Do you plan to travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo? I personally found my adventures in these three countries to be in the top five most memorable travel experience ever. There’s just something so raw about these countries and they’re definitely worth checking out if you want to travel to Africa. Here is my 9 days trip report during my travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo.
9 Days of Travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo
Day 1 – Travel to Rwanda from Vietnam, arrival in Kigali, crossing the Rwanda-Uganda border, and arriving in Kabale, Uganda
Karen and myself just finished travelling in Nha Trang, Vietnam and was now time to travel to Rwanda. However, the flight itself was weird. Originally, our plane was suppose to fly from Addis Ababa to Kigali after flying on Ethiopian Airlines Business Class (thanks to using our Aeroplan miles). But, for some weird reason, our plane landed in Bujumbura in Burundi instead. As you can see, it was quite shocking to passengers to learn that we’re landing in a completely different country than the original itinerary. These damn African airlines are making shit up as they go.
Finally landing in Kigali and making our way to Uganda
After the random landing in Bujumbura was completed, our plane made its way to Kigali, Rwanda. After we landed, we went through immigration which was a very quick process. Our driver was waiting for us at the gate who jokingly complained he waited for us for so long.
We then exchanged some of our USD to RWF and made our way to the Rwanda-Uganda border. The car ride was pleasant as we observed the country side. The hilly landscape reminded us of our trip to Madagascar just several months ago.
After about 1 hour and 30 minutes of driving, we arrived the Rwanda-Uganda border (formally named Katuna). The immigration process was pretty quick and it wasn’t long before we crossed over to Uganda. Crossing the border itself was a fun experience as goats were also crossing the border. I don’t think these goats need a passport to cross over; though.
Rwanda-Uganda border to Kabale
As soon as we crossed over to Uganda, a bunch of Ugandan locals started chatting with us. They started saying “Ni Hao” to us since we are Chinese which I thought was quite funny.
When we started driving again, our driver, Emmanuel, switched from the right lane to the left lane. Apparently, they drive on the left side of the road just like in the UK.
The drive was pretty neat and you can definitely see a big difference between Uganda and Rwanda. Uganda was definitely not as developed infrastructure wise as Rwanda. It took us about 1 hour and 30 minutes to reach our hotel in Kabale.
Exchanging money and arranging our trip
Sadly, our accommodation’s wifi wasn’t working so there was no way for us to contact African Adventure Travellers (the company we signed up with for Gorilla trekking). So while trying to figure out the wifi situation, we decided to venture into town and exchange our Rwandan Francs into Ugandan Shillings (USh).
Our driver found us a corner store that was exchanging money and we got about 50,000 USh each. After heading back to our hotel, we ate in the hotel restaurant which was an adventure on its own. Apparently, when buying Ugandan food, the carbs are free but you need to pay for the “sauce”. Sauce means your protein and they vary in prices. When you buy the “sauce”, you’re allowed four pieces of meat.
Contacting the tour company and anxiety attack in the hotel
The hotel manager let us use his mobile phone to contact our tour company. Finally, we got through and they told us they’ll be sending someone early in the morning (5am from what I recall) to pick us up.
After we got the logistics arranged for our gorilla tracking the next morning, we headed to our hotel room. This is when my girlfriend, Karen, had an anxiety attack. The room looked really dark and dingy, Our washroom wasn’t very pleasant and there was cockroaches inside. My sister ended up drugging herself with Xanax to fall asleep. Karen barely got any sleep that night from the pent up fear staying in this accommodation.
It’s too bad the rooms were terrible because their customer service was really good. If you’re going to say that you get what you pay for, the room cost us 40 Euros for one night which we assumed would get you a mid-range accommodation. But in Africa, mid-range accommodation is quite bad so you need to stay at the expensive upper-range if you want something similar to North American standards.
Day 2 – Gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park and drive back to Kigali, Rwanda
The next morning at around 5am, we had a bit of a confusion. The person that African Adventure Travellers designated to take us to Bwindi National Park didn’t show up. Instead, he sent his friend/employee to drive us instead.
After we sorted out the confusion, we left our luggage in the hotel and the driver took us to get a yummy Ugandan breakfast street food called Rolex. I highly recommend it if you go to Uganda. It’s basically an omelette wrapped in roti.
The drive to Bwindi National Park took roughly two hours. Once we entered the national park itself, some areas were a bit sketchy where your vehicle can easily teeter off the cliff.
At the same time, the drive was very scenic which will leave your face glued to the window looking at the landscape.
Eventually, we arrived at the meeting spot for the gorilla trekking where we watched Ugandan women do a traditional dance for the trekkers.
Before we started gorilla trekking, we did a debriefing with the head of the rangers. For those who needed it, he also sold us some gardening gloves to avoid thorns and stinging nettles.
