Thursday, July 13, 2006

Things To Do In Rwanda

See below for travel tips! This is updated whenever I visit or have new information.

Butare (Huye)
The Intellectual Capital

Set aside a couple of hours for the National Museum of Rwanda, a well-organized museum that educates on the history and traditions of the country. Bring your wallet, too--there are associations of handicraft artisans that work behind the building, many in traditional grass huts. You can find some tremendous bargains here, particularly on pottery, beadwork, and baskets! If you're lucky, you might be able to see some traditional Intore dancers; they have been known to perform here.

Drive to Nyanza, the historic home of the Mwami, the spiritual leader and king of Rwanda. The last Mwami is in exile in Washington, D.C. There is a reproduction of the Royal Hut. Nyanza (also known as Nyabisindu) is about 30 minutes from Butare.

Visit the National University of Rwanda, the best university in the country (other than the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology). It is a beautiful campus.

For the strong of stomach and those who want to fully understand the atrocities that Butare suffered, visit Murambi, the most graphic and devastating of the genocide memorials, about 30 km from Butare on a good road. Here, the victims are preserved in lime. It is a very emotional experience.

Lodging:

Motel du Mont Huye: Cheap ($11). Rooms are clean, with mosquito nets, full bathrooms, and hot water. Beautiful setting; each room has its own stoop. There is a restaurant. Breakfast not included. This is a very popular place for aid workers, so be sure to make a reservation! (250) 530765

Le Petit Prince: Moderate ($36-70). Clean rooms, beautiful gardens. Breakfast included. A bit far from the center of town in a quieter, middle-class neighborhood. (250) 531307 or 0788358681. Petitprincehotel@yahoo.fr.

Hotel Ibis: Moderate ($30-55). Known as the best hotel in Butare. Breakfast included. Located in the middle of town, easy to find and walk around. (250) 530335 or 0788323000. Campionibis@hotmail.com.


Gisenyi (Rubavu)
Paradise Found

Lay on the beach at the Serena Kivu hotel. For the price of a drink, you can have a towel and use their pristine beach.

Lay on the beach in front of the Palm Beach Hotel—on weekends they play music over speakers on the beach…but as it’s a public beach, the locals might stare at you in your swimsuit! (The Palm Beach Hotel is closed as of July 2007, but the beach is still available!)

Walk down the Avenue of Cooperation, which leads from Serena Kivu down the waterfront to the border with Congo.

Have brochettes and sautéed potatoes at La Nouvelle (also called Chez Sadro). The potatoes are unrivaled.

Drink a beer at the open air bar La Bamba, located in town near the Auberge de Gisenyi. Certainly the loudest place in town, there is always music and televisions are always tuned to the day’s soccer game.

For a quieter drinking experience, have a Uganda Waragi and Fanta Citron at the Bikini Tam-Tam bar on the beach, past Kivu Sun.

Walk 6 km to Nyamyumba, near the Bralirwa Brewery. You can also take a taxi for 2,500-3,000 Frw (there is a fixed price schedule...but when I was there in early 2008, they hiked up the prices due to gas costs. Negotiate!) I compare the road to California’s Highway 1, as it hugs the picturesque coast.

The best grilled tilapia in Rwanda is in Nyamyumba. For the young or deal-savvy traveler, go to Maman Chakula’s, on the road before Hotel Paradis. Pick your fish from a bucket of the day’s catch (prices range from $1.50-2.50 for the fish, depending on the size) and for $0.80, have it grilled while you wait. It has great tables down by the water, and you can watch the fishermen.

For the luxury traveler (or if you want to eat your fish around a bonfire at night), head to Hotel Paradis—but make sure you ask whether the tilapia was today’s catch! And be adventurous and try the Sambaza--they're minnows/lake smelts that are deep fried and served with pili pili. Delicious.

In Nyamyumba, negotiate with a fisherman’s boat to take you to the hot spring or out to the island just offshore. For $5, they’ll be happy to take you around. Otherwise, Hotel Paradis has a boat, which costs $20 the last time I checked.

Go to the Video Club downtown and have a CD of modern and traditional Rwandan and East African music burned according to your taste.

Have dinner upstairs and then go downstairs to dance at White Rock (also known as Chez Nyanja), the best nightclub in Gisenyi, reputed to be the best in Rwanda. On the edge of the lake, the DJ spins a mix of R&B, reggae, and African music. The place is always full on Saturday nights at about midnight.

There is a new nightclub at the Stipp Hotel, which is really, really, really (did I say really?) hideous. It looks like someone vomited neon paint all over the walls in the 1980s. It's a decent place to preparty, though, before heading down the road to White Rock (see above).

Check out the Nyiragongo volcano from the center of town at night. On a clear night, you can see the red smoke!

Buy some traditional fabric in the Gisenyi market—it’s great for tablecloths, throws, wall hangings, etc. Prices range from 2,500 Frw-9,000 Frw ($4-$17).

Visit KIAKA, an artisan cooperative in Kanama, a town about 15 minutes outside Gisenyi on the Gisenyi-Ruhengeri road, to buy art made on site and historical art. No bargaining here, but there are plenty of bargains! Pick up a statue for $1.50 or a traditional Igisoro game for $6.

While you’re in Kanama, make a trip to nearby Nyundo, about 5 minutes away, for roasted chicken that I swear is the best I’ve ever tasted in my entire life. A restaurant run by a church, I Nazareti strangely produces the best banana wine in the province—tasty and made in sanitary conditions. Pick up a bottle for 1,500 Frw ($2.50).

If you’re stuck in Gisenyi town, you can also find magnificently grilled chicken at Le Poids Lourds. Be prepared for a long wait, but it’s worth it.

Have a delicious lunch buffet of traditional Rwandan food in a garden setting at La Corniche for $2. Many of the staff, I have been told, are genocide orphans.

Dine on Saturday night at Serena Kivu—it features a delicious spread of Rwandan, Ugandan, and Western food, and the dessert table is always so appetizing that you almost want to skip the main courses! Eat the salad here—all the water used to wash the raw produce has been superheated, treated, and filtered.

Get a cheap manicure and pedicure at the Vogue Salon, across the street from the nightclub. Have your hair braided here—but don’t come in on a Friday or Saturday, because brides awaiting stylists occupy all the seats!

