Travel Safety in Rwanda

Rwanda is regarded as one of the safest destinations in Africa for tourists and solo travelers. It was recently ranked as the 2nd safest country in Africa by Gallup Global Law and Order Report. This article will give you a clear picture of economic, political, civil, terrorism, petty crime, health, disease, and road safety in the land of a thousand hills.

Is Rwanda Safe To Visit?  

Absolutely, Rwanda is a safe country to visit! This East African gem shatters stereotypes and captivates travelers with its remarkable safety record and charm. According to a 2022 survey by Usebounce, a luggage storage app, Rwanda was ranked as the 6th safest country in the world and the safest country in Africa for solo travelers. Rwanda’s reputation as one of Africa’s safest destinations is well-deserved. With a focus on peace, progress, and sustainability, this East African gem has transformed into a haven for explorers seeking adventure and tranquility.

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The 2018 Gallup Global Law and Order report underscores Rwanda’s strong safety record, ranking it 40th globally and 2nd in Africa on the Law and Order Index. This index evaluates personal security and experiences with crime and law enforcement. According to the report, 83% of Rwandan residents expressed confidence in their local police force and felt safe walking alone at night. Such high confidence levels reflect the government’s effective measures to ensure law and order and the community’s active role in maintaining a secure environment.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the reasons behind Rwanda’s exceptional safety record. We’ll address common concerns, share practical tips, and highlight the experiences that await you in this land of a thousand hills. Whether you’re a solo female traveler, a family seeking thrilling adventures, or a wildlife enthusiast eager to encounter gorillas in their natural habitat, Rwanda welcomes you with open arms and a commitment to your Safety.

Petty Crime in Rwanda

While Rwanda boasts a low crime rate compared to other African countries, petty theft, such as pickpocketing, purse snatching, and occasional incidents of home robberies, automobile break-ins, and theft of vehicle accessories, can occur, especially in crowded areas of Kigali. However, it’s important to note that most crimes in Rwanda are non-violent.

Kigali, the capital city, consistently ranks as one of the safest in Africa. Travelers can explore with confidence during the day, but like any urban environment, it’s wise to exercise caution at night. Avoid walking alone in poorly lit areas, and utilize reputable transportation options such as taxis or ride-sharing services.

As a visitor, you can contribute to your Safety by:

  • Being vigilant: Stay aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded markets, nightclubs, and tourist areas.
  • Using common sense: Avoid displaying valuables, keep an eye on your belongings, and be mindful of your personal space.
  • Taking precautions: Use hotel safes for important documents and valuables, and consider carrying a money belt for added security.

Follow these simple precautions to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience in Rwanda. Remember, there are no off-limits areas in Rwanda, but it’s always wise to exercise caution and trust your instincts.

Political Stability: Rwandan President Paul Kagame leads a walk during commemoration services | @Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images
Rwandan President Paul Kagame leads a walk during commemoration services | @Andrew Renneisen/Getty Images

Political Stability

Rwanda is generally considered a politically stable country for tourists to visit. The government has made significant strides in establishing political stability and curbing corruption in recent years. President Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) have played a central role in this achievement, prioritizing security and economic development. Their efforts have fostered a safe environment where tourists can explore with confidence.

The government’s control over public space and its strong stance against political dissent have contributed to the country’s stability. Rwanda has successfully avoided major civil unrest since the devastating 1994 genocide, and its security forces maintain a firm grip on the territory. The effective handling of the COVID-19 pandemic further bolstered public support and reinforced the government’s capabilities.

Rwanda’s low crime rate and well-developed emergency response system add to its appeal as a safe destination. However, it’s important to acknowledge that the authoritarian nature of the regime and the concentration of power within the RPF raise questions about the long-term sustainability of this stability.

For travelers, this means that while Rwanda is generally safe and secure, it’s wise to stay informed about the country’s political landscape. Exercise caution and avoid engaging in political discussions or activities, especially in sensitive environments.

Overall, Rwanda’s political stability, combined with its low crime rate and efficient emergency response system, make it a relatively safe destination for tourists. However, as with any travel destination, it’s crucial to be aware of the broader context and make informed decisions.

