No more covid PCR test for travelers to Rwanda, replaced with the rapid test

In the latest announcement by the government of Rwanda on covid 19 guidelines for travelers, effective 13th May 2022, people coming and departing through Kigali International airport shall be required to present negative results from a RAPID covid test done within 72 hours to the time of boarding their flight.

This is a change from the previous requirement of a PCR test. In most countries and in Rwanda the PCR test takes longer to return results. For instance, in Rwanda the results from a PCR test are supposed to come back within 24 hours, sometimes they could come back earlier, say in 8 hours, but other times they can delay taking more than 24 hours. This has been a huge inconvenience for many travelers who have already booked their flights and tours and have to experience hours of suspense waiting for results that could in the end hinder their travel plans. There are also very few facilities mandated to carry out PCR tests, for instance in Kigali City only the Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) was the only center mandated to carry PCR tests for travelers.

On the other hand, the rapid test takes a matter of minutes. In Rwanda, you can check into a testing facility for a rapid test and leave within 30 minutes with your results. In other countries it can even take less. There are also many health centers in Kigali and across the country that have the authorization to carry out rapid tests making it very convenient.

This announcement is timely and a welcome move with the tourism peak season approaching, starting in June. Many travelers who were planning to visit Rwanda for the gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park, chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe and safari tour in Akagera National Park to see the big five can now feel more relief from the more stringent covid restrictions that made planning difficult and full of suspense.

Mandatory mask mandate dropped

The government has also dropped the mandatory mask wearing.

Here is the government circular:

How difficult or hard is the mount bisoke hike?

Mount Bisoke volcano is the most popular hiking destination in Rwanda, with 10s of hiking enthusiasts taking on the challenge every day. Mt Bisoke is found in Volcanoes National Park in the north of Rwanda and is one of the five volcanic cones that make up the park, the others being mountains; Karisimbi, Gahinga, Sabyinyo, and Muhavbura.

The number one aim of the hike on Mount Bisoke is to see the large beautiful crater lake at the peak, which is the largest of the crater lakes in the Virunga mountains with a diameter of 400 meters. While there are also many travelers who want to experience the volcanoes but cannot afford the expensive gorilla trekking and so decide to go for the mount Bisoke hike knowing there is a chance to see the gorillas on the hike.

The Bisoke crater lake hike is a one-day tour meaning hikers climb to the top of the volcano and return to base in one day. There is no camping or overnighting on the volcano.

The hike from the base to the peak of the Bisoke volcano takes on average 4 hours, depending on one’s pace and weather.

The seasoned hikers and mountain climbers can reach the summit in 2 hours or even less, while hiking newbies who endure can take up to 6 hours to get to the peak.

However, there are also many of who sign up for Mount Bisoke hike that give up within 30 minutes after starting the trek. This begs the question, how difficult or hard is this trek and who can do this hike?

How difficult is the Mount Bisoke hike?

The level of difficulty of the Mount Bisoke hike can be put at challenging to difficult.

The perfect conic shape makes a difficult hike

Mount Bisoke has a perfect conic shape with a steady rise from the base to the peak. This means you continuously are climbing up, and faced with the fast dropping oxygen levels as you go higher, the muscles will tire quite fast. And, as much as you will be encouraged to trek at your own pace, you are still under pressure to reach at the peak within a particular time limit to avoid the sudden change in weather at the peak. The peak of Mt Bisoke is constantly shrouded in a cloud of fog which can generate a thunderstorm at any time. This normally happens later in the afternoon and so the guides want everyone to get to the peak early enough to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms and poor visibility from the cloud cover.

The dense forest and vegetation cover

The Bisoke volcano is also fully covered with mountain vegetation of varying types in the different altitude zones. The lower zones have the forests and thick vegetation and these areas present the biggest challenge of the hike. It is no wander many hikers give up from the lower levels of the mountain. As you get to the higher altitudes the vegetation cover is less and the hike is easier.

