Skip to main content

Tag: Rwanda

Rwanda: A Clean, Green Country

We arrived in Rwanda after a long but uneventful flight from San Francisco to Vancouver to Istanbul to Kigali. We feel like we’re back in our second home.

Kigali is the capital of this beautiful country, and it’s incredibly safe, clean, and green. We always come a couple days early before we start our group trips — to acclimate to the time difference, to unwind after such long plane journeys, and to just enjoy this city.  

Kigali is the obvious place to begin and end a journey around Rwanda, but it’s just one of the many things we love about this country. While our all-inclusive vegan trips to Rwanda focus on the food and culture — as with all of our trips — the emphasis here is on nature and wildlife. 

We traipse through the Nyungwe forest tracking wild chimpanzees, trek through the Volcanoes national park trekking for mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, honor the work of Dian Fossey, and we relish the green rolling hills throughout as we also spend a day at Lake Kivu. Many people are unaware that there is another national park here called Akagera, where you can enjoy a safari drive in the home of lions, giraffes, hippos — even rhinos. 

We’ll get to all of that, but let me answer some general questions I get about traveling to Rwanda.    


Rwanda is a very safe country, with virtually no crime directed at tourists.  Still, it’s a good idea to use common sense and not flash your wallet in public when in a city or at a market. Exercise the same common-sense precautions as you do back home, and you should be fine. But in general, it’s a very safe country, and — even as a woman — I walk around the city and countryside with no concerns.


One of the main reasons Rwanda is so clean is because they made plastic bags ILLEGAL in 2008! Rwanda is one of the few countries that has imposed a ban on plastic bags, and they DO actively enforce it. (Most luggage is searched during your arrival at the airport at customs or baggage retrieval, and they will confiscate any plastic bags you bring in with you.) 

The other reason it is such a clean country is because of a monthly communal ritual called Umuganda, a Kinyarwanda word that translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” You can read more about our experience of it here.


Between December and February or June to September. These periods are when temperatures are more moderate and there is less rain. As an equatorial country with a rich primate habitat, rain can be expected daily, but that’s one of the reasons this country is so green and verdant!


Rwanda has a temperate tropical highland climate due to its high elevation.  Most of the country is located on a plateau, around 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) above sea level, so for most of the year, and despite being just south of the Equator, Rwanda enjoys pleasantly warm day temperatures and cool nights all year round! In November, for instance, daily high temperatures are around 25°C (78°F), rarely falling below 25°C (73°F) or exceeding 28°C (83°F). 


The most common forms of local transportation are moto-taxis and buses, though most tourists get around the country on small or private tours that often use minivans and sedans. On Joyful Vegan Trips, we work with Amahoro Tours, our partners on the ground, to transport us around in landrovers since we go to national parks (to visit the mountain gorillas and the chimpanzees), and the terrain requires more rugged vehicles. We have become friends with some of the drivers, and we look forward to seeing them whenever we visit.


WATER: Tap water is NON-DRINKABLE in Rwanda. For this reason, bottled water is recommended. On our Joyful Vegan Trips, to cut down on plastic water bottle usage, we have large several-gallon water containers in all our vehicles so our travelers can fill up their reusable bottles. 

ELECTRICITY: In Rwanda, the power plugs and sockets are of type C and J. The standard voltage is 230 V and the standard frequency is 50 Hz. 

WIFI: Internet reliability is generally good in Rwanda. All hotels have WIFI. On our trips, we provide WIFI on board all our vehicles, though connectivity and speeds vary while we’re driving through the countryside.


The country has four official languages: Kinyarwanda, English, French, and Swahili. You will do just fine speaking English here, but as a visitor to any country, it’s nice to learn a few courtesy words and phrases. 


Rwanda currently requests Covid tests before entering any national park, of which we will visit 2 (Nyungwe National Forest and Volcanoes National Park), and prior to departure from the country. 


