Posted: 2/2/2020 | February 2nd, 2020
In this guest post, Alicia Erickson offers some handy tips on how you can visit Rwanda on a budget! She spent some time living there and, today, is sharing her tips on the country (one I haven’t got to yet!). She’s a freelance writer so I don’t have a blog to link to. Here are her tips:
Rwanda, a tiny nation nestled between Tanzania, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in the center of the African continent, is filled to the brim with rainforests, wildlife, lakes, and volcanoes. It is aptly nicknamed “the land of a thousand hills.”
Rwanda also happens to be one of the safest and easiest nations to navigate in East Africa. Sure, this nation might have a bit of a reputation that proceeds itself. But the genocide that ravaged the country ended more than 25 years ago. Over the past two decades, innovation, environmental sustainability, and women’s rights have been at the forefront of Rwanda’s rapid development.
You might wonder, is Rwanda budget-friendly? Sub-Saharan Africa in general can be a tricky place to travel cheaply, as it is often perceived as a high-end safari destination. Rwanda is no exception. Much of its recent tourism development has been geared toward high-end luxury lodges and trekking with the coveted mountain gorillas, which costs a lofty $1,500 for a permit.
However, don’t let the hefty price tags associated with gorillas and luxury lodges deter you from experiencing the quiet magic that Rwanda exudes. Having lived and traveled there on and off from 2015 to the present, I have found a number of tricks for saving money and exploring lesser-known destinations that are very cheap and sometimes free! Without a doubt, Rwanda on a budget is absolutely possible, if you don’t mind forgoing some of the higher-end tourist options.
Here is how to save money and visit Rwanda on a Budget:
Table of Contents
How to Save Money on Accommodation
Although there are many high-end hotels and lodges, there are also a handful of hostels, reasonably priced guesthouses, and even some Airbnbs, not to mention camping. I’ve used all these options in both Kigali and destinations across the country.
Budget options tend to be simple but clean. Be aware that water and electricity reliability fluctuates, though they tend to be more consistent than in neighboring countries.
- Hostels: Hostels are relatively new to Rwanda, but there are a few to choose from. A dorm room in a hostel such as Discover Rwanda Kigali or Mamba Guesthouse runs $10–15 USD/night.
- Guesthouses: Hotels and lodges tend to cost well over $100 USD/night. However, there are also a number that offer private rooms for about $20-45 USD/night. The Nest in Kigali is a great bed-and-breakfast option, with private rooms costing about $50 USD/night.
- Airbnbs: Airbnbs are increasingly popular in Kigali, Lake Kivu, and Musanze. Prices for a private room start at $20 USD/night.
- Camping: Camping is widespread in national parks such as Nyungwe Forest and Akagera and often available on the sites of many guesthouses. Keep in mind that evenings can get cool and that camping is a bit of a challenge during rainy season. Costs run $8–15 USD/person/night. Akagera National Park, Red Rocks in Musanze, and Kitabi Eco-Center in Nyungwe all offer tents for rent.
How to Save Money on Transportation
- Motorbikes: I found public motorcycles to be the fastest and cheapest way to get around within cities. Motorbike trips within Kigali cost 300-1,000 RWF ($0.40–1.10 USD).
- Taxis: Taxis are more expensive and harder to find. However, when it rains, motorbikes don’t drive, in which case taxis are the best alternative. An average ride within Kigali costs 2,500-5,000 RWF ($2.70–5.40 USD).
- Buses: When venturing out of town, public buses are cheap, safe, and relatively reliable throughout the country. The major bus station in Kigali is Nyabugogo. Countrywide buses cost 2,000-4,000 RWF ($2.20–4.30 USD).
- Car rentals: There are a handful of destinations, such as the national parks, that are better explored by car or motorbike, both of which are available to rent. Renting a car starts at $50 USD/day, depending on type of vehicle.
How to Save Money on Food
Kigali is rich in international food, though eating out can get expensive quickly. Expect costs to be on par with European or American restaurants.
