Monday, March 27, 2017

Practical Rwanda Money Tips, MasterCard, Visa in Rwanda, Budgeting, Planning your finances for Rwanda

Rwanda’s unit of currency is the Rwandan franc (RFr). IF you are travelling to Rwanda, it’s best to come to Rwanda with US dollars or euros in cash. The only useful bank branch in the country is Banque de Kigali in the capital, which offers cash advances on credit card and can change travellers cheques, neither of which is possible in the other provinces. There are ATMs in Kigali, but they are not yet wired to an international network. Credit cards can be used in some upmarket hotels and restaurants in Kigali.
Bureaux de change – which are mostly in Kigali – offer slightly better exchange rates than banks. Moneychangers hang around central Kigali and usually give a slightly better rate, but count your money carefully. All banks, and most bureaux de change, are closed on Saturday afternoon and Sunday.
Credit cards are not used widely and few cash machines take foreign credit cards. Unusually for this part of Africa, MasterCard is far more widely accepted than Visa (the Visa stickers you see outside some hotels refer to cards issued domestically). But even so, the use of MasterCard extends only certain up market hotels in Kigali and a very few places outside the capital. If you are relying on using a card, ten best to check what cards your hotel accepts when you make your booking. Worth noting here too that the ORTPN head office in Kigali also accepts MasterCard but not Visa.
If you have urgent payments to make it would be wise to carry cash instead of relying on the ATMS as they are so fond of failing to release cash when you need it most. 
You can withdraw upto US$2500 per day (or equivalent in Rwanda Francs or any other hard currency to hand) against Visa or MasterCard in the Bancor on Ave de la Piax in Kigali.  This is a remarkably straightforward procedure but be warned that it does depend on the bank having access to a specific website – if the electricity is down, or the computers or the internet server or the website itself, then this service will be unavailable and you may have to wait a day or two for it to comeback online.
As for travellers’ cheques (it is best if they are in euros or US dollars) – again, theoretically they can be cashed up to a value of US$200 daily at the Banque Commercial du Rwanda (BCR) and a few other banks in central Kigali, but in practice this can fall apart, or be quite a slow procedure.  You will get a poorer exchange rate for travellers’ cheque than for cash.  When cashing them, you must generally show the sales advice slip that you got when you obtained them – that is the slip of paper that one is supposed never to keep in proximity to the cheques!
That leaves cash.   The preferred foreign currencies are the dollar or euro, but all main currencies should be exchangeable, whether in banks or in official or private forex bureaux.  The official forex are clearly signed on the street and have standard facilities.  The ‘private’ ones are small offices or rooms where the moneychangers who used to tour their wares on the street now operate since the black market was declared illegal.  They may offer a slightly better exchange rate than in banks.  They generally also give a better rate for larger-denomination notes, which anyway are less bulky for you to carry.  Above all, because there is no paperwork involved, they have the advantage scene.  Conditions regarding credit cards and traveler’s cheques may be different – and better – by the time you travel.  But do have enough cash in case of glitches.  If you don’t want to carry too much, arrange for a friend to send it to you from hoe when necessary, via Western Union – there are offices in Kigali and all the main towns.  It isn’t cheap – the cost depends on the amount being transferred –but it’s quick and secure.  Any Rwandan francs left over at the end of your trip can be changed back into dollars, euros or whenever by banks, forex bureaux or money-changers.
Planning Your spending in Rwanda
Your planned expenditure will largely depend on what you intend to do during your visit, where you want to go, which kind of hotels and services you intend to utilize. Generally speaking though, please inform your travel agent of a rough figure you plan to spend on your visit so that they can draw out the most apporpriate plan for you. Pre-booked packages do vary in terms of what is included in the price, and you are advised to check the exact condition in advance, but generally the price quoted will cover everything but drinks, tips and perhaps some meals.
For budget travellers, Rwanda is not the cheapest country in Africa, but it is damn close to it – and after Ghana it offers the best value for money of any country I have visited in the last couple of years.  Throughout the country, a soft drink will cost you around US$0.40 and a 700ml beer less than US$1 in a local bar, more in a hotel or restaurant that caters primarily to Westerners.  A meal in local restaurant will cost US$1-1 while a meal in a proper restaurant might cost U$4 upwards.  Budget accommodation can average out about US$5 per head, quite often for a self-contained room (two people) with a hot shower or bath.  Public transport is cheap- typically about US$1 per 50km – and distances are relatively small.  Taking the above figures into account I think that budget travellers could scrape by inmost parts of Rwanda on around US$10-15 per day for one-person or US$20 per day for two.
The above calculations don’t allow for more expensive one-off activities, such as gorilla-tracking ( a gorilla permit at at June 1st 2017 is $1500) or visiting the other national parks (not expensive unless you hire a vehicle).  If you want to keep a particular budget and plan on undertaking such activities, you would be well advised to treat your day-to-day budget separately from one –off expenses.
Rwanda is so small, and all parts of it are so easily accessible from Kigali, that you needn’t engage in any complicated planning. 
 TIPPINGTipping is common is Rwandan cities these days due to the large international presence. Rwandan salaries are low and a tip of 10% will be appreciated. Tipping is an important part of a safari – expect to tip drivers, guides and cooks around US$10 per day per group depending on the safari.

