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A Solo Traveller's Guide to Rwanda

A Solo Traveller's Guide to Rwanda

Picture of Leah Feiger
Updated: 31 December 2017

Rwanda is a perfect country to explore independently. With a reliable nationwide public transit system, a myriad of attractions, gorgeous scenery, and friendly locals, Rwanda has a lot to offer solo travellers. Grab a map, get excited, and get ready to hit the winding Rwandan roads!

ROA’s elephant shrew mural in Nyamirambo | Courtesy of Chris Schwagga / Kurema Kureba Kwiga

Where to go

Rwanda is a small country made up of thirty districts. Though the country is really well connected, check out the destination list below for some of the best (and easiest) spots for solo travellers.

Kigali

Kigali, one of East Africa’s most vibrant cities, has a multitude of restaurants, art galleries, and fascinating neighbourhoods, rendering it worthy of a trip in its own right. Spend some time exploring the Kimironko Market, colourful Nyamirambo neighbourhood, and chaotic city centre, and be sure to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial museum.

View of Kigali

View of Kigali | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Musanze

Musanze, Rwanda’s second largest city, is home to gorilla trekking, the twin lakes, and several gorgeous volcanoes. It is easily reachable by bus from Kigali’s Nyabugogo bus terminal, and makes for a perfect first excursion outside of Rwanda’s capital. Gorilla trekking, albeit one of the region’s more expensive activities, is an incredible and worthwhile experience. For travellers on a budget, opt to hike Mt. Bisoke for the possibility of seeing mountain gorillas and the crystal clear crater lake at the summit. Journey outside of Musanze for a visit to the twin lakes, camping on Ile de Cyuza, a gorgeous island in the centre of Lake Burera. Days are quiet here, with the easy lap of the lakeshore and caw of fish eagles making up most of the din. Motorcycles, taxis, and public buses render Musanze one of Rwanda’s best connected districts.

Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park | © Carine06 / Flickr

Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park | © Carine06 / Flickr

Akagera National Park

For Rwanda’s only big five safari experience, be sure to hit Akagera National Park. However, this destination is a little trickier as it relies on personal transport. For the adventurous solo traveller, be sure to rent a 4×4 and journey through Africa’s largest protected wetland and camp underneath some of the country’s best stars. Campsites are available throughout the park, and safari permits are easily purchased without reservation at Akagera’s southern gates. If you’d rather not take that on by yourself, check out A Step Into Nature, a tour company that operates shared day trips from Kigali to the park.

Zebras in Akagera National Park | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Zebras in Akagera National Park | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu, Rwanda’s largest lake located on the country’s western border, is one of the most relaxing spots in the region. The two biggest towns on the Rwandan side of the lake are Kibuye and Gisenyi, and both are excellent locations for solo excursions. Gisenyi, the bigger of the two towns, shares a border with the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and thus has a larger selection of restaurants, bars, and general activities. However, kayaking, hikes, boat rides, and more are available from both towns. Buses run from Kigali to Kibuye and Gisenyi fifteen times a day, leaving from the Nyabugogo Bus Terminal every thirty minutes starting at 7 am.

Canoe on Lake Kivu

Canoe on Lake Kivu | © Katie Taylor / Flickr

Where to sleep, eat, and drink

There are plenty of accommodation options available across Rwanda, with offerings accounting for different tastes and budgets. Although Rwanda isn’t particularly known for its hostels, there are plenty of budget options for travellers attempting to travel on the cheap. On the other hand, Rwanda is also becoming known as a luxury destination, and has a lot to offer the upmarket solo adventurer.

Inzora Rooftop Cafe in Kigali

Inzora Rooftop Cafe in Kigali | Courtesy of Inzora Rooftop Cafe

When it comes to food, Rwanda is slowly becoming a culinary destination to reckon with. In addition to a variety of local treats, international restaurants in Kigali are also quite good, with offerings including fresh sushi, spicy curries, Italian pizzas, and artisanal ice cream.

What to do

Hike volcanoes

The volcanic peaks of Bisoke, Sabinyo, Gahinga, Muhabura, and Karisimbi offer some of the region’s best day or overnight hikes, with booking available through the Rwandan Development Board website or licensed tour operators. Most of the volcanoes are in the Musanze district (just like gorilla trekking), and offer just spectacular views.

Mt. Sabinyo | © flöschen / Flickr

Mt. Sabinyo | © flöschen / Flickr

Shop your way through Kigali

Though fantastic markets are dotted throughout the country, the best shopping is located in Kigali. Spend your days picking out handwoven baskets and colourful kitenge fabrics, before searching out some handmade candles, jewellery, and haute couture.

Inzuki

Beaded jewelry from Inzuki | Courtesy of Inzuki

Visit the lakes

Rwanda is home to many lakes, many of which offer idyllic retreats and quiet getaways. Laze a weekend away on Lake Kivu, Lake Muhazi, or the the twin lakes, enjoying a classic Rwandan landscape and a selection of hikes, kayaking trips, and boat rides.

The twin lakes from above | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

The twin lakes from above | Courtesy of Leah Feiger

Practical tips for traveling alone in Rwanda

Transportation

Public buses, motorcycles-for-hire, and private taxis are the general modes of transit in Rwanda. Negotiations are necessary with both taxis and motorcycles (referred to as ‘motos’ in Rwanda), with prices for motos rarely going beyond 1,000 Rwandan Francs ($1.5 U.S.D.) and taxis depending on distance and time.

Rwanda’s bus system is pretty reliable and clean, with all buses in Kigali originating at the Nyabugogo bus terminal.

Nyabugogo bus station

Nyabugogo bus station | © Francisco Anzola / Flickr

Communication

English is widely spoken in Kigali and Musanze, though use of it lessens outside of the major cities. French, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili are used almost everywhere, although it generally is pretty easy to communicate regardless of location or language. WiFi is generally pretty unreliable throughout the country, and investing in a local SIM card (Tigo, MTN, or Airtel are the best) for data usage is definitely recommended.

Health and safety

Don’t drink the tap water in Rwanda, and try to avoid ice as well. Unfortunately, although the country is impressively clean and environmentally-friendly, water-borne diseases are still fairly common. Make sure to consult your doctor before travelling, keeping on eye on malaria, typhoid, and bilharzia prevention. If necessary, King Faisal hospital in the Kacyiru neighbourhood of Kigali and the Polyclinic in Kiyovu are open twenty four hours a day.

With regards to pickpockets and muggings, Rwanda is considered to be one of the safest countries in the world. The country was recently voted by Gallup as the world’s 11th safest country, making it a place all solo travellers should feel very comfortable traversing. That being said, definitely still pay attention to your surroundings and belongings.

Sole female travellers

As previously mentioned, Rwanda is a really safe country. Solo female travellers might experience a little bit of harassment while walking down the street or inside of bars, but much less so than in surrounding East African nations. As unfortunate as it is, take care to generally cover knees and shoulders, and avoid revealing clothing. Other than this, however, Rwanda is undoubtedly one of the best locations for solo travellers.

Street scenes in Rwanda

Street scenes in Rwanda | © Mugisha Don de Dieu / Flickr