Kigali, Rwanda’s Gateway City
Kigali is a fascinating example of a future-focused African city. Once known for civil war and genocide, Rwanda’s capital has transformed into a model of urban development. In the two decades after the genocide, exiles have flocked back into the city flush with education, investment dollars, and entrepreneurial ideas. Foreigners have jumped in the mix, opening sushi joints, yoga studios, bakeries, artisan coffee shops, and even a co-working space for start-ups. The nightlife is also picking up, and you’ll find dance clubs, sports bars, and live music.
With approximately 1 million people, the city is the commercial and governmental hub for the rest of the country. Its trash-free boulevards, smooth roads, LED streetlights, and meticulously manicured medians are a similar approximation of Europe to East Africa. It’s an image the country is keen to expand. The new and ultramodern Kigali Convention Centre and many new hotels have ushered in a wave of international conferences and meetings. The cunning master plan calls for an overhaul of the business district and more urban housing.
Even without gleaming new buildings, the city is something to behold. The undulating skyline of red-roofed houses, terraced farm plots, and brilliant green foliage is stunning. Kigali is also safe: violent crime is rare, particularly against foreigners, and police do their job, including handing out speeding tickets. You’ll rarely find yourself hassled, and negotiating traffic will be your biggest obstacle. Some expatriates say that they feel safer raising their kids in Kigali than in U.S. cities.
- Your Rwanda safari entry and exit city is a pleasantly low-key yet dynamic and progressive metropolis. The clean streets are a matter of pride across every community throughout the country.
- The city’s wide tree-lined boulevards and unsullied squares are safe to stroll, where outsiders are generally left to their own devices unless they need assistance, in which case locals will greet them with warm hospitality.
- A burgeoning culture, art, and culinary scene will keep any traveler entertained on a Rwanda visit. The Kigali Cultural Village is an excellent stop to check out local artisans and taste local street food.
- Excellent malls offer great shopping from international brands. A world-class convention center built in the ancient King’s Palace style lights up the city’s night sky.
- The Kigali Genocide Memorial, which honors the memory of the more than one million Rwandans killed in the 1994 genocide, is worth visiting for travelers that want to relive the gruesome days.
- The track around Lake Nyarutarama, next to the 18-hole golf course, is remarkably peaceful and makes for an excellent urban nature walk, with the chance to see some of Rwanda’s incredible birds.
To Kigali & Around
Kigali is relatively easy to navigate. The ubiquitous motorbike taxis, called “motos,” are a cheap and convenient mode of transport and a ride from the airport to the city center costs less than US$3. Note that moto fares are negotiable, and their safety record is questionable. Professionally run taxis are marked and metered, though they are generally the most expensive option. An airport transfer to town can run upward of US$15. Unmarked private taxis are also available, but be prepared to negotiate the fare in advance. If you plan to stay in Kigali for several days, you may want to rent a car for about US$65 per day. The roads are generally in excellent condition. However, be warned that other drivers, pedestrians, and motos can make driving a stressful experience in African cities, and Kigali is no different.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Visitors should not miss this well-conceived tribute to the victims of the 1994 genocide, which saw an estimated 1 million people killed in 100 days. Outside, a terraced series of mass graves entombs some 250,000 victims. Inside, an informative exhibition walks visitors through the historical lead-up to the Rwandan genocide and the global community’s faltering response.
A display of skulls and bones alongside personal effects personifies the tragedy. A second section explores humanity’s capacity for cruelty with a show of genocides from around the world. The exhibition ends with enlarged black-and-white photos of child genocide victims, ranging from 8 months to 17 years. Each picture is accompanied by a placard listing the child’s favorite foods and activities and his or her final moments. There is no entrance fee, but donations are encouraged. The audio guide is worthwhile for US$15.
