Don’t miss out on vibrant Rwandan culture and legendary hospitality in the country’s leafy capital city, where poignant memorials of the civil war leave a profound impression.
A peaceful, thriving metropolis spread over lush hills, leafy Kigali is conveniently located in the geographic centre of the country. It is well worth spending some time here absorbing the vibrant culture and city life, music scene, lively markets, bars, great food and award-winning museums.
The city is notably clean – a result of a total ban on plastic bags (that scourge of many third-world countries) as well as its community service policy, called Umuganda. On the last Saturday of every month, shops close and all citizens spend the morning cleaning the streets, trimming the city’s gardens and generally helping one another out. This wonderful system works well in Rwanda, where the people are extraordinarily warm and friendly. (A word to the wise: if you are in Kigali on the last Saturday of the month, expect most shops and businesses to be closed.)
No visit to Kigali is complete without paying tribute to the victims of the harrowing genocide of over a million people in 1994. The people of Rwanda embrace peace and reconciliation and are committed to fighting the ideology of genocide. The memorials found throughout the country are moving testimonies. A visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre is a poignant and powerfully moving experience, but make time to add the Nyamata Genocide Memorial and Ntarama Genocide Memorial to your itinerary. These independent museums, under an hour from Kigali, were once churches where mass killings took place but they now tell an important part of the tragic Civil War story.
Kigali is a tech-savvy city that also has some upmarket shopping malls, boutique stores and a coffee culture. The local markets, however, are friendly and vibrant, and will give you a taste of local living. The Caplaki handicrafts cooperative is a good place to pick up a variety of local crafts. Explore the Nyamirambo quarter during a walking tour offered by the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre. Start your tour at the Women’s Centre with a traditional snack, a quick Kinyarwanda language lesson, and an introduction to the centre and its activities. Then weave your way through Nyamirambo, one of Kigali’s oldest neighborhoods. Along the way guides lead participants into a hairdressing salon where you can get a free braid if you are feeling adventurous; into a family compound to pound cassava leaves; past two mosques and a lookout view over Kigali; and into a tailor shop to feel the fabrics you’ll otherwise see styled on the streets. The tour ends with a delicious traditional lunch.