Kigali, Rwanda’s Gateway City
Kigali’s location in the center of Rwanda makes it the logical, and convenient, a place to start or finish any Rwandan adventure. It’s clean, safe, and home to some great cultural and dining options.
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
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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
Other Rwanda Attractions
Visit Rwanda Q&A
Safety is a priority for most travelers, and Rwanda is one of the safest countries not just in Africa, but in the world: Rwanda handled the Covid-19 pandemic impressively with a 0.6% death rate and great standards of tour Rwanda operation that see the country growing back its visitors after the pandemic.
In 2015, the country ranked fifth globally and first on the continent in Gallup’s Law and Order Index, which measures how safe people feel walking home at night. Violent crime is near nonexistent, and the terrorist threats that have plagued other East African destinations in the past have not affected Rwanda since the genocide. Rwanda is safe to visit.
Must Read: Is it safe to travel to Rwanda
The following Rwanda entry requirements are mandatory for all inbound travellers:
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must have a negative COVID-19 certificate. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours of departure (meaning travelers must be tested and get results within 5 days of their first flight). Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted.
- All travelers arriving in Rwanda must complete the passenger locator form and upload the COVID-19 test certificate prior to arrival. Please see passenger locator form and list of designated transit hotels on www.rbc.gov.rw.
- All travelers arriving or transiting through Rwanda will be screened upon entry and take a second RT-PCR test to confirm the negative results of the test done prior to arrival.
- All travelers are required to wait 24 hours for the results of their COVID-19 test in a designated transit hotel. All COVID-19 prevention measures announced by the Ministry of Health must be respected during waiting period.
- The Government of Rwanda has negotiated special rates at designated transit hotels for the 24 hour waiting period. Should a guest wish to remain in the hotel after.
Once at the hotel, the process is as following:
- Travelers will be tested for COVID-19 and there will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD). For further information on payment method for COVID-19 test please visit www.rbc.gov.rw
- Test results will be received by SMS or email, and the turnaround time for results is 24hrs from the time a sample is collected.
- Upon receiving a negative test result, travelers will be invited to check out or may extend their stay in the same hotel at applicable hotel rates.
- If a traveler’s test result is positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
- All travelers departing from Rwanda must test negative for COVID-19. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours before departure. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted. We encourage travelers to book and pay for their tests at least 2 days prior to departure through the online platform available on www.rbc.gov.rw
- Travelers from neighboring countries planning to start their international travel from Rwanda will be screened at points of entry and taken to transit hotels where samples will be taken for a COVID-19 test. They are requested to arrive at designated transit hotels at least 48 hours before departure where they will await their test results. There will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD).
- If the traveler’s test results are positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.
A direct flight to Kigali from London with Rwandair (a national carrier) takes about 9 hours 54 minutes and there are flights every day of the week. Other direct flights include Johannesburge, Amstadam, Istambul, Doha, Dubai and others. This was one of the reasons Rwanda is a destination of choice. The fact that you can take a direct flight to a travel destination is always very encouraging!
Foreigners who intend to visit Rwanda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa once you arrive at Kigali International Airport. However, if you intend to do an East Africa tour, there is the option of purchasing a single tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya at US$100. More reason to tour Rwanda’s great attractions.
In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid contact with the visa process at entry point and make sure you have your visa before you jet in. Thanks to technology, this can be done online with little or no hustle as long you have the requirements to getting the visa like passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and other Covid standard requirements by the government. Here are links to help you get started: https://www.migration.gov.rw/anounce/online-visa/
Must read: Rwanda Safety Information
It’s no exaggeration, Kigali is the cleanest and greenest African city. The government encourages citizens to plant trees/grass in their homes and need a permit to cut down any tree. It is also a crime to walk on lawns in Kigali and you get fined $2 if you are caught walking on one.
Rwanda’s capital is on the move. From its psychedelic Easter egg of a convention center to car-free zones and yes, Wi-Fi cafes that dole out freshly spun smoothies, locally roasted coffee, and homemade scones (Café Neo, Bourbon Coffee), Kigali is making a mad dash toward modernity. Absorb the bright lights of Rwanda’s future at the Inema Arts Center, where promising young painters debut their best work amid weekly yoga classes and cocktail hours.
The tagline “Remarkable Rwanda” is apt as the Rwandans are truly impressive. The country and its people have come a long way from the genocide in 1994 and now live in peace and harmony. They are very welcoming to tourists and are always willing to help.
The land of 1,000 hills lives up to the greenery expectations with exceptionally gorgeous landscapes. The entire country is spread across various hills with abundant green confortably earning its name “Land of a thousand hills”. Potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, tea, cassava, sugarcane, coffee and passion fruit are key crops grown in Rwanda.
These horrific killings, aimed at wiping out an entire tribe, is easily one of the worst massacres to happen on the African continent in modern times. With genocide museums dotted across the country, the Rwandan people have documented this ugly past to the very last detail so the world can learn from it. Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit for everyone on a tour Rwanda vacation.
If you are an animal and nature lover, you’ll know that Rwanda is home to one third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (the others are in Congo and Uganda). There are only about 1064 mountain gorillas remaining in the world and they can only survive in the wild. This means that to enjoy this one of a kind experience, you’ll have to “visit” them in their home.
To see gorillas in Rwanda, book a gorilla permit with Nkuringo Safaris for inside Volcanoes National Park, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, and our local experts will lead you on a daily guided gorilla trek that tops out at eight visitors per gorilla family. The only other two countries that we offer the same experience—in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—require more vigorous hikes for seasoned hikers.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda currently (2020/21) costs US$1,500 per person per trek.
After acquiring lions and with the introduction black rhinos in Akagera National Park, Rwanda is once again a prime Africa safari BIG FIVE destination. With elephants, buffalo, and a wide variety of antelope, you’ll get the full savanna experience and the added bonus of the park’s river boat cruises, which include rare encounters with crocodiles and hippos. Akagera provides campgrounds and tents for a small fee, but honestly, “glamping” on the edge of Lake Ihema at the Ruzizi Tented Lodge is the way to go. Even better? All proceeds benefit the park.