The centre of political and commercial life, Kigali dominates Rwanda and few visit the country without passing through. The city is developing fast, and is very much a showpiece capital designed to impress visitors, from the humble tourist, to foreign investors and visiting dignitaries.
With a population topping 1 million, the city spreads out over several hills and valleys, with many of the better restaurants and hotels at a distance from the traditional downtown area. The Kigali City Masterplan outlines the future for this burgeoning metropolis – with plans for a new city to be built south of the current city centre.
As a clean, comfortable and ordered city, Kigali is very popular with long term expats, and the city is teeming with westerners, from young church or NGO volunteers having their first experience of Africa to career development workers enjoying a relaxed lifestyle where it is safe to bring up young children. This in turn means the city supports numerous restaurants, coffee shops and supermarkets that cater to this demographic. The downside of Kigali’s modern design and popularity with foreigners is that it is easy to forget you are in Africa.
Dinky Kigali International is a delightful airport - small and organised it is rare to encounter any problems. Be aware that plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda so you'll want to conceal these well in your luggage.
KLM started flights to Kigali from Amsterdam on 31 October 2010.
Kenya Airways also has frequent flights from Nairobi.
Ethiopian Airlines has daily flights between Addis Ababa and Kigali.
Rwandair  the national carrier, has several flights a day to other African destinations, as well as Dubai - tickets are normally booked through travel agents, or, as of 2012, some online travel sites (eg Travelocity).
South African Airways will resume flights to Kigali from Johannesburg in 2012.
Turkish Airlines started flights to Kigali from Istanbul in May 2012.
On flying out of Kigali airport keep in mind the need for a Yellow Fever Certificate at your destination (eg South Africa) - Airport officials will ask for this. Also be careful of waiting in the cafe for your flight - some flights (eg Kenya Airways to Nairobi) are often overbooked and you won't hear any announcement when they decide to start boarding early, and you could miss your flight.
Alternative Entebbe, Uganda
Some international fliers find it much cheaper to fly into Entebbe in Uganda and then take the bus to Kigali. Depending an how long they stop you at the border, the bus trip takes about 9 hours. Try to get a seat on a Jaguar bus. The seats should be booked a day or two in advance in order to get seats #1 to #4. Actual (09/2007) prices: Kampala - Kigali: UGX 25,000.00 p.p. / Kigali - Kampala: UGX 20,000.00 p.p. (strange but true)
Motorcyle taxis (motos) are the most popular and fastest way to get around town. The fare for the motorcycle ranges from 200 RFr-1000 RFr depending on distance, but most of the motocyclists will ask for RFr 200-500. A trip to or from the airport should be around 1500-2000 RFr. Keep in mind that on the main road out to the airport they really put their foot down. It is however a good well sealed road, nice views over Kigali City and a thrilling ride.
Matatus (minibuses) provide major routes throughout the city and are the cheapest way to get around. The Minibus in Rwanda is one of the best forms of transport in East Africa. Most of the buses are still new and are maintined well. There are several minibus companies which connect Kigali and the other cities in Rwanda. All of them give the same price depending on the distance. For short distance, such as to Ntarama, it costs only 600 RFr. The distance to Ruhungeri cost 2500 RFr and to Gisenyi 3000 RFr.
There are several car rental agencies in Kigali.
There are many taxis in Kigali, and in comparison with motos are expensive. A short 1km trip will cost Rwf 2,000 after haggling, going up to Rwf 10,000 for an airport run. Taxis are mainly of two types in Kigali - those operated by individuals (usually with some form of yellow stripe on the vehicle) and more professorially run services operated by a single large operator. The Kigali Airport Taxis and Kigali Taxi Service are the two major groups, there are others companies also running taxis , but these are the largest and both operate a number you can call to sumon a taxis. 3122 for Kigali Taxis service and 476586 for Kigali Aiport Taxi service. A reliable individual is Alex, who is on 0788741559 (French & some English spoken).
The Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre opened in April 2004 on the 10th anniversary of the genocides. Over 250,000 people are buried here, and there is a truly touching museum. Kigali houses several memorials, museums, and centers dedicated to the Rwandan Genocide.
