Rwanda photo

Rwanda Driving Guide

Rwanda is a unique beautiful country. Explore all of it by driving when you get your International Driving Permit

2023-08-01 · 9 mins

Do you love a wild safari adventure? Lying between the lush jungles of Africa, a wide-open savannah, and Lake Kivu, one of Africa’s largest lakes, Rwanda is a place unlike any other. No other place can you walk between the trees beside the majestic mountain gorilla, and in the same day drive a 4x4 through the open plains with the gazelle and rhinos, and spend the night relaxing at the lakeside beach. Truly a gem of a country that is advancing at a rapid rate to catch up to the modern world.

Having the second safest city in Africa, Rwanda is a joy to visit. The streets of its capital Kigali are mostly paved and easy to traverse. Driving is relaxed, and people are often welcoming to tourists and foreign visitors. One can enjoy all the comforts of modern living in Kigali, then partake in the bounty of nature just a few minute’s drive out of the city. Rwanda surely deserves to be on everyone's travel bucket list.

How Can This Guide Help You?

There is so much to discover in Africa for every tourist who is looking into exploring countries rich in culture. That’s why if you are planning to drive in Rwanda, the second-safest city in Africa, then pack up your bags and start planning out your trip as you read on our international driving guide for Rwanda!

General Information

Rwanda can be found in the east-central part of Africa. Also known as the ‘land of a thousand hills,’ it boasts of beautiful scenery. Rwanda is one of only three places in the world where you can see some of the last 880 mountain gorillas. It’s an endangered species that share 98 percent of our own DNA. Boasting off placing as the 11th safest city in the world, 2nd in all of Africa, one can enjoy driving around Rwanda and not be in fear.

Geographic Location

The Republic of Rwanda is located in East-Central Africa, with Kigali as its capital. Ranking 46th in terms of African countries’ population size, it is also among the highest population density in Sub-Saharan Africa. Rwanda is a relatively small country with a lot of hills and open plains. Kigali is located centrally in the country and is quite easy to travel around, especially in a car, though public transport is accessible. Rwanda focuses on eco-tourism and national park preservation.

Rwanda has a population of 12.5 million people in a 26,338 km² area. Kinyarwanda is the national language of Rwanda, alongside French, English, and Swahili. Tourism is one of Rwanda’s major sources of income, so it’s not uncommon to find English-speaking guides.

Languages Spoken

Kinyarwanda is the primary language spoken in Rwanda, spoken by the majority of the population. It is also spoken in Uganda, Tanzania, and the Republic of Congo. English and French are spoken by few, though schools started teaching in English in 2008, which resulted in a larger English-speaking population today. Swahili is still used for communicating with its neighboring countries. Tourists should have no problem speaking to professional workers who are versed in English.

Land Area

Rwanda is located in Central Africa, south of the Equator. It is bordered by Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, making it a land-locked country. It lies east of Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes, and is an attraction in Rwanda. Rwanda has a land area of 26,338 km² with a population of 12.5 million people, making it one of the most population-dense countries in Africa.


Also known as the “The Land of a Thousand Hills'', the area first had settlers in the Neolithic period about 10,000 years ago. Continuous migration from central Africa brought with them technologies that elevated the lifestyles of then hunter-gatherer residents. People came together in larger groups, working iron, farming, and pottery, eventually forming small kingdoms.

Rwanda had multiple minor monarchies before the rise of the Kingdom of Rwanda in the 1500s. It was colonized by Germany in 1899, then passed on under Belgian control after World War 1. Rwanda declared its independence in 1962 but was followed by 32 years of ethnic violence resulting in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Peace followed, resulting in an 8% growth of their GDP in ten years.


The government of Rwanda is a Republic led by both a president and a prime minister, following in the pattern set by its colonizers. Its original constitution was created in 1978 but was followed by so much contention that a new constitution was created in 2003. Under this new constitution, a president was elected every five years. The president, who is the head of state, would then appoint a prime minister to stand as the head of government.

For ease of administrations, the country is divided into four sectors (North, East, South, and West) and a governor leads each sector. Rwanda follows a multi-party electoral system and has three main branches of government, the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The system ensures that the needs of all 12.5 million of its citizens’ needs are addressed.


Tourism is the largest source of foreign exchange for Rwanda, contributing 14.9% of its GDP. This fact has made the country attractive to foreign investment in the hospitality sector, resulting in the presence of high-quality hotels and resorts in the country. As of 2018, Rwanda made $528 million in tourist spending. The government of Rwanda has been improving its infrastructures and transportation quality to boost tourism further.

Here are some of the most popular tourist sites in Rwanda:

  • Volcanoes National Park
  • Gorilla Guardians Village
  • King’s Palace Museum
  • Lake Kivu
  • Akagera National Park

International Driver’s Permit FAQs

It’s understandable to be nervous when driving in a foreign country, and with good reason. Here are some of the frequently asked questions regarding driving around in Rwanda with your international driver’s license.

What Are the Driver’s License Requirements in Rwanda?

Both your home country's driver’s license and an International Driver's Permit (IDP) are required for a foreign visitor to drive in Rwanda. Vehicle registration and car insurance certificates are also required by law. Driving without a license is taken very seriously in Rwanda and could result in huge fines. Registration and insurance are available from local car hire companies in Rwanda. If you stay for a driving job in Rwanda, a logbook will also be required, which you can get from the police.

