Rwanda is known as a charming country of countless hills and natural beauty – The capital Kigali is no exception. Kigali has a population of over one million people and is built right at the centre of the country making it easy to access by road from all of Rwanda’s neighboring countries. Kigali has become known as one of the quietest, safest, cleanest and most organized cities in Africa. It is the centre of arts, transportation and culture in Rwanda. The tragic 1994 genocide did not demoralize the nation for long but has helped unite the people. The people have been given another chance to build their country afresh socially, economically and politically. There is a great sense of ownership, collaboration and community that is lacking in many African countries. If you haven’t been to the capital lately, you will be amazed by great transformations. Despite the amazing attractions and natural beauty of Kigali, few tourists desire to explore the capital. Most visitors only use the city as a transit point to the country’s remote national parks where they can see the mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, wildlife or climb one of the volcanoes. That shouldn’t be the case given what Kigali has to offer. There are countless places to visit, fun things to discover and do while in Kigali. Let’s look at each one by one.
Climb Mount Kigali: For those who love adventure, climbing Mount Kigali could be just the thing you need. It is not a mountain as such but the highest hill in Kigali reaching 6,000 feet. The starting point is in Nyamirambo near the Sun City Hotel. Overall, hiking to the top of the mountain is easy because of its gentle slopes. The top of Mount Kigali offers amazing views of the city and with opportunities to take beautiful photos. While on top of Mount Kigali, you can stop for food and beer at the Mera Neza bar or visit the Fazenda Sengha horse ranch for horseback riding. There is a platform in the ranch overlooking the beautiful city where barbecue is served for visitors.
Take a Motorcycle Taxi: This is perhaps the most effective and cheap means of touring the city and its suburbs. The motorbikes are perfect for navigating through the traffic and provide flexibility to stop at literarily any place of interest. The bikes can be rented by anyone but it is important to move with a trustworthy Guide if you are not sure how to use them. Be careful using them during the rainy season and always put on the helmet provided by the Guide.
Volunteering: If you have a strong believe in the spirit of volunteerism, then you need to know that Kigali will provide you with opportunities to get involved in important causes. You can request to help patients in the hospitals, teach English in a school, teach a new sport and design a website for one of the numerous Non-governmental organizations looking for the services of committed and skilled international volunteers. Expect to work in difficult conditions with minimal comfort. The only reward to expect from your volunteering spirit is the feeling of knowing that you have done something for the good and betterment of others.
Visit a bowling alley: Mamba club was the first place to bring a boiling alley in Kigali. The club is found in Kimihurura and has helped raise the popularity of the sport among people in Rwanda. The club has quality imported bowling gear and puts together other indoor sporting activities that are enjoyed in an atmosphere of fun with good international and local cuisines on offer.
Visit Art Centers, Crafts Shops and art galleries: A visit to African cities is incomplete without visiting one of the art/craft shops – Kigali is no exception. The people of Rwanda love art and if you are looking for evidence, then visit their homes and sitting rooms. The Inema Art Center is the best art Centre in Kigali. This center was opened in the year 2012 by the two Innocent Nkurunziza and Emmnuel Nkuranga. The Centre now houses about 13 of the country’s best artists as well as international guest artists. It is the place to go to if you are interested in beautiful African sculptures and paintings. It is possible to witness the artists at work or learn dancing and drumming skills. The centre also arranges yoga classes for visitors and has a bar that opens on Thursday allowing visitors to listen to music as they marvel at the art collections. For the best Jewelry collection, check out the popular Abraham Konga Collections. Konga uses discarded materials to create high quality earrings and necklaces. GoKigali Boutique within the Marriot Hotel has got high quality jewelry, shoes and books. You can also find baskets, clothes and a nice map of Kigali at GoKigali Boutique. For a cheaper jewelry and other household items, why not visit the Sarah Day Design located a few meters away from the boutique at the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre.
Go for Sauna and Massage: While in Kigali, you will have no shortage of places to go to that offer pedicure, facials or manicure. Massage and Sauna isn’t reserved for only the high end hotels but also specialized outlets scattered around the city centre.
