Rwanda

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Introduction to Rwanda

The name Rwanda once evoked images of the amazing mountain gorillas and breathtaking mountain views, until the country was devastated by bloodshed. Still, much of it has been rebuilt by its inhabitants, the economy has been resurrected, and travellers can now move around much more safely.

The country is still shattered by the attempted genocide of the Tutsi tribe in 1994 - a brutal, unrelenting and allegedly premeditated slaughter by extremist Hutu militias that left nearly a million dead. There's a likelihood that the hatred between the two groups will simmer on.

Rwanda's captivating natural features offer some hard-to-beat experiences, from the mountain gorillas in reopened Parc National des Volcans to the hundreds of species of trees and birds in the magnificent rainforests of Nyungwe. Urban centres such as Butare and the capital, Kigali, have forged ahead, opening new places to stay, eat, drink, dance and meet the local population, while the shoreline of Lake Kivu has sprouted relaxing new facilities for visitors and the hordes of remaining NGO staff alike.

Caution

It's currently safe to travel around most of the country, but caution still needs to be exercised and the latest information sought. Travellers are advised to steer clear of the border with Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Thankfully, there are a couple of exceptions. The Parc National des Vulcans, Virunga National Park and Nyungwe Forest Park are accessible in theory, although it's best to check consular advice beforehand. Security in Cyangugu Province, bordering Burundi, is volatile.

Full country name: Rwanda

Area: 26,300 sq km

Population: 7.4 million

Capital City: Kigali

People: Hutu (80%), Tutsi (19%), Twa (1%)

Language: Kinyarwanda, English, French

Religion: Christian (65%), tribal religions (25%), Muslim (10%)

Government: republic - presidential, multiparty system

Head of State: President Paul Kagame

Head of Government: Prime Minister Bernard Makuza

GDP: US$5.9 billion

GDP per capita: US$720

Annual Growth: 5.3%

Inflation: 10%

Major Industries: cement, agriculture, soap, furniture, shoes

Major Trading Partners: Brazil, Germany, Belgium, Kenya and Tanzania

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Traveler Facts

Visas: All foreign nationals bar those from other East African countries, Canada, Germany and the USA need a visa to visit Rwanda. A visa arranged in advance of your visit will require 60.00 and two passport photos, and will allow you to stay for up to three months; visas of the double or multiple-entry variety are recommended to give you flexibility when it comes to visiting neighbouring countries. But keep in mind that unless you enjoy the prospect of being tied up in red tape and beaten senseless with a manilla folder, it's generally best to organise the visa after you've arrived in East Africa. At the Rwandan border, 15-day visas are issued in a matter of minutes for 60.00. Visa extensions of up to 90 days are available at the Ministry of the Interior near Kigali within a day or two of applying (though sometimes much longer) for around 30.00 a month depending on the length of the extension. You may be asked for proof of yellow fever vaccination.

Health risks: malaria (Malaria is a reisk in low-lying regions), cholera, hepatitis, typhoid, HIV/AIDS (HIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual at risk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing, acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIV and AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputable hospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to see the syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infection should not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organizations and services for HIV-positive folks and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plus descriptions of their services, see www.aidsmap.com), yellow fever

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +2

Dialling Code: 250

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric



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Events

Rwanda's public holidays include Democracy Day (8 January), National Day (1 July), Harvest Festival (1 August) and Culture Day (8 September), as well as the standard celebrations of New Year's Day, Easter and Christmas.

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Best time to Visit

Unless you literally want to soak up the atmosphere, the only time that is not ideal for visiting Rwanda is when the long rains descend from mid-March to mid-May.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Rwandan Franc

Meals

Budget: US$0.50-3

Mid-range: US$5-10

High: US$15-30

Deluxe: US$30+

Lodging

Budget: US$1.50-15

Mid-range: US$20-40

High: US$45-70

Deluxe: US$70+

Budget travellers to Rwanda are caught between an unpalatable rock and a hard place to sleep when it comes to costs - staying in accommodation established for the numerous expatriates and NGO staff, or consuming the food and drink imported for them mainly via expensive air routes, means having money flee enthusiastically from your money belt. There's just no way to stretch the budget that served you well in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda to cover costs in Rwanda, so be realistic and plan to fork out about US$30 per day (US$20 if sharing daily bills with a companion). Bus fares are much more expensive than they were a year ago because of soaring petrol costs - to potentially save yourself some cash, get into the habit of finding out what the locals are paying before you buy your ticket.

You're better off bringing US dollars in cash rather than other currencies or travellers cheques. There are a number of options for exchanging money, including foreign-exchange bureaux in Kigali and moneychangers in shops or on the street, though the latter are only really advantageous for non-US currencies. When it comes to banks, try to stick to those in Kigali or, if exchanging cash outside the capital, the branches of Banque Commerciale in other main centres such as Butare - avoid Banque de Kigali branches in regional towns as they tend toward the more extreme commissions for financial transactions.

The presence of large numbers of foreigners in the country has in turn led to the growing presence of tipping, particularly in the cities. For good service, a non-skimpy tip would be in the order of US$0.15-0.30. Bargaining is a useful ability to have if you want to avoid getting overcharged for the ubiquitous tourist trinkets in Kigali, particularly those sold on the street, but most shops apply fixed prices to their goods.

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Attractions

Kigali

Flowing along and down the sides of a ridge in what appears to be the exact centre of Rwanda is the country's capital, Kigali. The city is small but big on attractiveness; it's dotted with a wide variety of colourful flora and with a number of viewpoints looking out over Rwanda's other 999 hills.

Besides the natural splendour of its verdant location, there's not a lot of sightseeing material in Kigali; in fact, just the opposite applies to the parts of the city that have yet to undergo architectural rehabilitation from the damage inflicted during the last round of civil conflict.

Butare

Butare is an even smaller place than Kigali but this is no reflection of its stature - it has been described as the intellectual centre of Rwanda, due to the fact that the National University, National Institute of Scientific Research and National Museum are all sited here.

You'll find plenty in Butare to exercise your mind and your sense of what Rwanda is all about, from presentations of Rwanda's prehistory and ethnic beginnings to vibrant cultural performances. The Musee National du Rwanda is the centrepiece of Butare.

Gisenyi

The words 'relaxation' and 'Rwanda' would be thought by many to be mutually exclusive. However, relaxation is precisely what attracts the wealthier Rwandans, expatriates and travellers looking to splurge to the lakeside resort town of Gisenyi.

Situated on the eastern shore of the enormous Lake Kivu, Gisenyi is stuffed full of manicured villas, salubrious hotels and the requisite nightclubs. It's a glitzy exercise in leisure amid much harsher African environs, but you'll enjoy yourself if you leave your reservations at the door.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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