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Health Concerns

Rwanda is a generally healthy destination, but taking a few precautions can ensure a smooth and enjoyable trip.

Malaria: Malaria is present in Rwanda, particularly in lower-altitude areas like Kigali, Akagera National Park in the east, and some parts of the Nyungwe Forest National Park. If you plan to visit these areas, consult your doctor or travel health clinic well in advance of your trip to discuss appropriate malaria prevention measures, such as prophylactic medication.

Vaccinations:  In addition to routine vaccinations like measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP), consider additional ones recommended for travel to Rwanda, such as Yellow Fever (if traveling from a risk zone), Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Meningococcal Meningitis (especially during the dry season), and Rabies (if engaging in outdoor activities or interacting with animals).

Yellow Fever: A Yellow Fever vaccination certificate is required for entry if you’re traveling from a country with risk of Yellow Fever transmission.

Other Health Concerns:  Travelers’ diarrhea, respiratory infections, and altitude sickness can occur. Practice good hygiene, drink bottled water, and acclimatize gradually to higher altitudes to minimize these risks.

Limited Medical Facilities: Rwanda has limited medical facilities, especially outside Kigali. If you have a serious accident or illness, you may need to be evacuated by air ambulance to Kenya or South Africa for treatment.

Travel Insurance: It’s essential to have comprehensive travel insurance that covers emergency medical treatment and evacuation, as your private health insurance may not be valid in Rwanda. Consider international travel insurance providers like World Nomads, Allianz Travel Insurance, IMG Global, or Seven Corners. Travel health insurance is compulsory for all international travelers to Rwanda.

Emergency Numbers: In case of emergency, call 112 and ask for an ambulance. Contact your insurance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment.

Travelers should consult a travel health specialist 4-6 weeks before their trip to Rwanda to get personalized recommendations based on their specific itinerary, activities, medical history, and risk factors. 

For the most up-to-date and detailed information on health recommendations for Rwanda, refer to official sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). These resources provide comprehensive guidance on vaccinations, disease prevention, and staying healthy during your travels.

Tourist-Friendly and Warm Hospitality of Rwandans

Rwandans are known for their warm hospitality and welcoming attitude towards tourists. Their warm hospitality stems from a combination of cultural tradition, economic incentives, and a desire to share their country with the world.  This welcoming attitude is a key part of Rwanda’s appeal as a tourist destination.  There are several reasons for this:

  • Ubwiru (Hospitality): Rwandans have a strong cultural tradition of hospitality. Guests are treated with utmost respect and welcomed into homes with open arms. Sharing food and drink with visitors is an integral part of Rwandan culture.
  • Commitment to Tourism: Rwanda has made tourism a priority for economic development. The government has invested in infrastructure, conservation efforts, and creating a safe and stable environment for visitors. Rwandans take pride in showcasing their country to tourists.
  • Desire for Connection: Interacting with tourists provides opportunities for Rwandans to learn about other cultures and connect with people from around the world. Many Rwandans are eager to share their culture and learn from visitors.
  • Economic Benefits: Tourism provides jobs and income for many Rwandans, from tour guides and hotel staff to artisans and farmers. Welcoming tourists helps support local communities and businesses.
  • Rebuilding National Pride: After the 1994 genocide, tourism has helped Rwanda rebuild its international reputation and national pride. Welcoming visitors demonstrates the country’s progress and resilience.
Solo Travelers in Rwanda

Solo Travelers in Rwanda

Rwanda’s low crime rates, political stability, and friendly locals make it a secure haven for solo travelers. Women especially find Rwanda to be a comfortable and empowering destination, with respect for women deeply ingrained in the culture.

Thanks to its commitment to women’s inclusion and safety, Rwanda has been ranked as the second safest country in the world for solo female travelers. With over 60% of parliament made up of women, Rwanda ranks highly for gender equality and community safety for women. Solo female travelers report feeling safe and welcomed in Rwanda, though they should still exercise caution, especially at night.

