The Ultimate Rwanda Itinerary

Table of Contents

I was recently asked if I had a post with my Rwanda itinerary and details, and I realized my answer was no- but that would probably be a huge help to anyone traveling to Rwanda!

So here it is- I hope you find it useful! Especially if you are planning on not using a travel agent- because it’s totally doable and lets you create an itinerary that is exactly what you want.

The backstory

We visited Rwanda in late June/early July of 2017. We traveled for three reasons:

  1. First, we were going to meet the eight-year-old girl we sponsor, named Sonia.
  2. Second, we were going to spend three days with the ministry we sponsor Sonia through, called Best Family Rwanda.
  3. Third, I had ALWAYS wanted to visit Africa- so here was my chance!

The planning

We had ten full days in Rwanda. Three would be spent with Best Family Rwanda, but the rest we would be on our own! I definitely wanted to get plenty of experience outside of the capital. There were three main things we did outside of Kigali:

  • One day game drive at Akagera National Park on Rwanda’s eastern border
  • Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park up north
  • Relaxing at Lake Kivu in northwestern Rwanda

In order to do that, we had to plan each of those ahead of time. (I say we “had” to, but the only one you REALLY need to plan in advance is the gorilla trek. You must obtain a permit to do the trek, which you need to early on since they definitely get booked!)

Akagera National Park

This is the one thing we did book through a tour guide company, and I don’t regret it!

The alternative would be renting a car and driving ourselves through the park by following a map. Doing that would mean whomever was driving would miss out on the 360 views, and you’d be stuck in the car the whole time, instead of getting to stand up and pop the roof of the awesome safari cars that travel agencies provide!

We booked through Kagera Safaris, and it was the cheapest rate I found after contacting many groups. We had a driver and a tour guide, and Harrison and I got to stay in the back and enjoy the views. Read more about it here!

Gorilla Trekking

There’s so much to say about gorilla trekking- this post would be absurdly long if I included everything you need to know about gorilla trekking here. Instead, head over to my post about it. All that’s really relevant here is that we booked our permit on our own and did not go through a travel agency.

Emile, our driver (I talk about him in the next section), drove us to the trekking meet-up location. We stayed at La Locanda in Rubavu the night before and night of our trek (great affordable bed & breakfast), had all of our necessary documents with us, and since our SUV wasn’t big enough for the tough roads for our trekking location, we joined one of the trekkers in our group in his safari van. If that is confusing, just go to my post– I think it’s clearer there!!

Lake Kivu

In order to travel to Gisenyi on Rwanda’s northwestern border, we hired a car with a driver. Initially we had just booked the car, but after arriving and seeing how hectic the driving was, we emailed to request a driver as well. For not that much extra, we got a driver who would also be our translator and negotiator. His name was Emile and he was THE BEST. We truly miss him!!!

We booked through Kigali Car Rentals, and emailed back and forth with Frank. I DEFINITELY RECOMMEND THEM!! I can’t emphasize enough how amazing they were!! It was so easy to request a driver, the prices are incredible (especially compared to the nonsense you experience renting cars in America), insurance comes included, they are trustworthy, and the only extra expenses are for gas and tip. Book through them- you won’t regret it!

We also booked our stay at Inzu Lodge through booking.com. Super cheap (I’m talking under $40 a night) with incredible views and food. It was definitely a great glamping experience- read more about it here!

kigali cocoa trees

Planning for costs

Here is a breakdown of all of our costs! I’m definitely a Type-A planner, and I think it shows! Also, please note that you can do this trip for a lot less than we did. I just really wanted to stay at some nice and/or iconic hotels (like the Mille Collines, aka “Hotel Rwanda“). Also, note that the gorilla trek was $1,500 of the cost!

ItemCostCash to Bring
Vaccinations$710Paid beforehand
Flights$2336.70Paid beforehand
Rwanda visa$60$60 USD
Copthorne Hotel$126.32Credit card at hotel
Hotel des Mille Collines (5 nights)$545Credit card at hotel
Akagera Day Trip$450$450 USD (*tip not incl.)
La Locanda B&B$100$100 USD
Gorilla Trek$1500 (pre-price increase)Paid beforehand
INZU Lodge (3 nights)$141$141 USD
Hotel des Mille Collines$109Credit card at hotel
Kigali Car Rentals (6 days)$483$483 USD (tip not included)
Fazenda Sengha Horesback Riding$6050,000 RWF
Cash to exchange from USD to RWF$500$500 USD
Food purchased on credit card$500 (rough estimate)Credit card at restaurants
Total spent:$7621.02$1794 USD ($560 of which was turned into RWF)

The itinerary

Here is our Rwanda itinerary!

