A little over two decades ago, Rwanda’s capital city Kigali was the epicenter of a genocide that ravaged the country, claiming about one million lives. Fast forward to the present and a country that was reeling from the horrors of ethnic cleansing now wears the tag of Remarkable Rwanda, while Kigali has recovered and transformed into a showpiece capital, dubbed the most ambitious city in Africa.
Although Kigali may not boast the grand attractions of some African cities, especially the coastal ones, it certainly is a place well worth exploring.
How Do I Get There?
Touchdown at the Kigali International Airport (KGL), about 14km east of the central business district of the city. Kigali can also be accessed by road from Kampala in Uganda, and Bujumbura in Burundi through regular daily bus services.
Like we often advise, it is important to check entry requirements before embarking on any journey, but it’s good to know that Rwanda issues visas-on-arrival at the port of entry. If you plan to see neighboring Uganda and Kenya on the same trip, the East Africa single-entry tourist visa may be a better and cheaper option.
What to see and do…
Okay, just a reminder, this is Kigali and we are keeping it real here. First, this is one of Africa’s friendliest, cleanest and safest cities. Yes, that’s right. You can walk the streets of Kigali at night without hassles. It is quite peaceful and makes a good hiking experience due to its topography. Rwanda is known as the land of a thousand hills.
Some of the attractions in Kigali have to do with that mindless one-month bloody orgy in 1994 – even though Rwanda has overcome that horror, these memorials have been built to honor the memories of the thousands of innocent men, women and children who paid the ultimate price. These places include:
Hotel Des Mille Collines where several hundreds of refugees were hiding during the genocide. The hotel was featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda and it’s a bit pricey, but if you can’t afford a stay, you can enjoy a meal or drink at the onsite restaurant.
The Kigali Memorial Centre Gizosi offers a sober experience for visitors. It was inaugurated in April 2004 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the horrific Rwandan Genocide. The Belgian Soldier Memorial Site at Camp Kigali commemorates the ten Belgian soldiers who were murdered along with the Prime Minister who they were guarding.
Another place to see is the Nyamata Church where about 5,000 people were killed.
The Presidential Palace Museum was President Habyarimana’s official residence until his death in the plane crash that sparked off the genocide. The plane was shot down as it approached Kigali, crashing in the compound and killing everyone onboard including the President of Burundi.
Away from those sad reminders, visit the Richard Kandt House/Museum of Natural History to get a glimpse at the beginnings of the city. Kigali was founded in 1907 by Kandt, a German explorer and his home has been turned into a museum.
Exploring Nyamirambo, the city’s most multi-cultural suburb, and a district that never sleeps is a good way to spend a day. It is a lively hub and you can get a walking tour courtesy of Nyamirambo Women Centre. There are several bars and restaurants in the area, open anytime of the day where you can hang out.
If you have the money to spend, then consider a day trip to the Volcanoes National Park about 120km from Kigali, for what has been described as the best adventure on the planet – Gorilla Trekking! You get to spend an hour with a family of silverback mountain gorillas – but it will set you back USD750!