Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please click here for more info. This week, I’ve been chatting to Heather and Matt about their latest trip to fascinating Rwanda – and going green eyed over their beautiful photos!
Heather and Matt met in 2011 at a local Irish pub in Tempe, Arizona, USA. They had both been avid solo travellers and shared the same passion and curiosity to see as much of the world as possible. Since meeting, they have traveled over 40 countries together and have set off on a full-time adventure across the globe. Their ambitious plan will take them to 6 continents and maybe Antarctica if they can finagle it into their budget. Their travel and relationship blog, Travelationship.com, provides tips on where to go, where to stay, what to do and how best to get along and maintain relationships while on the move.
Hi, guys! Tell us about your trip to Rwanda…
I originally visited Rwanda in 2009 as a volunteer. Since then, Matt and I have returned in 2011 and 2015. Rwanda is a rapidly growing and changing country. Every time we visit it’s as if we are there for the first time. The downtown area is virtually unrecognizable from 2009, but even with all the changes the magic of Rwanda and the people are still abundant.
A big part, if not the best part, of Rwanda’s uniqueness, is the people. Their culture is welcoming and accepting. A quick “Muraho” to anyone will get you a huge smile and a conversation to make a new friend. Rwanda is arguably the safest country in the world. I can tell you I have never felt safer in any other place I have visited.
Rwanda is the only country, to date, I have sought out to visit multiple times. In fact, I will continue to visit because of the friendships I have made and because the country itself is so beautiful.
I love falling in love with a country like that! So, how was the weather when you visited?
March to May and October to November are Rwanda’s two rainy seasons. June to September and December to February are Rwanda’s two dry seasons. In Kigali, the average temperature during the dry season is about 85 F/30 C.
I have been to Rwanda three times and all my trips have fallen between June to the end of September. The dry season is hot and incredibly dusty. A heavy red layer of dust and dirt can be found on everything from houses, roads, trees, plants and even yourself. On some days, it seems so unbearable but relief can be found by heading north toward the Virunga Mountains, east to Lake Kivu or south to the Nyungwe Forest.
During our last trip, we were able to experience the start of rainy season, and it was lovely. The rain settled the heavy red dust and washed the trees, which provided a completely different view making Rwanda even more green, lush and beautiful than before. I would recommend visiting during the end of the dry season or early rainy season to get a taste of both.
You’ve visited Rwanda a few times. Where’s been your favourite place to stay?
We have stayed at a few different places around Rwanda, but our favourite was at the Team Africa Rising compound in Musanze, Rwanda. It’s the perfect place in Northern Rwanda for anyone trekking to see the famous Mountain Gorillas, hiking the volcanoes or anyone needing a quiet relaxing break. Depending on when you go, you may have the opportunity to meet some of the members of Team Rwanda; Rwanda’s professional cycling team! We are such fans of this team. We guarantee you will walk away in awe and feeling inspired by every member of the team.
So – what things shouldn’t people miss in Rwanda?
There is so much to do in Rwanda. I have been three times now and still have not been able to come close to experiencing it all. For first time visitors, I highly recommend investing the money to trek and see the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. It comes at the hefty price tag of $750USD for the day permit & about an additional $100USD for transportation, but the experience is priceless. If you aren’t able to justify spending the money to see the gorillas don’t fret, there are still plenty of other things to see and do all around the country.
To name a few other animal adventure possibilities: You can head to Akagera National Park to take a safari to see the newly introduced lions, Nyungwe Forest is full of primates including chimpanzees and Lake Kivu even has an island dedicated to bats which is aptly named Bat Island.
I highly recommend visiting and paying your respects to at least 1 of the many genocide memorials around the country. The memorials are an integral part to help understand where Rwanda has been and how the genocide has shaped the future of the growing country. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is the most informative with a historical museum and mass graves on site.
What’s been your highlight?
Trekking with wild mountain gorillas was one of the best things we have ever experienced. To see these enormous animals in their home is something you can only do in Central Africa.
We took a photo walk with Jack Yakubu Nkinzingabo through Vayando Travel. The walk led by Jack took us through downtown Kigali and into some of the colorful neighborhoods around the area. Jack is an up and coming photographer born and raised in Rwanda. His story and eye for street life details were absolutely inspiring.
I don’t know anything about the food in Rwanda – what’s the cuisine like?
As in most African countries, Rwanda thrives on staples such as ugali (a paste type mixture made from maize), potatoes and beans with a Fanta or Coke. The diet is heavy on carbohydrates and sugars. Buffets that will usually include additional choices such as meat (goat, beef or chicken), soup, fruits and rice are quite popular and can be found throughout the country. Our favorite buffets were at Buffalo Village and Afrika Bite both in Kigali.
Kigali has a growing restaurant scene with lots of different types of restaurants. For pizza we love Sol e Luna, for freshly made real donuts on a Saturday morning we recommend J. Lynn’s, for pastries throughout the week try any of the many Brioche’s, and for Asian Zen is a nice place for dinner.
Can you recommend any unusual things to do in Rwanda?
Just this year Vayando Travel, started providing one on one experiences with local entrepreneurs all around Rwanda. Through their website, you can sign up to go night fishing with Lake Kivu fishermen, take a walking photo tour of Kigali, learn to cook a traditional Rwandan meal, learn how a local seamstress designs and makes clothing or go a few rounds with a local Rwandan boxing champ. There are several other different opportunities available, and Vayando is always adding more. It’s a fantastic way to connect with a local and learn more about his/her specific community.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a trip?
Keep an open mind while travelling Rwanda. The country, the landscape, the ideals and the mindset of the locals are changing fast. What may be ok with one group of people may be offensive to another group. Taking photos in public spaces can be deemed unacceptable to some people in different areas of the country. Always ask before taking a photo of someone and/or someone’s property.
Moto Transportation in Rwanda can be dangerous. Admittedly, it is quite fun but be aware the passenger helmets rarely fit, the strap locks rarely close, and the drivers can be crazy. Consider bringing your own helmet if you plan on riding motos on a regular basis.
Now for some more general travel questions! Did you read any new books on your trip?
Matt is an audio book and podcast type person. We both just finished the Undisclosed podcast that re-evaluated the State of Maryland’s murder case against the then teenager, Adnan Syed. If you haven’t heard about it, listen to the Serial podcast first. Both podcasts are riveting and heartbreaking at the same time.
I like to read while I travel. I love finding good library exchanges at the places we stay to find my next read. If I can’t find anything of interest, I look for an audio book in Matt’s digital library.
And finally: what do you love most about travelling?
For both Matt and myself, travelling provides us with an ongoing education. We love learning about new cultures and locations through interacting with locals. We believe travel experiences help to build better character, patience, tolerance and understanding. Every day is different, and we couldn’t imagine it any other way.
NB – all images are owned by Heather and Matt