Unfortunately, street food is essentially nonexistent because it is seen as dirty. Instead, seek out hole-in-the-wall local restaurants serving rice and beans, ugali (a thick, maize-based porridge), brochettes (grilled meat), and potatoes. Wine and cocktails are extremely expensive and are average quality at best, so local beers are your best bet to quench your thirst.
Here are some average food and drink costs:
- Lunch buffet of local food: all you can eat for 2,000 RWF ($2.20 USD).
- Dinner at local restaurant: 3,000–8,000 RWF ($3.25–10 USD). In Kigali, head to Car Wash for brochettes and Panorama Ten to Two for grilled lake fish.
- Produce at local market: 100-1,000 RWF ($0.11–1.10 USD), depending on the product. Fruits such as mangoes, passion fruit, and tree tomatoes are cheap and delicious. Always bargain!
- Lunch or dinner at an average-priced Western restaurant: 4,000-6,000 RWF ($4.50–6.50 USD). Try Meze Fresh, Borneo, Now Now Rolex, and Baso Patisserie for tasty and filling international cuisine that won’t break the bank.
- Dinner at an international restaurant: 12,000-18,000 RWF ($13–20 USD). If you’re going to splurge, Kigali has some phenomenal Indian food (Khana Kazana) and French food (Poivre Noir).
- Local beer: 1,000 RWF ($1.10) for Mutzig or other local beer
- Wine/cocktail: 5,000-10,000 RWF ($5.50–11 USD)
Suggeted Budgets for Rwanda
You can save a lot of money by traveling slowly and independently and going a bit off the beaten track. While a lot of activities and extras aren’t excruciatingly expensive, they can definitely throw off a daily budget.
On a day when you’re camping or staying in a dorm, eating at markets or local restaurants, and doing free activities using public transportation, you can get by with $25 USD/day.
If you rent a car for a few days, have the occasional night out, and budget in a couple excursions, such as game drives in Akagera or hiking Mt. Bisoke, your daily costs, averaged out over two weeks or so, will increase to around $50–75 USD/day.
9 Money Saving Tips for Rwanda
Rwanda is pretty cheap to visit but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to save on your trip. Here are some insider tips on how to save money in Rwanda without losing the great experience:
- Take local transportation wherever possible: Buses will get you to most major destinations, from which you can take public motorbikes to your final destination. Buses not only run to destinations within Rwanda but to the borders with the DRC, Uganda, and Tanzania, as well as to major East African cities, such as Kampala. The main bus station in Kigali is Nyabugogo. If you want to explore Rwanda more independently and cheaply than by car, consider renting a motorbike or bicycle in Kigali, depending on where you want to go.
- Motorbikes vs. taxis: Motorbikes are cheap, fast, and efficient. Public motorbike drivers wear red vests and carry an extra helmet for passengers. The average cost should be 100 RWF ($0.11 USD) per kilometer, but always make sure to bargain. Drivers don’t always know exact locations, so it is helpful to familiarize yourself with neighborhoods and reference points, such as a major hotel. Note that motorbikes usually don’t drive in the rain, in which case taxis or walking tend to be the only option. Taxis are much more expensive and less convenient in most other situations, unless carrying a lot of luggage.
- Consider walking: Walking isn’t always the fastest option in Kigali, given the hills, the fair distances between neighborhoods, and the fact that the city sits at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. However, it is also extremely safe, and walking is a great way to save money and to discover neighborhoods and side streets you wouldn’t have otherwise.
- Eat local: Western restaurants can get expensive. Eat at local buffets for a fast, filling, inexpensive meal, and shop at local markets and roadside stands for an abundance of cheap, fresh tropical fruits, which are always negotiable in cost.
- Bring a reusable water bottle: Water is not safe to drink from the tap, but many hotels and houses have filtered water to refill your bottle rather than buying new bottles.
- Go off the beaten path: Sure, Rwanda may be known for gorilla trekking and hiking Mt. Karisimbi, the highest peak in the Virunga range, but these come at high costs. Look for free activities, find off-the-beaten-path trails through small villages for endless days of hiking and exploration, and relax at the lake.
