Rwanda, with its vibrant culture, rich history, and diverse landscape, is the perfect place for a vacation. Tourists flock to the country to hike with endangered mountain gorillas, visit towering volcanoes, and laze by the effervescent Lake Kivu. In order to have the best trip possible, and not flout local custom, check out our guide to the 5 things tourists should never do in Rwanda.
* Bring plastic bags into the country
Rwanda is incredibly clean. Unlike many of its East African neighbors, litter is rarely found on the streets, and huge country-wide efforts are made to promote environmental activism, programming, and awareness. The Rwandan government, in order to curb landfills and promote sustainable living, banned plastic bags country-wide. Don’t be that tourist who tries to sneak one in – not only will it likely be confiscated at the airport, but you’ll also be going against one of the coolest and impactful environmental laws on the continent.
* Expect everyone to speak English
To be fair, a lot of people in Rwanda do speak English. Rwanda is an incredible multicultural and multilingual country, with Kinyarwanda, French, and English spoken widely. However, English is not as common outside of larger cities, so don’t assume that the local shopkeeper in a rural town far outside of Kigali will be fluent in English, and then get frustrated when they are not.
* Eat only international cuisine
Rwanda has a lot to offer the discerning traveler on the food front. Homemade pizzas, decadent ice cream, fresh sushi, and warming French food is available all over Kigali. However, while traveling to Rwanda, spend some time enjoying local specialties. Brochettes (grilled meat or fish on a stick), akabenz (roasted and marinated pork), and different vegetable and potato dishes can be found across the country and, besides being very tasty, will only add to the traveling experience.
* Explore only a few Kigali neighborhoods
Many tourists, when visiting Rwanda’s capital, only spend time visiting a few specific neighborhoods: Kimihurura, Kiyovu, and Kacyiru. These neighborhoods are delightful, and where many of the big hotels, best restaurants, and cutest stores in the city are located. However, they are also where most expats in Kigali live, and aren’t demonstrative of the whole city. Get outside the tourist bubble and explore the giant market in Kimironko, the lively streets of Nyamirambo, and the colorful murals of Kimisagara. If short on time, check out Go Kigali – their day tours around the city take guests to hidden gems and neighborhoods rarely visited by tourists.
* Take photos of Rwandans without asking
Take photos of the gorillas you track, the food you eat, and the scenery you admire, but don’t take pictures of Rwandans – both adults and children – without asking for permission first. Many people will find it offensive to have random tourists take uninvited photographs, and some might ask for money in exchange.