Take a taxi to see the grave of Madame Carr, an American who ran an orphanage for genocide orphans called Imbabazi. The road that leads to the orphanage is near the UNHCR Nkamira refugee camp (on the left, if driving away from Gisenyi; on the right, if driving toward Gisenyi).

Lodging:

Serena Kivu: Expensive ($150 or so). Great location, food is good (they have the most amazing breakfast spread I have ever seen, and the weekend dinner buffets are excellent). There is music on weekend evenings. One night every month, they hold a "Jungle Party," with a $20 cover--this beach party goes from sundown to sunrise, usually with a live band and locally famous DJ. This hotel was the historic headquarters for génocidaires during the 1994 war. Formerly known as the Kivu Sun, it was just acquired by Serena. Friendly staff, most beautiful pool in Rwanda, private beach, mosquito screens, gym, tennis courts, massages on the beach, watersports, conference facilities. If you stay here, please do me a favor and don’t be one of those ignorant muzungus who doesn’t see anything of the real Gisenyi. Get out and explore. Phone: +(250) 571111

Stipp Hotel: Moderate-Expensive ($50-70). Beautiful hotel with a great pool and poolside bar. Former office of UNHCR, right after the war. Favorite hangout for wealthier locals, particularly during soccer matches. Rooms are very comfortable with nice bathrooms. Breakfast is included, and it’s good. The courtyard is beautiful, and the view of the lake is even nicer. Not far from the beach. There is a new addition to the hotel, which includes a new dance club. Food is good, but a bit expensive. Their African tea is some of the best in town. Only place in Gisenyi with a steam, sauna, and massage. Massages are about $13 for an hour.

Hotel Ubumwe: Cheap-Moderate ($20-40). Lake view but is set back from the beach. A favorite for those who want to save money. Food is pretty good. Nice courtyard. Far away from the action, so if you want a quiet place, this is a good choice. Phone +(250) 540530

La Bella: Cheap ($20). European-style house, kind of looks like it was uprooted from Switzerland and dropped here. Rooms are great, most have their own bathrooms. Very quiet. No screens on the windows, but there is a mosquito net. Beautiful view of the garden, and you can see the lake through the trees. Breakfast included. The food here is pretty terrible, and I asked myself if anyone actually worked at the restaurant because the service was so poor.

La Corniche: Cheap ($20-30). No view, far away from the action. Rwandan-owned. Rooms and bathrooms are a bit tired. Food is uniquely Rwandan, is very good. Underwent renovations. You may be housed in the annex, which is another house around the block from the main hotel. In any case, be sure to ask for hot water in a bucket. The hot water in the tap isn't dependable. Owner speaks English and French.

Dian Fossey Lodge (Nyiramacibiri): Cheap ($20). No view, far away from the action. Rwandan-owned. Nice, if a little campy, statues of African animals in the garden. Worst hotel experience I have ever had in my life (mosquitoes abound, no hot water, no towels, etc.) You can request a bucket of hot water. Some rooms are in another house around the corner from the main hotel. Undergoing expansion, so some rooms may soon have a view of the lake.

Auberge de Gisenyi: Cheap ($10). I haven’t been here, but I’ve come across a lot of backpackers who have said this place is pretty good. It’s in the middle of town, very noisy. I don’t particularly like the quarter where it’s located (it’s next to the bus station), but if you don’t mind being occasionally bothered, it seems like a good (and cheap) choice. They don't have hot water, but you can ask them to bring some in a bucket.

Presbyterian Guest House: Cheap ($10). In Gisenyi town, not near the beach. A good value if you’re looking for the cheapest possible option.

Internet Access:
The most dependable internet is at the Serena Kivu. Internet at the Stipp Hotel is pretty dependable as well, but has tended to be more expensive, and sometimes I had to use the internet behind the reception desk. In the Catholic Parish, there is a new internet cafe that is very dependable and is very cheap, but it operates on a schedule, which is posted at the entrance. I believe it closes at 8 pm. Otherwise, there are several internet cafes in the middle of Gisenyi town, all very cheap, but don't bank on having any privacy while you're (slowly) surfing--I always had an audience over my shoulder!

Kibuye
Land of a Thousand Islands

Kibuye, while beautiful, is a bit of a sleepy place. One of the best little hotels shut down a couple of years back, so the hotel choices are pretty slim. So are the activities. Kibuye is a perfect 1-2 day cheap-and-cheerful vacation area. Swim in the lake, or hire a fishing boat to take you down the coast!

Lodging

Centre Béthanie: Cheap to moderate ($20-30). Several kilometers away from Kibuye town. Quaint rooms with a television. Try to get a room down by the water. The restaurant is very good, though service may be slow. This Presbyterian-run center is a popular place for conferences, so be sure to call for reservations!

Moriah Hill Hotel: Expensive ($60+). Brand-new hotel. Modern, with beautiful views of the lake. Nothing is really going on around this hotel. Phone: 07 88 41 69 77.

Kigali
The Capital City

Shop until you drop in the center of town. Gift shops are aplenty, all with new and antique masks. (You will not find any antique Rwandan masks because they simply don't exist; masks were never a part of Rwandan culture, but Western interest in collecting masks has driven enterprising Rwandans to start making them. They are generally smooth and modern looking.) Pick up Congolese masks and cow bone jewelry, buy some Rwandan batik (it's not native to the culture, but they've started making them here to compete with Kenyan and Tanzanian batik, and some are quite nice), purchase some Rwandan nesting baskets (called agaseke). Price compare before you buy--there are sharp differences in prices between stores! The best-priced shop I have found is underneath the Librarie Caritas, near the BCDI bank (the tallest building in town). The Caplaki artisan cooperative in the valley next to Kiyovu can be more expensive, but you can bargain down to reasonable prices here, especially for their Congolese art.