Do You Need an International Driver’s License for City Driving in Rwanda?

Your International Driver’s Permit is valid for one year in Rwanda and is required to drive in Kigali and other major towns. Police checkpoints will ask to see your IDP if they determine that you are a foreign driver. Applying for an IDP from the International Drivers Association could be done online, without taking a driving test in Rwanda or going to a Rwanda driving school.

Do You Need an International Driver’s Permit for Rural Driving in Rwanda?

The laws of Rwanda for driver’s documentary requirements are pretty much enforced throughout all the country, rural areas included. You could even say it’s even more important to be equipped with your IDP in rural areas, as the driving here is much more aggressive and the roads in poorer condition. Poor night lighting, as well as a higher speed limit, could lead to accidents.

What Are the Requirements to Apply for an International Driver’s License in Rwanda?

Applying for a driving permit in Rwanda through the Rwanda National Police requires quite a few documents, as well as a long wait. You would need to write the Commissioner of Road Safety a request letter, along with a copy of your native license and visa, then pay a fee. Applying through the International Drivers Association is faster and less stressful, requiring that you fill out the forms and upload photos of your documents. The turnover time is also quite fast.

Renting a Car in Rwanda

Being a small country, the best way to maximize your time getting around is to drive. Lots of establishments offer free parking. Kigali has everything you need in terms of modern comforts, and driving to these places is the easiest when driving. You may have difficulties in asking for directions in English if you are walking, but a navigation app and a rented car will allow you to get around hassle-free.

Car Rental Companies

Rwanda has a lot of car rental companies for various purposes. From the cheaper, most popular self-drive services to the high-end chauffeured packages. Most of these companies will offer 24/7 roadside assistance, as well as provide insurance. The very first step is to get in touch with these companies online to make sure there are no issues when you get there. These rental companies also link up with tour providers, so you could book tours with them too.

  • Kigali Car Rentals

Address: KN 5 Road, Jesus Is Able House, Kigali, Rwanda, Rwanda


  • Rent a Car Rwanda

Address: KN 5 Rd, Kigali, Rwanda


  • Hire a Car Rwanda

Address: KN 5 Road, Kigali, Kigali, Rwanda


  • Access Car Rentals

Address: KG 5 Road, Kigali, Kigali, Rwanda


  • 1000Hills Car Rentals Ltd

Address: 3rd Floor, Triumph House, 81 KG 11 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda


Documents Required

A car rental agreement is a contract between you and the company. As such, it requires a few documents on your part to ensure the agreement is valid. Renting a car is easy, especially if you prepared these documents in advance. When booking for a rental, please prepare these documents:

  • A Native Driver’s License
  • International Drivers Permit
  • Secondary proof of Identity, your passport is acceptable.

Most of these are documents you should already have when you get there. If for some reason you don’t have your International Driver's Permit, you can easily get one from the website, and it will be shipped to you at no extra charge.

Vehicle Types

Knowing the purpose of your visit could save you a lot of money when renting a car. Choosing the appropriate vehicle type for your planned adventure is key to having an enjoyable driving experience in Rwanda. There is quite a variety to choose from when renting a car.

  • Luxury Car - For people who are in Rwanda for business, these luxury cars are available in self-drive or chauffeured services. These are mostly forgoing around Kigali. Example: Mercedes AMG G63
  • 2 or 4 Door Sport Vehicle - The standard rented vehicle in Rwanda. These are light and nimble vehicles that can give a satisfying city drive, as well as go off-road in the rural areas of Rwanda. Most of these have a 4x4 option to handle the dirt roads of the countryside. Example: Toyota Rav4
  • Safari Vehicles - These are the big vehicles. Powerful 4x4 vehicles that are designed to protect you from extreme off-road destinations. These are favored by those taking the self-drive safari tours. These cars can take on a rhino’s full charge. Example: Toyota Land Cruiser
  • Family Van - These vans are ideal for the family vacation in Rwanda. This is the most comfortable way to bring your family from point A to B. Challenging for rural driving, but a great convenience to large groups who wish to tour Kigali. Example: Toyota Hi-Ace Omnibus

Car Rental Cost

With a lot of car rental providers in Kigali, you can’t help but compare prices. But in Rwanda, the pricing options don’t differ much. The average daily rental cost in Kigali is $70 a day, increasing or decreasing depending on your choice of vehicle and options. The Toyota Rav4 is the most popular model; the cheapest rental is around $50, while the priciest is at $90 a day. A safari vehicle like the Land Cruiser could go for around $200 a day.

With a lot of car rental providers in Kigali, you can’t help but compare prices. But in Rwanda, the pricing options don’t differ much. The average daily rental cost in Kigali is $70 a day, increasing or decreasing depending on your choice of vehicle and options. The Toyota Rav4 is the most popular model; the cheapest rental is around $50, while the priciest is at $90 a day. A safari vehicle like the Land Cruiser could go for around $200 a day.

Age Requirements

There are six categories of driving licence in Rwanda. The minimum driving age in Rwanda is 18 for category A and B vehicles. If you choose to drive in Rwanda as a living, a driving age of 20 is required for category C, D, E, and F. If you are younger than 26 and renting a car, the rental companies will charge you a ‘Young Driver’ surcharge which is around $12 to $15 a day.

