I'm so grateful for the 7 days in Rwanda Jerry and I got to spent driving around this lush African country last June! It was a biiiig dream of mine and voila, it finally came true 🖤. In this blog post, I'm going to talk about our travel itinerary, our roadtrip and the experience with self-drive in general.
See also: 2 Weeks in Namibia
7 Days in Rwanda - Our Self-Drive Travel Itinerary
So let's start. As I already mentioned, we went on this trip in June - now, after the trip, I can say it was a great month to travel around Rwanda due to the fact that there was no rainfall, no mosquitos, very pleasant temperatures - not too cold, not too hot or humid - and everything was soooo lush. And this is also my advice - consider visiting this African country during the summer months, you won't regret it.
Any medical preparations for this trip? Beside being vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Tetanus, we did our research on Malaria. This tropical disease is a serious threat in Rwanda, so we started to take the antimalarial pills Malarone one week before our flight. Also, using mosquito repellent with DEET every day while there was important and wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants as well. During the night we were sleeping with a mosquito net, provided by the accommodation. Luckily, we didn't meet any mosquito on our trip.
How did we fly to Rwanda? As you might know, our base is in Switzerland - but we took the Turkish Airlines flight from Slovenia (as our parents took care our child Nils) to Istanbul and from there to Kigali - the capital city of Rwanda.
A few words about our 7-day travel itinerary in Rwanda. I think this time it was a great mixture of sightseeing, road-tripping AND relaxing. We didn't feel we are in a constant hurry. There was enough time to also relax and enjoy the places. Here is our travel itinerary in a nutshell:
Day 1 & 2 - Kigali
Day 3 - Lake Ruhondo
Day 4 - Gisenyi at Lake Kivu
Day 5 - Kibuye at Lake Kivu & Kopakaki Coffee Tour
Day 6 & 7 - Mont Gabegi & Nyungwe National Park & Kigali
Read about my final thoughts on Rwanda travel at the end of this blog post.
Day 1 & 2 - Kigali
Once we landed in Kigali, we were picked up by a driver, organized by our first place to stay in Rwanda called The Nest Kigali. The airport pick-up was about 12 USD. The room at The Nest Kigali was clean and spacious and the breakfast was delicious. Well-recommended! We chose to spend 2 nights in order to have a calm start on this travel adventure. The 2nd day our chosen rental car agency called Kigali Car Rentals parked our Toyota Rav4 in front of the accommodation. Very kind of them. Also, I would recommend this agency - the have a high responsiveness rate, are very friendly and also we got a car for 40 USD per day, which is quite cheap.
Day 3 - Lake Ruhondo
Well, I don't know where to start - this was a true adventure. Driving from Kigali to Lake Ruhondo was a bit CRAZY but also UNFORGETTABLE and BREATHTAKING. I'm a bit torn-apart...should I recommend it to you guys or not? :) Let me explain my doubts... It started already with a slight traffic chaos in Kigali but nothing special - all manageable. Just drive slow and watch out for all the people on the street.
Once we came out of the city, it was easier to drive and the roads were well maintained - actually they seem to be almost new...we were surprised how good they were. However, another thing which we immediately realized is - despite the fact that there were less people on the road than in the city - there was still lots going on on the streets. Donkeys, locals on bikes, people walking aside the street on both road sides, many trucks etc. But ok, it was something we got used to pretty fast and actually enjoyed observing during the self-drive.
After I while the GPS led us to an unpaved road - like the one you see on the picture below. So we said..."Ok.. let's do this, no worries." "But where are other tourists?" "Hm. Well, let's continue." we agreed. We drove and drove and the unpaved road became more and more challenging by getting narrow, bumpy and the rocks on the ground seemed to become bigger and sharper. We drove through small villages where a bunch of locals watched every our move with our car. Children were waiving and running behind our car. They even jumped on our car and drove a while by holding our spare wheel on our jeep :) It was a bit strange, as we felt totally alone and it was just our 3rd day in Rwanda. It was funny too though... We didn't know what to think...
However, after a couple of hours of driving with the beautiful nature along the road we started to feel comfortable and we were motivated to reach our goal - our next accommodation called My Hill Eco Lodge. We became relaxed and realized how cute and friendly the locals were, so we started to greet and waive back. It was an unique experience and well worth it! So why the doubts recommending this route? Well, first because of the road condition - make sure to have a 4x4 car to drive this road. Second, consider driving to Ruhengeri first and then via Inesa Guest House. Nearby there is a boat pier where you can jump on the boat and reach the lovely My Hill Eco Lodge. Once we were at the accommodation we realized that the majority of the guests were arriving by the boat hehe.
Beautiful nature along the road...I was blown away by it and said: That's the Rwanda I was hoping for! :)
...but look, the drive was soooo worth it! This place was breathtaking! It was a tent with a bed and our own bathroom. The highlight was the wooden balcony with the awesome lake view.