Our group consisted of myself, Karen, my sister Eunice, and one middle aged American woman. Not long after, we were driving to the gorilla trekking trailhead with the lead of the rangers himself who was our guide for the trek.
The trek itself wasn’t too bad. We got lucky it wasn’t rainy nor overly muddy. Within one hour, we saw a family of gorillas and started snapping away.
We spent a good one hour with the gorillas and had a blast. The silverback gorilla even jumped in front of my sister twice which freaked her out but no harm was done in the end.
After a fun filled morning hanging out with the gorillas, we started trekking back and that’s when things went from awesome to annoying. The American woman we trekked with was constantly whining and complaining to the rangers. She would act really rude to them when they asked her to keep moving. I don’t think she trained for this trek and was physically in poor shape.
But, being in a bad physical shape is no excuse for her rude attitude towards the rangers that’s helping her out.
It took us so much longer to get back to the starting point of the trek because of her slowness and horrible attitude. God damn she was annoying as hell.
Pictures and drive back to Kigali
When we finally reached the starting point, we took some pictures with our gorilla trekking certificate and head of the ranger. From there, it was time to travel to Rwanda once again.
The border crossing back to Rwanda was interesting. I was using my second passport so I didn’t need to buy another single entry visa. However, my sister and Karen needed one so I patiently waited for them.
While waiting, one of the immigration staff went out and started chatting with me about politics, and life. It was definitely fun and fascinating. He wanted to stay friends and asked me to keep in contact but I forgot to get any contact info from him.
Before going back in our vehicle, my luggage was searched thoroughly. When asked what I had in the luggage, I told the immigration staff, “my underwear”. They had a hearty laugh and let me go.
The rest of the day was uneventful and was mostly spent cleaning ourselves and relaxing after gorilla trekking and staying at a beat up accommodation in Kabale, Uganda. We did grab a bite at a nearby mall and the food court manager started taking pictures with us in a racist way. He meant no harm so we played along.
Day 3 – Crossing over the Rwanda-Burundi border and visiting the Kigali, Ntarama, Nyamata Genocide Memorial
On day 3, my mission was to cross over to Burundi and get the passport stamp. Despite accidentally already going to Burundi when my flight from Addis Ababa to Kigali ended up landing in Bujumbura instead, I wanted to officially enter the country by crossing the border.
I didn’t have any interest in exploring the country because there’s no must-see tourist destinations in Burundi. The country is also extremely corrupt and I’d like to not stay too long in those sort of countries.
Crossing the border to Burundi
The drive from Kigali to the Rwanda-Burundi border took about two hours. Upon arrival, the Rwanda immigration officer spoke to me in suspicion why I want to cross over to Burundi. When I told him I simply wanted the passport stamp and to take selfies, he was legitimately confused.
Regardless, I ended up lining up to get stamped out of Rwanda and stamped in Burundi. The whole process was confusing because apparently, we have to get stamped in Burundi first before getting stamped out of Rwanda. This is definitely weird but I guess nothing makes sense in Africa.
After I got stamped in and crossed over to Burundi, I went back to immigration, got stamped back in Rwanda and headed towards the genocide memorials.
Nyamata Genocide Memorial
The Nyamata Genocide Memorial is the one closest to the Burundi border. This genocide memorial is hands down the most disturbing one of all three memorials that I visited. If you travel to Rwanda, you definitely need to visit this memorial.
At the basement was the skulls of the victims of the Rwandan Genocide. After taking some time to explore and read up on what happened in this site (basically, the churches made it easy for the Hutu to conveniently mass exterminate the Tutsi), I was on my way to the next genocide memorial.
Ntarama Genocide Memorial
If you don’t like humour, don’t read on! My experience visiting the Ntarama Genocide Memorial was really weird. After going to the office to sign my name on the guest book, the caretaker asked me if I wanted a quick tour of the place.
So I said okay and he showed me around. He then took me to a room that used to be a classroom. From there, he started acting out what it was like when the Hutu bashed the skulls of the Tutsi victims against the wall of the classroom. He was doing the bashing motion with so much fury, I wondered if he had practice doing this.
Sufficient to say, I didn’t stick around this genocide memorial for long and made my way back to Kigali.
Kigali Genocide Museum
The last genocide memorial that we visited was the Kigali Genocide Museum. This one was packed with American tourist since it was the most easily accessible one being conveniently located at the capital city of Rwanda. The Kigali Genocide Museum is also a must see site when you travel to Rwanda.
Offered in the museum is an audio tour for $25 USD which myself, Karen and my sister Eunice signed up for. I would say that the audio tour is not necessary to get a feel and learn about this site. There was plenty of things to read within the site to educate you on what happened during the Rwanda genocide.