How much?
Double room in a midrange hotel US$35-115
Meal in a midrange restaurant US$5-10
Tracking mountain gorillas US$750
100km bus ride US$2
Internet access per hour US$1-2
1L bottled water US$0.75
Primus beer US$2
Beef brochettes (street snack) US$1
Souvenir T-shirt US$10

Friday, March 10, 2017

Comparing Gorilla Trekking Tours In 2017 : Uganda Vs Rwanda – Compare prices, tracking experience, hardness, etc

Comparison of 2017 Gorilla Tracking in Uganda and Uganda – Which is the best place to do a gorilla trek – Uganda or Rwanda? Which is more viable or cheaper: Bwindi or Volcanoes National Park, Which is more easy to access, Is tracking Rwanda better than Uganda?
rwanda mountain gorillas
The exhilaration attached to the first setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is difficult to describe. Yet in the same sense, that magical one hour spent with the gorillas does not come cheaply considering that a permit goes for US$1500 in Rwanda and $600 in Uganda – but it is unusual to find someone who regretted the financial outlay.
Mountain gorillas live in families similar to those of humans. Although the current mountain gorilla population is about 848, gorilla tracking can only be done on the habituated mountain gorilla families. 13 of the habituated families live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP, another 14 habituated mountain gorilla families live in Uganda (13 in Bwindi Impenetrable NP, 1 in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park) and 1 in D.R.Congo’s Virunga NP.
A maximum of 8 persons can visit a given gorilla family per day.
All else being equal, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park has a slight edge over the rest because its gorillas are the most wholly habituated, and they are often found in bamboo than the dense forest which makes photographing easier.

The major challenge with tracking gorillas in Rwanda is certainly the price of the gorilla permit at US$1500 compared to Uganda’s US$600 per permit. However, Rwanda’s pride is in the ability for one to do the gorilla trek even in one day and fly back home which is impossible for Uganda. Volcanoes National Park is located 116 km from Kigali and can be driven in just 2 hours. On the other hand, Bwindi is located 500 km from Kampala/ Entebbe Airport and a drive can take 8 hours plus. In that sense, you will spend at least 3 days for your gorilla trek tour – one travelling to Bwindi, another doing the gorilla trek, and the other driving back to Kampala/Entebbe. If a tour operator is making you a tour package, they shall definitely have to consider this cost and include it in your tour cost.
With the on coming of daily scheduled flights to Bwindi, operators now can have 3 days flying packages to Bwindi.
In real practice though, the one-day gorilla trek tour is not recommended because of the pressure it exerts on the trekker. For those limited on time, we would suggest the 2-days gorillas package.
Tree climbing lions often sighted in Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth NP on your way to track the mountain gorillas in Bwindi safari
Tree climbing lions often sighted in Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth NP on your way to track the mountain gorillas in Bwindi safari
However, the long drive to Bwindi is quite enchanting with great sceneries all through like the Equator, Lake Mburo National Park ( for some Queen Elizabeth National Park with abundant wildlife), terraced mountains with flowing rivers, and a lot of rural Africa. This is not so really the case for the drive from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park.
You will certainly need spend more on transport and time to track the mountain gorillas in Uganda than it’s for Rwanda although this cost is compensated for by a cheaper gorilla permit.
Besides, some sections of the roads to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park are not so comfortable to drive on yet in the case of Rwanda, you drive on smooth tarmac at least up to the Volcanoes National Park head office. Not to mention though, the roads leading from Volcanoes park office to the gorilla trek trail-heads can only be accessed with a raised 4x4 vehicle.