Visit the genocide memorials. Stop by the Gisozi memorial (it's the only one in Kigali) but be warned that, while it is well done, it is pretty sterile, and visitors tend to feel divorced from the real tragedy of the event. For a real, heart-in-your-throat experience, it is important to visit two other genocide memorials, sites which actually became slaughterhouses in April 1994. Nyamata and Ntarama are about 25 kilometers from Kigali (and only about 1 km apart from each other). A taxi ride out should cost about 25,000 Frw. The roads are bad, so you're essentially renting a taxi for a day...it really is a deal. Tours are in French, but you don't need to understand French to get a chill up your spine from piles and bags of broken bones, bloodstained clothing, and rosaries. If there is one thing you do in Rwanda apart from seeing the gorillas, you must come here.

Grab a cup of coffee (or an ikawaccino) at Bourbon Café, the trendy new coffeeshop in the Union Trade Center and the MTN Center. It's like Starbucks times 20, and serves all Rwandan coffee--"From Crop to Cup." Prices are like Starbucks, too... They also serve food.

Brave the Nyabugogo market. The largest market in Rwanda, it feels like you are wandering through an underground maze of clothing. Somewhat like a department store, there is some logic to the setup--there is a section for women's clothing, men's clothing, household items, etc. You can even arrange private places to try on clothes. Bargain hard here--these vendors are experts!
Speaking of shopping, KIAKA, my favorite artisan cooperative in Gisenyi, just opened a shop next to the big roundabout as you enter the city. Check it out! And buy one of their bottle openers. It's a great conversation starter at parties. The selection of items is not as vast as at their Gisenyi shop, though.

Catch a concert at Abraxis on a Saturday night. This is the name for the Franco-Rwandais Cultural Center's cafeteria-looking bar. The ambiance is nil, but it's fun (and cheap) to listen to up-and-coming Rwandan bands, and everyone dances, as well! (**Note: Since the French left Rwanda, this center has been closed**)

You can also catch live music at VIP, a venue next to the Cadillac Club. They play everything from salsa, to '80s covers, to pop, to their own creations. Inexplicably, it's usually pretty empty. If you want to eat while you enjoy music, head to the Intercontinental or the Mille Collines, where there's a band every Friday and Saturday night, and often on other nights of the week as well. (As of 8/2008, my friend Faycal sings at the Mille Collines, so stop in and say hi from me!)

Dance until morning at Cadillac or at Planète Club. Be warned--people have been robbed outside of Cadillac, and Planete Club is crawling with prostitutes and sketchy old white men looking for prostitutes. But both are fantastic places to be on Friday and Saturday night.

If you want a more upscale dancing experience, head over to the B-Club in Nyarutarama. It's oddly placed next door to a gas station. Very chic and entirely worthy of being located in New York or Los Angeles, this place charges a cover of 5000 Frw (about $10). The drinks are priced accordingly. The music is great, and it draws an upscale crowd of Rwandese, Congolese, and expatriates. There are many fewer prostitutes here, if any (given the entry price). All nightclubs really get going at about 11:30 p.m. or later.

If you're looking for light or heavy reading (for when you are laying out on the beach in Gisenyi), head to the Librarie Ikirezi, where you can find everything from Cosmopolitan to the largest selection of books on the Rwandan genocide that I have ever seen.

Grab a beer and light snacks at Karibu, a local watering hole. Near the center of town, this place lights up at night, with loud music and large groups huddled around small tables.

Go for a swim at the Mille Collines. It's only $5, and you can be touristy and brag that you swam in the same pool that kept over a thousand people hydrated during the genocide.

Eat brochettes at Chez Lando (in Remera neighborhood). A Kigali institution, Chez Lando has been around since before the genocide. Its namesake was killed during the war, but the hotel and restaurant have remained open. There is a large, open area with televisions, pool tables, etc. where locals drink beer and enjoy the goat or fish brochettes while watching soccer.

Buy fabric in the Kimironko market and take it to my favorite tailor to have clothing made. His name is Amadou Bah (no, he's not Rwandan, he's Guinean) and he's located in Remera, across the street from Chez Lando and above Ndoli's supermarket. While he's the chief tailor, he employs about 14-16 Rwandan tailors, who work miracles. Look through his pictures and catalogs, or bring in a drawing of something you would like them to replicate. His shop, called Kheuwel Couture-Broderie, can turn your order around in less than a week. Prices can run from 10,000 FRw to 18,000 FRw (about $20-36) depending on how complicated the order is, but bargain in advance. Tell him Morgan (l'americaine qui aime les Red Sox) sent you! He'll laugh. Bring your French skills. (250) 0788569371 or 0788493811.

Restaurants

The best:
The Silverback (Le Dos Argenté) at the Hotel Gorillas. Easily the top table in town, with a gifted chef, beautiful presentation, ambiance, and remarkable service. There is a small courtyard with a couple of tables, and ample indoor seating. It's not cheap, but it's worth every penny.

Panorama at the Mille Collines. The most elevated table in town--literally. At the top of the famous Mille Collines, the Panorama overlooks the pool and half of Kigali. There is indoor and outdoor seating. The wine list is superb, there are amuse bouches, and there is such an emphasis on good service that everything is coordinated, down to the synchronized water pouring and plate-serving. The food was delicious, and the price of the meal was a steal compared to what that meal would have cost in DC.

Diplomate at the Kigali Serena. The biggest disappointment in town. Everyone had told me that meals were remarkable, but I had the opposite experience. The dining room was nice, and there are nice views of the pools from some of the tables. The menu was very limited, the food was flavorless and tough, and the waiters looked like they were in a rush to leave. (Then, when paying, they said that they couldn't accept credit cards that day, which they should have said at the beginning.) An all-around terrible experience, but maybe it will get better with time. All that said, they have a wonderful breakfast spread, which is included in the room charge if you stay at the Serena. The restaurant was named after the old Hotel Diplomate that used to occupy the current site of the Kigali Serena.

The rest:
Cactus: Great selection, more expensive prices than other places, but the ambiance and the food is worth it. Good fish brochettes. Also a good place to get drinks and watch the sun go down. In Kiyovu.

Republika: Soviet-influenced hip bar for those who wish to see and be seen. Frequented by the expatriate and wealthy/hip Rwandan communities. Hot drinks, great steaks, amazing afro-latin-techno music. In Kiyovu, only marked with a sign with a red star.