Hiking in the wet season is an extreme adventure

Hiking during the rainy season presents the most difficult Mount Biske hike. The rainy seasons are from March to April and October to November. During the rainy or wet season the mountains receive almost daily rains. This makes the trail very muddy and slippery. If you have to trek during the rainy season, expect a hard trek and be prepared for it.

Your fitness will determine how difficult the hike will be

Many who think they will simply rely on their strong will without any fitness to make it to the crater lake are rudely awakened when their legs cannot climb any higher after 30 minutes of ascending up the mountain.

Altitude sickness

As you climb higher the oxygen levels drop. And, if come from a low elevation or altitude your body is used to using a lot of oxygen. When faced with the dropping oxygen elevations the body will tire very fast and you will be faced with a difficult hike, even with a degree of fitness. Acclimatizing to the high altitude with less oxygen will improve your ability to hike. You stay in Musanze/Ruhengeri in the foothills of the Virungas for a few days before taking on the hike.

Mount Bisoke hike is a physical challenge as much as a mental challenge

If the Bisoke hike is your first real mountain hike, your mental strength will be as important as your physical strength. After 2 hours of hiking and past half way the hike, your brain will start telling to give up but you must overcome these thoughts and declare that you must see the crater lake. That you are not a quitter or failure!

Can I do an easier hike in Volcanoes national park?

Lake Ngezi hike on Mount Bisoke

Dian Fossey tomb trek

Tour to book if you are ready for the Mount Bisoke hike

2 days Mount Bisoke hiking tour

How to prepare for the grueling Mount Bisoke trek

The Mount Bisoke (3711m) is the most popular destination for mountain trekking adventures in Rwanda. The mountain is part of the 5 volcanoes that make up the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda’s most popular park that is famous for the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys in Rwanda.

Bisoke volcano has a large beautiful crater lake at the summit which is the ultimate prize that everyone hiking the volcano looks forward to. The trek on Mt. Bisoke also offers a good chance of seeing the gorillas as there are many gorilla families on this mountain. The beautiful golden monkeys are seen regularly on the mountain at the start of the trek or on the final descend, in the lower elevation of the mountains where they live.

The Mount Bisoke trek is a day tour that requires travelers to go up the mountain and return in one day, a grueling hike it can be even for the experienced hikers. The challenge is to hike to the summit of the volcano in not more than 6 hours as you will be on the watch out for the abrupt change in the weather at the summit which can quickly get covered in clouds that can release a hailstorm. The weather at the summit tends to change as the day passes and chances of rains are high in the afternoon. You are therefore constantly on your feet barely affording a minute to rest till you reach the summit before the weather changes. The earlier you make it to the summit, the more time you have to enjoy picnicking at the beautiful crater lake while the weather is still good. Many who do not anticipate the challenge give up within the first 30 minutes of the trek and return to base.

However, with adequate preparation and planning you can enjoy the trek on Mount Bisoke and make it to the summit

How to prepare for the Mount Bisoke trek?

Fitness

Fitness is crucial for the trek on Mount Bisoke. As you go higher up the mountain, oxygen levels drop which in turn affects the energy levels of your muscles. The fitter you are the more endurance you will have with less oxygen.

Therefore, do a lot of workouts and jogging a few weeks to your trek, especially for the non-experienced hikers. Find the highest elevations in neighborhood and practices walking or joining up in the shortest time to build endurance and power in your legs.

Acclimatization – sleep in Ruhengeri near the park

Fitness aside, the biggest effect on your trek is the change in altitude or elevation (you can call it altitude sickness). The higher you go, the less the oxygen in the atmosphere. If you are coming from a low altitude or elevation place, your body is used to using a lot of oxygen. So, with less oxygen as you go higher, your body will tire faster (compared to someone from a high altitude place).

To acclimatize your body to lower oxygen levels, you should opt to spend a day or few days in Ruhengeri district near the mountains before your trek. The area is located at a high altitude, more than 2000 meters above sea level. Your body may not adjust quickly but it will help somehow, in addition to good fitness.

