no PCR testing center near Nyungwe National Park

A rapid test is enough to visit Akagera National Park. Rapid test results take only 15 minutes.

Leaving Rwanda

You are required to have a negative PCR test result within 72 hours before your departure flight.

Cost of a gorilla trip in Rwanda – breaking down the pricing of the gorilla safari

The gorilla trekking/tracking safari is one of, if not the most popular tour in Rwanda. It is however also the most expensive tour. At Nature Trails East Africa we get a number of inquiries from travelers wanting to book the gorilla safari (especially our 2 day gorilla trip) but most are put off by the price we send them, and many even think we are trying to rip them off.. However we do not intend to make the trip costly, if anything we try to cost as low as possible.

Below I will take you through the pricing of a Rwanda gorilla trip, what takes up the biggest chunk of the cost, the variables that you can touch to change the price and constants that can’t be changed.

Gorilla tracking permits

This is the first and most important item of the gorilla trip. The gorilla tracking permit/pass/ticket allows you track the gorillas. Only a limited number of permits are available in a day as a maximum 8 people can track one gorilla family and the park has about 10 habituated families.

The cost of the Rwanda gorilla trekking permit is 1500USD

The gorilla permit is non-negotiable and can’t change.

The permit accounts for the biggest cost of the gorilla safari price.

Transportation to Volcanoes National Park

The gorilla trekking takes place in Volcanoes National Park in the north of Rwanda. It is about 100km from the capital Kigali and the international airport. So you need transportation to the park.

You can go by road using car, or take a flight with Akagera Aviation for those that have the finances.

Most trips are by road and so pricing is as follows:

So, we do consider at the minimum a comfortable SUV. With a Maximum 3 people we would use a big SUV such as the Land Cruiser TX. More than 3 people we would use the bigger 4X4 safari cars i.e. 5 or 7-seaster land cruiser stretch.

A nice SUV goes for about 100USD per day. Then the bigger safari car goes for about 150USD per day. This car cost is without fuel.

The car will consume fuel/gas/petrol of about 70 – 90USD, depending on engine size. This is for the whole trip starting from Kigali going to the park and back to Kigali.

The cost of the tour driver of the car is 50USD per day.

Transportation costs can vary depending on number of people traveling and sharing a car so that the cost is shared per person.

Accommodation (with meals)

Accommodation is another significant cost of the trip, however this is also a highly varying cost depending on the type of lodging you want, as you can select from basic camping, budget lodge, midrange, upmarket, luxury or the costliest high end.

Nice budget lodge can cost between 60 – 100USD per night.

Midrange lodge can cost between 150 – 250USD per night

Upmarket or upper midrange lodge cost between 300USD – 400USD per night

Luxury lodge cost between 500USD – 700USD per night

High end lodes cost from 1000USD and upward

Other costs of the gorilla trip you may incur but are optional

Porters for the trek

For 10USD porters are available for hire during the gorilla trek.

Hiring a porter is optional, but highly recommended. The porter helps carry your daypack or other items you take for the trek, and also provide a push or pull where you need one in the rugged mountains. Also, you are directly giving back to the community when taking one.

Tips

Tips are also optional, but you are advised to tip.

People to tip include and approximate amount:

Tour driver (10USD per day), about waiters/waitresses at your hotel (5USD each), your park guide who is leading the group during the gorilla trek (10 – 15USD), the armed military person who escorts the trekking group (5USD), and your porter (5USD).

The amount indicated is what I can advise, but you are free to give more or less depending on how satisfied you are with the service.

Buying souvenirs

At the end of the gorilla trek you can purchase some souvenirs and support the community. The common souvenirs include a t-shirt with some gorilla wording and pictures, and small sculpture of a gorilla. These cost between 5USD – 20USD each.

In brief, basing on the above you can fill out the following for a rough cost of a gorilla trip

Items Cost
Gorilla tracking permit
Tour car *multiply by number of days
Petrol
Tour driver *multiply by number of days
Hotel on full board *multiply by number of nights
Porter
Tips
Souvenirs

How to get a cheap gorilla tour

Going for the cheaper accommodation is one way of bring the cost of the gorilla trip down

Transport can be shared so, if you travel with others the cost of transportation is shared among the travelers.