There are no mandatory vaccinations required to enter Rwanda, though according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the following vaccinations are recommended for Rwanda: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, yellow fever and rabies. Other recommended vaccines include meningitis, polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis), chickenpox, shingles, pneumonia, and influenza. Most of these vaccines last for several years; some need boosting after a few. Just check with your medical professional. 


Malaria is endemic in Rwanda. Antimalarials are the best protection against infection. Be sure to use mosquito repellents as a second barrier against the disease. Like with the above vaccines, it’s up to the individual traveler whether or not you want to take any anti-malaria medication, and again, it’s a good idea to consult your medical professional. 


I have lots to share about the food in Rwanda, and of course on our trips, we ensure our travelers are spoiled with incredible cuisine, but the short answer is Rwanda is incredibly vegan-friendly. I often quip that everyone says they don’t eat a lot of meat, dairy, and eggs, but in Rwanda, it’s actually true. Most Rwandans don’t eat meat more than a few times a month (and when they do, it’s a small amount), and the typical diet consists of sweet potatoes, beans, corn, peas, millet and fruit. Of course, in a cosmopolitan city such as Kigali, international cuisine abounds.  

More soon on the food, gorillas, national parks, conservation, and so much more! Ask your questions below, and I’ll be sure to address them!

JOIN ME IN RWANDA for a trip of a lifetime!

3 Tips for Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling

We may not intend to, but there are so many ways we contribute to animal cruelty and exploitation while we’re traveling (domestically and abroad)! National Geographic published a hugely important article about the rise of attractions around the world that exploit animals for tourists. Three of the recommendations for travelers:

  1. avoid any kind of attraction where you pay to directly interact with wild animals (don’t pay to pet, bathe, get photos with, or touch wild animals).
  2. make a point to see animals in national parks, protected habitats, refuges,  and ethical safaris that help generate income to protect wild animals and their homes.
  3. support genuine sanctuaries that provide refuge to rescued animals who can no longer survive in the wild. (Do your own research; just because they call themselves a “sanctuary,” it doesn’t mean they are. Always reach out to trusted sources if you’re unsure.)

I talked about exactly all of this in great detail in my podcast episode called Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling to Thailand and Everywhere.

Sadly, one of the reasons we visited so many animal rescue groups in Thailand is because of how much animal cruelty, wildlife trafficking, and animal exploitation there is in that country, allowed by the government and deeply entrenched in the culture. For instance, elephants used in the tourism/riding and logging industries endure a lifetime of suffering and separation.

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat — like the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, lions in Botswana, bison in Yellowstone, or the deer in our own backyards — is heart-stopping, breath-taking, and supports the animals, their habitat, and the local residents.

Of course, when we travel (either on our own or on the group Joyful Vegan Trips we host), we take care to avoid animal cruelty, and we visit true sanctuaries and protected habitat where the safety and well-being of the animals are the main priority. We take this very seriously and vet our partners very carefully.

We have hosted trips to Rwanda, Thailand, Botswana, Vietnam, Italy, and France, and we have upcoming trips to … well, see for yourself! I hope you can join us one day to experience the trip of a lifetime—while supporting the care and conservation of the animals whose homes we visit.

How Rwanda Unites

Rwanda is considered the cleanest and greenest country in East Africa. It’s not because Rwanda employs more street sweepers, gardeners, and road crews than other countries, and it’s not (only) because of the decade-long ban on plastic bags.

It’s also because of a monthly communal ritual called Umuganda, a Kinyarwanda word that translates to “coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome.” Military service isn’t compulsory in Rwanda but Umuganda is — for able-bodied people ages 18 to 65 — and it takes place on the last Saturday of each month.

Because expatriates and visitors are welcome to participate and because — on our Joyful Vegan Trips to Rwanda — we scheduled our to be there on the day of that month’s Umuganda, we arranged to visit a local village to join them build a road.

Umuganda in its current form was reintroduced in 1998 as part of the effort to rebuild the country and to nurture a shared national identity after the 1994 genocide.

