Set in the heart of Rwanda, Kigali is the rapidly developing, vibrant, metropolitan capital city to the Land of a Thousand Hills. Its bustling urban hub juxtaposes beautifully with the surrounding scenery of serene, cultivated hills filled with lush green vegetation.
Although Kigali is a tropical region very close to the equator in the north, the climate is generally very amicable throughout the year. You can get here by landing in the Kigali International Airport.
Upon arrival in Kigali, most newcomers visit the Kigali Memorial Centre. The memorial centre is a must for tourists and visiting family and friends. There’s no denying the memorial is moving and beautifully done. But there are many other things to see, do, and taste in Kigali.
Where to stay in Kigali
There is a plethora of low to mid-range to deluxe hotels to stay in. Budget hotels (Chez Rose, Auberge de Cavern, Okapi) range from $10 to $30 while mid-range hotels (Isimbi, Chez Lando, Iris Guesthouser) can go up to $80 per night. There are many more hotels that are very affordable and provide decent services and possibly free breakfast as well to the traveler on a budget.
What to eat in Kigali
Rwanda’s staple foods include Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, red beans, cassava, yam, groundnuts, and rice. They emerge from the rich, organic, fertile, volcanic soils that dominate the region. Lunch is the best time to enjoy typical Rwandese food and restaurants with a good a reputation include Hotel Karisimbi and Hotel Gorilla. There are also plenty of international restaurants with continental cuisines here such as Zen, Khana Khazana, Heaven Restaurant, Chez Robert, Sole Luna, etc. If you love exploring new tastes – try some locally brewed strawberry wine and banana beer! And if you taste buds tingle for some tropical fruits, you’ll find plenty of fresh varieties here.
What to do in Kigali
- Visit the Kigali Memorial Centre to pay respects to the brave and innocent souls who perished in the 1994 Genocide.
- Climb up to the top of Centenary House for a breathtaking view of the entire city.
- Visit the Nyamirambo and Nyabugogo market. You will be surprised by the spread of items there and even more so by their prices.
- Attend a traditional Rwandan wedding. The traditional attire, customs and dances are a visual treat.
- Hire and try on the traditional Rwandan attire at Rubangura Building. Oh, and have a photo shoot with them on! And if you end up liking the attire too much to let it go, head back and bargain!
How to get around Kigali
- Matatus (communal taxis) are an extremely cheap way to travel Kigali. Check with the conductor about your destination before you get on board and be ready to hustle when it comes to squeezing yourself into those tiny vans.
- Motos (motorbikes) are really convenient and always available. Ask around for standard rates and bargain with confidence with the moto man. Be ready for some spontaneous conversation with them on the way! However, the priority is your safety, so kindly request them to slow down if they get carried away – no pun intended ;).
What to buy in Kigali
- Coffee! Did you know that Rwanda exports coffee to Starbucks and Sainsburys? Did you also know that you can get the same coffee here in Rwanda for infinitely cheaper?
- Tea! – Rwanda’s second largest cash-crop export after coffee. Green tea is especially cheap here.
- Passion fruit juice concentrate: simply-effin-delicious!
- The famous Rwandan baskets, which are known as “Agaseke”. Kigali also has a distinctive style in art works and handicrafts. Ladies, do check out the traditional woven earrings and bead necklaces.
- Animals made out of wood and soapstone.
- By the way, all the above make excellent gifts to take back home for your friends and family.
The national languages are English, French and Kinyarwanda. While you will do very well with the former two, the latter will help a lot when you are bargaining for the fancy pair of earrings you just can’t seem to let go of!!
Health and safety in Kigali
This is a tropical country, so you will definitely need to take some protective measures such a yellow fever vaccination, anti-malarial tablets, etc. As for safety, you do not need to worry because Kigali is one of the safest cities in Africa! But a little common sense and listening to your instincts will, just as in anywhere else in the world, go a long way in keeping you out of harm’s way.
If you are planning a trip to Kigali, then you are in for a treat. The people are kind, curious and friendly. The city is clean, green and bustling. And the atmosphere is spontaneous and lively yet laid-back. It’s a place that will surprise you, shock you, amaze you, inspire you, stretch your horizons and broaden your perspective of Rwanda and Africa in general. Be willing to embrace it! Murakaza Neza! Welcome!
Have you visited Kigali? What were your reactions to seeing the memorial? What recommendations do you have for fellow travelers? Please share in the comments section below.
Photo courtesy of Dave Proffer.