Can I get Cheaper gorilla tracking permit?

Rwanda has the most expensive gorilla trekking permit. However, the Uganda gorilla trekking permit is way cheaper costing 700USD.

You can fly into Rwanda and go gorilla trekking in Uganda. The gorilla parks in Uganda are an extra hour’s drive.

Is it safe to track gorillas in Rwanda?

Is it safe? This is the first question anyone will ask before joining in any adventure activity. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is one of the most captivating wildlife adventures in the world. The thought of trekking dense pristine jungles on beautiful mountain volcanoes and coming face to face with these massive apes without a barrier in between is quite thrilling but also thought provoking – how safe is it?

Is it safe for me?

Won’t the gorillas attack me? Won’t I encounter other dangerous creatures in the jungles? Rwanda neighbors the ever security volatile Democratic Republic Congo, what are the chances of falling victim to this insecurity from the neighborhood (especially that Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is connected to the Virunga National Park in DR Congo which is a hotbed of rebel activity)? Etc…

These are some of the concerns & questions of many travelers when thinking of booking a gorilla trekking trip to Rwanda.

I will address the above concerns below and give some assurances;

The gorillas are wild animals, won’t they attack me?

Gorillas, like other wild animals, their instinct is to attack or flee when they encounter an unfamiliar creature in their environment. Gorillas are the biggest primates, the strongest as well whose strength is said to be equivalent to about 8 grown healthy energetic human males. So they would rip apart or break a human with such ease…

However the gorillas you track in Rwanda are habituated. Habituation is the process of getting the gorillas used to seeing humans in their environment until they realize the humans mean no harm & will therefore not attack or flee. Gorilla habituation is done by trained personnel & habituating one gorilla family until its safe for tracking takes more than 3 years. The habituated gorillas can tolerate the humans who are observing gorilla trekking SOPs for some time. They are world animals and there are certain guidelines you have to observe when in their presence so that they feel safe. These guidelines are provided before setting out to trek.

What about encountering other dangerous creatures in the jungles?

True there other animals in Volcanoes National Park that could pose a threat to you while trekking, and these include; unhabituated gorillas, elephants, buffaloes, etc.. Elephants, buffaloes, are very few and quite shy. They mostly flee before they are sighted and most times you will see just their foot prints & dung. However, an encounter cannot be ruled out completely. So safety, on your trek you do go with armed personnel whose purpose is to shoot in the air to scare away buffaloes, elephants or even unhabituated gorillas who may try to face off with the travelers. These encounters are rare but they few times they happen the armed personnel are always on top of things.

Snakes also come into mind when one thinks of trekking in the jungles. Due the high altitude and cold temperature the Volcanoes are not favorable for many snake species. There are few snakes but these are very hard to come by. They are very shy and will flee immediately detecting an intruder many yards away.

How is the security situation in the Volcanoes National Park and shouldn’t I be concerned about the volatile security situation in the neighboring Congo and the Virunga Park?

Rwanda is one of the safest and most security conscious country in Africa, perhaps even in the entire world. Given her unpleasant past of turmoil, the country takes security and safety of every individual in the country as number one priority. The park is well protected by the armed forces, and besides most of the gorilla trekking takes place well away from the boundaries. An intrusion from the Congo side is almost impossible to go undetected.

Is it safe for the gorillas?

This is a very valid concern!!

The biggest threat gorillas face from humans is the possibility of transferring human disease to the gorillas. Gorillas and humans share up to 98% DNA hence diseases can be transferred between the two species. To prevent you from spreading diseases to gorillas, once you show any symptoms for easily transferrable diseases such as cough, flue you are not allowed to track the gorillas. During the encounter with the gorillas, tourists are advised to keep at least 7 meters from the gorillas.

What to pack for your gorilla trekking? Here is the gorilla trip packing list

What do I need to pack for my gorilla trekking trip? This is one of the most asked question by tourists booking gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda and gorilla trekking tours in Uganda. Below I shall discuss the items to include in your gorilla tour packing list. I categorize them into 3; the most essential items that you need to pack first, to those you may need but are not essential and can leave behind if you do not have enough space left in the bag or can’t spend any more, and the least essential but worth thinking about…

Most essential/must have essentials

  • Hiking shoes

Because you will be trekking on uneven rugged terrain where there is no defined trail (a trail will be created by a machete person) you need shoes with good traction that will give you stability on ground to prevent you from frequent slips, and shoes that will protect you from straining your feet and ankles. Mid-cut to high-cut hiking shoes would be the ideal because they provide more stability and protect the ankles.