O Sole Luna: Italian restaurant owned/run by an Italian (hence, authentic food). Beautiful outdoor tables make you feel like you're in Naples instead of Kigali. Gorgeous view. The pizzas are fabulous. In Remera.

Papyrus: Italian restaurant owned/run by an Italian who, as I understand it, is using his restaurant as a cooking and service school for former combatants, to give them a new career. Delicious food. There's a store selling dairy products from the Masaka farm on the premises. In Kimihurura.

Chez John: Not a French restaurant, but a Rwandan-owned and operated one, with a range of cuisines from Rwandan to Italian. Service is a little slow here, be sure to budget some time for dinner. The buffet lunch is good. Located in Kiyovu.

Heaven: A new restaurant in Kiyovu run by the Ruxins, an American couple who also manage the Millennium Villages project out in Mayange. They boast that every element is Rwandan made, all the ingredients are locally grown, and they provide international-quality training and benefits to staff. The menu, which was designed for Western tastes, is pretty tasty (and consistent), albeit very expensive. Dinner only. Located in Kiyovu.

The New Flamingo: Fabulous Chinese food, beautiful restaurant. Incredibly fast service. They even have tofu dishes! (Most of the time.) In Kimihurura.

Afrika Bite: Great lunch buffet of different African dishes--mostly Rwandese and Ugandan. Nice setting and cheerful staff. In Kimihurura.

Comme Chez Moi: Thai and French restaurant. The Thai dishes are a little bland, but friends swear by the French dishes. Beautiful setting. In Kimihurura.

Restaurant Hellenique: The Greek Restaurant. Beautiful setting. Also a guest house. Don't get the octopus risotto. Otherwise, their Greek dishes are very good. Closed Mondays. In Kimihurura.

Car Wash: Yes, it's a car wash. But it's also a bar. This is the place to come for good nyama choma (grilled meat). It's a favorite among Kenyan expats. Great brochettes, and they have grilled pork, too! In the valley near Kimihurura.

Chez Robert: Belgian restaurant. Well-positioned across from the Mille Collines. They have an excellent lunch buffet (Rwandan and Western offerings) and a festive outdoor area. In Kiyovu.

Havana Club: Pizza restaurant next to the Novotel. Delicious pizza, some of the best in town. Lively evening atmosphere and popular place to watch soccer games!

Ice and Spice: Hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant in the center of town. Low prices, great vegetarian options, quiet and authentic.

Pasadena (also known as Chez Vergil): Cheap and cheerful, with a very limited menu. (All Rwandan.) Brochettes are excellent. They have salsa lessons, too.

BCK: Grocery store (one of very few) which also has a reestaurant. A local favorite, they serve Rwandan food and a couple of sandwiches (remove the lettuce and tomato). Good if you're downtown and looking to eat fast.

Chez Yves: A hole in the wall secret whose name is not widely known, it's next to La Bonne Source, a little supermarket near the Hotel Iris. They have some of the best steak in town, for very cheap. On soccer nights, it's empty, though--there's no television!

La Galette: An expatriate's heaven, La Galette is a German-owned supermarket with all sorts of European and American imports, a butchery, and a bakery. They also have a patio area where they serve sandwiches. Good for lunch or brunch.

Karibu: With a distinctive purple sign and just a stone's throw away from the main drag in town, Karibu offers traditional grillades (grilled meats) and cheap beers, which you can enjoy outside while watching the game! A favorite watering hole for locals. Great lunch buffet.

Torero: A tapas restaurant that is a rising favorite among the backpacker and hipster crowd, this basement restaurant and bar has techno nights, cool lighting, and a cafe/lounge atmosphere. There's an outdoor patio as well. The food is outstanding and cheap (small plates range from 1,500 FRw to 3,000 FRw). They have a couple of bookshelves with some pretty good books, and they have a wide variety of the latest magazines for the information-hungry. Located near the big roundabout in Kiyovu, and is only marked with a Heineken sign.

Lodging

Kigali Serena: Used to be known as the Intercontinental Kigali. Who could ask for anything more? Comes at a price, of course: $250 a night. Breakfast buffet included. Phone: +(250) 597100

Mille Collines: A very tired hotel in desperate need of renovation; charges much too much for what you get. Rumored to be undergoing renovations in the next year. Good live music most nights. $160 a night. Phone: + (250) 576530

Windsor Umubano (Novotel): Also tired. Not that special. Don't eat sandwiches by the pool if you're not sitting under an umbrella--the birds will attack. Consider yourself warned. $120 a night, breakfast included. Phone: +(250) 585816

Chez Lando: Historic hotel, well kept. Screens on windows, mosquito nets provided just in case. $60 a night, breakfast included, hot water (good water pressure, too!). Close to airport and stadium. Phone: +(250) 582050

Auberge Beausejour: The best place in town, if you ask me. Rooms are clean, there are nice touches (like bottled water in the rooms), and screens on the windows. There are bathrooms and televisions in every room. Hot water. The staff is very friendly, the snacks (which you can get in your room) are cheap, and breakfast is included. Close to airport and stadium. $20/night (less if you split). Phone: +(250) 55111982 or 55116268. Email: beausejourhotel@yahoo.com.

Hotel Gorillas: A great hotel if you're looking to spend some cash. The rooms are well-appointed and each room has a great view. Good location, close to great restaurants (not to mention the fact that there is a great restaurant here.) $90/night. Phone: +(250) 501717

Hotel Okapi: Sterile, lacks character. Nice balconies, semi-functional hot water. The area around the hotel is pretty sketchy at night. I really didn't like this place. $70/night. Phone: +(250) 571667 / 576765

Iris Guesthouse: Great location, new-ish hotel that has clean rooms and a good reputation. $55-$75/night including breakfast. Apartments are also available for $110/day. Phone: +(250) 501172. Email: iris1@rwanda1.com

City Valley Motel: Near Nyabugogo, so a bit out of the way. I probably wouldn't walk around outside at night...and besides, there's not much to walk to. There's a great restaurant and bar, though! Clean, beautifully situated rooms with hot water for $27, $18, and $11.

Internet access:
Internet is available at all of the major hotels, as well as the Auberge Beausejour. There are also many internet cafes all over Kigali, so they should be relatively easy to find.

