Rwanda Travel Guide

safarigo   Rwanda  

A tiny country bursting with immense beauty, Rwanda is most famously known for its gorilla trekking sites, and thanks to its compact nature, it can be easily added on to any African safari trip for a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Still, gorilla trekking aside, Rwanda has plenty more to offer, from unforgettable volcano hikes to chimpanzee viewing, and wilderness-fuelled savannah safaris in 
Akagera National Park, one of Rwanda’s most off-the-beaten-path destinations.

So, are you ready to dive in and discover all that this compact country has to offer with our ultimate Rwanda Travel Guide? From the best Rwanda safari routes to the latest entry requirements, here’s all you need to know about the underrated jewel of East Africa!

The Best Time to Visit Rwanda

If you’re planning on visiting Rwanda to experience its rich wildlife, then you’ll want to visit during the dry season, June to September, which is considered the best time for wildlife viewing.

Keep in mind that primate walks in the wet and humid rainforest, including gorilla trekking, are a big part of any safari in Rwanda, so you should always expect a little bit of rain, even during the dry season.

Here are the biggest highlights to look forward to when visiting Rwanda, along with the biggest disadvantages to keep an eye out for whether you’re heading over for the dry season or the cheaper, less crowded wet season:

Dry Season (June to September)

  • This is hands-down the best time for gorilla trekking, as the forest trails will be less slippery, the days sunnier, and the weather more pleasant overall.

  • Parks won’t feel overly crowded, even during the high season.

  • Vegetation is more spars, making wildlife much easier to spot, especially as animals gather around water sources.

  • Due to higher demand, you’ll need to book pricey gorilla permits way in advance, with no opportunity to reschedule.

Wet Season (October to May)

  • This is considered the best time for chimp trekking, while gorilla trekking might be more challenging.

  • You can expect discounts for the low season.

  • The savannah scenery is greener and much lusher.

  • You might be able to spot newborn animals in Akagera National Park.

  • If you choose to go gorilla trekking, you won’t be able to reschedule the expensive gorilla permits, even in the case of heavy rainfall.

  • Trekking in the forest might be quite challenging due to rainfall and slippery trails.

Weather & Climate

Straddling the equator, Rwanda experiences very little year-round fluctuation in temperature, with no real winter or summer to speak of. While the June to September period is considered the dry season, you should keep in mind that the habitat of the rainforest and the Volcanoes National Park is, by default, quite wet.

Dry season

As a whole, you can expect little rainfall from June to September, though it can still rain at any time in the rainforest.

June, July, and August are characterized by comfortable temperatures around 27°C/81°F in the eastern part of the country, while temperatures high up in the mountains tend to be a lot colder, so don’t forget to pack a light jacket with you!

In the southwest, you can expect 
Nyungwe Forest to have daytime temperatures of around 21°C/70°F, while Volcanoes National Park is considerably colder with temperatures around 16°C/61°F.

The last month of the dry season, September, is when rainfall starts to pick up a little more, especially in the mountains.

Wet season

The wet season is usually characterized by two distinct periods, the short rain season (October to December) and the long rain season (March to May).

From October to December, Nyungwe Forest and Volcanoes National Park tend to be very wet, with daytime temperatures pretty much unchanged from the dry season. Akagera, on the other hand, tends to experience less rainfall, so your safari is unlikely to be ruined by scattered and short rain spells!

January and February make for a drier spell in between the two rainy periods, however, the rainforest habitat will still be very wet and rainy.
Finally, from March to May you can experience the wettest months, with daily, almost constant rainfall throughout the country, except for the drier East.

The Most Popular Safari Routes in Rwanda

Now, let’s finally get to the meat of our Rwanda Travel Guide and to the questions everybody is asking: What are the best safari routes to take, and what are the highlights you definitely shouldn’t miss?

Fortunately for travelers on a time crunch, Rwanda is a very small, compact country boasting just a few stunning parks along with the scenic Lake Kivu. If you are planning on only visiting Rwanda, there is one main loop to follow, taking you to 
Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park via Lake Kivu. Unfortunately, this two-way loop doesn’t include Akagera National Park, the only savannah reserve, doesn’t fit into this loop, so visitors are recommended to either visit it first or at the end of your trip.

Unsure of what the best route for you would be? Let us break down the most scenic itineraries you can look forwards to when traveling to Rwanda, divided into a longer trip (nine days), a one-week journey, and quick trip for gorilla tracking:

Best of Rwanda (9 Days)

This is an epic and comprehensive circuit, taking visitors through three stunning national parks and the iconic Lake Kivu, ideal for ticking all the safari essentials off your bucket list: The Big Five, mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and much more!