After checking out the museum, we did our laundry in the Marriott Hotel we were staying at in preparation for our big trek in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Day 4 – Driving to Gisenyi, Rwanda bordering Democratic Republic of Congo
Our goal for day 5 was to drive from Kigali to the border town of Gisenyi. The next morning, our plan is to cross over the Democratic Republic of Congo to do the Mount Nyiragongo Volcano Trek.
The drive to Gisenyi was relatively long. I think it took us about 4 hours to reach this city from Kigali. We stayed in an accommodation called KivuPeaceview Hotel. To secure a spot for this accommodation, I actually had to call them when I was in Canada to make a reservation.
Funny enough, we booked a “family room” that is suppose to accommodate four people. However, the room only has one bed so we wondered how this was possible. The Rwandan guy told me on the phone that it’s a “biiiiiiiiig bed” and wow, he was definitely right! Us three manage to fit no problem and sleep comfortably!
One funny thing that happened; though, was when we tried to setup the mosquito net, it didn’t fit on the bed. The front desk staff tried helping us only to find out that it doesn’t fit! He just laughed and said don’t worry about it.
KivuPeaceview hotel restaurant
The food in this accommodation was fantastic! They gave us massive portions which we couldn’t finish. It was definitely African sized. One funny thing that happened here was the server really wanted to provide good service to us and tried speaking Mandarin to us. Little does she know that we’re white washed Chinese people that grew up in Canada and barely understands Mandarin.
We told her in fluent English that we don’t speak Chinese. But, she was having none of that! She kept trying to speak to us in Mandarin and even turned on the TV and changed the station to a Chinese soap opera.
Well, it’s the thought that counts and we appreciate her efforts. When you travel to Rwanda, you’ll definitely have a lot of these memorable moments.
Day 5 – Crossing over the Grand Barriere border into the Democratic Republic of Congo and doing the Mount Nyiragongo Volcano Trek
On day 5, we crossed over from Rwanda to the Democratic Republic of Congo through the Grand Barriere border. Karen felt freaked out to do this crossing because she’s deathly afraid of the thought that someone will kidnap us and god forbid try to rape them.
Thankfully, the crossing itself went smoothly. The “scariest” thing that happened was having to use the ebola prevention hand washing station.
Getting picked up at the border, driving through Goma and trekking up Mount Nyiragongo
I wrote a detailed report on my experience with the Mount Nyiragongo Volcano Trek so you can check that out if you would like. All I want to say is that my experience driving through Goma was one of the most authentic and raw African travel experience in my life.
Trekking up Mount Nyiragongo was also one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. Despite all the pain and suffering I endured during the trek, reaching the summit was 100% worth it.
Seeing the lava lake inside the crater at night was damn amazing and I can’t stop raving at how emotionally moving my experience was in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Day 6 – Climbing down Mount Nyiragongo and driving all the way to Akagera National Park
On day 6, we trekked back down from Mount Nyiragongo. The trek down was nowhere near as bad as the trek up, this is thanks to gradually going lower in altitude which made the trek difficult to begin with.
We said our warm farewells to the guides, porters, and fellow trekkers and drove back towards the DRC-Rwanda border.
There was a slight conflict during the drive back to the border. We had to get off the jeep we were riding as the Virunga National Park staff was arguing with the man who was running the toll gate. Apparently, Virunga wasn’t issued a receipt when they paid for the toll gate earlier and the man wants them to pay again. They argued for awhile and the national park staff put us on another vehicle.
Eventually, the commotion was settled when the Virunga staff caved in and paid the corrupt toll gate individual.
After all these commotion was over, it was finally time for us to travel to Rwanda once again.
Crossing back to Rwanda and heading towards Akagera National Park
When you travel to Rwanda, you definitely want to do a game safari. After crossing back to Rwanda, our next destination was Akagera National Park all the way on the east side of Rwanda.
On the way, we had some burgers near Volcanoes National Park and exchanged more money in Kigali. Our driver also changed 4×4 vehicles because apparently, the driving conditions in Akagera is not very good and will require a different set of tires.
By the time we arrived at our accommodation, it was already dark outside, not to mention a bit creepy…
Akagera Rhino Eco Lodge
We ended up staying in an accommodation called Akagera Rhino Lodge. The price seemed to be the most decent in the Akagera National Park area.
However, because Rhino Lodge is an eco-lodge type of accommodation, we were very much outdoors. Insects would swarm your accommodations because they’re attracted to the light. There are also giant spiders crawling all over the path towards our lodging.
The customer service was fantastic but this place is definitely not good if you hate insects. I can’t say I had a very good night sleep as a result.