Presidential Palace Museum, (In Kanombe, 4km east past the airport - under the flightpath), . The abode of the formal President Habyarimana, who died in that infamous plane crash of 1994. Guided tours are mandatory, where you can get a glimpse of life as an African dictator in the 1970s & 80s. There is also a display on Rwandan clothing that is quite interesting. Photography is restricted. Rwf 6,000 (Rwf 5,000 for resident foreigners). To get there a moto should cost about Rwf 1,000, and tell him to go to Kanombe - you'll probably end up outside the military hospital at the end of the tarred road, the museum is another 300 meters along the dirt road (GPS coordinates 1.97543S, 30.17206E). edit
Take a trip to a craft centre, like the Dancing Pots Craft Centre or the Cards for Africa workshop and sales room in Kigali.
Ballet Rwanda, ☎ 0785 380 336, . afternoons & evenings. Professional ballet school in Gaculiro - lessons for both children & adults, beginners & experienced dancers. Good mix of Rwandan and expatriate students.edit
Gisozi circuit, (behind Gaculiro), . A great 10km running circuit through Kigali's suburbs - flat, very little traffic and some great views over the rice paddies.edit
Ten pin bowling, Kimihura (a custom-built shed next to the pool at Mamba Club), ☎ 0788513438, . 12 noon to midnight. Opened in 2012 and proving popular. Six lanes of ball-rolling fury complete with the TV screen keeping score, ball returners, shoe rental, and slidy, polished alleys. Adding a delightful twist to employment creation the pins are reset by hand rather than a machine. First game costs Rwf 3,000 per person and the second is Rwf 2,500 each.edit
Learn a bit of French, maybe even a bit of Swahili and Kinyarwanda, all three are extremely useful here. English is also widely spoken, at least in Kigali. A useful Kinyarwanda vocabulary cheat sheet is available here
Your best bet would be with an aid organization or NGO. If you are a resident of the US or EU, keep in mind that you can avoid paying for an expensive residency permit simply by declaring yourself a tourist upon arrival and then traveling outside of Rwanda once every 90 days for the length of your day. Your 90-day tourist visa (automatically granted upon entry) will be renewed each time you leave and reenter the country (and it's a convenient excuse to go on vacation!).
First thing to be aware is that Kigali is expensive. As a cash strapped landlocked country costs of imported goods are high and import duties and VAT considerable. Foreigners often complain that wine, olive oil, breakfast cereals, kettle chips and other mundane foodstuffs cost a fortune, so beware. Costs can be lowered considerably by buying Rwandan or East African Community goods - Kenya in particular produces a wide range of produce that often cost half the imported European equivalent.
Outside of supermarkets and restaurants most venders are used to a bit of haggling (even over fruit and veg) although as always keep things in perspective - but don't let storekeepers charge you double what you think you should be paying.
What to buy
Rwandan coffee is generally very good (although stay away from the cheapest stuff, which will be the sweepings from the grinding factory floor). Expect to pay around Rwf 4,000 per 500g.
Rwandan honey is great, especially the Nyungwe Highlands type. Around Rwf 1,750 per 500g.
Rwandan tea (both black and green) is also pretty good.
Local markets are stocked with Rwandan handicrafts, clothing, fabulous colouful fabric from West Africa and just about anything else. The large market in Kimironko is a good place for fruit, veg, rice and other basic foodstuffs - and it can be good fun looking through the secondhand clothes section.
Cash machines / ATMs- More and more bank ATMs are starting to accept Visa cards, including the Bank of Kigali and Ecobank. Ecobank's headquarters are located in the center of town next to CNLS and near UTC / Nakumatt. There is a Visa ATM at the airport too.
There are banks in Kigali with counter service for withdrawals (and Ecobank can do MasterCard withdrawals at a price).
Jet Home Rwanda, 3rd Floor, UTC building, ☎ 0782895455, . Pleasant westerner orientated art galleryedit
By any standards Kigali is an excellent city in which to dine. A combination of Belgium culinary influence, plenty of cows, plenty of freshwater fish, and plenty of fresh vegetables equates to some of the best eating in the region. And its all pretty affordable.
Note that Kigali restaurants and bars go in and out of fashion, not to mention close down, quite frequently. Check for the latest once you are in town and be aware that some places mentioned in some print Guidebooks no longer exist. (The oft-mentioned Turtle Cafe has been closed since 2003!)
Finally note that as with the rest of the region restaurants take their time – with a usual 45 minutes to 1 hour wait between ordering and your food arriving, especially for dinner. If you are after a quick eat at lunchtime there are several ‘African buffets’ dotted around where you pile your plate high and are out the door in 30 minutes.
As Kigali is quite a sprawling city eateries are organised by suburb.