Best time to trek Mount Bisoke – hiking during dry season vs rainy season

The season during which you hike Mountain Bisoke will also determine the level of difficult of your trek. Rwanda experiences two seasons, dry season and rainy season. The long dry season is from June to mid-September, and a short dry spell from December to February. Then there is the long rainy season is from March to May, and a short season from October to November.

The easier trek is definitely during the dry season when the trail is free from mud. However, note that even during the dry season the mountains experience sporadic rains and you should therefore be prepared, but it is never as bad as the rainy season.

Essential items to carry for the Bisoke trek

The following are essential for the trek

  • Hiking shoes with good traction are essential for the trek. If you will hike during the wet/rainy season, there is no compromise on this.
  • Long outdoor pants to protect the legs from scratches and bites from insects
  • Long sleeved pants to protect hands from scratches
  • A rain coat/jacket/poncho
  • Garden gloves
  • Hat/cap
  • Sunscreen

To take a porter or not to take one

Porters are available for hire at only $10 to carry your backpack and any other item. Many trekkers think they will manage their small backpacks and don’t want to part with the $10. But after thirty minutes hiking up the mountain, even the watch on your wrist will feel like 1kg tied on your hand. It is therefore advised to hire a porter even when you feel able. In addition to carrying your backpack, the porter will provide a push or pull when the going gets tough.

Another reason to hire a porter is that you are directly contributing to the community near the gorillas. Porters are from the neighboring and some are former poachers and this is one way of keeping them away from poaching again.

Do not forget to take snacks for the trek

This is a common mistake for travelers, not taking a snack (and water) for the trek. The trek can drain you that by the time you get to the summit your belly is empty. At the summit you will sit to down to enjoy snack and “recharge” before the descend.

Book a Mount Bisoke tour

2 day Mount Bisoke hiking tour

Guide to tipping in Uganda

Should you tip in Uganda?

Tipping is not a tradition that has picked up in Uganda and therefore most people in the service sector do not expect a tip after offering a service, neither do those who receive a service thinking about tipping.

For a tourist visiting Uganda for a safari vacation and are wondering about tipping in Uganda, you should know that there is no where in Uganda it is mandatory to tip. Tipping it is left to your discretion, to decide if you want to tip and how much you can tip.

But should you tip? Yes, it is absolutely encouraged to tip when you can. Why? Because most people on your service chain earn a very small wage that can barely sustain their lives. A tip goes a long way in supplementing their incomes and bettering their lives and those of their immediate dependents.

Who should I tip?

The people who you should tip are those that really deserve it, and these are people who you will interface with a lot, and people who visibly put in the effort to see that you are receiving a great service.

Here are the people you should consider tiping:

  • Tour drivers: If you are on a guided trip, the tour driver is your closest confidant, if I may say. This is the person who will make you have a great trip. He or she shares a lot of information about places, things, and the local people. He or she also ensure you travel safely.
  • Activity/destination guides: at several destinations you shall visit you will be received by a guide who will take you through an activity or destination, sharing information and ensuring you enjoy the activity or experience. For example, you will have a guide during gorilla trekking, chimpanzee trekking and all active experiences. You will also find guides at museums, monuments, art galleries, and local sites.
  • Waiters, waitresses: These are a constant throughout the trip, at your hotels and at restaurants during transit.
  • Porters: During trekking there are porters available for hire at $15 for those who need one to carry their backpacks and offer some support in difficult situations. At the end of the activity you can tip the porter an extra fee.
  • Security personnel: You will find security personnel at accommodations manning the gates, and you will also be assigned security personnel during trekking activities in the park. Security personnel are some of the most overlooked people when tipping because there isn’t a lot of interfacing with them, but they do a great job ensuring your safety. They are also some of the least paid.

Who not to tip?

  • Company owners and managers – These are somewhat high up on the food chain and therefore do not need a tip
  • Chefs – After managers, the next better paid personnel are chefs. You may not tip these. However, if a chef prepares the best meal you have ever tested then there is no harm showing your appreciation by a tip.

How much should I tip?