Day 7 – Doing a day safari and night safari at Akagera National Park
The next morning after breakfast, we went inside Akagera National Park. Turns out they increased their price from what the website was displaying. Their entrance fee is now $50 USD for tourists and $25 USD for Rwandans.
We ended up hiring a guide ($50 USD for the entire car) also from the park to help us search for animals. The guide was quite fun to talk to. He’s a young Rwandan guy who has a keen eye at spotting animals.
During the Akagera National Park safari drive, we saw tons of baboons, zebras, giraffes, waterbucks, wildebeest, a hippo, and tons of impalas. Sadly, we really wanted to see lions and hyenas but there weren’t any wandering about.
This means our final chance to see these predators is by doing a night safari which is quite pricey… ($40 USD per person)
Night safari and Akagera Game Lodge
We decided to bite the bullet and stay at the over priced Akagera Game Lodge. The price for accommodation and food here is ridiculously expensive. You can check out this previous article on the “Complete 9 Days Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda spending breakdown” to see how much we spent during this entire trip. And to make it worst, the customer service from the manager and staff were just as awful.
But, in order to do a night safari, we needed to stay inside the national park. So, when evening was here, a safari vehicle picked us up and on we went to start the night safari.
For the most part, it was an uneventful drive and we didn’t see any new animals except for the elephant. However, five minutes before our safari ended, we lucked out! We came across a leopard that was sitting very close to our safari vehicle! The leopard even circled our safari vehicle which made this expensive safari worth what we paid for!
This was a great ending to our stay in Akagera National Park and we slept soundly that night.
Day 8 – Driving back to Kigali, Rwanda
Before driving back to Kigali, I asked our driver if I can drive around and do our own self-driven game drive. Of course he was happy to be on the passenger seat. Our driver Emmanuel is freaking hilarious, he took out his camera and started snapping pictures of the animals. He definitely knew how to be a tourists.
We also got lucky and saw tons of animals; though, none of them are new since we’ve seen all of them before. But, it doesn’t matter, we had fun and I certainly enjoyed driving in the national park.
The drive back to Kigali was quite long but also very rewarding. Nothing pulls the heart strings more than seeing friendly African kids running out of their homes and waving enthusiastically at you. It truly is one of the most magical moments of visiting Africa.
After a lengthy drive, we arrived at our hostel and decided to just stay in and rest up for the remainder of the day. We also got our laundry washed and learned that if you want to save money on doing your laundry in Rwanda, then you should stay in a hostel.
Day 9 – Doing a Kigali city tour visiting the Gadaffi Mosque, Parliament Museum, Inema Arts Center, Kimironko Market, and Afrika Bite
On our final day in Rwanda, we decided to do something tame which is a Kigali city tour. We checked out Gadaffi’s mosque which was a quick visit (it wasn’t very big inside or outside). The Parliament Museum was definitely fascinating, especially seeing the bullet holes all over the side of the building. Afterwards, we visited the Inema Arts Center which made for a neat quick 15-minute visit.
The highlight of our city tour is visiting Kimironko Market and interacting with the locals. Some of the locals started joking around with me asking me how much I’m willing to sell my sister for. I said 10 cows, and one of them said, she cost at least 20 cows.
My sister turned around and said… “HEY! Are you selling me in the market???”. Good times.
Afrika Bite and the last few moments in Rwanda
One of the things that surprised me while travelling between Rwanda and Uganda is how delicious African food is. We ate at Afrika Bite which was very cheap and the food was fantastic!
I highly recommend it if you travel to Kigali.
After we finished the city tour, we went back to Yambi Hostel where we lounged around and took a nap before we head to the airport to fly out.
Day 10 – Fly out of Rwanda
Near midnight, we took our pictures with our driver and Karen and myself headed towards the airport. My sister would fly out in several hours so she stayed overnight in the hostel.
The drive towards the airport was slow because of the many security check points that we needed to go through just to enter the airport.
After a painfully slow process, we went to the check in desk only to be delayed further because of the oversized hiking stick from DRC that we decided to bring back home with us. After finally resolving the issue, and several security check points later, we boarded our Turkish Airlines flight towards Istanbul and said goodbye to Rwanda.
Conclusion to travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo
Our travel to Rwanda, Uganda, and Democratic Republic of Congo was truly one of the most memorable once in a lifetime travel experience ever.
Seeing friendly African kids, and world wonders like Mount Nyiragongo is an experience that is hard to describe with words.
Countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo are definitely troubled but also holds some of the most amazing world wonders our planet has to offer.
If you want to travel to Africa but feel afraid to do so, then I recommend going to Rwanda as your first destination because it truly is one of the safest and tourist friendly country in Africa. So go ahead and travel to Rwanda because you’ll love your time there!