Book Review – Bradt Rwanda Travelguide

rwanda.jpgBradt Rwanda Travelguide – Janice Booth and Philip Briggs.

The first time I picked up a Bradt Travelguide, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Another Rough Guide? Another Let’s Go? Footprint or Lonely Planet perhaps? What I found was a new style that had certain similarities to some of the others, but at the same time seemed to have a voice (and class) all of its own.“Only one way to know for sure”, I thought. So I put the Uganda guide through its paces, in Northern Uganda, in March 2006. The book held up, so a year later I found myself Africa bound again, this time destination Rwanda, with a glossy new copy of the Bradt Travelguide for Rwanda stuck in the side pocket of my rucksack.

Rwanda is a tiny Central African country with an immense history, not least the well-publicised genocide of 1994. With a backdrop of 2000 years of tribal, feudal and, more recently, colonial history, a visitor to Rwanda should at the very least know the rocky path that the people and their ancestors have trodden en route to today. This travelguide explains the complex history and the chronology of events leading up to the 6th April 2004 and the days since, in excellently researched detail, and lends the reader a true sense of understanding of Rwanda. The pages are thorough in their detail without being cluttered with extraneous passages and unnecessary paragraphs. In short, Booth is to be applauded for making such a complex and thorny subject so lucid.

Once the reader moves beyond the opening section and enters the travelguide proper, they’ll discover an easy-to-navigate compendium of pertinent information. The book is divided into multiple geographical sections with numerous maps. In previous Bradt reviews, I had commented on the rudimentary level of detail in the maps, which at times have caused me some confusion, and this appears to have been resolved in the latest edition (three) of this Travelguide. Indeed, I have the 2nd and 3rd editions of the Rwanda Travelguide and it’s clear to see the notable improvements from one to the other.

The information provided on each town/village I have always found to be complete and accurate, although prices quoted are often slightly out due to inflation, but the margin of error is consistent throughout, making it very easy to plan ahead and forecast expected costs. Having said that, edition three is so current that prices are pretty much spot on. Even bus departure times I found to be generally accurate, something quite unusual when dealing with African public transport. However, I found bus journey times to be generally underestimated, which caused itinerary problems before I learned to add on an hour or two to what the book was saying. Rwanda has among the best roads in Africa, so I’m not sure where these inaccuracies came from. It seems as though the information in the book is consistent with the information that one might get from the locals, and this is rarely, if ever, going to be accurate.

Hotel information, along with places to eat, is as good as you’ll find in any travelguide, and enabled me to travel in relative comfort without ever having to stretch my expenses. Of course, there are places that aren’t in the book that should be, I found one such live music restaurant/bar in Kigali, but that has to be the province of the traveller to find these places and let the Bradt authors know.

Rwanda has three national parks and I found the information provided on these areas, along with instructions how to maximise your experience – be it an hour with the Mountain Gorillas, a trek to the Chimpanzees or a classic big game safari – to be concise and well-articulated. Nevertheless, Africa is the continent of misinformation, and it is all too easy to be misled, regardless of what the Bradt Travelguide says. I found the information contained within the pages, along with what other travellers pass on, to be generally more reliable that what locals might tell you. Bear this in mind.

The Rwanda Travelguide also contains a small section on commonly encountered wildlife. I thought this information appeared a little on the sparse side, but I appreciate that there is no substitute for a proper field guide if you are there to spot African beasties. Even so; a section on birds really should be included too. As a keen ornithologist, I would have loved the book to have contained a few pages on the more commonly seen avifauna.

All things considered, I would recommend this book as the definitive guide to Rwanda. The ORTPN Tourist Office in Kigali appears to concur with that, although they’re still selling off their stocks of the 2nd edition. If you go there looking to buy a copy of the guide, be sure to ask for the latest. They may not oblige but at least you’ll have asked. In any event, the 2nd edition will still most certainly see you right.

To the best of my knowledge no other Rwanda guidebook comes close, a view evidently shared by a traveller that I met in Cyangugu, who, upon seeing my Bradt guide, put her Lonely Planet back in her pocket and attempted to read the Bradt from cover to cover in one go. Another convert as the Bradt machine rolls on.

Author – Lee Ridley.

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