Car Insurance Cost

Travel Insurance and Car Insurance are important for your own safety. In many cases, your Car Insurance will cover 60% of the cost of an incident, with the renter paying for the remaining 40%. Having secondary insurance would make sure you don’t have to shell out a lot of cash in the event of the unexpected. Rental companies will either sell you insurance when you rent out a vehicle or are inclusive of the daily rental costs. Make sure to inquire.

Car Insurance Policy

In Rwanda, there are three major car insurance types available. These are the Third-Party Risk Only Coverage, the Third Party Fire and Theft Coverage, and the Comprehensive Coverage.

Third-Party Risk Only Coverage / Bodily Injury Liability

This deals with damage inflicted to a third party, such as bodily injury or damage to their property. There is a limit to property damage costs, but the payout for bodily injury and death is unlimited.

Third-Party Fire and Theft Coverage / Property Damage Liability

With this plan, protection against theft or fire is added to the Third Party Risk Only Coverage.

Comprehensive Coverage

As its name suggests, this is the most comprehensive plan of all. Including the protection of the first two plans, this also covers damage and loss of the insured vehicle. So this protects yourself, as well as others on the road.

You should always have a copy of your insurance papers in your vehicle. In Rwanda, you will present this along with your Driver’s License and International Driver’s Permit to the police officers who will handle the case of an accident.

Road Rules in Rwanda

Knowing the driving rules in Rwanda is important. Not every country’s driving rules are the same, but most are rooted in common sense. Drinking and driving is against the law no matter where you are in the world, as an example.

Important Regulations

Knowing the driving rules in Rwanda is important. Not every country’s driving rules are the same, but most are rooted in common sense. Drinking and driving is against the law no matter where you are in the world, as an example.

Important Regulations

Being such a small country, and having a small city, the road rules in Kigali are enforced quite well. It is common to see police officers with speed guns monitoring traffic. Traffic signs are plentiful, to make sure drivers observe the rules for any particular area. Rwanda has a system where a violator will be fined for first-time offenses, however, if you are caught committing the same offense within a time frame, they can raise this fine ninefold.

Always remember to present your International Driver's Permit at checkpoints and any police interactions. Unlike different countries, you are required by law to present these documents when asked by the police. They also stack multiple offenses in a single citation. If you are caught speeding, without a seatbelt, while talking on the phone, you could be charged RWF450,000 ($450). Here are the ten most common traffic violations in Rwanda.

  • Driving without a license or IDP – RWF50,000 ($50)
  • Speeding - RWF50,000 ($50)
  • Driving a poorly maintained vehicle without an inspection permit– RWF25,000 ($25)
  • Driving under the influence – RWF150,000($150) + 24hrs Jail time.
  • Throwing garbage out of the car - RWF50,000 ($50)
  • Illegal Parking - RWF25,000 ($25)
  • Not wearing your seatbelt (all occupants must comply) – RWF10,000($10)
  • Incomplete documents (insurance, registration, etc) – RWF10,000($10)
  • Distracted Driving (cellphones) - RWF10,000($10)
  • Refusal to take Sobriety Test – RWF150,000($150)

General Standards

While driving around Kigali, you will notice an abundance of sedans and compact cars around the city. This is the most preferred vehicle in Rwanda. The majority of the pre-2018 model vehicles will have a manual transmission. It was in 2018 that Rwanda experienced a surge in demand for automatic transmission vehicles, following the raised difficulty in getting a local driver’s license.

Speed Limits

There is no shortage of traffic signs reminding you of the speed limits in Rwanda. They strictly enforce a limit of 40 k/mh (25mph) in Kigali and other cities. There is plenty of police with speed guns monitoring the limits, and getting caught will result in an RWF50,000 ($50) fine. Though certain areas have congestion, city driving in Kigali is a relaxed affair, and there really is no need to drive over the speed limit except in an emergency.

In rural Rwanda, the speed limit is 60k/mph (37mph). The long stretches of the open roads are an inviting place to speed up. However, the road conditions in rural Rwanda are less than desirable, and driving these speeds could be nerve-wracking, not to mention dangerous. It is also best to be vigilant in rural Rwanda, as locals will overtake at higher speeds and could take you by surprise.

Driving Directions

Traffic in Rwanda moves on the right side of the road. There are plenty of roundabouts in the city, but they are not difficult to navigate due to the driving culture in Rwanda. Almost everyone drives defensively and makes way for others when entering and exiting roundabouts and merging. Undertaking or passing on the right side is prohibited since the driver may not see you from their blind side. Overtake on the left if there aren’t any road lines prohibiting it.

Traffic Road Signs

Due to the country using multiple languages, as well as trying to improve its tourist appeal, many of the road signs will be in English or purely a symbol. These signs are taken seriously. Ignoring a traffic sign could result in an RWF10000 ($10) fine. Yield signs and zebra crosswalks are specially monitored. Here are the ten most common street signs you will see in Rwanda.

Speed Limit Sign

Speed limit signs in Rwanda have to be paid attention to. A speed limit sign could change every hour depending on the location. A sign at the school zone would be replaced with a lower speed sign when kids are heading out or in of school, then replaced again with a higher speed at other hours. Pay attention.

Stop Sign

Commonly found at junctions, stops signs allow the driver to make sure there are no other cars before proceeding. It doesn’t matter if the road is obviously free. This is a law, and such you have to stop at the junction and make sure before proceeding.