Ruhengeri (Musanze)
The Gorilla-Trekking Base


No trip to Ruhengeri would be complete without a trip to see the gorillas. There are several groups to choose from; the Susa is reputed to be the most difficult, as it requires a tough hike up the mountain. This was the group that Dian Fossey studied, and is the largest of the habituated gorilla groups. The other gorilla groups are smaller and tend to be less physically intensive to visit. If you go, layer clothing and wear long socks that you can tuck your pants into; there are stinging nettles that leave red welts wherever they make contact! Also try to avoid wearing dark blue or black, as mosquitoes tend to trail behind you, attracted by the color. Gorillas do not particularly react to bright colors, but greens and browns are safe. Tickets are $500 for non-resident visitors (that is, tourists) and $250 for expatriates who have resident cards. **You must buy your gorilla trekking tickets in advance in Kigali, at ORTPN (the tourism office) which is near the main Roundabout and not far from the Mille Collines hotel. MasterCard is preferred.**

Stop by LaBoutik at the Hotel Muhabura and check out their crafts. Some are great deals, and they often carry antiques and handmade jewelry.

See Dian Fossey's grave (for a fee). Buy tickets at ORTPN in Kigali.

Restaurants

For as important a town as Ruhengeri is to Rwanda's tourism, there aren't as many choices as there are in Gisenyi. There tend to be a lot of "sports bar"-type places along the strip leading into the town of Ruhengeri (when you're coming from the Kigali direction), where you can get reasonable brochettes.

For a more Westernized restaurant, the choice is basically limited to the restaurant at the Hotel Muhabura, which is not the best food I've ever had, but is passable.

Lodging

Hotel Muhabura: Moderate ($25-$35). The most upscale choice in Ruhengeri, and very reasonably priced. Big rooms with hot water, mosquito nets. They can help you arrange transport for gorilla trekking for a flat fee of $60 a day, and are great about getting you up in time to go trekking. Breakfast in rooms on request. Phone: (+250) 571511

EER Guest House: Cheap ($15-$40). Operated by the Episcopalian church. Gorgeous landscaping, beautiful rooms. It's clean and friendly, and has a gorgeous pool! No alcohol allowed. It's along the main road. They also have extra-cheap dorm-style bunk beds. Popular with missionaries, etc. Phone: (+250) 546765

Mountain Gorilla's Nest: Expensive ($100+). It's not in Ruhengeri, but in Kinigi, not far from the starting point for gorilla trekking. Expansive and beautifully situated. There's an adjacent golf course, one of two in Rwanda. Again: if you come to Rwanda, please, PLEASE don't be one of those muzungus who doesn't see anything of the country beyond the gorillas and sparsely scattered four/five-star hotels. Phone: (+250) 546954

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge: Extremely expensive ($1000). Also not in Ruhengeri. Self-contained eco-friendly cottages. I certainly hope so for this price. I mean--really?? http://www.governorscamp.com/.

Travel Tips

Money:
Rwanda is a cash economy. There are few places that accept credit cards, but where they do, they almost always accept Mastercard. Sign up for one and bring it as backup in case of emergency (and to charge those $500 gorilla trekking tickets). Some places (like the Serena and Mille Collines) do accept American Express and Visa.

DO NOT BRING TRAVELER'S CHECKS. There are perhaps two places (in Kigali only) where you can exchange them, and at a horrendous rate. It is completely inconvenient.

If you find that you need more cash, the Banque de Kigali branch across from the BCDI on the Avenue de la Paix can withdraw money on Visa cards. You can take out Rwandan francs, US dollars, or Euros; note that whatever is withdrawn will be done so in Euros and then converted. There is a flat fee--$13 for Rwandan francs, and $25 or so for US dollars.

Do not give money to kids on the street. This encourages a begging culture. Many kids and teenagers in Gisenyi would come up to me and ask for money not because they needed it, necessarily, but because they thought that I would just give it to them.

Learn the value of Rwandan money. The exchange rate (at time of writing) is 560=$1. The largest Rwandan bill is 5,000; they treat it the way we treat $50 bills. Try not to flash those around. Carry lots of 100 Frw, 500 Frw, 1,000 Frw, and 2,000 bills. In Kigali, 1,500 Frw can buy a plate full of food. 2,500 Frw will take you across town in a taxi car. 200 Frw can buy a soda. Just because it might not be a lot of money to us doesn't mean you should throw it around carelessly! (Doing so ruins the prices for us poor budget travelers, and Rwanda's not that cheap as it is!)

Similarly, know when to bargain. Always bargain for taxis and in markets. Don't bargain in the little bodegas, craft boutiques, restaurants, and hotels. Many times, prices will be marked, and they're not negotiable!

Dress:
Rwanda's climate is perfect--think Santa Barbara, California. With two rainy seasons. Bring all of your light clothing, but leave your shorts at home. Only schoolboys wear shorts. Linen is great. Bring comfortable tennis shoes, flip-flops, and a pair of shoes that you wouldn't mind getting wet. If you plan to see the gorillas, layering is key--it's cold as you go up the mountain. Don't forget a light parka. Bring some sweaters for chilly nights. And don't forget your swimsuit, if you're going to Gisenyi or Kibuye!

If you're going on safari in Akagera, don't wear dark colors (black, navy). The tse-tse flies LOVE those colors, and will bite you.

It is also worth noting that in Kigali, Rwandans tend to dress up. They appreciate it if you don't wander around looking like a mountain backpacker or a safari trekker, so make an effort when you're in Kigali.

Transport:
You can get around Kigali in the local matatus (100 or 150 Frw, depending on how far you're going). They're each labeled with their destination. Kigali also just instituted a Kigali Bus Service, new, clean buses that cost the same. Of course, if you're not feeling brave enough, you can always take a taxi or a taxi-motorcycle. Notably, a taxi from the airport to hotels in Kigali supposedly costs 7,000 Frw, a fixed fee. Try to bargain, and if anyone can succeed in lowering the rate, please let me know!

