Rwanda is a small country, with its modern capital, Kigali, at the centre. From here the roads radiate outwards, like the spokes of a wheel, and hence on most Rwanda holidays, you’ll occasionally spend a night here as part of any itinerary. It’s a pleasant city scattered over several hills with enough to do to keep visitors occupied for a couple of days, easy to walk around with plenty of bars, cafes and restaurants for sustenance.
One of the first things most people notice is that, particularly for an African city, Kigali is spotlessly clean, partly because plastic bags are banned in the country but also because of a universal service called Umuganda when everyone gets together on the last Saturday morning of each month working on community projects like keeping streets clean, tending to gardens and helping neighbours. Do bear this in mind should you be on holiday in Rwanda during this time – many shops and businesses will be closed for the morning.
Kigali has relatively few tourists but those that take the time to explore the city are rewarded by a friendly response from locals and a more rounded insight into the country as a whole.
Hotels in Kigali
Kigali’s accommodation options are spread around the city and range from smart four or five-star hotels to lower budget bed and breakfasts. While many are of a good international standard, including the Heaven Retreat, or are staying in for the historical value such as Hotel des Mille Collines which was the basis for the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, you should be aware that service can sometimes be slow in bars and restaurants. Take a look here to see our recommended hotels in Kigali.
What to do in Kigali
Shopping in Kigali
There are a number of smart shopping malls in Kigali city centre with some chic boutiques and coffee shops. But if you’re after something more authentic, take a stroll around one or two of its lively markets, you’ll usually be met with great friendliness. If you like browsing for curios and souvenirs from your Rwanda holiday, pay a visit to the Caplaki handicrafts cooperative, which sells a variety of local crafts.
Alternatively, the lively Nyamirambo area of Kigali is regarded as the most vibrant quarter of the city, known for its excellent tailors and hair salons, as well as its many bars and cafes. As with any city, take care if visiting at night but during the daytime, Nyamirambo Women’s Centre offers interesting walking tours around their neighbourhood that take in their own craft shop, a typical Rwandan meal and the local market too.
Kigali Museums and the Kigali Genocide Memorial
Kigali’s museums include the State House Museum and the Natural History Museum, both worthy of a visit if you’re in town with the latter having superb views over the city.
Perhaps the city’s best-known landmark, and with good reason, is the very insightful and moving Kigali Genocide Memorial standing amid beautiful rose gardens and fountains. The memorial sets out the history leading up to the genocide in Rwanda and also explains other genocides around the world. It includes poignant displays of victims’ photographs and belongings, bringing the realities of the atrocities to life. While it might seem an unusual tourist attraction and can be upsetting, it does help to put into context how and why the genocide happened and to better appreciate just how far the country has moved on together in the intervening years. It also plays a vital role in educating Rwanda’s new and future generations about the genocide.