Last fall, I took advantage of a Delta fare mistake to buy a roundtrip ticket from LAX to Nairboi (NBO) for €328.21, all in. I decided to get an East Africa Tourist Visa which allows multiple entries to Kenya, Rwanda, and Uganda for 90 days and costs $100. A single entry Visa to Kenya costs $50 and a multiple entry costs $100, so the East Africa Tourist Visa is a good deal. In order to make my way to Rwanda and Uganda, I bought a rountrip ticket from NBO to Kigali (KGL) on Rwandair, then traveled over land into Uganda.
I stayed at an AirBnB near NBO for a night after my KLM flight from Amsterdam, then headed back to the airport the next morning for my flight to KGL. Below is the arrival road into NBO. Long before you get near the terminal there is a security checkpoint where every car is stopped and searched. Typically they just peek in the back seat and ask the driver to pop the trunk.
This is what most of the older part of NBO looks like inside. There's a newer terminal, but Rwandair operates out of the older part.
The entrance to our gate. The gates at NBO have a boarding pass check, and usually extra security check, before you enter the waiting area.
The waiting area for my flight. Nothing spectacular, but there was plenty of room to stretch out. The TV had a Bollywood movie playing.
View of our CRJ-900 as we stepped outside to make our way to the aircraft.
We walked down this giant ramp to the tarmac, then straight over to the plane and up the staircase. No bus necessary, which was nice.
Larger seats in the forward cabin.
Settling into my seat. The flight was not even half full and it was easy to change seats if one wanted to.
A few random scenes as we taxied out to the runway.
Takeoff video (not as interesting as the landing video).
Most of the flight was pretty cloudy, especially when we crossed Lake Victoria, but I managed to snap a few pics of the landscape before we lost visibility.
The surprisingly good in-flight meal. Not bad for a 90 minute flight. Classic Rwandan beef brochette and banana bread for dessert. They also served complimentary alcohol, though I went with orange juice this time.
Rwandan countryside seen as we descend towards KGL.
Approach and landing in KGL.
Disembarking in KGL. No jetways here.
Rwandair 737 on the tarmac, seen as we disembarked and headed towards the terminal.
Baggage claim in the arrivals area of KGL.
The sleek exterior of KGL. I actually snapped these pics when I arrived for my return flight a few days later as I was busy figuring out the taxi situation when I first exited the airport after arrival.
The taxi situation is actually great at KGL. After exiting the terminal, you turn right and walk towards the parking lot where there's a small depot of official looking blue taxis. There are no touts in sight and everything is very organized by African standards. The taxis have a flat rate of 7,000 RWF (exactly $10 at the time) to anywhere in the city. I snapped the picture below from the front seat of the taxi while sitting in traffic on the way to my AirBnB in the Kimihurura neighborhood.
This is the last photo from the airport/flight portion of the report. Keep reading for a brief tourism bonus of my journey into Uganda.
In order to get to Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda, I took the advice of my AirBnB host and headed to the bus terminal to try and find a car that would take me either all the way to Kabale (the closest town to the lake) or to Gatuna (the border town).
I expected to be mobbed by touts in the bus terminal, which is what happened in my only previous experience at a large African bus terminal in Lusaka, Zambia. However, no one paid much attention to me. I went into the disorganized ticket office of one of the bus companies and realized I should have planned this better. But as I was waiting, a tout asked me where I was headed and after I explained, he took me around the corner to meet the driver of this car that makes runs all the way to Kabale, exactly what I wanted. At this point, the driver had found only one other passenger and they won't leave until they get a full load. A full load means someone in the front seat, four people in the back seat, and three in the third row seat. So, including the driver, that's nine people in this car. As you can tell from the sign strapped to the top of the car, this driver posted his rates to the border town (Gatuna) and all the way to Kabale. The 3,000 RWF fare to Kabale is per passenger and equaled $4.29 at the time.
The driver estimated it would take about 40 minutes to find enough passengers to fill the car. The accumulation of new passengers was slow and I thought we'd be waiting for hours. After about half an hour of waiting, I was looking out over the rest of the bus terminal and one of the touts came up to me and said the car was about to leave, that we were going to be taking a tire instead of extra passengers. At first I thought I misunderstood him because it didn't really make sense, but lo and behold, when I got back to the car a group of guys were loading a giant tire into the back. Turns out that a bus from the Jaguar bus line (no relation to the car company) had gotten a flat on its trip north and our driver struck a deal to deliver the new tire to them. Our driver is the one in the short sleeve red checkered shirt on the opposite side of the tire. He was a really nice guy and charged me the same rate to Kabale as he charged the locals, 3,000 RWF. I don't think he had ever seen someone apply sunscreen before; as I was dabbing some one my nose before I got out of the car at the border crossing, he asked me if it was medicine. I happily explained that it was for protection from the sun.
After reaching Kabale, I had to find another car to take me to the lake. My driver from Kigali stopped in the part of town where all the cars and motos gather, which is where I snapped the photos below, so finding another driver to take me to the lake wasn't very difficult. I could have ridden on the back of a moto and saved a little money, but I opted for a car because I knew the ride was going to be pretty dusty and hilly.
The greatest Coke vendor stand I've ever seen.
I stayed at Byoona Amagara Island Retreat which, as the name suggests, sits on an island. My car from Kabale dropped me off at their dock on Lake Bunyonyi where I grabbed the transfer boat over to the island. For $26, I got a pretty big dwelling and incredible views. The thatched roof chalet on the right had a queen bed, second smaller bed, couch, coffee table, dresser, and table and chairs. The bathroom is the building on the lower left with a green roof. Just to the right of the bathroom is the separate shower structure. The shower had a solar hot water supply, so there was no hot water in the morning, but by late afternoon there was plenty. The water in Lake Bunyonyi is pretty cold, but I did take a short dip while I was there. If you're familiar with freshwater lakes in Africa, you know that Bilharzia parasites can be a concern. From what I read, the risk of Bilharzia in Lake Bunyonyi is low, but just to be safe I bought a dosage of Praziquantel when I got back to Nairobi.
The reverse trip back to Kigali was pretty similar, though my car from Kabale only took me as far as the border so I took a bus from the border back to Kigali. In the near future I'll post a flight report for my return flight from KGL to NBO and a Nairobi tourism bonus.
Nairobi - NBO
Kigali - KGL
Rwandair offered the best in-flight economy experience I can remember. This is mostly due to the fact that the plane was less than half full and the aircraft was nearly brand new. The government of Rwanda owns 99% of the airline, so it's clearly staying afloat with government subsidies. My airfare was $254 roundtrip, all in. Not cheap for such a short flight, but I doubt it's enough for this route to be revenue positive if the loads are less than 50%. I hope Rwandair can hang on because they're a great link to this region of Africa. There are plans to build a new international airport in Bugesera, south of Kigali. I don't have all the information on cargo requirements and potential financing, but from a passenger perspective I don't see the need for it. The current airport has undergone renovations recently, feels nearly brand new, and wasn't anywhere near capacity when I was there.
As far as the destinations visited on this trip, Kigali and Lake Bunyonyi were both great. Kigali is a very easy city to navigate and extremely friendly. Widely available motos will take you anywhere you need to go and the fares are usually only $1 or $2. The trek to and from Lake Bunyonyi was probably my favorite part of the trip. Embarking on a cross-border journey in small car with a bunch of locals (and a bus tire) was a great adventure.
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