Things to do in Kigali, Rwanda
I popped over to Rwanda at the weekend, as you do. I’m here in Uganda on a tourist visa which has the annoying habit of expiring every three months so I needed to do a border dash to renew it. Having never been to Rwanda before I decided to get a bus to Kigali (the capital of Rwanda). It’s quite a small city, built over hills. It doesn’t have a huge number of tourist attractions but based on my weekend there here are 6 things that I recommend doing in the city:
1. Take a walk
Now, it may just be because I’ve been living in Kampala for too long but, I am so in love with Kigali’s pavements. People give me weird looks when I say the thing I miss most about my home country is the pavements. It’s true though. I love a good walk and Kampala’s cracked pavements with regular holes to the sewer, or sometimes their utter non-existence just doesn’t do it for me.
It is a little bit tiring walking up and down all of Kigali’s hills but you get some spectacular views. It is also really easy to find your way around on foot. Be sure to put on lots of sunscreen though! I forgot and got horribly sunburnt. I look ridiculous.
2. Go for brunch
There’s a small but friendly expat crowd in Kigali and they have introduced their love of brunch to Rwanda. There are lots of great places to go for brunch in the city. Some ones I tried out were:
Heaven – Nice outside seating with lovely views. Specialises in home-made sausages and things with eggs. Try the fresh Japanese plum juice – it’s amazing.
Brioche – French bakery. Reportedly have the “best croissants” in the world. They were good for East Africa but I still rate actual French ones higher.
RZ Manna – Korean bakery of deliciousness. Try their fresh mango juice.
3. Visit an art gallery.
There are several cute art galleries/studios in Kigali. Above are Ivuka Arts Studios and Yego Arts. Both let you wander in, look at the art and talk to any artists who happen to be hanging around. When I walked into Ivuka there was a Dutch man giving drawing lessons to a group of teenage boys. If I wasn’t afraid of breaking my baggage allowance back to the UK I would have bought some paintings.
4. Ride a moto
Motos are what bodas (motorcycle taxis) are called in Kigali. Rwanda is pretty strict with some of its rules so every moto driver wears a helmet AND has a spare helmet for his passenger. Be wary of the straps though and make sure you get one that actually tightens. The bikes are also slightly smaller than in Uganda so I didn’t get my usual hip pains sitting on one. They’re fun to zoom around on. I felt safer than in Kampala, although they do drive much faster because of the lack of traffic. But they slow down if you ask. They’re plentiful and useful to flag down if you get lost. Be prepared for the fact they don’t speak much English though so you’ll need to clearly name a landmark to go to.
5. Visit the genocide memorial.
Today, Rwanda is defined by the terrible genocide that happened there in 1994. Whilst it’s sad that this is pretty much the only thing a foreign visitor knows about Rwanda I still think its really important that people go to the memorials and learn about what happened.
I took no photos inside out of respect but the memorial consists of a series of mass graves, an archive filled with books on the genocide and a small museum discussing what happened on poster boards. I wasn’t very impressed with the museum part if I’m honest. It wasn’t very detailed and kept mentioning key people by name with no explanation of who they were. It seemed a very political memorial with practically no mention of the Hutus who were also killed.
That said, it was still very moving and gut wrenching, as any memorial to mass death is. One room in the memorial was dedicated to children who were killed and I actually had to leave it half-way through to gather myself before seeing the rest.
I also recommend reading some or all of the following books to learn more about the genocide:
- Life Laid Bare – Jean Hatzfeld
- Machete Season – Jean Hatzfeld
- The Antelope’s Strategy – Jean Hatzfeld
- Season of Blood – Fergal Keane
- We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families – Philip Gourevitch
There is also a full bibliography on Wikipedia.
6. Admire the views.
Because of all the hills Kigali has beautiful views to be had wherever in the city you are. It’s a green and well-spaced city. I recommend just wandering around and admiring the views to be had.
I’ve heard that Kigali also has craft markets selling beautiful baskets and the like. I can’t vouch for them though as I failed to find them. Bit of an exploration fail there.