Day 0

  • Departed from DFW Airport at 6:35PM on a red eye Qatar Airways flight
  • Landed in Doha the next day for an overnight layover (stayed at the Copthorne Hotel in Doha, Qatar)

Day 1

  • Leave DOH at 7:55AM and land in Kigali (KIA) at 2:30PM
  • 2:30PM: get visas upon arrival for $30 USD each
  • 3PM: exchange money and take a taxi to the Mille Collines
  • 5PM: dinner at Le Panorama, the restaurant on the top floor of the Mille Collines
  • 8PM: pass out from jet lag

Day 2

  • 7AM: Walk to get lattes at Bourbon Coffee
  • 8AM: Picked up by the leaders of Best Family Rwanda
  • 8:30-10:30AM: Visit the BFR headquarters in the Gikondo sector
  • 10:30-12:30PM: Visit two families in Gikondo, brought gifts
  • 12:30-2PM: break for lunch with our new friends
  • 2-5PM: play with kids from the Gikondo region of Kigali
  • 5PM: back to the Mille Collines
  • 6PM: walk to dinner at Heaven restaurant

Day 3

  • 7AM: Coffee in our room; Bourbon Coffee closed for Umuganda
  • 8AM: Picked up by BFR
  • 8AM-1PM: Umuganda (community service) in Nyarungunga. Funnily enough, instead of normal community service, the President of Rwanda (President Kagame) showed up and gave a speech!
  • 1-2PM: Quick lunch at hotel and changed clothes after community service
  • 2-4:30PM: play with kids in Nyarungunga
  • 5PM: back to the Mille Collines
  • 6PM: walk to dinner at The Hut restaurant

Day 4

  • 7:30AM: Lattes at Bourbon Coffee
  • 8:30AM: Picked up by BFR
  • 9-12PM: Attend church at PEFA in the Kinyinya sector, where I finally met Sonia (!!!!!)
  • 12-1PM: Visit Sonia’s home in Kinyinya
  • 1-2PM: lunch with Sonia and our BFR friends
  • 2-5PM: play with kids in Kinyinya (where Sonia is from!)
  • 5PM: back to the Mille Collines
  • 6PM: dinner at the Mille Collines

Day 5

  • 5AM: Picked up at Mille Collines for day trip to Akagera
  • 7AM-5PM: Game drive at Akagera (brought a sack lunch)
  • 7PM: Return to Kigali, dropped off at dinner
  • 7-9PM: Dinner at Papyrus
  • 9PM: Return to Mille Collines

Day 6

  • 8:30AM: Lattes at Bourbon Coffee
  • 9:30AM: Fazenda Sengha horseback riding
  • 12PM: Lunch poolside at Mille Collines
  • 1PM: Relax for once 🙂
  • 4PM: Pack bags, give unnecessary bags to front desk to store until we return in 3 days
  • 5PM: Picked up at hotel by Emile and Frank
  • 5PM: Drive to Ruhengeri and check into La Locanda
  • 7:30PM: Dinner in town at a local cafe, then back to hotel

Day 7

  • 5:30AM: Breakfast at La Locanda
  • 6:15AM: Emile picks us up, head to trekking headquarters
  • 7AM: Gorilla Trekking
  • 5PM: Arrive at La Locanda
  • 7PM: Dinner at another local cafe

Day 8

  • 8AM: Breakfast at La Locanda
  • 9AM: Drive to Lake Kivu
  • 10:30AM: Pfunda Tea Plantation for photos and a short tour. This was not planned in advance but was really cool!
  • 12PM: Arrive at Lake Kivu and Inzu Lodge
  • 1PM: Lunch at Inzu Lodge
  • 3PM: Rest and relax, explore the grounds
  • 6PM: Dinner at Serena Lake Kivu Hotel

Day 9

  • 8AM: Breakfast at Inzu Lodge
  • 10AM: Boat ride on the lake (Emile negotiated prices for us to be half of the cost that Inzu Lodge was offering)
  • 12PM: Local shopping at nearby markets
  • 1PM: Lunch at Inzozi Beach Hotel
  • 3PM: Walk along the beach at Inzozi Beach Hotel
  • 4PM: Back to Inzu Lodge
  • 6-8PM: Dinner at Tam Tam, a very local restaurant where we got a full fish (we were not expecting it. It was awesome).
inzu lodge rwanda
Our hut at Inzu Lodge in Gisenyi, Rwanda.

Day 10

  • 8AM: Breakfast at Inzu Lodge
  • 10AM: Massages at the hot springs
  • 11AM: Visit the Congo border- Emile wanted us to get cool photos and see the Congo. He’s so thoughtful!
  • 12PM: Lunch at Serena Lake Kivu Hotel
  • 2-4PM: Pool time at Serena Hotel (they said we could!)
  • 5PM: Back to Inzu Lodge
  • 6-8PM: Dinner at Inzu Lodge

Day 11

  • 8AM: Breakfast at Inzu Lodge
  • 10AM: Check out of Inzu Lodge
  • 10-11AM: Explore coffee plantations
  • 12PM: More pool time and lunch at Serena Hotel
  • 2PM: Head back to Kigali
  • 3PM: Stop at the Diane Fossey museum in Ruhengeri
  • 5PM: Arrive in Kigali
  • 6PM: Dinner at Khana Khazana, delicious Indian food!

