Rwanda is a unitary republic in central and eastern Africa. Uganda is to its north, Tanzania to the east, Burundi to the south, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west. While the country is landlocked, it is noted for its lakes. Despite being close to the equator, the climate is temperate due to the altitude. The highest point is Mount Karisimbi. Tourism is important due to wildlife, including the mountain gorilla. Kigali, Gitarama, and Butare are the largest cities. Anyone visiting ‘the land of a thousand hills’ is in for a multitude of surprises:
First are the personal safety, peace, security and stability enjoyed by both citizens and visitors of the country.
Second there is the beauty of this nation. The landscapes in this green country are truly breathtaking. Many visitors to Rwanda have remarked that the physical beauty of the country is without an equal on the African continent. Rwanda has five volcanoes, twenty-three lakes and numerous rivers, some forming the source of River Nile. Spectacular volcanoes and dense tropical forests dominate the north of the country, while gentle hills and valleys, calm lakes and turbulent rivers in both savannah and dense tropical vegetation dominate the rest of the country.
The high altitude forests of the Virunga volcanic mountains, in northern Rwanda are home to the world’s largest number of endangered mountain gorillas. Numbering in the hundreds, the gorillas live in protected areas, free from poachers. The gorillas can be viewed in their natural mountain habitats at a fairly close range.
The best time to visit Rwanda is, for most people, during the short and longer dry seasons, from December to early February, and June to September. But if you want to go gorilla trekking, this is the best time when the primate walks in the forest are a big part of any safari in Rwanda. The habitat of rainforests is, by default, very wet and one can’t avoid rain completely. Walking in the forest is easier in the Dry season and that is also the recommended time for most primate walks, including gorilla trekking.
Straddling the equator, there is little year-round fluctuation in temperature and no real winter or summer. There is a defined Dry season from June to September, but in Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest that only means that it will rain less as these parks are wet throughout the year.
In general, the east of Rwanda, including Akagera National Park, shares the warm climate of Kigali. However, it never gets extremely hot due to the relatively high altitude. The parks in the western mountainous area, including Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe Forest, are a lot colder with daytime temperatures around 16°C–21°C (61°F–70°F), due to the even higher altitude. The temperature drops by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft). The latter two parks are also a lot wetter due to the mountain peaks and rainforest habitat. The new Gishwati Mukura National Park also shares a similar climate to the larger western parks.
Dry Seasons June to September there is little rainfall during these months in most of the country but it can rain at any time in the rainforest.
June, July & August – In the east of the country, afternoon temperatures are usually around 27°C/81°F. In the mountain parks it is a lot colder. Nyungwe has daytime temperatures of around 21°C/70°F, and Volcanoes is even colder with temperatures around 16°C/61°F.
September – Early September is still dry, but sometime this month the rains may begin. Temperatures remain the same. The mountain parks will receive quite a bit of rain in September.
Wet Seasons, October to May the Wet season is characterized by two periods of rain, the short rains and the long rains, interrupted by a drier spell.
- October, November and December – ‘Short rains’ – Nyungwe and Volcanoes tend to be very wet throughout the rainy season. Daytime temperatures in Nyungwe are about 20°C/68°F and in Volcanoes National Park it drops to 16°C/61°F. The rains won’t likely interfere with your safari in Akagera National Park.
- January & February – There tends to be a drier spell between the short and long rains. The exact timing is unpredictable. In Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Park it will still be very wet and it can rain anytime.
- March, April and May – ‘Long rains’: these are the wettest months. It tends to rain most days, although seldom for the whole day in the drier east part of the country. In Nyungwe and Volcanoes, it can rain for days.