Tips for Solo Travelers:

  • Stay Connected: If you book a solo safari, share your itinerary with friends or family back home, and consider purchasing a local SIM card to stay connected.
  • Choose Accommodation Wisely: Solo travelers should opt for reputable hotels or guesthouses with good security measures.
  • Join Group Activities: Consider joining group tours or activities to meet fellow travelers and explore together.
  • Trust Your Instincts: As with any travel destination, be aware of your surroundings and trust your gut feeling. Don’t hesitate to remove yourself from the situation if something doesn’t feel right.
The Gorilla Habituation Experience
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is a top Africa Safari activity

Wildlife Encounters

Rest assured, your wildlife encounters in Rwanda are safe and deeply meaningful. Rwanda’s diverse wildlife, from the majestic mountain gorillas to the playful golden monkeys, is a major draw for tourists. This is because the government has implemented stringent safety measures and responsible tourism practices to ensure the well-being of both visitors and wildlife.

Gorilla Trekking: Rwanda’s renowned gorilla trekking experiences are conducted with the utmost care. Each group is limited in size and accompanied by experienced guides and trackers who are well-versed in gorilla behavior and habitat. Gorilla trekking professionals prioritize your safety, providing instructions on how to interact with the gorillas respectfully and maintain a safe distance.

Other Wildlife Encounters: Whether you’re tracking golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park or observing chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest National Park, similar safety protocols are in place. Experienced guides lead each excursion, ensuring that you have a safe and enriching experience while minimizing any potential disturbance to the animals.

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Conservation Commitment: Rwanda’s dedication to conservation is evident in its successful efforts to protect endangered species. Strict regulations, anti-poaching patrols, and community involvement have all contributed to the recovery of gorilla populations and the preservation of vital ecosystems. By participating in responsible wildlife tourism, you directly support these conservation efforts.

Your Safety First: Choose a reputable tour operator and adhere to park regulations to confidently explore Rwanda’s natural wonders, knowing that your Safety is paramount. The guides are trained in first aid and emergency procedures, and the parks have established protocols to handle any unforeseen situations.

Local public Transport and Precautionary Covid measures in Rwanda are of the past.
Local public Transport and Precautionary Covid measures in Rwanda are of the past.

Transportation Safety

Rwanda boasts a well-developed transportation network that makes traveling within the country safe and convenient. To get around Rwanda with ease, consider the following:

Road Safety: Rwanda’s roads are generally well-maintained, especially the main highways connecting major cities and tourist destinations. However, it’s important to exercise caution, as driving standards may differ from what you’re used to. Be mindful of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcycles, especially in rural areas.

Public Transportation: Public buses connect major towns and cities, providing an affordable and reliable way to travel. While public transportation in Rwanda is generally safe, it may not always be as reliable, comfortable, or accessible as private car hire. Share taxis often wait until full before departing and can take long breaks along the route. For a more relaxed and private experience, consider hiring a taxi or using ride-sharing services.

Private Transportation: Renting a car is a popular option for those who prefer flexibility and independence.  Several reputable car rental companies operate in Rwanda, offering a range of vehicles to suit your needs. If you’re not comfortable driving yourself, hiring a car with a driver is a great alternative.

Domestic Flights: RwandaAir, the national carrier, offers domestic flights between Kigali and other major cities, including Kamembe and Cyangugu. This option is convenient for covering longer distances or quickly reaching remote areas.

Safety Tips:

  • Choose reputable transportation providers: Opt for licensed taxis, established car rental companies, and official bus services.
  • Negotiate fares in advance: Agree on the price before getting into a taxi or motorcycle taxi to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Be prepared for unexpected delays: Road conditions can vary, and traffic congestion can occur, especially in cities. Allow extra time for your journeys.
  • Follow traffic rules: Observe speed limits, wear seatbelts, and avoid using your phone while driving. Rwanda traffic police is strict on traffic offenses with cameral everywhere on public roads.
Rwanda Streets are safe
Rwanda Streets | @Thierry Falise—LightRocket via Getty

Environmental Consciousness

While Rwanda’s natural beauty is undeniable, the country also demonstrates a strong commitment to environmental protection and sustainability.