Day 12

  • 8:30AM: Breakfast at Bourbon Coffee
  • 10AM: Lounge all day (so relaxed by the pool!) We literally ate and chilled all day long. Our original flight had us leaving at 12PM, but our flight got cancelled super last minute. So we decided to enjoy the Mille Collines for the day
  • 6PM: Leave for Kigali International Airport
  • 9PM: Flight leaves, one layover in Nairobi, next layover in London Heathrow, then land in Dallas on July 4th

Map of Locations

Things to know before visiting

  • Vaccinations: since we were traveling through Uganda, we required Yellow Fever Vaccinations. I got mine at a local Wallgreens, and it is good for 10 years. Check the embassy for most recent vaccination requirements! We never got asked to show our Yellow Card but better safe than sorry!
  • Money: almost all hotels and nice restaurants accept credit cards. Other than that, you’ll want to have RWF on hand.
  • Language: we learned a few words in Kinyarwandan so that we could show respect to the culture. Things like hello, good morning, thank you, please, and good bye. This small step is a great way to get to know a culture and interact with its people.
  • Safety: Rwanda is actually one of the safest countries in Africa, if not the safest. Though you still want to be street smart, of course!
  • Getting around: I had read beforehand that it was hard to find a taxi in Kigali. We definitely did not have that experience! Right outside of the Mille Collines there was a hoard of taxi’s just waiting to be ridden. However, if you are not near a hotel, there probably will not be empty taxi’s driving by, and instead you’ll need to use public transportation. If you want to avoid that issue, you can also work something out with your taxi driver if they are willing!
  • Umuganda: this is their mandatory community service day once a month. As a foreigner, you are not expected to participate, but know that you won’t be able to get a taxi or go to most shops, as they will be closed during the morning hours.
  • Traveling far distances across country: you have three main options- bus, tour agency, or car rental with or without a driver.
  • The airport: when you’re landing it is really simple going through customs and getting out. We exchanged money at the airport and felt like it was completely fair. But when you are leaving, there are TWO bag checks- one even before you reach the airport! You have to take all of your bags out of the cab, let the dogs sniff them, then put them all back in. Also, if you’re taking a cab, keep extra RWF available for the airport fee that they have to pay!
  • Food: expect restaurant food to take up to an hour to come out. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the company you have with you! Meals last two hours in this country!

There it is! I hope it was a big help! Have so much fun in my favorite country and comment any questions below!

XO,

Jasmine

Heading to Rwanda? Check out these helpful articles!

If you liked this post, please share it to Pinterest (some ideas- pin it to your Africa Travel Board or Rwanda Board)! You can use the pin below!

6 Responses

  1. Your blog is so helpful! We are hoping to go to Rwanda in exactly a year. I am nervous about the mosquitos. Suggestions for that? I see you have sleeveless some of the time so I am guessing they were not too horrific? Thank you in advance and thank you for inspiring me to want to see this special nation.

    1. Hi Laurel! I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful, thank you!! I’m so excited for your Rwanda trip- I hope you fall in love with this country like we did!

      I only got a few mosquito bites which was surprising because mosquitoes love me! Even with the few bites, we were taking malaria medicine so I didn’t worry about them at all. And I was sleeveless pretty much for the entire trip!

    2. Hi!
      We just got to Gisenyi yesterday and staying at the Serena hotel, but we were disappointed by the dinner in the hotel, where is the best place you had dinner around town?

      Thanks!

      1. Hi Rom! If you’re looking for super authentic local food, you can head to Tan Tam! Otherwise we enjoyed the Sambaza at Inzozi Beach Hotel when we were there! Hopefully it’s still delicious this year! The food at Inzu Lodge (where we were staying) was also good in my opinion! 🙂

  2. Hi Jasmine, my husband and I are planning a visit to Rwanda and I found your post about your trip. Thanks for the detailed info you shared it has been very helpful to understand more about the things to do there.
    We’ll be in Kigali a couple of days and after we’ll do the gorilla trekking. I’d like to avoid hiring a tour company when going to the gorilla trekking and reading your post I realized is possible to rent a car to go there.
    I know you hired a driver to go to the gorilla trekking and also to Lake Kivu right? how does it work? was he with you during the 6 days of the car rental? do you have to pay for his accommodation too or where does he stay?
    thanks again for all the tips and advice you share in your blog.

    1. Hi Karem! Thanks! I’m so glad you found this helpful! I definitely recommend using Kigali Car Rentals- our driver Emile was incredible and I’d recommend him to anyone! He was with us for the 6 days and at the end of each day we’d arrange a time for him to pick us up the next morning. He would stay at a church or motel nearby, and no we didn’t have to pay for his lodging. We just tipped him a ton at the end because of how awesome he was- he was so much more than just a driver, he would also translate, negotiate for us when we wanted to buy things, and basically was a tour guide too!

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Hi, I’m Jasmine! I’m a nature-obsessed, beauty-finding, Jesus-loving dreamer with a serious case of wanderlust. I’ve quit my 9-5 to become a travel blogger, and my goal is to show others how they can too! And if you love your full time job, stick around for travel tips and inspiration! Thanks for following along on my adventures!

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