Now this it the most important question for most travelers, more so those coming from a tripping background and know that they have to tip.

You can tip any amount that you feel is worthy and that you can afford.

You can follow the following formular when tipping the persons listed above.

Tour drivers

These take the biggest tip

$10 – $15 per day per tourist in the car

Activity/destination guides

$15 – $20 per tourist

Waiters, waitresses & other hotel support staff

$5

As these are many, and many are in places where you they cannot easily exchange foreign currency. You can change some foreign currency to Uganda Shillings at the start of the trip in Kampala or Entebbe. You can then tip Uganda shilling 5,000 – 10,000 which is in fact less than $5 but is valuable in local currency.

Porters

$5 – $10

Security personnel

$5

You can also tip these in Ugandan Shillings (5,000 – 10,000)

When to tip

Tip after consuming a service or at the end of the activity.

Kidepo Valley National Park fees – pricing for park entry, activities & accommodation

Kidepo Valley National Park is the undiscovered safari gem of Uganda. Because of its location in the far north eastern corner of Uganda that was previously very difficult to reach and is surrounded by what are perceived as a hostile people, the Karimojong, very few people have taken the trouble to go and discover this beautiful wilderness. Most people would rather take a tour to Murchison Falls Park – Uganda’s biggest & most popular park which is great for wildlife safaris, but with little more endurance on a longer drive farther north east they will discover an unspoiled wilderness with no crowds but lots of wildlife including that which cannot be seen in other parks of Uganda such as the cheetah and ostrich in addition to common wildlife such as lions, zebras, giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, antelopes, etc…

Below are the entry fees for Kidepo Valley National Park and the pricing for the activities and park accommodation.

Tourist entry fees (per person)

Entry fee USD UGX
International visitor (Foreign Non Resident) – Adults 40  
International visitor Children 5 – 15 years 20  
Foreign Resident 30  
Foreign Residents children 5 – 15 years 10  
East African citizens   20,000
East African citizens children 5 – 15 years   5,000

Children below 5 years do not pay entry fees

Park entry fee is valid for 24 hours from the time of payment.

The opens at 7am and closes at 7pm. Beyond that no one is allowed in the park, unless they have booked a night safari drive with the park.

Car entry fees

Type of car Foreign Ugandan Registered
USD UGX
Saloon cars 40 20,000
Minibuse, Omni-buses 50 30,000
Pick-ups 50 30,000
Tour Company vehicles & 4-wheel drive 150 100,000
Buses & Lorries 200 30,000
School buses 50,000

Car entry fees are valid for 24 hours from the time of entry.

Pricing for activities in Kidepo Valley National Park

Activity FNR FR EAC
USD USD UGX
Day self-game drive per private car (with no park guide) 10 10 10,000
Day guided game drive per private car (with a park guide) 20 15 20,000
Night guided game drive per person (using park guides is mandatory for night drives) 30 20 50,000
Hiring the park game drive car for Day game drive – per person (Minimum 3 persons in car) 30 25 30,000
Hiring the park game drive car for Night game drive – per person (Minimum 3 persons in car) 40 35 40,000
Day nature walk – per person 15 10 10,000
Kidepo Lonyili Hike 50 40 50,000
Mt. Morungole hike & IK cultural tour      
Birdwatching 30 25 20,000

Fees are per person

Activity fees exclude park entry fee

Hiking fees do not include hiking equipment.

Fines and Penalties in Kidepo Valley National Park

Offence Penalty
Off-tracking driving fine $150 (per person in the vehicle, to be incurred by the driver)
Over speeding (speed limit is 40km/hr) UGX 100,000 per incident
Animal accident fee (road kill) $500
Littering in the park UGX 100,000 per incident
Hooting in the park UGX 100,000 per incident
Sitting on top of the vehicle $100 per incident

Customized tours to Kidepo Valley National Park

5 days safari trip to Kidepo Valley National Park

5 days Fly in safari to Kidepo Valley National Park

6 days Kidepo Valley and Murchison Falls safari