Day 1 - Kigali to Akagera National Park

Arriving in Kigali in the early morning, you can easily take a four-hour or five-hour drive to Akagera National Park, finding smooth and well-maintained roads up until the very last section of your journey.

The vast, 100,000-hectare Akagera National Park borders Tanzania in eastern Rwanda, boasting some of the most scenic savannah views in the whole of East Africa: Open plains, woodlands, lakes, and grassy low mountains.
Wildlife is truly thriving in Akagera after undergoing an impressive transformation in the last decade, with poaching being completely eliminated, and lions and rhinos having been reintroduced to the habitat in 2015 and 2017.

You can spot several species of birds, hippos, and other incredible animals while enjoying an evening boat ride across Lake Ihema, staying the night at a nearby hotel.

Day 2 - Akagera National Park

Accompanied by an expert guide for a full day of safari drives, you can wake up early and drive through the incredible and diverse landscape of Akagera National Park.

Throughout the day, you’ll be able to take boating trips and spot a wide range of wildlife, including buffalos, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, spotted hyenas, and zebras. With almost 500 species of birds found in the park, including the spectacular shoebill, this is a dream destination for all bird-watching enthusiasts.

Day 3 - Akagera to Nyungwe National Park

Drive from Akagera National Park to Nyungwe Forest, stopping off at the Cultural Heritage Corridor of Rwanda along the way, where you can visit the incredible King’s Palace and The Ethnographic Museum.

Covering over 1000 square kilometers, Nyungwe is one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests, also believed to be one of Africa’s oldest and most diverse forests, boasting as many as 75 different species of mammals.
This incredible forest is home to the iconic chimpanzee as well as twelve other primates species, and it is also known as a birdwatcher’s paradise with over 300 species of exotic birds, including 16 endemics species.

Whether you’re hiking or biking, taking canopy walks, tracking the world-famous chimpanzees, spotting beautiful birds, or simply relaxing by the gorgeous waterfalls, you will surely enjoy a one-of-a-kind wildlife experience in the lush green mountains of Nyungwe.

Day 4 - Nyungwe National Park

Ready for a full day of excursions and chimp tracking? Wake up early and catch a short briefing by your guide before walking through the stunning tea plantations at the entrance of the forest.

The excursion can last for up to four hours, with plenty of opportunities to spot exotic birds, butterflies, reptiles, and yes, the incredible chimpanzees!

Day 5 - Nyungwe to Lake Kivu

Time to drive down the beautiful coastal road to Lake Kivu, with a three-hour journey taking you through some of Rwanda’s most beautiful scenery.
Relax by kayaking, canoeing, and swimming in the scenic lake, or even taking on a little mountain biking trip around the surrounding areas!

Day 6 - Lake Kivu to Volcanoes National Park

Spend the best part of the morning relaxing at the lake before transferring to Volcanoes National Park in the afternoon, where your gorilla tracking journey finally begins.

Day 7 - Volcanoes National Park

Wake up at sunrise and drive the short journey to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters for tea, coffee, and a handy briefing before starting your gorilla tracking adventure.

Tracking can be between one hour and the whole morning, and you will be assured to spend one whole hour with the gorilla family assigned. Your expert guide will be by your side and ensure you can take the most beautiful pictures for a truly unforgettable experience!

Day 8 - Volcanoes National Park to Kigali

For your second day in the park, you’ll be able to see the incredible and nimble golden monkey, named this way because of their bright orange bodies. There’ll be plenty of hiking involved, as this indigenous species is smaller, faster, and more elusive than the much bigger mountain gorillas.

After freshening up and getting a light meal, you can head over to Kigali in the afternoon, relaxing at your chosen hotel.

Day 9 - Kigali

Time to say goodbye! Get your flight back home or to your next safari destination from Kigali Airport.

Safari Kigali Gorilla Tracking (6 Days)

If you only have a week at your disposal, a two-day safari in Akagera National Park, a day in Kigali, and a visit to the Gorilla Guardian Centre in Volcanoes National Park will give you all the adventure you could ever ask for!

Day 1 - Kigali to Akagera National Park

Arriving in Kigali in the early morning, take the four-hour to five-hour drive to Akagera National Park, and experience the majestic wildlife views of the main savannah habitat of the country.

