Getting from Rwanda to Uganda: The Cyanika Border Crossing
Getting from Rwanda to Uganda by public transport is totally manageable once you have all the info you need. This article is part of my border guide series, where I share useful transportation and logistical tips from my own experiences…simply because I wished it was on google when I needed it. I hope it helps you out on your own travels!
Updated: March 23, 2019: Recent political conflict between Rwanda and Uganda has resulted in several borders closing. This may impact your travels depending on your citizenship (source).
Getting from Rwanda to Uganda
If you’ve just done gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park (or opted for the cheaper Dian Fossey hike like I did), it is possible to cross into to Uganda straight from Ruhengeri (Musanze) without backtracking to Kigali.
Though…I will admit based on my experience, it may have been more straightforward to return to Kigali and get the Kigali to Kampala direct bus. Your decision will depend on how comfortable you are with local transport.
There are two major coach bus lines you can choose from: Jaguar Executive and Trinity Express. I used both in Uganda and preferred Trinity.
Getting from Ruhengeri to the Cyanika Border
Here’s where things get confusing…the transfer from Ruhengeri to the Cyanika border is not actually on the coach bus. The buses wait on the Ugandan side. I’m totally open to taking a matatu or motor bike to get from point A to point B, but this was not communicated to me when I purchased my bus ticket with Jaguar (specifically for a 5:00AM coach bus from from Ruhengeri to Kabale).
I showed up at 4:50 AM, but the bus wasn’t there. In fact, not much was happening at the bus station at that hour. Thankfully, the lovely manager of the guest house I stayed at had insisted on walking me to the bus station and he called the Jaguar ticket office number for me.
Almost instantaneously, a well-dressed and seemingly professional guy called Jean-Paul showed up to escort me to the border. I showed him the ticket I had already paid for and he said he would be paying for my transport fare to the bus (which he did). Jean-Paul and I each took a motor bike to the matatu stand, where a minibus was waiting to fill before heading for the border. It was approximately a 15 minute drive.
Full disclosure: I still have no idea if this is Jaguar’s normal protocol. I was not scammed out of money in this scenario but it seemed odd. If you are comfortable traveling independently, you may want to just follow these directions to get to the border on your own and then purchase your bus ticket directly on the bus at the border. Your hotel is likely to know a trusted motor bike driver or taxi driver who can take you to the matatu in the morning, or drive you the full distance to the border.
What to Expect at the Cyanika Border
I had already gotten my East African tourist visa when I crossed from Tanzania to Rwanda, so the immigration process was really simple. You will walk up to the immigration window and get your exit/entry stamp and basically just cross the border by foot. It honestly took maybe 1 minute tops.
Pro tip: Just before the border crossing, there is a small shop on the left side of the road where you can exchange any remaining Rwandan francs into Ugandan shillings. I don’t recall there being an ATM at the border (it’s basically just a parking lot) so you will want to ensure you have some Ugandan currency on you when you cross over, especially if you are buying your ticket on the bus.
Getting from the Cyanika Border
On the Ugandan side, Jean-Paul called for a motor bike taxi for me to get the rest of the way to Kisoro, the Ugandan border town where the Jaguar bus WAS WAITING. It left at 8:30 AM, though I got there before 8:00 AM so I just sat on the bus waiting. There are lots of little stalls in Kisoro where you can get food and drinks while you wait.
From Kisoro it’s smooth sailing for 2 hours to reach Kabale, the gateway to Bwindi National Park and Buyonyi lake. Conversely, you can just continue on the same bus to Kampala directly for another 8 hours.
If you opt to get to the border independently, I would suggest taking Trinity Express over Jaguar. I recall seeing the Trinity bus parked at the border so it is more convenient than having to navigate further from the border to Kisoro to catch the Jaguar bus. Plus, I took Trinity Express the following day and it was a nicer, cleaner bus.
What to expect arriving in Kabale
The Jaguar bus literally just pulls into the median of the two lane highway in the centre of town and lets you off. This is actually really convenient as you can walk to where ever you are staying. The Trinity Express pulls into a parking lot across from its ticketing office, which is also on the main highway in the centre of town.
Pro tip: If you need to upgrade to a Ugandan SIM card after crossing from Rwanda, you can get one in Kabale off the main street (I used MTN). If not, I recommend maps.me, a mobile app which you can use offline after downloading the country map.
What to expect arriving in Kampala
A day later, I took the Trinity bus from Kabale to Kampala at 9:00AM, though we actually left at 10:00. The Trinity bus pulls into ‘Trinity bus terminal’ and there were plenty of motor bike taxis waiting.
Pro tip: If you plan of taking a boda, be sure the driver offers you a functional helmet (the traffic is straight up terrifying) and strap your backpack on tight (snatchings are common). Otherwise you can try an app called safe boda or just grab an Uber.
Tips for Bus Travel in East Africa
Bus travel in East Africa can be long, boring and difficult so I always pack my backpack accordingly with supplies (I use and love the Osprey Questa 27 as my daypack/ carry on).
Definitely pack food and water (I use the Platypus bottle to avoid single use plastics). Some bus lines schedule rest stops while others soldier on, so be prepared. You may also want to bring along some baby wipes or cleansing wipes and hand sanitizer (you will thank me later), sunscreen (depending on your sensitivity to the sun). I wear SPF 60 in my makeup).
I always travel with an external charger so I know I will have a charged phone in transit (I use and love this one by Anker), a paperback novel (Dark Star Safari is an interesting read for overland travel in Africa) and a BUFF (I use mine to shield my hair from dirty bus seats and boda helmets).
If this article was helpful, let me know in the comments below!
Be sure to check out my border guide series or packing guide for more useful info to plan your trip around East Africa.
If you will be continuing from Uganda into Kenya, refer to my overland travel around Lake Victoria itinerary.
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