Day 4 - Gisenyi at Lake Kivu
The next morning after the delicious breakfast with a lake view, we continued our road via Ruhengeri all the way to the famous Lake Kivu. Oh, maybe you are asking yourself why we haven't visited the world-famous Virunga park with the gorillas which would be close to Ruhengeri. Well, if you have more days for your trip and enough money in your pocket, of course, make sure to include it onto your itinerary. However, 1500 USD per person was just too much for us at that time, so we rather planned to do the chimpanzee trek - read more about it below. Back to our route - our next stop was the cute Hakuna Matata Lodge.
It's a place you have to book, for sure. It has a very beautiful garden and a stunning location - at the lakeside. Great memories from sitting by the lake, drinking Rwandan coffee and sipping a fresh mango juice!
Day 5 - Kibuye at Lake Kivu
On the way to our next accommodation in Kibuye, we were blown away by the lush tea and coffee plantations. Kibuye was another lakeside town, very beautiful and peaceful. We stayed at the Rebero Kivu Resort. The latter was not as spectacular as the Hakuna Matata Lodge (it was also much cheaper) but the owners were very kind and helpful and the dinner at the restaurant there was worth the money!
At Rebero Kivu Resort we were offered a coffee tour and we immediately said yes to it! I always wanted to go on such a tour but there was never the right time to do it. This was a great opportunity, especially because Rwanda is known for its world-class coffee. It was about a 25-min self-drive to the Kopakaki coffee farm. Once there, we were warmly greeted and then we were shown different stages of the growth of the coffee plant and its fruit. Make sure to visit this coffee plantation.
Day 6 & 7 - Mont Gabegi & Nyungwe National Park & Kigali
We had to drove all the way through the Nyungwe National Park to reach a small town just outside the park called Mont Gabegi. On our way to Mont Gabegi, we stopped at the Gisakura Reception Center (entrance gate) and ordered a pumpkin soup - it was so yummy! Once we arrived to Mont Gabegi, we checked-in at the Kitabi EcoCenter - another epic place to stay in Rwanda, well-recommended.
Then the day has arrived when we were supposed to see the chimpanzees. Oh, before I describe our chimpanzee trekking... what's the price of this trekking and how did we book it, you might want to know. Well, because it was still Corona time there were not many tourists around, so we booked our ticket one day prior to the trekking, directly at the Uwinka reception center. The ticket price was 90 USD per person.
The next morning, we woke up at 4 am and drove about 1h 30 min through the Nyungwe National Park while it was still dark. A bit of a scary feeling, at least for me. A few days ago at that time there was an accident in the park when one was shooting on a local bus and hit the driver and a co-passenger. The guy was after the incident hiding somewhere and my imagination was to meet him somewhere out there in the park... but fortunately, it was just a scary thought :)
Anyway, we met at 5:30 am with the tour guide in the middle of the park and after all group members arrived, we started walking towards the chimpanzee family. We were walking about 2,5 hours - a bit up a down but through a very scenic scenery - a little bit of a jungle let's say. Then we got close to the chimpanzees and the tour guide told us to follow him through the thick jungle - he made the way by cutting the trees and bushes with a machete. It was hard to follow him but we all wanted to see the animals. Suddenly, we stopped and heard the chimpanzee's voices. We were told to look up to the treetop since 2 of the chimpanzees were hiding there. I saw them a bit but they were far away. They stayed there for about 10 min, then they left. We could hear their voices for quite some time but didn't see them. The tour guide told us to wait, maybe they will come back.......
And then we were waiting there for about 2 hours in some uncomfortable positions in the thick jungle, the tour guide didn't say a word what's going on and slowly it has become annoying.
Then finally we were told to go back to the gate, maybe we will see the chimpanzees on our way back but that wasn't the case. I was tired and fed up. However, despite the disappointment of not seeing the chimpanzees properly and on the ground, it was a great trekking through the jungle and hearing the chimpanzee's voices was all worth it. I would do it again.
The next morning we enjoyed our last breakfast while admiring the hilly lush area around us.
Then we hit the road and drove all the way to Butare where we stopped at the Ethnographic museum to learn about the history and culture of the Rwandan people. It was interesting to visit the museum and we definitely saw a lot but I would not say it's a must-see.
Once back in Kigali, we needed to kill some time before our overnight flight back to Istanbul. We booked an airbnb just for a few hours to take a shower and pack our stuff. The Airbnb was somehow weird, we almost didn't find it - we assume it was owned by a mafia, some strange things were going on while we where there, so we will not recommend it here. However, the good thing is, we went out for our last dinner in Kigali - that was a cool place called Pili Pili and came with wonderful city views.
After check-out we drove to the airport and parked our rental car at the airport parking. The guy from Kigali Rental Cars picked up the car and we continued our way to the airport building.
Rwanda was such an amazing trip. I would recommend it to everyone. Self-driving is a great option to travel around, it's safe and worth the money. During our trip we felt safe all the time, except of hearing about the incident when someone was shooting at a bus at the Nyungwe National Park - I wrote about it above. Other than that, it was a perfect trip! Great food, not overpriced, not many tourists, friendly locals, lots to see and experience and especially very very clean :)
Have you been to Rwanda?
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