Travel from Kigali to other towns in Rwanda is possible if you take the express matatus. There are several companies. Virungas is one of the most dependable; it's 1,500-2,500 Frw depending on where you're heading. Like all express matatus, the price is fixed. Atraco also leaves from the center of town. A new service just started as I was leaving the country which seems pretty good--I think it was called Kigali Safaris or something like that. The cheapest way to go from Kigali to Gisenyi (and vice versa) is via the Onatracom bus, a rickety green bus that leaves according to a precise schedule--they operate about 4-5 buses a day. You can pick that up in Nyabugogo bus station.

If you feel comfortable driving, as I understand it, there is now at least one car rental company in Kigali--either Budget or Avis.

If you want to go to Burundi, Kampala, or Nairobi, inquire in Nyabugogo. The Jaguar bus goes up to Kampala (and I think continues to Nairobi).

Taxi-motorcycles in towns other than Kigali should only cost 200 Frw.

Umuganda, or community work, is the last Saturday of each month. All Rwandans must participate, which can hamper transport in the morning!

Diplomatic Information:

Belgian Embassy: (+250) 252 575 551
Canadian Embassy: (+250) 252 571 762
French Embassy: No diplomatic presence at this time
German Embassy: (+250) 252 575 222
Kenyan Embassy: (+250) 252 583 332
Netherlands Embassy: (+250) 252 584 348
South African Embassy: (+250) 252 583 185
Swedish Embassy: (+250) 252 597 400
Swiss Embassy: (+250) 252 573 534
United States Embassy: (+250) 252 596 400
United Kingdom Embassy: (+250) 252 586 072

56 Comments:

Blogger traveljen said...

Morgan -
I would LOVE to get the email addresses of some of these hotels in Gisenyi as I can't find them on the Internet.

Thanks -
Jen
info(at)jenniferhaupt.com

8/03/2006 1:41 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

A lot of them don't have email addresses, unfortunately...the best way to contact them is to call. I may have some phone numbers...you don't really need a reservation at any of them unless you're going to be at one of the main ones (Kivu Sun, Palm Beach) on the weekend, when the muzungus come up from Kigali. Cheers!

8/03/2006 6:12 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

ALSO--I welcome any additions to this section! I never made it to Kibuye or Cyangugu, so if anyone has anything to add about those places, please do.

8/06/2006 9:51 PM  
Blogger traveljen said...

jMorgan -

Do you think the Auberge Beausejour is on-par with Chez Lando? Are there places nearby to eat? And, do you have a phone number?

Many thanks!
- Jen

8/15/2006 4:24 PM  
Anonymous michelle said...

I ate at both O Sole Luna and Chez John. Probally the best pizza I had ever had, or maybe it was I had eaten nothing but beans, rice and potatoes for 2 weeks.

Chez John, the best authentic Rwandan food. If you really want to be true to the experience of Rwanda, you will try it.

8/15/2006 7:18 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Traveljen, I preferred the Beausejour over Chez Lando, because it's cheaper and more charming. Chez Lando feels like it's a half-step up from Beausejour, but I didn't feel like that was worth the steep increase in cost (I was working for free, so I had to save every penny I could!)

Luckily, if you stay at either, you can eat at Chez Lando (they have an outdoor brochette bar and a proper restaurant--the latter isn't very good) or O Sole Luna, which is just down the street.

And I agree: Chez John was very good, and many of my expat friends loved their Rwandan dishes. (One friend raved about their tilapia brochettes!)

8/21/2006 12:08 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Phone numbers:

Hotel Chez Lando is at +(250) 571667

Auberge Beausejour is at +(250) 582527

8/21/2006 12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am a rwandan girl who lives in canada... i really appreciate you doing this site, its very usefull and i can say that everything's right..i recomand it 100%.

10/19/2006 11:29 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

murakoze cyane, anonymous!

10/24/2006 9:54 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Madame Carr sadly passed. You can still visit her orphanage in Gisenyi (I'm sure she would certainly want that)and pay your respects to this phenomenal woman.

10/24/2006 9:57 PM  
Blogger Muir said...

Hi! Would you happen to know the Kinyarwandan for Happy Birthday??!!


Thanks, Muir (Ireland)

10/08/2007 6:07 AM  
Blogger Ruth said...

Merci beaucoup, Asante sana Morgan! Your post about things to do in Rwanda helped make my trip so successful. I couldn't have done it without you. If anyone reading isn't sure if they want to go to Rwanda, I say drop everything and get there now! It's beautiful!

rg

11/21/2007 2:47 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

As for how to say Happy Birthday...I asked my Rwandan friend, and he told me it would literally take about 8 words to really get it right...and then didn't bother to tell me what it was :)

Ruth, I'm glad the tips were helpful!

2/23/2008 11:18 PM  
Blogger Allie said...

Hello Morgan! I just want to say that your blog is brilliant, especially for someone who plans to travel to Rwanda next year! I have SO many questions I'd love to ask you! I'd really love it if we could e-mail a little bit! It's up to you though, of course! :)

-allie!

3/03/2008 7:46 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Hi, Allie! Am happy to talk. Just let me know!

3/31/2008 12:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting all these wonderful things about Rwanda. I must tell you ,you have a great review. I am Rwandan and I was very pleased to read this and I am printing it out , so I can visit some of the restaurants and hotels in May.
Murakoze cyane( Thank you very much)

4/11/2008 3:20 PM  
Blogger Rwanda said...

Happy birthday in Kinyarwanda.
For the person who wants to know happy birthday in Kinyarwanda, it's really hard to say because we don't really have that. Most people just use french wich is Joyeux anniversaire. In kinyarwanda you can translate roughly as : Isabukuru nziza.
Isabukuru: anniversaire
Nziza: good

4/15/2008 12:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

for Happy Birthday, we usually say: umunsi(day)mwiza(good or beautiful). Hope this helps.
Jane

4/28/2008 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

umorgan,gisenyi as really changed since a while i think u need to update ur site ure giving to people wrong information about prices n rooms situation try tto be honest thank you please dont reply

5/08/2008 4:51 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Anonymous, they are changed when I get better information from being there. The original descriptions were written in 2006 but I have updated them several times with details I have found on subsequent visits (2007, 2008). If you are referring to a particular hotel, please let me know and I will update it.

Thanks!