Comparison of The Gorilla Trekking Experience
Of course you can get this in Uganda in evenings (at a fee) from the various traditional cultural groups that are near the park. However, the drive from Kampala to Bwindi is a very fabulous one traversing at least another national park (either Kibale or Queen Elizabeth National Park famous for tree climbing lions and many other big mammals, or Lake Mburo National Park) and not to miss- the Equator. In a way, even before you arrive Bwindi you have had a bit of the ‘Pearl of Africa’ as is fondly known. To many, driving along paved eucalyptus avenues to the gorillas in not the best deal. Indeed many to purchase tour packages combining both Rwanda and Uganda, first doing Gorillas in Rwanda and then crossing to Uganda to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park for the BIG 5 safaris and chimpanzee tracking among other tours.
Lets compare the tour costs in general.Because of the long drive one endures from Kampala to Bwindi, the general cost is increased (even when you travel by public buses). It even increases more because you have to travel 2 days (to and from Bwindi). However, the increased cost is countered by the low cost gorilla permit of US$600 ($450 in April and May, November 2017). A low budget 3 days gorilla trek tour in Uganda goes for about $1250 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) for one person on tour. The two days Rwanda gorilla trek costs about $1220 ( with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) and a three days Rwanda gorilla tracking tour costs is about $2030 (with gorilla permit, accommodation, and transport) . Costs samples got from Gorillas and Wildlife Safaris website effective Jan 2017.
Other things in addition to the actual gorilla tracking
Lastly, if you are not travelling just to see the mountain gorilla, and you want to include other activities in your visit, Rwanda may not be the best choice. Many tourists have continually had to cross to Uganda after their Rwanda gorilla trek to tour other reserves like Queen Elizabeth National Parks so endowed with abundant wildlife one cannot see in Rwanda. This is why probably folks continue enduring the long drives to Bwindi yet there is an easy way out.
At the end of the day – the ultimate jury are those who are looking as to which country to visit in order to track Gorillas – it is not Rwanda, not Uganda, not the Democratic Republic of Congo but where their pockets and hearts choose. If you precisely want the mountain gorillas and nothing else, go for a one-day gorilla trek but if you are a one who wants it and all of it, go for the long drive – you won’t regret…
Have you been on a gorilla trek in Rwanda or Uganda? What was your experience? What have you had about tracking gorillas in Rwanda Vs Uganda? Let me hear you views.
from the Rwanda/Uganda border post in Chanika .
Related articles:
My mountain gorilla tracking experience in Bwindi's Oruzogo gorilla family
How To Book Gorilla tracking & Trek Permits in Uganda and Rwanda
Affordable Private Road Transfers to Bwindi
Uganda Cuts Gorilla Trek Permit Prices to $450
Mountain Gorillas Aside, Why Does Earth need Bwindi so badly?

Mountain Gorilla Trekking Tour Packages in Rwanda and Uganda
3 days Uganda Gorilla tour
4 days Rwanda Gorilla Tour -
2 days Gorilla tracking Rwanda with tour price
3 day Gorilla tracking Rwanda with tour price
5 days Gorillas trek Rwanda and Safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda
5 days Rwanda, Uganda Gorillas
6 days gorilla tracking, wildlife safari
14 daysUganda Rwanda Safari
7 days Uganda Gorilla Safaris
9 days Gorillas, primates wildlife
8 days Uganda Gorilla Game safari

7 days Gorillas, chimpanzee, wildlife -
Bwindi Mountain gorilla with baby gorilla - Uganda
Trekking mountain gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi (Ruhija Sector)