8 Things to Remember Before Traveling to Rwanda

Rwanda, “the land of a thousand hills” features great natural attractions from volcanoes to rain forests and jungles that host the world’s remaining gorillas. It’s also home to friendly people who are optimistic about their country’s future.

Here’s what visitors need to understand before paying a visit the country that lies in central Africa just south of the Equator.

1. Do not take photos of people without asking for permission.
Sure, Rwandans are friendly people, but as visitors, we ought to show respect to hosts and exercise courtesy even if many of them might not mind us taking photos and translate it as appreciation to the snap-worthy attractions Rwanda has to offer.

2. Do not bring plastic bag.
Since 2008, Rwanda has banned use of plastic bags while other countries have imposed a half-hearted effort of reducing them through levies or taxes. It is even possible that anyone caught “smuggling” plastic bags into the country could end up in jail. So just look for alternatives.

3. Do not drink or even rinse toothbrush on tap water.
Some tourists have reported falling ill of stomach flu or diarhhea for consuming or in contact with tap water. Nobody wants to spend the whole day at the toilet while companions bask in the scenic attractions of Rwanda. So it’s best to use bottled water from reputable sources sold on supermarkets.

4. Do not bring crumpled or torn bills.
There are shops that do not accept crumpled or torn bills so better be sure to get the transaction succeed and have crisp bills handy.

5. No discussion about ethnic issues.
Not too long ago, the country experienced a dark chapter in its history as Rwanda claimed the lives of between 500,000 to 1 million people. Up to 2 million others were displaced and became refugees. So talking about this sensitive topic to any Rwandan from an outsider’s point of view can be treated as opening the wounds of the past and is best put off, along with personal questions or ethnic background.

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6. Hire a local guide.
To best experience Rwanda, you should get a local guide / driver to tour you around places where public transport is not an option. Local guides are not only knowledgeable about the attractions, but are well versed in many things such as weather forecast, driving conditions and other things that may not be mentioned by guidebooks. Plus, of course, they are Rwandans so it’s easier to get along with fellow locals. This TripAdvisor thread features recommended local guides.

7. No smoking in public.
In 2013, Rwanda implemented tobacco control policies which lead to the prohibition of smoking in public areas such as cinemas and theatres, restaurants, hotels, pubs, bars, public transport and indoor public transport terminals.

8. Do not give to beggars.
Visitors get occasionally approached by children asking for gifts or money, but the government has discouraged this practice as it’s not in the country’s culture to beg, especially that it has embarked on the universal nine years basic education which helps children grow up to be educated and self-reliant.