Wednesday, November 17, 2010

To Rwanda

If you look at a piece of crystalline carbon, it’s not all that impressive. Yet when cut and polished it becomes a diamond, and Rwanda is fast becoming one of Africa’s tourism diamonds.

WEATHER: Rwanda has the type of weather that most countries envy. Temperatures rarely rise above 30ºC during the day or drop below 15ºC at night throughout the year. February to May is wet, July to September the dry season.

VISA: You will need a valid passport, but will not need a visa if you’re travelling on a South African passport. You will also need a certificate of vaccination against yellow fever. Malaria is not a major concern, but the disease is still present and prophylactics are recommended. Stick to bottled water rather than drinking tap water.

CURRENCY: While the local currency is Rwanda franc, the US dollar is still the currency of preference. Credit cards are usually only accepted at major hotels in Kigali.

LANGUAGE: The indigenous language of Kinyarwanda, French and English are the official languages.

THE CAPITAL: Kigali is one of the safest and friendliest African capitals, and the ideal springboard from which to explore the rest of the country. The low-rise city centre surrounds a busy market where tourists can souvenir shop to their hearts content. A wide range of hotels is on offer to suit almost any taste and budget.

TRANSPORT: Rwanda probably has the best roads in East Africa. All the major centres are connected by local or luxury bus services and air charter is available anywhere in the country.

HIGHLIGHTS: No visit to Rwanda is complete without a trip to Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes National Park). This 125 km2 of mountain forest is home to the six Virunga Volcanoes, and is also home to the world famous mountain gorillas. This is where conservationist Diane Fossey spent 18 years of her life protecting these animals.

Musanze, the base point for gorilla visits, is a 90-minute drive from Kigali. While you can take a taxi from Kigali to Musanze, you will need to organise your own transport from there to the park boundaries, from where you will continue on foot.

A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 - 4 hour hike through the forest. While the walk is breathtaking, the high point and on of the greatest wildlife experiences is meeting the giant gorillas as the go about their daily lives. Nothing can prepare one for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors.

Words by Malcolm Theunissen

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