With open plains, woodlands, swamps, lakes, grassy low mountains, and a diverse range of animals like hippos, exotic birds, lions, and rhinos, Akagera is a wildlife lover’s dream come true.

Day 2 - Akagera National Park

Wake early to enjoy your second day at Akagera, taking incredible game drives and taking in all the varied landscapes before your eyes.
Between boating trips, walks, drives, and world-class bird-watching, the day will pass in the blink of an eye, and you’ll be able to spot buffalos, leopards, elephants, hyenas, lions, giraffes, and as many as 500 different species of birds.

Day 3 - Akagera National Park to Kigali

Drive for about three hours from Akagera National Park back to Kigali, spending the day visiting the Genocide Memorial Museum, the Inema arts center, and the many colorful local markets.

Day 4 - Kigali to Volcanoes National Park

With a stunning three-hour drive north among the lush countryside, you’re transported to the incredible Volcanoes National Park, clearly visible from afar thanks to the spectacular line of volcanoes stretching before your eyes.

Once arrived, you can visit the Gorilla Guardian’s Centre to learn about the history of the park and stay at a hotel of your choice to relax.

Day 5 - Volcanoes National Park

It’s time for some unforgettable gorilla trekking! Wake up at sunrise and head over to the park’s headquarters for a briefing and refreshments.

Tracking can be between 90 minutes and the whole morning depending on what family group is assigned, and you will spend one hour following the gorillas.
Get back to the hotel to freshen up before heading back over to Kigali in the afternoon.

Day 6

Time to head back or continue your safari journey onwards from Kigali Airport.

Gorilla Tracking Golden Monkey Tracking (3 Days)

If you are traveling to Rwanda as part of a bigger safari trip, you’ll want to squeeze all the best that this tiny country has to offer in a few days, and thankfully, you can! 

Day 1 - Kigali to Volcanoes National Park

On arrival to Kigali drive straight to Volcanoes National Park, taking the unforgettable three-hour drive among the lush, green landscape.

Stay the night at a hotel of your choice, relaxing and preparing for the challenging gorilla tracking the next morning.

Day 2 - Volcanoes National Park

Wake up at sunrise, go to your morning briefing, and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime at the park!

Tracking can be between one hour and the whole morning, and you will spend around one hour with the gorillas. The guide will be by your side to ensure you are making the most of this experience by standing in the best spots and taking the most beautiful pictures.

You will then return to your hotel to freshen up, rest, and prepare for golden monkey tracking in the morning.

Day 3 - Volcanoes National Park to Kigali

Head back to Volcanoes National Park to track the indigenous golden monkeys, hiking through the lush forest and keeping up with the fast-moving, nimble primates.

You will then return to the hotel to freshen up before heading over to Kigali in the afternoon and boarding on your next flight.

Before You Go (Visa & Vaccination Requirements)

So, before you go ahead and book your first trip to Rwanda, let us walk you through the different entry requirements to keep in mind before you go.

Rwanda requires all visitors to acquire a visa on arrival at Kigali Airport or land borders, with citizens from the Commonwealth, African Union, and La Francophonie being able to get a free, 
thirty-day visa on arrival. Citizens of the East African Community Member States are also able to get a free visa on arrival, valid for six months. For all other countries, a single-entry visa or e-visa will cost 50 USD, while the East Africa Tourist visa is also available through an online application for travelers visiting Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya, at the cost of 100 USD.

In terms of COVID-19 regulations, Rwanda requires all visitors to show a 
negative PCR test, conducted within 72 hours prior to their arrival in the country. Children under 5 are exempt, and all passengers will be screened upon arrival with another PCR test at the cost of 60 USD.

Rwanda also requires travelers to show a 
yellow fever vaccination certificate if they are arriving from a high-risk country, with no other mandatory vaccinations required. 

Getting There

Kigali International Airport (KGL), located about 10km/6mi from the capital Kigali, will most likely be your entry point into the country.

Since Rwanda is a very compact country, perfect for moving around with ease, all transportation is usually done by car. Alternatively, 
Akagera Aviation offers charter helicopter transfers to anywhere in the country.
Not that you’ll necessarily need to have every single one of your movements carefully planned out on your own, of course — in most cases, your local tour operator will collect you from the airport or hotel, arranging all further transportation as part of your safari package.

Not sure where you can find the perfect safari tour operator for your needs? There’s no better place to start your search than our 
handy platform, guaranteeing you the best price and the best customer service support from the first email to the day of your departure. Browse our options today and make your safari dreams come true!