The Best Time to Visit Rwanda

Low-lying cloud above the forests of Nyungwe National Park, Rwanda

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Similar in size to the U.S. state of Maryland, landlocked Rwanda may be one of Africa’s smallest countries. Nevertheless, the East African nation packs a considerable punch, with a reputation for safety and stability, a vibrant capital city from whose traumatic history a cosmopolitan modern culture has emerged, and several excellent national parks. Among these is Volcanoes National Park, one of only a handful of places in the world where visitors can come face-to-face with endangered mountain gorillas. But when should you plan your Rwandan adventure? Traditionally, the best time to visit Rwanda is during the long dry season from June to October, when conditions are best for hiking and the gorillas are easiest to spot. However, Rwanda is truly a year-round destination, with pros and cons to every season.

Weather in Rwanda

Rwanda’s proximity to the equator means that it lacks a conventional spring, summer, fall, and winter. Instead, temperatures remain relatively consistent throughout the year – although they can vary from destination to destination, depending on altitude. In the capital, Kigali, you can expect average lows of around 60 degrees and average highs of around 80 degrees on any given day. Rwandan weather is divided into dry and rainy seasons. The long dry season (also peak tourist season) lasts from June to October.

Then, there is a short rainy season from late October to November, followed by a short dry season from December to February and finally, the long rains from March to May. Prices tend to be higher during both dry seasons, with accommodation, tours, and gorilla permits selling out months in advance. As such, fewer tourists and lower costs can both be incentives to travel during the rainy seasons, although gorilla permits are always the same price: $1,500 per person.

Best Time to Go Gorilla Trekking 

For many people, the primary reason to visit Rwanda is to go gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. This protected area in the Virunga Mountains is one of only four national parks in the world to offer this experience, and is often considered one of the best. Nevertheless, hiking through the cloud forest to find the park’s habituated troops can be a challenge, with it often taking several hours to locate the gorillas. Conditions are easier in the long dry season (June to October) when the paths are less slippery and, although Volcanoes National Park sees rainfall throughout the year, your chances of a dry hike are much greater. Most importantly, the gorillas are easiest to spot at this time of year with less foliage to obstruct your view. Group sizes are limited to eight hikers regardless of the season, so there’s no risk of an overcrowded experience. The drawback? Permits must be booked well in advance due to limited supply and high demand. 

Long Dry Season (June to October) 

The long dry season is peak tourist season in Rwanda, with the least rainfall of any season. In Kigali, for example, the average number of precipitation days is two in June and one in July, with rainfall becoming more likely as the season progresses. Don’t forget that if you’re headed to Volcanoes National Park, you can expect rainy at any time of year (it is after all, a rainforest). However, the terrain is most forgiving during the long dry season and highlight species including mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, forest elephants, and buffalos are all easiest to spot at this time. This is also peak wildlife-viewing season in Akagera National Park, where plains game tend to gather around water sources and sightings are therefore more prolific. For both parks, accommodation and tours should be booked well in advance; while gorilla permits are in such demand that you should secure yours first before confirming the rest of your booking. 

Events to Check Out

  • Liberation Day: Held on July 4, this public holiday commemorates the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front over the Habyarimana regime in 1994. This event marked the end of the Rwandan Genocide and is celebrated with government sponsored events, concerts, a military parade and presidential address, and a soccer game between Rwanda and Uganda. 
  • Rwanda Film Festival: Every July, the Rwanda Film Festival is held in Kigali to promote the country’s film industry, known as “Hillywood”. It is renowned as one of the continent’s most important film events. 

Short Rainy Season (late October to November)

From late October to November, the short rainy season sees an average of 17 precipitation days per month in Kigali – and significantly more in the rainforests of Volcanoes National Park. The rain makes trekking conditions less pleasant, with plenty of mud causing the steep trails to become slippery. Nevertheless, rainfall is less relentless than it is during the long rainy season, so it can be a good time to travel for lower tour and accommodation prices, and greater permit availability. It is also one of the best times to travel for birders, with migrant species starting to arrive at all three of the country’s major national parks (Volcanoes, Akagera, and Nyungwe). Many resident species are now in breeding plumage and therefore at their most photogenic. And, if tracking Nyungwe’s habituated chimpanzee troops is top of your bucket list, then the wet seasons are the best times to travel. During the rains, the chimpanzees are more sedentary and easier to spot. 

Events to Check Out

  • Kwita Izina: An event hosted at Volcanoes National Park every year in September, Kwita Izina is a cultural naming ceremony held for all of the gorillas born in the park over the past year. Festivities include traditional singing, dancing, conservation events, and art performances. 

Short Dry Season (December to February)

The short dry season lasts from December to February and although it sees a marked decrease in rainfall compared to November, it is not as dry as the June to October period. It is still a great alternative for those that cannot visit Rwanda during the long dry season, though, affording good hiking conditions, abundant sunshine in between periods of rain, and slightly cooler temperatures than the long dry season. With the cooler temperatures comes a reduced risk of malaria, although prophylactics are still recommended for all visitors to Rwanda, regardless of region or season. Although it may be easier to secure a gorilla trekking permit now than in the peak season, travelers should still bear in mind that December is a popular month to visit Rwanda and accommodation (especially in Kigali and the national parks) is often charged at a premium rate. This coincides with an influx of local and foreign tourists as a result of the festive vacation period. 

Long Rainy Season (March to May)

March to May sees the long rains set it, with rainfall especially relentless in the mountain areas. Although gorilla trekking is possible at this time of year, April in particular is best avoided simply because it is so wet that trails can become unnavigable and photography is especially difficult. There are some upsides to a visit to Volcanoes National Park, though – greater permit availability, cheaper accommodation, fewer visitors, and often, shorter hiking times since the gorillas tend to stick to the lower slopes at this time of year. As with the short rainy season, this is a good time for birding across Rwanda, and one of the better times for tracking chimpanzees in Nyungwe. In Akagera National Park, the rains give the savanna landscapes a verdant beauty they may lack at other times of the year. 

Events to Check Out

  • Kigali International Peace Marathon: Historically held in May or June, the Kigali International Peace Marathon is a major event that attracts athletes from all over the world to the Rwandan capital. 
  • Genocide Memorial Day: On April 7, Rwanda enters a national mourning period for the victims of the Rwandan Genocide that lasts until Liberation Day on July 4. 
Frequently Asked Questions
  • What is the best time to visit Rwanda?

    The best time to visit Rwanda is during the long dry season from June to October, when conditions are best for hiking and the gorillas are easiest to spot.

  • What is the peak season in Rwanda?

    June to October is peak tourist season in Rwanda, with the least rainfall of any season.

  • When is the rainy season in Rwanda?

    The long rainy season lasts from March to May, with April being the wettest month of the year for most regions of Rwanda.

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