Yield Sign

A Yield sign means you have to slow down or stop at a junction to let cars on the major road pass safely first. These are normally placed when you are on a smaller road, merging onto a larger one.

Traffic Lights

The traffic lights are, of course, a recognized sign worldwide. Rwanda traffic lights follow the world standard of Green, Yellow, and Red.

Zebra Crossing

The familiar black and white stripes of a zebra crossing are known worldwide. A driver must always yield to pedestrians who are crossing, as well as make sure there aren’t any people rushing to cross on either side before proceeding.

No Overtaking

These signs are placed on the main roads and bends that are potentially dangerous places to overtake. The signs themselves are placed beside the road before drivers enter the area and are accompanied by a solid white road line along the whole area to remind the driver. The area ends when the lines break again.

No Parking

Parking space is a valuable luxury in a small city and country like Rwanda. The No Parking sign is strictly enforced not only by the police but by establishments and citizens alike. People don’t mind if you are dropping off or picking up in a restricted zone for as long as you take no longer than 5 minutes.

Men at Work

Kigali is a developing city, and as such, there are constant road and infrastructure works. These brightly colored signs warn you to be aware that there may be a narrowing of the road or a diversion being done. Exercise caution and follow the bright arrows.

No U-turn Sign

Pretty much a universally recognized sign, the No U-turn sign tells you exactly that. There are no U-turns allowed on this section of the road.

Emergency Vehicle Warning Sign

The Emergency Vehicle Warning signs may be rare, but they are very important. These are placed on roads where there are exits or entrances for emergency vehicles like fire engines or ambulances. These are meant to catch your attention so you can be wary that there may be fast-moving emergency vehicles coming in or out. Never park near these signs.

Right of Way

Rwandan citizens are taught in driving school to always “Keep Right.” Driving on the left lane while not overtaking is a traffic violation in Rwanda. Cars who are already in roundabouts have the right of way, and any cars entering must do so carefully. The majority of the streets in Kigali are four-lane roads, with two lanes going in each direction.

There are two types of driving licenses in Rwanda, a provisional driver’s license and the definitive driver’s license. You can apply for a provisional driving license in Rwanda once you turn 18 years old to drive category A, B, and F vehicles as long as you are accompanied by a definitive driver’s license holder older than 25. You can apply for the Definitive Driver’s License when you turn 20, which gives you the right to operate category C, D, and E vehicles.

The provisional driver’s license is only valid for two years. You can get provisional driving licence results in Rwanda on the same day. The definitive driver’s license will have a validity period depending on the age of the applicant. For people below 45 years old, it’s valid for ten years. 45 to 50, valid until the holder turns 55. 50 to 68-year-olds are valid for five years—four years for those between 68 and 70, and three years for those older than 70.

Law on Overtaking

Another strictly enforced law is on overtaking. Cars are not allowed to travel on the left lane, as this is reserved for overtaking. When overtaking, the driver must make sure his maneuver will not jeopardize other drivers, as well as any pedestrians. Rwanda has a “Dangerous Driving” violation and will give you a citation if your overtaking is considered reckless.

Driving Side

The drive side in Rwanda is on the right of the road. This, of course, means left-hand drive vehicles. Passing on the right is considered an “undertaking” and is illegal. When crossing the border to Tanzania, you may be surprised that this country just beside Rwanda drives on the other side of the road. Make sure to keep this in mind when traveling to avoid the sudden counterflow.

Driving Etiquette in Rwanda

Only 12 years ago, Rwanda had one of the poorest road-safety records in the world. It was so bad that it was estimated that there was a road accident every two and a half hours, with 10% of the accidents leading to death. Road accidents were the 5th leading cause of death in the country. The Rwandan government, as well as its people, have had enough.

What followed was a country-wide reform and reeducation program. Licenses were harder to get, traffic enforcement became strict, and speed limits became lower. If you are driving in Rwanda, know that they are serious about road safety. Drivers generally give way, especially to cars in the numerous roundabouts in the country. Almost everyone drives defensively and would rather yield than get into a traffic altercation.

Car Breakdown

Having your car breakdown in a foreign country can be stressful, especially if they speak a language you don’t. Luckily, tourism is such a major sector in Rwanda that these things are considered. The majority of car rental companies have roadside assistance as part of their rates and are manned by English-speaking personnel. In case you may find yourself without a phone and need to ask around, here are some useful phrases.

  • Where can I find a payphone?

Nakura he terefone?

  • Where is the nearest gas station?
    • Sitasiyo yegeranye irihe?
  • Can you call for a police officer?
    • Urashobora guhamagara umupolisi?
  • Is there a doctor nearby?
    • Hafi aho hari umuganga?
  • Does anyone here speak English?
    • Hano hari umuntu uvuga icyongereza?

Of course, these phrases aren’t perfect, and you may even have difficulty speaking them in the proper tone. But they should be enough to get your message across and receive assistance. In case you do have your phone, and some rental companies will even provide one with the car rental, here are some of the important hotlines that you may call.

  • 112: Emergency
  • 113: Traffic accidents
  • 111: Fire brigade
  • 3511: Abuse by a police officer
  • 3512: Gender-based violence

Police Stops

Police stops are common in Rwanda and Kigali as part of their efforts to keep the streets safe. In Rwanda, the police have the legal right to ask to see all your documents, as well as search through your luggage and belongings. Always have your car documents ready, as well as your native driver’s license and your International Driver’s Permit. Rwanda traffic police wear navy blue uniforms with a high visibility green jacket or vest with neon stripes.