Yes, your old pair of sneakers could do but if you will be trekking during the wet season (March – May, & Oct – Nov) you will be in for quite a challenge. Read more about best time for the gorilla trekking to learn about the seasons.

  • Long pants

Long outdoor/hiking pants will give you much needed comfort and freedom of movement in the thick of the jungles and across highlands, something your jeans may deny you. The ‘long’ protect your legs from prickly plants such as the stinging nettles which can be a menace during the trek. A slight rub off on a stinging nettle gives a burning irritation on the skin. The hiking pants which are made of light material are fast drying and some are water proof which is an important aspect as the rainforests can experience rain at any time.

  • Long-Sleeve shirt

Long sleeved shirt (preferably the outdoor/hiking type) also offer the advantages of the hiking pants mentioned above, especially protecting your arms from the stinging nettles and other prickly plants.

  • Rain jacket/poncho

A rain jacket or poncho is simply a must have irrespective of which season you are trekking! As much as there is a known wet season which receives frequent rains (March – May & Oct – Dec), and the other months being the dry season with little rains expected, the gorilla homes are mountain rainforests were the weather is unpredictable and rains can fall when you least expect. If you are trekking in the wet season such as during the months of April & May a rain poncho is highly recommended.

  • Sunscreen

The gorilla highlands are located near the equator and sun is overhead during your trek. Sunscreen will protect you from sunburn.

  • Insect repellent

The jungles have lots tiny insects flying around especially in the morning and can be quite irritating whizzing around your ears and eyes and some giving you a bite. Mosquitoes are the biggest menace. Applying an insect repellent will wad them off and keep your trek more focused and comfortable.

  • Day pack

A daypack is very essential to keep your items such as water bottle, camera, toiletries, and snack in one place in a daypack strapped on your back so that your hands are free as you maneuver through jungle. The daypack also keeps your items in place to avoid losing them in the jungle where they will be had to find.

  • Mask (post covid19 pandemic)

A mask in this covid19 era is an essential item. As humans we share 98% DNA with the gorillas and can therefore pass on the covid19 to them.

You need these but are not really essentials

  • Garden gloves

Garden gloves keep you warm and also protect your hands from pricky plants as you move through the jungle. They also give you good grip on the hiking stick and protect your delicate hands from blisters due to friction.

  • Cap/hat

This is almost a must have essential. The jungle has particles such as falling from the trees and you don’t want to keep some in your hair. The cap/hat also gives you shade over your face when hiking on a hot sunny day.

  • Gaiters

Gaiters will protect your pants from mud and also keep insects from crawling under your pants. If a single red ant succeeds in getting access to your bare underneath you may dance strokes you never though were capable of 😊

An alternative to gaiters is simply tucking your pants into stockings.

  • Hiking/trekking poles or sticks

You can bring own trekking poles that you have tested on hikes to be giving you the best stability and comfort. Otherwise, free trekking sticks are provided that are locally made from wood, they are technically small tree branches or stems.

  • Quality camera or just a good smartphone

The gorilla trek is a once in a lifetime experience and you would want to keep a memorable of this unique encounter. The gorillas can also deliver a special moment at time and you want to be able to capture it. However some people want enjoy these wonderful creatures and want to take in as much as possible this incredible encounter without being bothered by photos

  • Sunglasses

The sunglasses will definitely protect you from intense light especially if you are coming from a place that doesn’t receive a lot of it.

Least essentials, you don’t really need these but…

  • Camelback Hydration pack

You can have this if you don’t want to be inconvenienced by handling a water bottle

  • GPS

You may want to know how much you have trekked and where you have trekked

  • Binoculars

If want to observe other forest dwellers that may be seen far from you a distance such as monkeys, birds, etc…

  • Flare 😊

If you you just wrong turn and you got a phobia of being lost you can carry a flare to give you a bit of comfort, otherwise chance of getting lost are next to none. Unless if you are planning to stray away from the group unnoticed