Plastic Bag Ban: Rwanda is a pioneer in environmental conservation, implementing one of the world’s first and most successful bans on plastic bags in 2008. This initiative has significantly reduced plastic pollution and fostered a culture of environmental responsibility. As a visitor, you’ll notice the clean streets and pristine landscapes, a testament to Rwanda’s dedication to preserving its natural heritage. Thanks to these initiatives, Rwanda’s streets are remarkably clean, and its natural landscapes remain pristine. Visitors often comment on the country’s commitment to environmental preservation, making it a truly eco-conscious destination.

Clean Environment Laws: Rwanda has enacted comprehensive environmental laws and regulations to protect its ecosystems and promote sustainable practices. These laws cover various aspects, from waste management and pollution control to wildlife conservation and forest protection. The government actively enforces these regulations, ensuring that both residents and visitors contribute to a clean and healthy environment.

Festivals Celebrating Nature: Rwanda hosts several festivals that celebrate its natural beauty and cultural heritage. These events, such as Kwita Izina (Gorilla Naming Ceremony) and Umuganura (Harvest Festival), showcase the country’s deep connection to nature and its commitment to preserving it for future generations.

Rwanda locals & foreign residents show up on the national day of cleaning

Environmental Hazards in Rwanda

While Rwanda is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa with diverse landscapes, it’s important to be aware of potential environmental hazards that could impact your travel experience.

Earthquakes and Volcanic Activity: Rwanda is located in the Great Rift Valley, a seismically active region. While major earthquakes are rare, tremors can occur. Additionally, Rwanda shares a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to the active volcanoes Mount Nyiragongo and Nyamuragira. In recent years, eruptions from Nyiragongo in 2002 and 2021 caused significant disruption in the region, including the displacement of thousands of people. While the lava flows did not reach Rwandan territory, the events highlight the importance of staying informed about volcanic activity in the region. The Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB) provides updates and information on volcanic activity.

Flooding and Landslides: During the rainy seasons (March-May and September-November), heavy rainfall can lead to flooding and landslides, particularly in the mountainous regions of Western, Northern, and Southern Provinces. In May 2023, severe floods and landslides tragically resulted in the loss of over 130 lives and caused significant damage to infrastructure and homes. Most recently, in the first ten days of May 2024, heavy rains caused landslides, killing 10 people in various parts of the country, particularly in the Rutsiro district in western Rwanda. It’s important to be cautious when traveling during the rainy seasons, avoid areas prone to landslides, and stay updated on weather forecasts and warnings issued by local authorities.

Lake Kivu Gas: Lake Kivu, a stunning natural feature in western Rwanda, contains dissolved gases, including methane and carbon dioxide. While the risk of a gas eruption is considered low and constantly monitored, it’s essential to be aware of this potential hazard. Swimming in the lake is safe, but it’s advisable to avoid areas where gas seepage is visible.

Altitude Sickness: Travelers visiting high-altitude areas like Volcanoes National Park may experience altitude sickness. Symptoms include headache, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness. It’s important to ascend gradually, stay hydrated, and be aware of the signs of altitude sickness.

Start Planning Your Rwanda Safari Vacation

Rwanda is ready to welcome you with open arms, a safe environment, vibrant culture, and unparalleled natural beauty. From the mist-shrouded peaks of the Virunga Volcanoes, where you can trek alongside majestic mountain gorillas, to the vibrant streets of Kigali, a city pulsating with creativity and innovation, Rwanda promises an unforgettable journey.

With its strong commitment to safety, welcoming hospitality, and breathtaking landscapes, Rwanda is a destination that will leave you in awe.

To start planning your Rwanda safari adventure, explore these resources:

Whether you’re seeking a thrilling wildlife encounter, a cultural immersion, or simply a peaceful escape amidst stunning scenery, Rwanda is the perfect destination. Your safety and satisfaction are our top priorities, and we look forward to welcoming you to Rwanda!

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