Rwanda

The first thing that springs to most people’s minds when thinking of Rwanda is its turbulent political history. But today’s Rwanda is a far cry from the nation it was in the mid-90s: the country has emerged from the shadows and has much to offer visitors, most notably the tracking of endangered mountain gorillas in the lush Virunga National Park, which extends across the peaks and jungle-covered slopes of the volcanic Virunga Mountains. Other major tourist attractions include expansive Lake Kivu, ancient Nyungwe Forest with its rich population of primate species, and the game-rich savannah lands of Akagera National Park.


Banking and Currency

Currency

Rwanda Franc (RWF) = 100 centimes. Notes are in denominations of RWF 5,000, 2,000, 1,000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of RWF100, 50, 20, 10 and 5.

The import and export of local currency is limited to RWF5000. The import and export of foreign currency is unlimited, but must be declared upon arrival and exchanged within 8 days.

Banking

Banking hours: Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1400-1700, Sat 0800-1200.

Credit cards are only accepted at a few hotels in Kigali. MasterCard and Visa are the preferred cards.

International Visa cards are accepted at the ATMs at Ecobank head office in Kigali and at Kigali airport. They can also be used at the ATMs at Access Bank head office in Kigali. However, these ATMs are often affected by power cuts. It is best to travel with US dollars, some banks won’t accept pound sterling.

It may be difficult to change traveller's cheques outside Kigali.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

Akagera Aviation provides helicopter flights all over the country. Rwandair flies internally to the southeastern town of Cyangugu.

There is a lot of work being done to improve the roads, and in some places you will find smooth tarmac, while in others you will be going along pot-holed dirt paths.A 4-wheel drive vehicle is needed for some local roads. There can be landslides on some of the major roads during annual rainfall in spring and autumn.Extra care should be taken at night, as headlight use is erratic. During rainy season some roads can become impassable.

There are no international car hire companies operating in Rwanda, but there are several local companies. You will find these listed in the Eye magazine given away at the airport and in hotels. 

Taxis can be found in large towns and cities. Look for the official orange stripe. Fares are reasonable, but should be agreed in advance (ask a local if you think you are being overcharged). Tipping is not expected.

Bicycle and scooter taxis are the quickest and cheapest way to get around in the towns, however they are risky.

Minibus taxis provide links to and from all towns and some villages. Although it is not common for foreigners to travel this way, they are quite safe and efficient. However you will have to wait until they are full before departure if you get on at the start of the route. The Virunga Express (www.virungatravel.com) and Onatracom Express provide more direct intercity links.

Rwandans drive on the right. It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving unless with a hands-free set. Seat belts must be worn in the front. It is advised not to drive after drinking, breathalisers are in use and if found to have more than 0.8 mg of alcohol per 1 litre of blood, you are likely to face imprisonment. Speed limits are 40km/per hour in the city and 60km outside the city. If the car in front is using the left indicator it often means it is not safe to overtake, the right indicator tells you the road ahead is clear.

An International Driving Permit is required. An entry permit is needed if you have travelled from outside the country, insurance document and driving licence.

You can hire a boat to take you from Gisenyi to Kibuye if you ask at one of the lakeside hotels.


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Food is generally safe to eat if well-cooked and hot. If in doubt, veer towards larger restaurants in cities and those aimed at tourists, which will have undergone government safety checks. Avoid buying food from the side of the road and don’t drink tap water. Use bottled water or otherwise boil or sterilise. Milk is unpasteurised and should be boiled. Powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from unboiled milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled.

The majority of the population in Rwanda live off subsistence farming and so their meals rely heavily on starchy crops such as potato, maize and cassava. This is generally served with kidney beans and cabbage and where meat can be afforded it is most often goat. However, the restaurants of Kigali and other towns will generally serve grilled meat with french fries and sometimes rice with spicy stews.

Hotels generally serve a reasonable choice of European dishes, and there are Chinese, Greek, Indian, Italian and Middle Eastern restaurants. Some restaurants also serve Franco-Belgian cuisine and African dishes. A fairly good selection of beers, spirits and wines is available. Beer is also brewed locally.

