5 reasons why Rwanda needs to be on your travel bucket list
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I don’t like to play favorites when traveling because every country has something unique to offer. However, I can say with certitude that some of my most “soul-fulfilling” trips have taken place on the African continent. And my most recent trip to Rwanda is no exception.
This was my second time visiting the country. (I went in 2015 to film these videos for my TPGTV series) and this trip was even more spectacular than my first. I shared my journey extensively on Instagram and you can “relive” it by watching my pinned stories.
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Here are the five reasons why you should consider Rwanda for your next trip.
It’s beautiful and clean
Rwanda is truly one of the most beautiful and clean countries on this earth. On my first trip in 2015, I was shocked when I was stopped in immigration and was told I couldn’t bring my plastic duty-free bag into the country. Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008 and they have taken a lot of measures to keep their country clean, including a mandatory nationwide trash clean-up on the last Saturday of every month.
Rwandan’s are proud of their country and you need to look far and wide to find any litter — even in far-off parts of the country.
Speaking of the countryside, Rwanda is known as the “land of a thousand hills” and throughout my weeklong stay, I truly never saw an ugly landscape. Rolling tea and coffee fields with a break for a eucalyptus forest here and there. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another more visually appealing country from top to bottom.
The main roads are paved (although to trek with the chimps or access some tourist sites, such as coffee plantations, you may find yourself on very bumpy mountain roads, so make sure you get a comfy SUV if you plan to explore).
Per the U.S. government’s 2019 Rwanda crime report: “Although violent crimes such as assault, robbery, rape and home invasion occur in Rwanda, they are rarely committed against foreigners. In 2018, however, the Embassy received several reports of late-night assaults and robberies involving pedestrians walking alone in poorly [lit] neighborhoods.”
Bottom line: Practice common sense and you’ll likely be fine in Rwanda. I never felt unsafe from the time I arrived until the time we left. There are many ways to judge the “safety” of a country for a foreigner and most websites like NUMBEO report low risk levels across the board in Rwanda.
But, most importantly, they are safe from a COVID-19 perspective. As of publication, the country has had fewer than 10,000 cases and 133 deaths total. (The population of Rwanda is 13 million people. If the U.S. had that same ratio, we would only have 3,356 deaths versus the current 408,130 as of Jan. 21, 2021, according to data collected by The New York Times.)
To enter Rwanda as a tourist, you need a negative PCR COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of your flight departure to Rwanda. Then, on arrival, you need to pay $60 to get a throat test done. After that, you need to stay at your approved hotel until your result comes back negative (ours came back after less than 14 hours). Only then are you free to explore the country.
Note: There was a 7 p.m. daily curfew, so plan to be back at your hotel by that time (TBD on when this lifts).
You need to take another COVID-19 test within 48 hours of leaving the country and if you want to trek with gorillas, you need to take another within 72 hours before your trek to protect them from COVID-19. (You’ll also be mandated to wear a provided surgical mask for the full one hour you are close to the gorillas.)
There is also a seven-day self-quarantine requirement, but both international tourists and business travelers staying in Rwanda for less than seven days are exempt.
While these rules seem intense, Rwanda had the process streamlined and you could use the same portal the entire week to check your results and print them (which you will need to enter national parks, hotels, etc.).
Rwanda is one of three countries in the world you can trek with the endangered mountain gorilla. It’s expensive in Rwanda: $1,500 for a non-resident permit versus $700 in Uganda or $400, plus visa fees in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But most governments strongly advise against travel to DRC and, tragically, just this past week six Virunga National Park guards were murdered in an ambush).
For tourists, Rwanda is the safest of those three countries and the government is laser-focused on conservation and keeping the national park pristine. As for Uganda, as a gay traveler, I do not feel comfortable visiting a country that has passed “Kill the Gays” laws and murdered an LGBTQ activist in 2019.
Rwanda also has so much more to offer than the gorillas, including Akagera National Park that has some of the most compelling safari animals: lion, rhino, elephant, cheetah and water buffalo).
Safari in Rwanda is also much cheaper than in other African countries and many people self-drive through the park. I highly recommend a lake safari where you can see the animals and numerous birds, hippos and crocs from a small boat.
You can also trek with chimps in the south of the country at the Nyungwe Forest National Park and permits are only $100. Like the gorilla trek, you get a knowledgeable guide (ours used to be a gorilla guide) who can tell you all about this beautiful species that share nearly 99% of the human DNA profile. The park itself is gorgeous, though watch out for the fire ants!
Gorgeous hotels and lodges
There are a lot of gorgeous hotels in Rwanda, including eco-lodges and points hotels.
In Kigali, I stayed at the relatively new Marriott, which has a huge pool and outdoor deck and clean, fresh rooms (that passed the TPG shower test!).
Related: How to pass the TPG shower test
I also stayed at The Retreat when we arrived, which is a luxury boutique hotel that has a new villa portion scheduled to open in early 2021. Another good points option is the Radisson Blu, which is close to the convention center.
For ultra-luxury, there are two One & Only properties – one at Volcanoes National Park and one at Nyungwe as well as a Singita near Volcanoes. I stayed at the Rwandan-owned Amakoro Songa and LOVED the hospitality and Rwandan vibe of the hotel.
Bisate Lodge just received Conde Nast Traveler’s “Best Of” award and gets amazing reviews.
Many people have an understandably dark impression of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, where more than 1million people were killed by opposing tribal factions (which was depicted in Academy Award-nominated movie “Hotel Rwanda”).
A visit to the genocide museum in Kigali is highly recommended, but the country has made huge progress since those dark times. Kigali is an entrepreneurial hub of Africa and tourism is a huge driver of growth. The future of Rwanda is bright and you’ll sense great pride from the people you meet across the country.
Fun fact: Rwandans are OBSESSED with clean shoes and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone wearing dirty shoes (in fact, many hotels will have shoe cleaning services when you return from your gorilla/chimp treks!).
Featured image by Brian Kelly/The Points Guy
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