Visit one of the large shopping Malls: Nakumatt is located within the Union Trade Centre and is arguably the largest super market in the town centre at the moment. You can find almost everything there.
Skydiving: This activity has become so popular in Kigali after being introduced only recently. Jumping from a small plane to the ground will raise your adrenaline to phenomenal levels. The activity can be done by anybody but needs great mental preparation. The instructors give an orientation about all aspects of safety including how to organize the parachute. The instructor will fly close to or with you all the way to the ground.
Ride a Horse: Kigali offers the opportunity to go horseback riding through the beautiful countryside and around Mount Kigali with amazing views of the city. Horseback riding is arranged at the Fazenda Sengha in Mount Kigali and at the Rugende Park. Anyone can take part in horseback riding. Before starting the long ride, participants are taken for practice riding around a pen or tree as they learn the basics of handling a horse
Skating: This is one of the recently introduced outdoor activities in Kigali. The park used for skating is at the SOS School in Kacyiru. The SOS School offers opportunities to learn the fundamentals of skating for beginners while also teaching new skills for the advanced skaters.
Golfing: The Kigali Golf Club in Nyarutarama allows non-members to play for a small fee while also providing golfing equipment and bags. The club has a well maintained and beautiful 18-hole course.
Play Tennis: The best tennis courts in Kigali are found at Cercle Sportif, Hotel Des Milles Collines, Nyarutarama Sports Club, Umubano hotel and the Amahoro stadium. Many of the other courts are still made of clay and may stress your feet as you play for a long time.
Go Fishing: Lake Muhazi is the best place to go for fishing in Kigali. It takes about one hour driving by road to reach the lake from Kigali. The lake stretches about 32kms across and has several fishing holes where you can throw your line from a speedboat or a canoe. The area surrounding the lake has amazing scenery which adds value to the activity.
The Kigali Convention Center: The Center is built next to the famous Radisson Blu Hotel. The Kigali Convention Centre is one of the prominent places in Kigali. It was built in the shape of a beehive with beautiful lights that look amazing in the night. It is said that the architect was inspired by the King’s palace in Nyanza, which has a similar design.
Go to the local markets: The best way to learn about the culture of a country is to visit the local markets. From the market, you can know their favorite food and how they interact. Kimironko Market is arguably the largest local market in Kigali. It is built away from the city centre and has the best collection of fresh vegetable, fruits, species and flours. Apart from food stalls, the market has several electronics, clothes and other craft shops. You can find local Rwandan fabrics with bright colors ready to be bought and sewed into a skirt, top or dress for small fee. The other major market is the Nyamirambo market. This market is more spacious allowing you to mingle with the locals as you get to know about their products. Most Rwandans speak Kinyarwanda and a bit of French. It is important to move with a guide whenever you visit these markets to help you with translation where necessary.
Take Coffee or tea: Kigali is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world. The number of coffee shops in the city has increased over the years serving tasty coffee and tea. Imagine an evening relaxing by one of the popular coffee shops, taking hot coffee as you watch the locals carrying out their daily activities. Some of the best tea and Coffee Cafes are Camellia (built inside a large shopping mall), Poivre Noir, the popular Sundowner, Shokola Cafe, Inzora Rooftop Café, Le Panorama (beautiful views of the city), Cafe Neo for brewed coffee and sandwiches. There is also Bourbon Coffee serving fresh fruit juices and sandwiches or Blues Café for its burgers and salads.
Visit a coffee cooperative: After tasting and appreciating the coffee from one of the outlets, why not go and visit one of the coffee cooperatives in the outskirts of the city. Question Coffee is a Non-governmental organization and coffee cooperative that arranges day tours to their coffee plantation and farms to learn about the entire process of making coffee until it is packed in bags ready for sell.
Watching Movies or visiting the Night Clubs: The night life in Kigali is filled with activity. Century Cinema located right at the city centre is Kigali’s main movie theater. They show the latest blockbusters (some before official release from the US) in 3-D and 5-D with great motion, special effects and surround sound. The Goethe-Institut and Korean Embassy show German and Korean movies (themed) respectively on certain days of the week.