As a U.S. citizen in a deeply divided country, it’s not a huge leap to draw parallels between the past divisiveness in Rwanda and the present divisiveness in my own country. If that sounds dramatic, then consider this:

A recent survey (referenced in this op-ed) asked both Republicans and Democrats, “Do you ever think we’d be better off as a country if large numbers of the opposing party in the public today just died’?” Some 20 percent of Democrats (12.6 million voters) and 16 percent of Republicans (7.9 million voters) said yes.

When asked, “What if the opposing party wins the 2020 presidential election. How much do you feel violence would be justified then?” 18.3 percent of Democrats and 13.8 percent of Republicans said violence would be justified on a scale ranging from “a little” to “a lot.”

Over a 3-month period in 1994 in Rwanda, this very sentiment manifested itself into a methodical massacre in which approximately 800,000 citizens were brutally killed by their fellow citizens—neighbors, co-workers, colleagues, and friends.

If Rwandans can heal, unite, and forgive after such a massive atrocity, anyone can. We have much cleaning up to do in our own country—both literally and figuratively, and we must take it seriously.

Garbage clean-up anyone?

Photo Credit: Jennifer Hadley 

How Wildlife Can Recover After Genocide

A Wildlife Conservation Success Story

The 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsis devastated this beautiful country, its people, its wildlife, and its wild spaces. But with vigilance, persistence, vision, courage, and strength, they are recovering.⁠ When Akagera National Park was created in 1934, it was one of the best wildlife reserves in all of Africa. ⁠

⁠Once spanning almost 1,000 square miles, sadly, in 1997, it was reduced in size by almost 50%. A large portion of the land was reallocated to refugees to Rwanda after the genocide. Before 1997, many refugees returning to Rwanda settled in the area, and the conservation area was harmed by poaching and cultivation. ⁠

⁠I so look forward to telling you more about the work they’re doing, the animals they’ve reintroduced, the conservation measures they’re taking, and the rhinos (!) who have just safely arrived from zoos in three different countries who will now live out their natural lives in the wild. ⁠

⁠On our first trip to Rwanda, we didn’t have the chance to visit Akagera, but we were so thrilled to make it part of our of our Joyful Vegan Trips in 2019. (On our current Rwanda trips, our travelers can visit Akagera on their own either before or after our all-inclusive trip.)

We saw zebra, warthogs, impala, cape buffalo, waterbucks, and many more mammals and birds. The highlight of the day was probably seeing a ⁠pod of hippos emerge from the water to the beach. ⁠

⁠People can heal.

Animals can recover.

Land can be restored.

Rwanda teaches this lesson better than any other country I’ve seen. ⁠

(Join me in Rwanda for the trip of a lifetime!)

Vegan Trip to Rwanda!

Joyful Vegan Rwanda

Many of you know my love of all animals, including wildlife in my backyard and all around the world. Many of you know that I count Dian Fossey as one of my heroes. Many of you know how amazing it was to travel to Rwanda to see the culmination of her life’s work: thriving families of mountain gorillas protected from poaching because of the continued work of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. (You can listen to my Food for Thought podcast all about our trip.)

Many of you may have heard by now that Portia DiRossi gave Ellen DeGeneres the gift of an education center in her name in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. We’ve been to their current center, and this new one will be an amazing gift for the future of the gorillas.

What many of you may NOT know is that we’re going back to RWANDA — and taking you with me. Because of high demand for another Joyful Vegan Trip to Rwanda, we’ve made it happen.

It’s a 10-day, 5-star, out-of-this world incredible trip to see the mountain gorillas in the north and the chimpanzees in the south (not to mention golden monkeys and many other non-human primates). Frankly, this itinerary BLOWS AWAY our original trip, and I CANNOT wait to return. I fell in love with this country pretty immediately, and if you want to join me…you need to secure your spot NOW.