5/17/2008 6:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan,
Gisenyi changed but the prices are still almost the same. Hotel Serena has lots of great things, like a buffet and music on Saturday night. It is one of the best hotels in that area and its a little expensive ( if you are on budget).We had a great dinner there and drinks. Please don't order margaritas there, they are awful! they only used lemons to make it and rwandan lemons are strong. I was laughing because I couldn't even try to drink it.You gave the info about Gisenyi in 2006, and people should stop being rude because of that.If they have the right info ,they should share it nicely. Being rude doesn't help . Thanks Morgan for all the work.Jane

6/02/2008 4:55 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Just a note that I have updated this list with new information today!

8/11/2008 6:22 PM  
Anonymous Mzee49 said...

You can find a lot of information about Rwanda and lots of pictures you can look at:
www.rwanda-direct.com
Then after that you go to the page: more to visit and you see most of the touristic places.
Mind you, these websites are made to help the local tour operators to get customers and are not related to the hotels or lodges.

Have fun!

9/30/2008 9:40 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

Morgan, we are traveling with our kids in a few weeks, ages 4 and 6, to Kigali. What hotel would you recommend for youngsters? Do we really need to wear bug repellent at all times and take anti-malarials? Thanks for your site...very helpful!

11/12/2008 12:25 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Hi, Amanda!

Hopefully this isn't too late...I would recommend taking the anti-malarials. Certain seasons are wetter than others (i.e. the risk is higher), but, having had malaria, it's just not worth the risk, I promise! Note that anti-malarials will not prevent you from contracting malaria, but will mitigate the effects of the malaria.

I used to wear loads of bug repellent, but have gotten lazier over time. I would definitely put some on the kids, but as for yourself, if you're not bothered, you can choose to stick it out (although note that malaria, even if you have anti-malarials, is no fun!).

1/04/2009 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan!
A m a Rwandan and I am rwanda would just like to thank you for the great job you have done by posting this site! thx very much.

Second, on this i would like to meet you or exchange emails if possible.
Thx wait to hear from you.

3/19/2009 6:08 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the phrasebook and the hints for things to do in Rwanda. My niece is teaching there for a year, and your information has been tremendously helpful!
Mary Liz

3/25/2009 5:14 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Rwanda cell numbers have changed!

A note to everyone who is trying to call any of these numbers--the cell phone numbers (numbers that start with 0) have changed slightly. Add in 78 after the 0 and then continue to type the number.

For example, if the phone number was 03012345, it is now 0783012345. I will update these phone numbers as soon as I get a chance.

Cheers!

4/05/2009 3:46 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

This was last updated April 2009. La Fiesta closed for good, and is now called Mamba. Word on the street is that despite being called a Bar-Resto, it's more "bar" than "resto" at the moment.

Indian Khazana was closed because of tax evasion. While some have told me that it will reopen, I think this isn't too likely, since all of the kitchenware and appliances, etc. went to public auction.

Torero is a new addition--cheap and good food! It's a new favorite for the expat community.

-Morgan

4/13/2009 11:21 AM  
Blogger newfie said...

Hi, thanks for this site.

Can I please ask why not shorts? Is it not proper? Is there a dress code?

Does anyone know what the name "Irakoze" means?

Thanks

4/24/2009 12:50 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Newfie,

I'd say no shorts because they're just not worn by Rwandese adults (male or female). Only schoolboys wear them. If you wear them, you won't offend, but in terms of fitting in, I'd say to avoid wearing them if possible!

My guess is that Irakoze has something to do with giving thanks (urakoze and murakoze mean "thanks").

Cheers, Morgan

5/05/2009 5:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

thanks for a great blog - i am going potentially for the month of July. any thoughts on renting a motorbike or car in kigali? Any tips for a long term stay on a budget? Apartments for rent, or better to stay in an auberge or hotel?

Thanks!

5/08/2009 1:47 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Laura,

Unless you're very confident about your motorbike skills, I wouldn't recommend driving one in Kigali. Renting a car is perhaps a better option, although this is pretty expensive (not as expensive as buying a car, though!). Perhaps taxis, instead? Especially if it's only a month. My recommendation is to try a couple of taxis in the first couple of days, pick one you trust (and who prices fairly), and make an arrangement with him to pick you up when you call him. You could even negotiate better rates that way.

As for living, I would recommend against staying in one of the furnished apartment complexes because they cost upwards of $1000, which is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard of! Unless someone is paying for it for you :)

Otherwise, I'd suggest checking out some modest hotels like the Auberge Beausejour to see if you can get a weekly rate (I'm not sure offhand).

Good luck!

6/04/2009 11:42 PM  
Blogger Mathieu said...

Morgan,
thanks for your blog, it really helped me get the feeling of the place and prepare to come here. Now that I have moved to Kigali, it is still a useful reference to discover the city.

What would you say is the best viewpoint of the city? Can we go up a mountain or something?

Mathieu
btw, let me know if you ever come back to Rwanda, we need people like you in my company.

6/06/2009 7:09 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Mathieu, une fois que j'aurai fini ma maitrise, il est possible que je vous contacterai! hahaha

There are a couple of vistas--one good one is at Cactus. It's great to get drinks there as the sun is going down (but wear repellent--the mosquitoes there are ravenous!).

Enjoy!

M.

6/14/2009 10:59 PM  
Anonymous heather p said...

Your blog has been so helpful. I am going to Rwanda to volunteer teach, and I have been using your language page to learn Kinyarwanda. And your things to do page is wonderful.
Are you still in Africa?

cheers-
heather

6/17/2009 7:42 PM  
Anonymous Mitz said...

Thanks so much Morgan! Heading to Kigali in Sept and wanted to learn some of the Kinyarwandan language... so this was an amazing blog! Both the language, and the "things to do in Rwanda"! THANKS!MURAKOZE!! =)

6/22/2009 8:29 PM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Thanks, Mitz! And heather p., yes, I am still in Africa, just south of Rwanda in Burundi! Very similar but definitely not the same down here! :)

7/08/2009 9:23 AM  
Blogger funigan said...

Hi Morgan - It is a very small world, I have only read your blog a couple of times (which I find fantastic) and I was at Hotel Milles Collines and met your friend Faycal. I vaguely made the connection but as I was talking to him I remembered the name from your blog and asked if he knew you and he was so excited. He said you were something (couldn't make out the word) to his son Te'llamo (sp). Anyway, small world and Faycal is an exellent singer. I hope he goes far.