For those who love dancing, partying and mingling with new people, visiting one of the night clubs would be just the thing. These night clubs are frequented by all classes of people looking for a good time and fun over the weekend. Before storming one of the clubs, you can take dance lessons from one of the schools around the city like Chillax Lounge for Salsa dancing. K-Club is arguably the best dance club in Kigali but one can also go to Club 514 and ROSTY Bar for Karaoke on Wednesday nights. Tiamo in Kiyovu has a live band playing African tunes (Lingala, Zouk and Rumba) every Friday of the week. The Serena hotel organizes bigger and more expensive concerts involving known international artists.
Watch Soccer at the Amahoro Stadium: Amahoro Stadium in the Remera area is the largest soccer stadium in Rwanda with the ability to accommodate 30,000 people. Soccer is very popular among the people Rwanda and the stadium gets filled each time the top teams play. The top and most popular league teams in Rwanda are Rayon Sports FC, Police FC and Armée Patriotique Rwandaise FC. Tickets for the matches aren’t expensive. So go and support one of the teams and mingle with the locals as you have fun and make new friends.
The Kigali Public Library: If you love reading books and knowledge, then the new Kigali public library is one place you should visit. The library offers a serene environment with a collection of electronic and physical books. Individuals are free to access the library computers, use the internet or watch documentaries on a large projector while drinking Rwanda coffee served from the Shokola Storytellers Cafe in one of the floors. To take a book home, one needs membership. If one is interested in buying books about Rwanda then they can visit the Ikirezi bookshop.
Visit restaurants: While in Kigali, you can’t miss trying out delicacies like Akabenz (cooked pork), brochettes (roasted meat with chips), Nyama Choma (roasted meat), Ibirayi (goat mixed with potatoes) and giant fried fish. These delicious meals are prepared in Hotels like Hotel des Mille Collines or in specialized restaurants around the city. The first place to check out is Brachetto. This high-end facility is managed by an Italian chief and is known for very tasty Italian dishes like pasta, grills, risotto, sandwich and gourmet.
Apart from Brachetto, Kigali has countless other restaurants offering quality services. The Heaven restaurant prepares intercontinental dishes and is frequented by expats, businessmen and staff from international aid organizations. One can also visit the restaurant at Pili-Pili or Sol et Luna for their Italian dishes. The Afrika Bite, Meze Fresh and Chez John specialize in local Rwandan dishes/buffets but I can’t forget to recommend Dolce for their beautiful interior and tasty pizzas or Zen for offering the best Asian meals in Kigali. For Indian dishes, look no further than Zaaffran and Khana Khazana. I also give strong mentions of The Repub Lounge for tasty meat dishes and cocktails, Fantastic Restaurant for local/international cuisines, Lalibela Restaurant for Ethiopian cuisines, Trattoria for tasty pasta/buffets, Brioche Bread and Pastries for bread/cakes and Sakae for Korean, Chinesese and Japanese food.
The Nyamirambo Women’s Centre: Nyamirambo Women’s Centre is found in suburb in Kigali. This centre and workshop was opened in 2007 by a group of local Rwandan women who were victims of gender violence in the past. As a Non-governmental organization, the Nyamirambo Women’s Center helps fight gender-based violence while also organizing English language trainings and computer literacy classes for the victims. The centre provides modern sewing machines that the women use to produce local clothes, bags and other accessories from local material. The final product is of high quality and some of the best colorful Kitenge (a local fabric) can be bought at their boutique to support the centre. Nyamirambo Women’s Centre organizes walking tours in Kigali with the purpose of exposing visitors to the rural life in Kigali. The two hour walking tours involves stops at the Natural History Museum, State House museum, local shops, local homes, hair salons and the local markets.
The Gaddafi Mosque: The Gaddafi mosque is an impressive structure in Nyamirambo. It wasn’t built by the former Libyan leader but is referred to him by name in recognition of a road that he built passing close to the mosque. The Islamic Cultural Center is the official name of the mosque but people in Rwanda don’t use that name. The mosque also has a community center, a school and clinic that serve the people of Nyamirambo.