As you’ll see when you look at the amazing itinerary, the trip is 1.5 years away, which allows for time to save. To do everything we’re doing is not inexpensive, but by going (aside from having invaluable experiences), we’re supporting the conservation of these animals.

We have slots for about 20 people, and several have already been secured. Don’t miss out. Join me for a trip that will change you and help change the world for animals.

Are You Writing the Future for Animals?

I recently returned from a dream trip to Rwanda seeing mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, and chimpanzees — all of whom are threatened due to human activity. But still I have hope.

Afterwards, we saw lions, giraffes, impalas, warthogs, ostriches, hippos, zebras, and elephants in Botswana, a country that banned trophy hunting but is still dealing with poaching. But still I have hope. In fact, we were in Botswana when we heard the news that China is banning the legal trade in ivory, which is a thing to celebrate although the work is not done. It never is.

Even as I stood awe-struck looking at the animals characterized as “exotic,” I thought of the animals in my Oakland backyard—the ones considered mundane—the deer, the squirrels, the foxes, opossums, raccoons, skunks, crows, and jays. Rather than pay to view them, people pay to eradicate them, but nonetheless, they’re valuable to me, to themselves, to the entire ecosystem.

I thought of our state’s coyotes, mountain lions, and wolves—all of whom are demonized by private ranchers who use public land to graze their livestock, then blame the predators for being who they are.

I thought of our nation’s animals, who will be negatively impacted if the current administration makes good on its promises to support fossil fuels, curtail plans to cut carbon emissions, withdraw from the Paris Agreement, construct oil pipelines, dismantle the Endangered Species Act, and build a wall that will impact the lives and migratory habits of native species.

And still I have hope. While I daily urge our federal congresswomen and congressmen to pass legislation that protects animals and reject legislation that harms them, we have much work to do on a state and local level, both of which can get neglected when our fears are focused on an animal-, environment-, and human-hostile White House.

I have hope because possibility dwells in uncertainty. The darkness that lies before us is not inevitably bleak; it’s just unwritten. And we are its authors. We have a future to write—for the animals near and the animals far. For the human and the non-human animals. And I intend to write it.

Will you join me?


We came to Rwanda to see the Mountain Gorillas ?. We saw them. Our expectations were exceeded beyond our wildest dreams. While I prepare our photos and videos, enjoy this little preview to get you excited. And no, I couldn’t have planned the entrance of that young gorilla if I tried.


Visiting My Animal Hero in Rwanda!

My first animal-protection hero was Dian Fossey after I read Gorillas in the Mist in the early 90’s. I was in awe of her boldness and bravery, dedication and commitment, attention to detail and desire to use whatever tools were at her disposal to protect the beautiful mountain gorillas. I don’t think I could ever be as brave as she was, sometimes I fear I won’t have the time on this earth to be as effective as people like her, and I can only hope to leave a legacy that changes the way we think about, talk about, and treat other animals. She wasn’t perfect — none of us are — and not everyone agreed with all of the decisions she made, but that doesn’t in any way minimize the amazing work she did.

Sitting at her actual desk and reading from her actual notes (they were copied to preserve the originals, but still).

At the time she was killed, I believe there were about 150 mountain gorillas alive, and she predicted their complete annihilation by now. She would be proud of the work done in her name and because of what she started — resulting in 850 mountain gorillas accounted for, to date. They are still in danger of extinction, but there is hope. There is always hope. My life’s goal is to be that hope, share that hope, and continue to contribute in such a way that something of this hope endures when I’m gone — that the world will be better for animals by the time I leave it.

It’s been such an honor to have visited Rwanda four times now and to be this close to where she lived and worked, to witness her legacy first-hand, to support the vital work being done in her name, and to meet gorilla families who are here today because of her.

May we all be heroes for the animals and leave a legacy of compassion, peace, and selflessness.

The old Dian Fossey headquarters in Rwanda
Hiking up to Karisoke Research Center, where Dian Fossey lived, worked, and is buried