If you are pulled over at a stop, there is no need to panic as this is all just routine in Rwanda. Pull to the side, roll down your windows, and present your International Driver Permit first. This will allow the police to know you are a foreign driver and will have an officer who could better facilitate a conversation and engage with you. Present your other documents, and answer any questions politely. If they ask to inspect your luggage, do not be alarmed and comply.

Asking Directions

Sometimes you could find yourself lost in a new city. Your map app may not be giving you satisfactory directions, confusing routes, or your data could have run out. In these cases, it’s best to know a few phrases so you could ask for directions from the locals. Keep a neutral stance and body language toself-driving avoid misunderstandings. Always begin with a respectful greeting based on the time of day.

Good Morning, I don’t speak Kinyarwnda,

    • Mwaramutse, simvuga Kinyarwanda,
  • Good Afternoon, I don’t speak Kinyarwnda,
    • Mwaramutse neza, simvuga Kinyarwanda,
  • Good Evening, I don’t speak Kinyarwnda,
    • Mwiriwe, simvuga Kinyarwanda,

Follow this up with your question

  • How do I get to ________
    • Nigute nagera kuri ______
  • Do you know the way to ______
    • Waba uzi inzira igana ______
  • Will this road lead to ______
    • Uyu muhanda uzerekeza kuri ______

End the conversation with

  • Thank you for your help, goodbye
    • Urakoze kubufasha bwawe, muraho
  • Much appreciated, goodbye
    • murakoze cyane, muraho


During your stay in Rwanda, it is not unheard of to be stopped at a random checkpoint. Especially if you are headed into protected areas like national parks and safari tours. The police will check your belongings for contraband such as firearms that could be used against the animals or substances that are harmful to wildlife. There is no need to worry; these are standard procedures that ensure the safety of the animals and tourists like yourself.

Unlike different countries, checkpoints in Rwanda are not “security theater” shows. These checkpoints are taken seriously and have in your possession illegal items will result in a hefty fine or land you in jail. Always comply with the police, and present your International Driver’s Permit along with your native driver’s license and other pertinent documents.

Other Tips

Driving is part of the culture wherever you may go, especially in Rwanda. Through government efforts and the people themselves reforming, there are a few driving taboos that one should avoid while driving around Rwanda.

Can you drive around Rwanda if you have alcohol but are not drunk?

Drinking and driving is not just an illegal activity in Rwanda; it is also a societal taboo. The legal alcohol level to be considered inebriated is 0.08%. However, even if you consume less than this, people will generally frown if you have any alcohol and then drive. Their painful history with drunk driving has left a mark on Rwandan society.

Should I use my horn often?

Rwandan culture is a laid-back one, and people like to take things slow. When driving around the city, you may find the traffic to be slow. Instead of getting worked up and blaring your horn, try to match the relaxed atmosphere and be patient. Rwandans do not take kindly to being rushed with a car horn.

Other drivers are scowling at me; should I be concerned?

Rwandans, especially older folk, have a fascination with foreign faces. They like to stare and stare hard. Most often, this is construed as a scowl, as Rwandans concentrate on a face to the point of narrowing their eyes. Please don’t be offended. This is just them fascinated by a foreign face.

Driving Conditions in Rwanda

Kigali has some of the better roads in Rwanda, even Africa. Though these main roads are paved and well maintained, the majority of the side streets and roads leading out to Kigali are in varying forms of cobble or dirt roads. As of 2016, Rwanda has a total of 6,655 km (4.1k miles) of roads, but only 1355km (841 miles) of them, or 20%, are paved. This doesn’t seem to be too much of a challenge, as 4x4 vehicles are preferred for self driving in Rwanda.

Even if Rwanda still has quite a high fatality per accident rate, these were mostly due to the bad driving practices in the past. For the last 10 years, Rwanda has taken steps to educate its driving public, as well as enforce stricter toad rules. This has led to a more relaxed driving culture that is seen today, far from what it was like driving in Rwanda yesterday of its history. Here is relevant information for your self-drive adventure in Rwanda.

Accident Statistics

With 70% of all registered vehicles in Rwanda located in Kigali and an annual growth rate of 6.20%, vehicular accidents are bound to happen. But the number of road accidents per year in Rwanda keeps dropping. Currently, the Rwandan government is campaigning against the use of mobile devices while driving and on the streets, as 2000 out of 5000 road accidents of 2019 were the result of mobile use by drivers and pedestrians.

In 2005, only 0.9% of accidents were caused by poor roads. Of the majority of accidents in Rwanda, 55% were caused by recklessness. According to a police spokesman, the number of road accidents in 2019 was 4,661—a much lower number than 2018’s 5,661. Fatalities have also been dropping, from 2018’s 465 deaths to 2019’s 223 people. They are taking this as positive proof that driver education and stricter laws are working.

Common Vehicles

According to Rwanda’s Statistical Yearbook for 2019, the leading vehicle used in the country are motorcycles at 112 thousand units registered. This would be followed by cars, at 37,000 units. These cars are mostly compacts and sedans favored by residents of Kigali but also include 4x4 SUVs popular at car rentals. Jeeps, pickups, and trucks follow at a combined count of 53,000 units, favored in the countryside and for safari tours.

