- Capital and largest city in Rwanda, with a population of approximately 1 million people.
- Previously known as the place where the 1994 Rwandan genocide started, but now recognized as one of the cleanest, most secure cities in Central and East Africa.
- Nicknames: sometimes called the “Land of Eternal Spring.”
- Currency: Rwandan franc (Frw)
- Spoken languages: Kinyarwanda is the native language in Rwanda, and virtually 100% of Rwandans speak it as their mother tongue. The country has historically used French as its official language, but it has recently transitioned to English. Many Rwandans speak at least some French or English, especially in Kigali, and most educated people are proficient in one or the other.
- Best time to visit: The dry season typically lasts from mid-May to mid-September, and this is the best time to visit, as most Rwandans prefer to stay indoors when it’s raining and many unpaved roads wash away during the rainy season.
- Note: Avoid visiting in April, as Rwandans spend most of the month (particularly the week of April 7) in official genocide commemorations. Not only is it quite harrowing to be in the country during this time, but many shops and businesses are closed part of the month and the level of violent crime typically increases around this time.
- Arrival via airport: The airport is located approximately 10km east of Kigali, and taxis to the center of the city run about 6,000 Frw. Matatus pick up at the Kanombe stop right outside the airport, and cost 200 Frw to downtown.
- Wireless Internet is increasingly available at hotels and cafes, though it’s unreliable and often very slow.
WHERE TO STAY
Most of Kigali’s good accommodation options, ranging from budget to luxury, are in or near the center–city area, with several budget and mid-range places just off the main roundabout in front of Union Trade Center.
- Matatus, East Africa’s ubiquitous minibuses, are the cheapest way to get around Kigali. Most originate from downtown or the nearby Nyabugogo bus park, and they run all over the city.
- Moto–taxis are the other cheap option in Kigali, and are certainly more convenient, if a little less safe, than matatus. You can pick up a moto-taxi on virtually any main road, and trips around the city should be under 1,500, depending on the distance.
- If you can afford it, taxis are a much calmer option. They are harder to come by in less popular areas, but there are plenty downtown. Trips can run anywhere from 1,000-5,000 Frw, depending on the distance. While all of Kigali’s taxis were individually-owned in the past, more and more are part of Kigali City Taxi and are marked with the company’s official logo. Some are metered, but you typically have to haggle.
- Drinking age is 18, though IDs are rarely checked. There is no standard “last call,” and some bars are open late into the night.
- Kigali’s few nightclubs are typically filled with Rwandan men, Rwandan prostitutes, and ex-pats. The biggest clubs are New Cadillac in Kimihurura and Planet Club at the KBC roundabout. Other popular places among foreigners are the bars at Western hotels and nice restaurants in Kiyovu.
- Locals, mostly men, hang out at “blue bars,” painted the bright blue of the Primus label. Blue bars dot nearly every street, and typically serve the local beers, Primus and Mutzig, as well as Amstel and sometimes Heineken or Guinness, and an array of soft drinks.
UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT
- Kigali’s best-known landmark is the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre in Gisozi, which documents the history of the 1994 genocide and also includes a memorial to child victims of the genocide and an exhibition on other genocides around the world.
- The Presidential Palace Museum, located 4km past the airport in Kanombe, is housed at what was the State House of former Presidents Juvenal Habyarimana and Pasteur Bizimungu. Displays depict Rwandan traditions and daily activities, and debris from the airplane that was shot down in 1994 and killed Habyarimana lies outside the museum.
- The Kimoronko Market, located in the neighborhood of the same name, is the largest in Kigali and offers a great look at daily life in Rwanda. Hundreds of vendors sell all types of food, clothing, souvenirs, household supplies, electronics, and more.
- Hotel des Mille Collines, the hotel from Hotel Rwanda, has been completely re-built since it served as a refuge for Tutsis in 1994. Located in Kiyovu, the hotel is now one of Rwanda’s finest. The swimming pool offers day passes, and the Sunday brunch buffet at the poolside restaurant is especially popular. At night, the outdoor bar fills with ex-pats and often features live music.
- One interesting (though steep) walk starts at the Nyabugogo bus park, downhill from the city center. Walk from the bus park uphill toward the main traffic circle to get a good look at typical Rwandan houses and shops in one of Kigali’s less-visited neighborhoods.
- From the traffic circle, continuing past Union Trade Center and Simba Supermarket will take you through Kigali’s main commercial area, passing both the few high-rise buildings and many smaller shops. To get a closer look at local life, get off the main road and wander through downtown’s smaller side streets, home to clothing and electronics shops, local restaurants, and small blue bars.
- Nyamirambo, home to must of Kigali’s Muslim population, is easily the city’s most vibrant neighborhood. Take a stroll down the main street, lined with shops selling clothing and knick-knacks. The large Nyamirambo mosque is the neighborhood’s landmark and offers great photo opportunities.
- Where to find good cheap eats: try the local snacks! Though Kigali lacks the popular street food of most East African cities, common snacks include chapatti bread, meat-filled samosas (usually called “sambusas”), small cakes made from maize flour, and cups of milky chai tea. The typical dish at most local bars is a brochette of goat meat paired with chips or plantains.
- Note: Foreigners (particularly Caucasians and Asians) get hassled a fair amount in Kigali, and should expect Rwandans to stare and point and for vendors to be somewhat aggressive. While it can be a bit annoying and at times intimidating, the people don’t mean any harm and foreigners shouldn’t feel threatened. That said, women would do well to avoid walking around alone after dark.
RECOMMENDED KIGALI GUIDE BOOKS
Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days