Go jogging or walking: A beautiful city like Kigali with its beautiful hills can be explored by walking or jogging. The walk can be done both during the day and at night. The streets of Kigali are free of criminals and are well-lit. You can walk along the valleys of Nyarutarama and Kacyiru and also behind MTN’S main centre near Kibagabaga. If you want to walk in an aea with many people, than you can go to Nyamirambo. For those who love jogging, Kigali’s hills may prove daunting but if you can persist and reach the top, expect to be rewarded with magnificent views of the city. The area around the Kimihurura roundabout has more level ground and is a favorite for other walkers and joggers.
Visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial: Whereas Kigali and Rwanda now represents many of the good things about a new and fast changing Africa, the people had to watch as one of the worst genocides in history occurred in 1994. The Kigali Genocide Memorial is built to honor about 200,000 victims of the genocide but also to remind people about the atrocities committed so that it never occurs again. As upsetting as it can be, visiting this memorial centre will give you an insight of what transpired while also helping you appreciate the current achievements of the. From the exhibitions, you will learn about the overall history of Rwanda, her colonization and other factors that set the stage for the horrific slaughter. At the site, you will see mages of young children slaughtered mercilessly by the Interahamwe. The Kigali Genocide Memorial goes beyond Rwanda to make you understand the other great atrocities committed by mankind around the world. The third exhibition shows the great atrocities by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the genocides in Armenia and Cambodia. Spare about 2 hours to see all the videos and listen to the audio recordings.
Visit the main city museums: The Museum of Natural History is the best museum in Kigali and was built with the purpose of documenting the beauty of Rwanda. The northern wing of the museum showcases Rwanda’s animal and bird life as well as the beautiful volcanoes. The Southern Wing on the other hand dwells on the countries mineral riches. You can learn how much all these have contributed to the wealth of the country.
Visitors can also visit the State House Museum (the former Presidential Palace) outside the city centre to understand events that led to the 1994 genocide. The last two presidents to use this palace were Habyarimana and Pasteur Bizimungu. Habyarima was killed in a plane crash near his own presidential compound sparking off the genocide. The palace has interesting exhibits to explore including, devices for detection, a gun cabinet and a nightclub for the president and friends. You can also see both a chapel and another room that was used for rituals. The wreckage of the Falcon 50 presidential jet that was shot down lies next to the palace gardens.
If by this time you are still interested in more about the genocide, you can visit the Campaign Against Genocide Museum at the Parliament building. This museum helps understand how the Rwanda Patriotic Front planned to stop the genocide after the withdrawal of UN troops left the Tutsi at the mercy of the Interahamwe.
The Belgium UN Troop Memorial: The memorial was opened in 2000 and was built to remember the 10 Belgium UN peacekeepers that were slaughtered as they protected the Prime Minister Madame Agathe Uwiligiyimana and her family. The Prime minister was also assassinated along with her husband. The Belgium soldiers tried to fight back but they got short of ammunition after a long standoff.
The intention of killing the Belgium peacekeepers was to force the UN peacekeeping force out of Rwanda and allow the genocide to continue unabated. The Belgium’s were the only western UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda. The others were made up of troops from other continents. The Interahamwe and their collaborators had borrowed leaf from the killing of UN American peacekeepers in Somalia. The killing of the American soldiers forced the UN out of Somalia and the Interahamwe thought that if they killed the Belgium troops, it would spark outrage and cause the withdrawal of all UN peacekeeping troops – and they were right.
Visit Hotel des Mille Collines: Hotel des Mille Collines is one of the best hotels in Kigali. This is the hotel that was featured in the 2004 movie “Hotel Rwanda”. Many people took refuge in the hotel during the genocide in 2004. The hotel managers saved over 1,000 people by hiding them in the hotel rooms. Hotel des Mille Collines is a large luxury hotel with 112 rooms. It has a fitness centre, swimming pool, and a restaurant serving intercontinental dishes. Even though you are not a resident in the hotel, you can still pay a visit to the hotel. No tours are allowed and there are no visible displays to show the role it played during the genocide.