Toll Roads

Currently, there are very few toll roads in Rwanda for the general public and rented cars. Rwanda charges foreign-registered vehicles entering its territory a toll fee depending on vehicle classification. There are plans for a toll on roads that will link Rwanda with its neighboring countries.

Road Situations

Driving around Kigali, you will experience some traffic. But it is mostly around the city center where a lot of the services are. The numerous roundabout could be challenging, as there are no clear marks for who has the right of way. But local drivers are quite friendly and give priority to those who are already on the roundabout; self-drive visitors are encouraged to do the same.

On the other hand, driving around the countryside is a faster-paced experience. The speed limit here is higher but more dangerous than driving in the city. The majority of roads in the countryside will be dirt or stones. It is highly discouraged for foreign travelers to drive around the rural areas at night, as there are hardly any road lights. Some rental companies even forbid it, stipulating in the contract that you cannot use their vehicle outside Kigali after 6 pm.

Driving Culture

When people discuss the driving culture of Rwanda, opinions are divided. Some remember the past, where drunk driving, overspeeding, and aggressive driving styles were prevalent. This, of course, led to plenty of accidents and deaths. It took a study from the World Bank, declaring Rwanda to be one of the most unsafe places to drive and one of the highest road accident fatality rates in the world for the government and its people to wake up.

Today, however, is a completely different Rwanda. Drivers are relaxed. Education campaigns by the government to change the driving culture really paid off. They drive defensively, choosing to give way rather than maneuver aggressively. These days driving in Kigali is safe and enjoyable. There is a reason why getting a driving permit in Rwanda and renting a self-drive car is extremely popular.

Other Tips

There are always dangers present whenever you drive, but more so in a foreign country where you are unfamiliar with the driving conditions. Take these tips to heart, and it may save you from trouble later down the road.

Should I Trust My Map App?

In rural Rwanda, the most popular vehicles are motorcycles and heavy 4x4’s. Because of this, most map apps will list broken and mud roads as valid paths to take. It will suggest you take small roads to shave a few minutes off your travel time, but could possibly put you in danger of your car breaking down or getting damaged.

Is It Safe to Drive in the Rain?

In rural areas, and even on some small roads in Kigali, the roads are unpaved. When the heavy rain comes, these roads turn into mud traps that only a 4x4 could handle, sometimes not even. In heavy rain, floods are not uncommon, and you could find yourself stranded waiting for the waters to recede.

Why Is Driving Near the Border Discouraged?

Car rental companies will advise you to stay away from the borders. If you insist on leaving country limits, they will charge you an additional fee. This advice is for your own safety. While Rwanda is safe, the bordering countries of Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo are not. Staying for long periods within 10km of a border is ill-advised unless with a large group.

Is Driving in Rural Areas Safe?

While the driving culture in Kigali has certainly changed due to the efforts of the government, the same can’t be said for the countryside. Here locals still drive like the old days, overtaking at breakneck speeds, aggressive maneuvering, and sometimes even inebriated. Always be alert.

Are There Obstacles on the Road?

Rwanda is a wonderful place of biodiversity and animal habitation. So much so that it sometimes spills over the roads. Be wary that an animal could cross the road at any given time. Hitting a gazelle or antelope at high speeds is deadly to both the animal and you. Especially be careful at night, where visibility is low.

Things to Do in Rwanda

Rwanda attracts tens of thousands of people every year for various reasons. The majority are tourists that want to experience the incredible wildlife and nature, while others come seeking new opportunities. Some come to Rwanda for a whole new life. Regardless of your reasons for coming, Rwanda welcomes you.

Drive as a Tourist

Driving in Rwanda as a tourist is easy. Most of the documents you need, you probably already have, like your local driver’s license. You can get auto insurance papers from car rental companies, as well as your own travel insurance. Most importantly, you will need an International Driver’s Permit. Getting one from the International Driver’s Association is easy and fast.

Work as a Driver

Certainly, some people come to Rwanda to work as drivers. And there are plenty of driving jobs in Rwanda. Imagine driving through Rwanda, the safari, and seeing the magnificent nature daily as part of your work. The monthly salary for drivers in Rwanda can range from the lowest average of RWF185,000 ($180) to a high average of RWF 845,000 ($850). If you want to apply as a driver in Rwanda, you will need to have or experienced a few things.

  • A High School Diploma
  • Rwandan Definitive Driver’s License
    • Driving licence results in Rwanda take 21 days.
    • Provisional driver’s license
    • Driving school certificate (There are a number of driving schools in Rwanda)
  • Experience and a good driving record
  • Good communication in English, French, and Kinyarwanda

Work as a Travel Guide

So you have been to Rwanda a few times or have been staying in the country for a while. Working as a travel guide could be the job for you. It would now be your turn to take these tourists on an adventure they would never forget, like the way you did when you first came to Rwanda. Here are the things you need to get you started. Travel guides typically earn at a low average RWF 199,000 ($200) a month, to a high average of RWF 688,000 ($700).

  • Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree in Travel and Tourism Management, Business Administration or a related field
  • Computer skills for logs and documentation
  • Fluency in English and Kinyarwanda
  • Exceptional verbal communication skills

Apply for Residency

Or maybe you want a change of lifestyle: a new place, a new start. In Rwanda, you begin by applying for a work permit. With your work permit, you can apply for a working visa and then apply for a temporary residency permit. You can apply for a permanent residency permit once you have spent 10 years of living in Rwanda. To apply for a work permit, prepare the following:

  • Color passport size photo
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Police clearance
  • Completed application form
  • Application Letter
  • A passport with at least six months of validity

There would be the need for other documents depending on your employment situation. For example, starting a business or partnering with a business requires you to present a business registration certificate. Work permits fall into various categories, depending on your trade, skill, or employment contract. Here are the categories and their codes for easier application:

  • H1: Skilled workers in an in-demand occupation
  • H2: Skilled workers sponsored by an organization
  • H3: Journalist or media
  • H4: Semiskilled or artisan workers
  • H5: International organization employees

Other Things to Do

Rwanda may be small, but it’s full of adventures you could take part in. The country has much to offer. With its small economy quickly growing, it could also be where your new business takes off. Or maybe you have skills that would benefit Rwanda greatly and want to use those skills to make a living. Whatever it is, Rwanda is as good a place as any to try.

Can I teach English in Rwanda?

There is no shortage of English teaching jobs in Rwanda. With its tourism growing yearly, the government itself wants English to be at least a secondary in Rwanda, ensuring that there will be people to cater to foreign visitors. If you are a TESOL or a TEFL certified teacher, you could get the chance to change the lives of so many of Rwanda’s children. What makes it more appealing is that the schools will pay for your working visa if you work as an English teacher.

Is Investing in Rwanda Advisable?

According to a World Bank report in 2020, Rwanda is one of three countries that rank the easiest to do business in Africa. Even Rwanda’s stock exchange is fairly new, established only in 2011 and with only eight companies listed. Investing in Rwanda could be the key to success, with practically every sector from agriculture to communication technologies all open for foreign investment. You know what they say, “strike while the iron is hot.”

Top Destinations in Rwanda

Rwanda is a tropical paradise. Located just below the equator, it boasts lush jungles and fantastic wildlife. Known first and foremost for its gorilla trek, meeting an endangered species whose DNA is so close to humans is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Then, driving around the safari in a 4x4, with the wind in your hair and nature outside your window, is the ultimate adventure for some. But to better prepare you for your trip, here are the top destinations in Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park

This is where the gorilla trek magic happens. Along with professional guides, you traverse the hiking paths that cut deep into the jungle. The guides will bring you to known gorilla family spots where you can observe them in the wild while they interact with each other. Don’t worry; it’s completely safe. The guides have developed a manner of communicating with these magnificent creatures using sounds. But always follow your guide.

Driving to Volcanoes National Park from Kigali International Airport

  1. Head west toward KN 5 Rd for 0.2 km
  2. Continue straight onto KN 5 Rd for 0.5 k.m.
  3. Turn left to stay on KN 5 Rd for 4.2 km
  4. At the 1st roundabout, take the 1st exit, then go 0.6 km.
  5. At the 2nd roundabout, take the 1st exit onto KG 7 Ave/RN3 for 2.2 km.
  6. At the 3rd and last roundabout, take the 1st exit onto KN 8 Ave/RN3.
  7. Continue to follow RN3 for 4.9 km
  8. Continue onto KN 1 Rd/RN1 Continue to follow RN1 for 2.7 km.
  9. Turn right toward 3/RN4 then go 76 m.
  10. Turn right onto 3/RN4 Continue to follow RN4 for 88.1 km.
  11. Turn right onto RN8, drive 0.7 km.
  12. Turn left, then drive 1.2 km.
  13. Slight left, then another 3.5 km.
  14. Slight right, then go 7.6km and Volcanoes National Park will be on the left.

Things to Do

The most popular attraction in Rwanda would have to be Volcanoes National Park, you could drive on over and spend your entire day here for a meaningful commune with nature. Here are some of the activities you could take part in.

  • Try Gorilla Trekking

Before you start your trek, there will be an orientation conducted by park personnel to ensure the safety of everyone. They will ask you for your passport to cross-check with your trekking permit. Make sure you pack your hiking gear, as well as your own lunch and water. The treks don’t start at a fixed time, as it’s dependent on the movement of the gorillas.

You may be surprised to see your guides armed with automatic rifles. Don’t be alarmed, as these are used to deter any aberrant animals as well as unsavory people crossing the border to prey on tourists. Taking photos of the gorillas is encouraged, but never ever use your flash. These could startle the gorillas, causing them to panic.

  • Take a Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Tour

This tour begins with a walk through the village, as each hut and its activities are explained to you, as well as a brief history of Rwanda. This will lead you to the King’s Palace replica. The guide will lead all of you to thrones and pretend to be the king. In front of you, different groups will perform traditional dances and songs about gorillas to the sounds of African drums.

When this is done, you can tour the village brewery, where they make banana beer, and taste it for yourself! You can arrange to have lunch here and try traditional Rwandan food. Or speak to the traditional village healer and learn how they use herbs, grass, and trees, as medicine for the village.

  • Hike Mt. Bisoke

Mt. Bisoke is a hiker’s dream. Hike up this volcano and reach the summit in 4 hours, three if you are experienced. The entire hike is a natural wonderland, with the Mt. Bisoke crater lake as the cherry on top. The lake which lies in the crater of the volcano itself is calm and picture-perfect—definitely a story you can share with others.