8/29/2009 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog Morgan! Lots of great suggestions on here. Just FYI, Indian Khazana has now reopened. Still delicious, still expensive :)

9/22/2009 11:14 AM  
Anonymous johnybegud said...

Hi Morgan, have just found your blog and what a great insight it is! I am hopeful to be offered a job based in Kigali very soon, and my wife is quite concerned about our new location (moving from Bahrain). Having worked in Africa before (albeit west) I don't have the same misgivings. we are looking for a house to rent - are there areas to avoid or preferred areas (British expats!) John (jw dot zygi at yahoo dot co dot uk)

10/20/2009 3:48 AM  
Blogger Morgan C. said...

Funigan, how fabulous!!! I didn't get to see Faycal the last time I was in Rwanda (sniff). I'm godmother/aunt to his son, Teamo ("I love you" in Spanish...he wanted a creative name). So happy you made the connection! You've put a smile on my face.

Anonymous--thanks for the tip on Indian Khazana--I got word in Burundi that the Rwandan one had reopened (despite having sold everything down to the light fixtures to pay the back taxes). I'll edit this page accordingly. Thanks for the tip--and if anyone else has any travel tips/hotel recommendations, please post them!

Johnybegud, I have posted somewhere on this site a description of some of the neighborhoods (and photos from the neighborhoods) to assist people who are planning to move to Kigali! Hopefully, that will help. Murakaza neza.

:) Morgan

11/13/2009 5:57 PM  
Anonymous John Oyston said...

Hi Morgan
I love your blog and thank you for all the travel advice. I am heading to Rwanda in January for four weeks to teach anesthesia in Kigali and Butare for the Canadian Anesthesiologists Society. It sounds like it will be a very interesting trip, and its good to have your advice about restuarants etc. I was not sure it would be worth the drive to Gisenyi but you have persuaded me I have tospend one of my weekends off there.
Thanks again, John Oyston

12/15/2009 7:23 PM  
Blogger Brynn Champney said...

Dear newfie,

"Irakoze" ~ thank you God (Imana)

Also, Morgan was correct about the absence of shorts, so please be prepared...1) my friend, a young woman, wore mid-thigh shorts and paid the price in stares 2) They are supposedly associated with colonialists because they wore shorts, so it's also an inside joke 3) Small shorts are considered underwear and (like all women's undergarments) will not be touched by the men doing laundry at most accommodations 4) It will NOT be okay for women (anything above the knee) outside of the city, to the point where a Rwandan accompanying you may be warned by other men that you look like a prostitute!

Just say no (to walking on the grass in Kigali and eating in public as well)

Enjoy!

3/17/2010 8:38 AM  
Blogger MamaZum said...

NEW PLACES TO CHECK OUT IN KIGALI: Shokola, oriental inspired resturant, great deco.
Location:
1st street downhill from Hotel Milles Collines towards BNR, Rue de Ntaruka, Kiyovu
Kigali, RwandaPhone:
0-755-000-000 or 0-788-000-000
check our their facebook page for updates.

LE MUST: New&Fresh le Must an exciting place to discover..This lounge has been designed to make your nigths&outings fun...Come&experience the magic...
Location: Kigali (Kiyovu)

Thank you Morgan for your info.

3/22/2010 4:57 PM  
Blogger Anatoliy said...

Morgan-HI!!!Whats up?I have spend about 10 years continuous in Rwanda and..they start to call me Musehe-MIKE MORGAN-aged about 54 year 2007-2008 and some one lost billionaire-dizzy and insulted,i have never understood whats going on before i reach back Israel-Psyhotronic harassment,Voice2skull,and so.And .they still telling i am MORGAN,(ho is that?)even in Israel,and continue stalking,street theatre,and so,and microwave hearing.Hu they are?They was where at the end of 2008 having a lot o dinners at CACTUS,looking like kind of semite peopleor Farsi people

8/26/2010 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello morgan, thank you for doing this work in my country.it really gives someone who have never been there to know how beautiful is Rwanda.

9/24/2010 1:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Muraho Morgan,
thank you for your blog! It's great! I am married to a Rwandan and going to Rwanda for the first time in a few months. It will be at the end of February/beginning of March... unfortunately the rainy season. Do you strongly advise against it?
Af for lodging - would you recommend Nyarutarama, where Glof Hills seems to be a very good options but it's far from the centre, or one of the apartments like Prima2000?
Thanks a lot
Gachingura

10/29/2010 5:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Morgan,

What a great site you have created. So very informative and helpful!

Would you or anyone else on here know if the Beausejour Hotel is still $27 a night?

Thank you very much.

11/19/2010 9:49 PM  
Blogger Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

When I called the Beausejour Hotel they told me it was $90/night, quite different than the price stated on here.

2/10/2011 6:56 AM  
Blogger Jacob and Kalli Hiller said...

We ended up staying at Hotel Okapi. The location, view, and restaurant are all convenient/excellent. The price is also cheaper than what you have quoted.

2/21/2011 11:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Morgan,

thanks for the great initiative. You MUST add Shokola to your list of restaurants/cafes in Kigali. It's one of my fav :)

cheers!
Ella

3/14/2011 8:48 AM  
Anonymous Brigitte said...

Hi Morgan,
I am a Rwandese who lives in Brussels. I appreciated your lively account of life in my country. You got to know it very well! Reading your blog brings back a lot of good memories.
Thanks a lot for that!
Kind regards,
Brigitte

8/14/2011 7:01 AM  
Anonymous Jay said...

Hi Morgan,
Great Post!!
I've been doing some research on what to see when I get there...so this is helpful.

If anyone else is looking for what to see in Kigali, this article is pretty good too:

http://www.thisboundlessworld.com/rwanda-things-to-see-in-kigali-tourist-attractions

Thanks,
Jay

4/18/2013 2:30 PM  
Blogger Mametsing said...

Awesome post. Thank you.

4/23/2016 12:44 AM  
Blogger Mametsing said...

Awesome post. Thank you.

4/23/2016 12:49 AM  

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