Tipping in Rwanda
We often get asked ’who, when and how much we should tip whilst in Rwanda?’ by our travellers. The information provided below should help with the issues involved with giving gratuities to the various guides, rangers and staff you’ll meet during your trip.
Rwanda’s economy: the effects of tipping.
Any tips given are naturally at your own discretion and are usually dependent on the quality of the services given. We believe that exemplary service deserves to be appreciated, but at the same time, we’d like our travellers to be aware of the potential impacts that tipping can have on the local communities.
Gratuities received can, of course, make a substantial difference to the salary of the staff involved, including trackers, guides and porters, as well as waiting for staff and general help in the larger hotels. There is a fine balance though, between tipping too much and tipping the right amount. While this may not seem that it has a noticeable impact, but it can really affect the balance of the local economy.
For example, if we look at the jobs of the rangers or guides within the parks – these are obviously important roles, requiring extensive training and sufficient knowledge of the area. You’ll generally find that such posts require a higher level of education, and since it’s important that the role is carried out by a competent team member, you’ll find that it will be occupied by someone who has worked within the national parks for quite a few years. You’ll also find that remuneration for these jobs is reasonable, though not at the higher end of the scale.
On the other side of the scale, you have more general staff – either porters on your treks or assistant staff in the camps. Whilst their jobs of carrying luggage or helping out are still important tasks, there isn’t the need for the same experience and education levels, resulting in significantly less responsibility and a reduced salary compared to those of the rangers and guides. As such, if such an employee receives much higher tips, then you could be left with a situation in which they are then making more than the rangers.
In such a case, higher than average tips can affect the balance of responsibility and remuneration. If this were to happen regularly, rangers and guides could potentially be less motivated to work as hard or take on as much responsibility. If this ends up with them leaving their jobs to take on a role that would result in them earning more, once their tips were added on, this would, of course, have a severe impact on the park, primates and the visitors.
Therefore, we would advise bearing in mind the importance of the work of each individual and tip accordingly.
When in Rwanda, which members of the teams do you tip?
Tipping your guides
In Rwanda, your private driver/guide will be the main factor to a successful trip. Bearing this in mind, they are generally tipped separately. Your trekking guides also are usually tipped separately to the rest of the team.
Tips for rangers and porters
You’ll often be accompanied on a primate trek by one or two rangers, and there will be a group of trackers out in the national park ahead of you, tracking the movements of the primate group you’re following. You’ll also have the opportunity to hire a porter for the trip. We’d advise to tip the rangers and porters separately, and tip the trackers as a group.
Tips for the back of house team
There are many people working to make sure your trip runs smoothly, many of whom you may not even see, including kitchen, maintenance and housekeeping staff at the various lodges. Most lodges will have a general tip box that is then split equally between this team.
Should you tip the managers?
We are sometimes asked if it’s prudent to tip the managers. Whilst they are of course important to your trip, we’d advise considering this: would you leave a tip for the manager of a restaurant you’d visited? As always, you may have exceptions to the rule, but as a general rule of thumb, we usually wouldn’t recommend tipping the lodge or hotel managers.
To summarise, in Rwanda we generally suggest tipping your private guide and your guides on any treks separately to the ‘back of house’ teams, be that whilst hiking or at the lodges. It would be unusual for guests to leave gratuities for the manager of the lodge.
When is the right time to tip?
We do get asked when the best time is to hand out any tips. You have a few options, either to tip after each activity, at the end of each day, or at the end of your stay.
Firstly, you may wish to tip your private driver/guide. In this case, we’d recommend that you give the money directly to him/her as you leave. Secondly, if you want to tip staff at the hotels, we would suggest placing the tips in the staff tip box again at the end of your stay.
Finally, if you are tracking gorillas or other primates in Rwanda, it is usual to tip your national park guide, ranger and porter at the end of the trek. It’s customary also to tip a couple of dollars to any trackers, you’ll need to do this after your hour with the primates, as they will stay in the forest while you head back to the park headquarters.
What is the best way to tip?
You’ll find that the majority of hotels and lodges have a main tip box, often at reception, that is shared out amongst the staff equally. Guests have asked us if they’re able to tip using a credit card, but this is not usually practical, the majority of hotels in Rwanda are unable to process this, so we advise that you take cash for tipping.
For your trekking guides, rangers, trackers and porters, you’ll need to tip in US dollars or Rwandan francs. We’d advise bringing US dollars in small denominations for this purpose, as it’s often difficult to get small change once out in the country.
If you want to plan ahead, take a few envelopes along to prepare tips for individual guides along the way.
Is there a certain amount I ought to be tipping?’
We’re only able to advise based on our own trips out to Rwanda. Tipping is not compulsory, and whilst it’s always appreciated, the amount given depends completely on your personal experiences, opinions and satisfaction.
With that in mind, we’ve given a rough guideline below:
Private Guide: $5-10 per person per day
National Park Guide: $5 per person, per trek
Ranger: $2-3 per ranger
Trackers: $2-5 for the group
Hotel/lodge staff: US $5 per person per day
If you take into consideration the points above, the Gross National Income (GNI) for Rwanda is, on average, US $5.12 per person per day (2016 data), which reflects the average income for Rwanda’s population.
To put that into perspective, in the UK the average GNI is the US $116 per person, while in the United States it is around the US $156 and in Germany approximately US $120 for each member of the population.
To conclude, though giving gratuities can be a complicated subject, it is a normal part of Rwanda’s culture and service industry. Do remember that more affluent travellers can impact disproportionately on the local economy, tipping the balance of social and economic factors, so keep that in mind when tipping staff and guides during your time in Rwanda.