You will see brochettes on most menus, these are basically a skewer of your chosen meat or fish served with rice or chips. Other local specialities include: tilapia, a white fish found in Lake Kivu and also farmed locally and appears often on menus; Matoke, cooked plantain, which may be served when you are expecting potatoes (and usually tastes a lot like potatoes!)

Primus is the local beer of choice. Mutzig is very similar but more expensive and often comes in large 700ml bottles. The local banana wine is for the brave, it is called urwangwa and you should be able to pick up a bottle in a supermarket to try in the privacy of your room.

There is no clear principle on tipping in Rwanda, but most staff in the bigger hotels have come to expect it, as have guides and trackers. A general rule is to tip 10% in restaurants if you feel inclined and give $5 - $10 to guides, trackers and porters.


Climate and Weather

Despite its proximity to the equator, due to the high altitude of most of the country, Rwanda has a temperate climate with temperatures seldom climbing above 25C. The long dry season is from June to September and there are two annual rainy seasons, the first from mid-March until the beginning of June and small rains from mid-September to December. The best time for gorilla and monkey tracking is the dry season - if only to spare you getting drenched (you can still see them in the rain, they just get a bit grumpy). The dry season is also good if you want to see game in Akagera National Park because thirst will draw the animals to the watering holes. You will also find at this time the roads are less dangerous and the risk of malaria is lower. The rainy season is the best time to see chimpanzees and is also the time when the place is at its most lush and green.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

Lightweight cotton or linen clothing is recommended for most of the year with warmer clothes for cooler upland evenings. Rainwear is advisable especially during the rainy season and sunglasses, sunscreen and a sunhat are recommended year round. A good pair of walking shoes is essential.


Electricity and Plug Standards

Electrical sockets (outlets) in Rwanda are one of the two European standard electrical socket types: The "Type C" Europlug and the "Type E" and "Type F" Schuko. If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for both types.

Electrical sockets (outlets) in the Republic of Rwanda (République du Rwanda) usually supply electricity at between 220 and 240 volts AC. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need.

But travel plug adapters do not change the voltage, so the electricity coming through the adapter will still be the same 220-240 volts the socket is supplying. North American sockets supply electricity at between 110 and 120 volts, far lower than in most of the rest of the world. Consequently, North American appliances are generally built for 110-120 volts.


Tanzania

The name Tanzania conjures up images of wildebeest stampeding across vast savannah, rain forests teeming with monkeys and birdlife, and great plains brimming with legions of game. All of these natural wonders and more are on offer in this exceptionally diverse African nation. Visitors typically visit Tanzania to partake in at least one of the four well known Tanzanian tourist experiences: a relaxing seaside vacation on the picturesque island paradise of Zanzibar, an underwater tour of some of the world’s most renowned dive sites around the gorgeous Spice Islands, a safari adventure in some of Africa’s most impressive game reserves, or a hiking excursion around Mount Kilimanjaro National Park. Whichever of these incredible holidays you choose, you will undoubtedly be welcomed by some fabulously friendly and peaceful inhabitants who, despite being divided into 120 different ethnic groups and cultures, live in harmony with one another and provide some of the most wonderfully exotic local cuisine you could imagine. With all of this diversity on offer, the most difficult part of your Tanzanian holiday experience is likely to be deciding where to go!


Banking and Currency

Currency

In Tanzania, the unit of currency is the Tanzanian Shilling, which is divided into 100 Cents. Notes are issued in denominations of 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, and 10000 Shillings. Coins are issued in denominations of 50, 100 and 200 Shillings.

Banking

Banks are open from 9:00am to 3:00pm Monday to Friday. Many banks are equipped with 24 hour ATM machines. 

Credit cards and travellers checks are not widely accepted in Tanzania. Where they are accepted can high service fees and poor exchange rates be expected. Major foreign currencies - particularly US $ - are accepted in Tanzania and are convertible at banks and bureau de changes in the main towns and tourist areas. If bringing cash in US $, please make sure bank notes are in good condition, with no cuts or damage and are not older than 2006. Most banks offer higher exchange rates for US $ 100 / US $ 50 bank notes compared to US $ 20 / US $ 10 or US $ 5 bank notes.


