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You can't visit Europe or Asia, but how about Rwanda?

July 09, 2020
9 min read
Virunga Mountains and Volcanoes in Rwanda
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As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials' guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.

A gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. (Photo by Mint Images Art Wolfe / Getty Images)
A gorilla in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda. (Photo by Mint Images Art Wolfe / Getty Images)

Rwanda is one of the few countries in the world that is now open to American visitors again. As we've reported, there aren't that many nations accepting American tourists right now as COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread in the U.S. Most of Africa, Europe, Oceania and South America is off-limits. Now might be the perfect time to plan that safari adventure you've always wanted to take if you are able to swing it. Rwanda has done a good job controlling the coronavirus outbreak with only 1,172 cases and three deaths according to Johns Hopkins University.

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Rwanda is home to three major national parks. You can even book a trip to see the endangered mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park.

Rwanda reopened June 17

Rwanda from the air. (Photo by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy)

The land-locked country reopened to all nationalities back on June 17, 2020, although the international airport will not reopen to commercial flights until Aug. 1. All arriving passengers will be required to present a negative COVID-19 RT-PCR (Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction) test taken within 72 hours before arriving in Rwanda.

VisitRwanda says, "For passengers entering Rwanda, a second PCR test will be conducted upon arrival, with results delivered within 24 hours, during which time they will remain in designated hotels at their own cost."

Rwanda is offering visa on arrival as well for all nationalities. There are a number of additional planning resources available at VisitRawanda.com.

The Rwanda Development Board says:

  • Tourists can take the first COVID-19 RT-PCR test in the country of origin at an ISO-certified laboratory, 72 hours before departure, and the second test will be taken upon arrival at Kigali International Airport. Travelers are required to submit the results of the first test to the following address (lab@rbc.gov.rw) before departure, and also upon arrival at Kigali International Airport. They will be expected to wait eight hours for results of the second test at designated hotels in Rwanda. This is applicable to direct flights only.
  • Tourists who are not able to test in their country of origin have the option to be tested twice in Rwanda: The first test will be taken upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, while the second test will be taken 48 hours after arrival. Tourists will only be allowed to visit tourist sites after two consecutive negative tests, and must wait for their results at designated hotels.

What you need to visit Rwanda

Pre-departure

  • Obtain a certified negative PCR COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure
  • Book approved tours
  • Wear face masks when traveling to the departure airport
  • Wear face masks and practice physical distancing at the departure airport
  • Email negative test results to Rwanda government

On the plane

  • Wear a face mask while on the plane
  • Practice social distancing to the extent possible

Upon arrival

  • Continue to wear face masks and practice physical distancing
  • Get a health screening
  • Get a second COVID-19 test and await results
  • Wait between eight to 24 hours at designated hotel for second test results

Do note that you will be subject to random health checks in and around Kigali, so don't be surprised by that. The U.S. embassy reports, "The Rwanda Biomedical Centre will begin a COVID-19 street testing survey in Kigali and at the entry points to Kigali. In this testing, people will be randomly selected for testing, and escorted to a drive-through testing facility."

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Related: A look inside RwandAir's A330-200

What is open? 

Head to Rwanda to track its famous (and rare) mountain gorillas. Photo credit: Volcanoes Safaris.
Head to Rwanda to track its famous (and rare) mountain gorillas. (Photo courtesy Volcanoes Safaris)

All of Rwanda's important sites are now open. There are some very unusual caveats, though: All tourists will need to take a COVID-19 test before they visit many of the country's most important attractions.

Here's how Visit Rwanda put it: "Rwanda’s national parks are now open for guests. To ensure the safety of all people visiting Rwanda’s national parks and wildlife... tourists are required to test negative for COVID-19 48 hours prior to visiting all national parks, including Akagera National Park."

And the government lays out how much you'll need to spend for some of the most popular activities, according to the chart below. Note that international tourists pay a much higher fee for activities such as trekking with gorillas. Apparently, the costs of testing for coronavirus are being included in tour group fees.

(Image courtesy https://rdb.rw/visitrwandaguidelines/)
(Image courtesy https://rdb.rw/visitrwandaguidelines/)

You'll also need to get a COVID-19 test within 48 hours of visiting the country's national parks and you are required to complete a guest registration and indemnity form in advance and submit the form electronically to the park. (More information here.)

How do I get to Rwanda?

Celebratory arrival ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda
Celebratory arrival ceremony in Kigali, Rwanda.

I looked for flights for between September 18 to 25, and came up with several options, even with the cuts in capacity we've seen thanks to COVID-19. From New York, you could fly Qatar with one stop in Doha for $776 round trip in coach. The same flight can be booked using American Airlines miles for 80,000 AA miles and $93 in main cabin, or 150,000 AA miles and the same $93 in business class, all on Qatar Airways.

(Courtesy Google)
(Courtesy Google)
(Image courtesy American Airlines)
(Image courtesy Qatar)

You could also fly KLM booked via Delta, connecting in Amsterdam, for $958 in main cabin, or in Delta One to Amsterdam (the airline's business class) and on to Kigali on KLM for $3,273. The same flights would be 280,000 Delta SkyMiles for business class, plus $104 in taxes and fees.

(Image courtesy Delta)
(Image courtesy Delta)

You can fly United Airlines from Houston to Kigali, with two connections in Chicago and Brussels, and partially on Brussels Airlines metal, for just over $1,220.

Related: RwandAir flight review from Kigali

You could also fly Turkish Airlines from New York (JFK) transiting Istanbul for just over $900 for economy, or business class for just over $5,000.

Where to stay?

There are lots of places to stay in Rwanda, with everything from a guest house for $14 a night in Huye to the 3-star Gorilla Village hotel near Volcanoes National Park to the 5-star Kigali Serena Hotel for $146 a night.

I could only find one points hotels in Rwanda: The Marriott Kigali, which TPG reviewed back in 2019.

I priced a trip in September. Rates start at $151 per night, which is a decent deal. The same room would be 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points.

(Image courtesy Marriott)

Summary

Be sure to consider if you want to travel in these strange times, and book refundable airfare and hotels just in case. It takes a lot of planning and patience to travel, and you need to make sure you follow all these rules and guidelines.

And if you missed it, here’s our country-by-country guide to reopenings.

Additional resources for traveling during the coronavirus outbreak:

Featured image by Getty Images

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Cons

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  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
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  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
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  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

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  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more