Getting from Tanzania to Rwanda: The Rusumo Border Crossing
Getting from Tanzania to Rwanda by land is simple once you have all the information 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!
Getting from Tanzania to Rwanda
You can get to Kigali, Rwanda from Mwanza (departing at 5:30AM), from Arusha (departing at 4:00AM; transfers in Singida) or Dar es Salaam (departing at 4:00AM). I personally took the bus from Mwanza and would suggest breaking up the journey here as it is a lovely lakeside town!
Even though you are going to Kigali, the bus ticket is actually to a Tanzanian border town called Benaco, where you will transfer to the Rusumo border. The ticket costs 20,000 tsh and I used the Nyehunge bus line.
You can purchase your bus ticket the day before at the ticket office (located near Buzaruga bus station) or the morning of departure at the new bus station (Nyegezi) where the bus leaves. If you do the latter, get there early to make sure you get a spot. I would recommend going early regardless to get a window seat- you will be thanking me for this later.
Getting from Mwanza to the Rusumo border
The bus is scheduled to depart at 5:30AM but we left closer to 6:00. I arrived around 5:00AM to claim my spot at one of the windows but to my surprise, the guy in charge was actually enforcing seat numbers (usually it’s just a free for all, but this dude ran a tight ship). In this case I was very happy I had gotten my ticket the day prior as they had automatically assigned me a window.
The first stop is the Kimanga ferry, where you will get off the bus to purchase a ticket (500tsh) and walk onto the ferry. I was again shocked at the efficiency as the bus drove straight on the ferry and we departed shortly after. I had to hustle to get on board so anyone taking their time would have been left behind. We had a while on the ferry to enjoy the sunrise but were ushered back onto the bus before we arrived so we could drive off immediately after docking.
That didn’t put a dent in our 9 hour bus journey though. Once over the lake, the bus drives continuously until Benaco. A few stops are made to pick up new passengers who stand in the aisle (hence why I wanted a window seat) but no stops are official rest breaks so prepare your bladder. Definitely pack food and water (I use the Platypus bottle), though you can buy drinks, peanuts, bread and fruit from the bus windows during the brief stops. You may also want to pack some baby wipes or cleansing wipes as you will get really dusty by the window. Hand sanitizer is also a must!
What to expect at Benaco
Once at the Benaco bus station you can use a toilet located at the back or grab food or drinks from the stalls. Then you need to transfer to the Rusumo border crossing, so take a shared taxi for 3000 tsh (the taxi is essentially a normal car packed to the brim with bodies). I shared one with a few mamas and their babies, so I was quickly handed a toddler to hold for the bumpy 15 min ride.
The border was a little confusing (though it could have been my sleep deprived brain) so here are all the details you need to know.
Pro tip: The Tanzanian tourist visa is not multi-entry so once you leave it is void.
What to expect at Rusumo
The first building you will see is customs to enter Tanzania. I went in to get my exit stamp and was told that they will do it at the Rwanda customs across the Rusumo bridge (weird but true). You can either take a motor bike taxi across the Rusumo bridge or walk. I walked and it’s about 10 minutes downhill and then another 5 over the bridge until you see the Rwanda customs building.
You will first report to the Tanzania desk to ‘exit’, and they will send you to the Rwanda visa desk. The Rwanda desk will give you a piece of paper that says $100 USD (assuming you are getting the East African tourist visa) and then send you to the bank window. You pay cash, receive a slip and return to the Tanzania desk for your exit stamp (no idea why you have to go there twice, but I watched him give me the exit stamp the second time I was there). The guy who gave me the exit stamp was the same man to print my East African visa and put it in my passport (like I said, confusing and a lot of back and forth between desks in the same room).
100$ and 30 min later I was off again.
Pro tip: there are no ATMs at the border, so you don’t really have a choice but to exchange money. There are money changers on both sides of the border who are slightly aggressive but gave me a decent rate from Tanzanian shillings to Rwandan Francs. I only lost about 1000 tsh (50 cents) doing this so not too bad. You will need to have your bus fare to Kigali (3,500RW), taxi fare to get to your hotel from the bus station (a boda is 1,000RW) and extra for food or drink before you depart. I purchased a bottle of Coca-cola at the border for 1500 RW.
Getting from the Rusumo border to Kigali
Almost immediately after crossing into Rwanda, no one understood my Swahili. I don’t speak French or the national language Kinyarwanda, so I found English worked best.
The minibus ride from Rusumo to Kigali is around 5 hours or 160km and costs 3,500 RW — we arrived around 9:00pm. People get on and off often so it is very slow but much more comfortable than the Tanzanian bus. Immediately I felt the air was cooler, the bus was less cramped and hot, and the roads were better. The last stop is the Nyabugogo bus station, but I recommend checking where the bus station is in relation to your hotel in case you can get off sooner. I took the bus to Nyabugogo and ended up back tracking via boda boda to get to my hostel because my phone had died and I couldn’t get on a map.
Pro tip: I recommend maps.me, a mobile app which you can use offline after downloading the country map.
What to expect arriving in Kigali
There are motor bike taxis virtually everywhere in Kigali and a base rate is 500-1000 RF. I found drivers here did not try to rip me off as much in Tanzania, despite the language barrier. If you have a lot of luggage or just prefer taking a taxi, you can find ones for a couple thousand RF, otherwise there are tons of motor bikes at the entrance of the bus station.
Tips for Bus Travel in East Africa
Bus travel in East Africa can be super long and uncomfortable depending on road conditions so I always pack my backpack accordingly with supplies (I use the Osprey Questa 27 as my daypack/ carry on).
As I mentioned earlier, you will want to pack food and water, hand sanitizer, sunscreen (depending on your sensitivity to the sun). I wear SPF 60 on my face daily).
I also recommend traveling with an external charger so you know you will have a charged phone while in transit (I use and love this one by Anker), a good book (Dark Star Safari is an interesting read for overland travel in Africa) and a BUFF (I use mine religiously 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 for more useful info to plan your trip around East Africa.
If you are continuing into Uganda, refer to my post on how to get from Rwanda to Uganda and my Lake Victoria itinerary.
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