Presidential Palace Museum
Former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana’s home offers an intimate look at the actors and spaces that gave rise to the 1994 genocide. The president’s assassination is said to have sparked the killing spree. The remains of his private plane, which was shot down over his home, are still on display outside the museum walls. The sunroom where the president’s wife and her infamous coterie, the Akuzu, plotted the genocide still has the original furniture and carpet. A tour guide will point out the president’s paranoia artifacts: censors on the stairs, a secret escape route, and a bathroom safe once stuffed with cash. Other highlights include a Rwanda-shape pool for the president’s 8-meter (26-foot) pet python and a witchcraft consultation room next to the house’s Catholic chapel. Much of the furniture was looted during the genocide. Still, pieces such as Habyarimana’s imposing desk, an elephant-foot table, and the still-working German refrigerator illustrate the leader’s extravagant tastes. The entire tour takes one hour and costs US$12.
Other Places of Interest
The Kigali Cultural Village: a traditional market space to find local art, street food vendors. The site hosts cultural events, workshops, festivals, and music.
Rwanda Art Museum: Formerly the Presidential Palace Museum, this new museum displays contemporary Rwanda and International artworks. The museum gives an insight into the originality of Rwandan creativity and explores the country’s art history.
Ethnographic Museum displays Africa’s finest ethnographic collections. The museum has seven galleries displaying historical, ethnographic, artistic, and archaeological artifacts accompanied by visual aides, giving visitors a rich insight into the Rwandan culture.
Tailored Rwanda Safaris via Kigali
WHERE TO EAT IN KIGALI
Founded by American couple Alissa and Josh Ruxin, this oasis of gourmet cuisine is a favorite among foreign residents and affluent Rwandans for weekend brunch, evening cocktails, and special occasion dinners. The wooden terrace with thatched-roof and recessed lighting affords spectacular hillside views, while art from the adjoining gallery bedecks the brick walls. Tel: +250 788 486581
This intimate and quiet setting in Kimihurura, one of the Kigali neighborhoods most known for restaurants and nightlife, is a welcome reprieve. With a French and Belgian focus, Poivre Noir masterfully crafts some of Kigali’s best meals. The restaurant is famous for its upscale cuisine and intimate setting. Tel: +250 735 823282
Kigali’s fickle social scene finally found a staple in this hilltop African fusion restaurant that has been in business for more than a decade, a true feat in this city. Americans, Europeans, and Kigali’s elite flock to the brother-and-sister-run Republ Lounge for happy hour, late-night drinks, and a belt-loosening menu. Repub Lounge is famous for quality food, service, and happy hour specials. Tel: +250 788 303030
Kigali does not have many sushi options for dining, but with Kiseki, the city thankfully doesn’t need anymore. Located in the Kimihurura neighborhood of Kigali, Kiseki creates inventive rolls, cuts perfectly sliced nigiri, and even supplies sushi burritos during the lunchtime rush. Tel: +250 781 403829
Kigali Serena Hotel
One of the city’s only five-star hotels, the Serena draws an elite crowd with its open-air restaurants, heliconia-and-palm-fringed pool, up-to-date business center, and fully equipped gym. The central location, a wide array of amenities, excellent on-site dining options make Serena a popular choice with business travelers. Tel: +250 788 184500
Perfect for vegetarians or healthy food fanatics, Turambe Shoppe is known for its fresh salad and sandwich offerings. Choose between the delicious Asian chopped salad, roasted garlic hummus, and crunch on Turambe’s organic lettuce. Tel:+250 789 911168
This stylish tapas restaurant offers excellent small bites, a lovely garden space, and thoughtful interior design. Try the eggplant fries drizzled in cane honey and house salad that comes from their cute and colorful garden, and stay for their different events, Spanish classes, and themed foodie nights. Tel:+250 788 382581
A well-decorated dining room and terrace located inside the Radisson Blu hotel and next to the Kigali Convention Centre await guests at Filini. The interior design aside, the restaurant produces some of the city’s best Italian cuisine. Try the gnocchi, pizzas, and fresh salads – everything at Filini is made with high-quality ingredients. Tel:+250 252 252252
Monmartse produces the city’s best Korean food, creating perfectly cooked bibimbap, soups, and banchan (small, usually vegetable-oriented, side dishes). Go with a big group to take advantage of their large portions, tables, and a tasty do-it-yourself Korean barbecue. Tel:+250 789 146799