- Alternatives to popular activities: Named “the land of a thousand hills” for a reason, Rwanda is abundant in green hills and mountains that are ideal for hiking and biking. Trails extend throughout the country, dipping down into valleys of banana plantations and up around mountainous passes. If you’re feeling adventurous, find a motorbike or bicycle and do some exploring! If you’re aching for a volcano or primate experience, trek with chimpanzees in Nyungwe, observe golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park, or do a day hike up Mt. Bisoke, which are cheaper but still fulfilling alternatives.
- Avoid tour companies: Pre-booked activities and tours can get expensive, and traveling without them is straightforward. Due to the country’s small size and relatively well-developed transport system and infrastructure, it is pretty easy to travel independently. Tap into some of the resources I’ve provided below to help answer further questions.
- Travel during rainy season: Although traveling during the heart of rainy season may not initially sound ideal, it can have some perks as well. Treks, park entrance fees, and lodging often offer reduced rates during the off-season, not to mention that crowds are smaller. Rwanda’s landscape happens to be especially luscious this time of the year as well. Also, it rarely rains all day — it’s most likely that you’ll have a heavy rain in the afternoon, with sunshine and blue skies the rest of the day.
A Quick Note on Visas
Visas are available both online and on arrival, dependent on the type and length of visa you are seeking. A 30-day, single-entry visa on arrival is available for $30 USD. The East African Tourist Visa ($100 USD, apply online in advance) grants 90 days of multiple-entry access to Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Note: if you leave these three countries, the visa is canceled. Visa extensions are granted at the immigration office in Remera, although this process is often complex and time-consuming.
Suggested Budget Resources
Expats in Rwanda – Before arriving in Rwanda, join the Facebook group, “Expats in Rwanda,” a group for expats travelling in and living in Rwanda. The group is always engaged in discussions regarding recent news in the region, the opening of new restaurants and accommodation, and listings of items for sale or rent. You’re likely to find cars, motorbikes, and camping gear for rent, sublets (short and long-term) in houses, as well as an entire network of people to ask questions about your upcoming trip. If you’re travelling on your own, you can also link up with other travelers/expats to join in on a game drive to Akagera, a hiking weekend in Musanze, or a lake trip to Kivu, which can save money.
Living in Kigali – Another great resource is Living in Kigali, which offers up-to-date information on the ever-changing Kigali in terms of activities, events, food, and nightlife. Grab a copy of the illustrated “Kigali” map when in town, offering a detailed layout of city by activities, restaurants, and neighborhoods.
Red Rocks Rwanda – Not only is Red Rocks an affordable accommodation option in Musanze, but it is also a travel company and cooperative. They have fantastic information on activities in the Northern Province and can also help you connect with community-based tourism and volunteer opportunities as well.
Nyamirambo Women’s Center – Located in the Muslim neighborhood renowned for its nightlife, Nyamirambo Women’s Center is an artisan cooperative and travel company supporting residents of Nyamirambo. If you’re interested in seeing Nyamirambo through a local’s eyes, they offer city tours as well as activities such as basket weaving.
Irembo – Irembo is a tourism board for Rwanda. For information on available treks and permits, head to Irembo’s tourism site, where you are also able to directly book permits as well.
There has never been a better time to visit this tiny and proud nation. Rwanda has received immense attention on the travel radar over the past couple of years, but it is not yet overrun with tourism. If you take time to acquaint yourself with its culture, people, and natural riches, Rwanda on a budget is more than doable.
Hike and bike through the emerald hills and banana plantations, swim in the refreshing volcanic lakes, camp in the bush alongside the Big 5 wildlife, explore an emerging and innovative art scene, and allow Rwanda’s charm to seep under your skin.
Alicia Erickson grew up as a third-culture kid, developing a love for travel at a young age. She has been a digital nomad for the past 5 years, working as a political analyst, social entrepreneur, writer, and yoga teacher while she explores the world. She splits her time primarily between East and Southern Africa, India, and Seattle, where she seeks off-the-beaten-path locales and is particularly drawn to mountains and the savannah, food, wine, and design culture. You can read more of her writing at Journey with Alicia.
Book Your Trip to Rwanda: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. I use them all the time.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and that will save you time and money too!