Travel, Transport and Getting Around

If you are visiting a number of parks and reserves in Tanzania, you can either drive or fly between them. Roads in most of the wilderness areas are in poor condition and unmarked, and self-driving is not recommended. Operators will supply you with a driver who doubles as an informal guide; alternatively, you can arrange to fly to your destination and utilize a car and driver supplied by the lodgings. Elsewhere in Tanzania, towns and cities are linked by a steady stream of buses and dala-dalas (minibuses), and in the cities, there is public transport in the way of buses, dala-dalas, taxis, and, in some places, bicycles or tuk-tuks.

Precision Air run regular services, mostly via Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro or Zanzibar, to all main towns and other destinations in East Africa and beyond. All national parks and some of the top-end luxury lodges have airstrips and Coastal Air operates between these and the main airports on the mainland and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. ZanAir has frequent connections between Zanzibar, Pemba and the mainland.

Driving is on the left hand side of the road


Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice

Most camps, lodges or hotels cater specifically to tourists and serve Western-style food, ranging in standard, but generally are excellent. Game lodges tend to offer a daily set menu with a limited selection, so it is advisable to have your tour operator specify in advance if you are a vegetarian or have other specific dietary requirements. First-time visitors to Africa might take note that most game lodges in and around the national parks have isolated locations, and driving within the parks is neither permitted nor advisable after dark, so that there is no realistic alternative to eating at your lodge. 

Tap water in Tanzania is generally not safe to drink, and most travellers try to stick to mineral water. Filtered and bottled water can be difficult to find you are travelling outside of main town and so it is advisable to stock up. Most camps, lodges and hotels have bottled water readily available.

Please note that, as of 2016, Tanzania has banned the use of plastic bags in a bid to tackle pollution and protect the environment. Travellers' to Tanzania will no longer be allowed to bring plastic carrier bags into the country. This ban targets all plastic bags that are imported, exported, manufactured, sold, stored, supplied and used. 


Climate and Weather

Just south of the equator, Tanzania is huge and its sheer size means that the climate varies considerably within it. However, generally the main rainy season, or the 'long rains', lasts during about March, April and May. Afternoon tropical downpours are the norm – which are heavier and more predictable beside the coast and on the islands. The humidity is high and daily temperatures reach the low-mid 30°s.

The long dry season lasts throughout June, July, August, September and October is when rainfall is unusual, even on the islands. Temperatures vary hugely with altitude and location, but it's usually a fine, clear sky and sunny weather – it's a great time to visit Tanzania. During November and December there's another rainy season: the 'short rains'. These are much lighter than the main rains and less reliable.

If it has rained during the short rains, then it normally dries up for a few months, January and February, which is Tanzania's 'short dry season', before starting to rain again in earnest in March.


Clothing and Dress Recommendations

It never gets really cold in Tanzania so lightweight clothing, preferably cotton or linen, is recommended. While on a game viewing safari, avoid brightly coloured clothing, stick to whites, beiges, khakis and browns. There may be long days sitting in safari vehicles, so it is advisable to wear light comfortable clothing such as short sleeved shirts and cotton/linen trousers or shorts. Denim will become too hot and extremely uncomfortable. Walking shoes and socks will be required.

The evenings will be chilly, so long sleeved shirts and trousers should be worn. A sweater may be needed. These will also prevent you being bitten by insects. A hat should be worn at all times outside. The sun may sometimes not feel hot, but it can still easily burn, especially if it is cloudy and overcast.

If visiting Zanzibar or any coastal town don't forget to take a swimsuit, as it is invariably warm. Ladies are recommended to take cotton skirts, blouses and dresses. Sandals are a must for this environment! On the beaches and within the confines of hotels, normal swimwear is acceptable but nudity is not.

As over a third of the population in Tanzania is Muslim, it is therefore not etiquette for ladies to walk around in public displaying their legs and shoulders. Remember to dress modestly as short shorts, miniskirts, vests and tank tops will be frowned upon.


Electricity and Plug Standards

Electrical sockets in Tanzania are one of three: Type G (BS-1363) and Type C (CEE 7/16 Europlug) and Type D (BS-546) electrical socket types: If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all types.

Electrical sockets in Tanzania usually supply electricity at 230 volts AC / 50 Hz frequency. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 230 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 230 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.


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