The hikes begin with a pre-hike briefing at 7 am, then you will be escorted to the start point by 8 am. If you are carrying a lot of stuff, porters will be assigned to you. In case you weren’t prepared for the hike, no worries. The park even provides you with hiking gear to use on your adventure.

  • Join a Dian Fossey Tomb Tour

The conservation of these endangered gorillas can be attributed to the efforts of one person, Dian Fossey. Her scientific study is the basis of the book, “Gorillas in the Mist,” which was adapted into a film in 1989. Fossey herself built the grave where she is buried, using it for the burial of the gorillas she had grown to love. Her remains were placed there after her murder in 1985.

The reason for her murder was said to be either her manuscripts for the second book to “Gorillas in the Mist” or for her scientific papers. Either way, Fossey’s death is a testament to human greed. On the day she was found, her diary had one last entry: “When you realize the value of all life, you dwell less on what is past and concentrate more on the preservation of the future.“

Lake Kivu

One of the great lakes of Africa, Lake Kivu, is a natural wonder of great beauty. The number one destination of family tourists, as the lakeside has numerous hotels of varying stars, each with a magnificent view of the lake. Take a boat tour, swim at the freshwater beach, or simply relax, drinking a tropical beverage under the numerous umbrellas and tables at the lakeside. Here is how to get to Lake Kivu from the airport:

Driving Directions:

  1. Head west toward KN 5 Rd for 0.2 km.
  2. Continue straight onto KN 5 Rd for 0.5 km.
  3. Turn left to stay on KN 5 Rd for 4.2 km.
  4. At the 1st roundabout, take the 1st exit, then go on for 0.6 km.
  5. At the 2nd roundabout, take the 1st exit onto KG 7 Ave/RN3 and go 2.2 km.
  6. At the 3rd roundabout, take the 1st exit onto KN 8 Ave/RN3 and
  7. Continue to follow RN3 for 4.9 km.
  8. Continue onto KN 1 Rd/RN1 and Continue to follow RN1 for 2.7 km.
  9. Turn right toward 3/RN4 and go 76 m.
  10. Turn right onto 3/RN4 and stay on for 148 km.
  11. Turn left onto Ave de Independance/Ruhengeri-Gisenyi Rd.
  12. Welcome to Lake Kivu

Things to Do

Lake Kivu is a stunning attraction favored by most businessmen and family vacationists. It’s the perfect place to relax and have drinks by the beach. But don’t let the serene waters fool you. Lake Kivu has loads of activities you could take part in.

  • Try Water Sports

Once you get to the shores of Lake Kivu, there will be no shortage of people offering tours and equipment rentals. This would be a good time to experience some laid-back water fun like kayaking or canoeing. Or you could go the other way and enjoy some excitement by trying windsurfing.

  • Dip at the Hot Springs

Lake Kivu is a methane-rich lake, with its bottom being harvested for precious gas. This, of course, resulted in nearby natural springs being heated. There are plenty of hot spring resorts dotting Lake Kivu. And most of these resorts offer hot springs and massage combinations, truly the best way to relax after trekking with gorillas the whole day!

  • Enjoy a Boat Cruise

Perhaps the best activity, in terms of value and enjoyment, is the Lake Kivu boat tours. Not only do you experience the beauty of the lake, but you also experience the unique culture and trade done at the smaller islands in the lake. When you book a boat tour, they ask what hotel you are staying at, so they can meet you at the shore nearest your hotel.

First up would be Napoleon Island, named simply because it resembles Napoleon’s hat! After that, you go to Mbabara Island, an island dedicated to farming coffee and macadamia nuts. And finally, a trip to Peace Island. Named that simply because it’s so tranquil and the perfect place to swim on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

In what would be now known as the Rwandan Genocide, over 800,000 people were killed in 100 days in 1994. The final act of local tribalism trying to take control as the country moved forward to modern times. The events would forever be a dark spot in the memories and history of Rwanda. Lessons have been learned, and instead of continuing conflict, the people of Rwanda embraced forgiveness and chose to move forward, leaving tribal sentiments behind.

Today, you can see the names of those who fell victim at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. A beautiful monument that serves as a reminder that brotherhood is more important than tribal sentimentality. Local and tourists visit it daily to give honor to those who lost their lives in what was a transformative event in Rwandan history.

  1. Continue to KN 5 Rd for 650m.
  2. Turn left to stay on KN 5 Rd, stay on for 4.2km.
  3. At the roundabout, take the 1st exit then continue for 600m.
  4. Follow RN3 to KG 14 Ave for 4.4km.
  5. Drive to KG 14 Ave another 800m.
  6. You have arrived at Kigali Genocide Memorial.

Things to Do

Knowing the history of a country you’re visiting is a worthwhile and educational experience. Tourist attractions are not just for the aesthetic, but a place where it holds a lot of history as time passes.

  • Learn the history of Rwanda

Although it’s a tragic history of the country, the memorial showcases how the past is important to understand the present. By visiting the memorial, you can honor the people who were victims of genocide. You can also buy books and souvenirs at the gift shop.

  • Take photographs in the memorial.

You can take pictures of the scenery outside for free to keep as memories. If you want to take pictures inside the memorial, you need to pay $2 to $10.

  • Relax at the café.

You’ll probably feel exhausted after reliving the painful past of victims, so head on to the café in the memorial to relax.

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