Babas Cafe at the Kigali Business Centre slightly out of town. Has great wholesome food. Eat as much as you like for 3 US$.
La Classe, Boulevard de la Revolution. Lunch & dinner. Sometimes excellent, sometimes not, La Classe is oft overlooked by Kigali's expats, but the fillet steak can be sublime. Also does a Rwf3,500 lunchtime buffetMains from Rwf 4,000. edit
Bourbon Cafe, Union Trade Center shopping plaza in the centreville and at the MTN Centre in Remera. In 2011 it is getting mixed reviews
Kigali Serena's Milima & Sokoni restaurants have good food, with special themes during the week such as the Wednesday Mongolian BBQ, Friday's African Buffet and Sunday's Buffet at Sokoni, and special themed lunches everyday at Milima..
Chez Robert is about 5 minutes walk from Mille Collines and serves local food in a nice setting. Their dinner buffet is quite good and costs about €7 for more than 20 items. There may be better local food in a hole-in-the wall restaurant for cheaper, but this is wonderful restaurant.
Shanghai, near Milles Collines, is a relatively unknown Chinese restaurant. Not very cozy, but the food is really good.
Heaven, three blocks downhill from the Mille Collines, is a new restaurant serving American and Continental cuisine. A bit pricy, with most entrees costing FRW4000 or above, but the well-prepared food (and fantastic dessert menu) are worth every franc.
The New Cactus - Very good pizzas, popular among expats. Nevertheless the served pizzas can't be compared to Italian ones. Try to get a table in the sheltered part of the open air restaurant, it can be quite windy.
Khana Khazana serves fantastic Indian food and is one of the best and most popular restaurants in town with expats, visitors, business travellers and Rwandan citizens too.
Mimosa’’’ – A reliable lunchtime buffet for Rwf 2,500. Just down from Top Tower hotel.
Shokola Great restaurant, great environment. In Kiyovu, close to downtown.
Great Wall Chinese restaurant An excellent place to dine. Good Chinese dishes with great atmosphere and nice views of the city. Is just one minute walk from Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel. Prices are very reasonable for travelers on a low budget
Grill and Bar BBQ Popular with locals. Here is good place to try the local goat brochettes. The bar is also nice if you want just a drink. You may also watch European football here as locals come here to watch football games on projectors. Its a very cheap place and brochettes are 500RWF each.
L'Atelier is tucked away in the residential district of Kimihurura, within walking distance of Papyrus. You may need help to find it but you'll be rewarded with delicious french cuisine in an intimate setting.
Africa Bite – pronounced locally as “Africa Bi-te”. Popular lunchtime African buffet, with excellent rotis, for Rwf3,000.
Thai restaurant at New Cadillac night club was well liked when it first opened. However it is getting mixed reviews after the departure of its Thai chef. This is quite common in Kigali.
Mama Africa, (next to New Cadillac, at the bottom of the Kimihurura hill), ☎ +250 2511622. This place serves excellent food in its thatched surrounds. The beef carpaccio is some of the best in the city, the steaks reliable, and the brochettes as good as they come. The place can be a bit quiet, but worth checking out. It's proprietor is Eugene Habimana, known as Cobra, longstanding Rwandan musician.Mains from Rwf 5,000. edit
Sakae, (down a back road between MTN Centre and RDB. Signposted.), . Lunch & dinner. Run by a Korean family, Sakae serves up both Japanese and Korean dishes in spacious and pleasant surroundings. A little pricey, but many prefer Sakae to nearby Zen.Mains from Rwf 7,000. edit
Zen, (north of the MTN Centre), ☎ +250 782 588 593, . Lunch & dinner. With the dining area nestled under a huge thatched hut, with trickling water and subtle lighting, there are few places in town that can compete atmosphere-wise. The food is usually pretty good, however you can feel a little cheated by the portion sizes, and the extras added to your bill (rice, service, VAT). Accordingly Zen is popular with those with expense accounts.Mains from Rwf 8,000. edit
Sol e Luna, Boulevard de L’Aéroport (signposted so quite easy to find), ☎ +252 583062, . A firm favourite in Kigali - decent wood fired pizzas, expensive lunch time buffet, great views from the terrace - popular with locals and expats alike. Monday nights is quiz night, which is mystifyingly popular.Mains from Rwf 5,000. edit
Tangren Chinese Restaurant, (near Rwanda Development Board), ☎ +250 783 011583, . lunch and dinner. Set in lush gardens, this is one of the better Chinese places in town, in part as the owner and chef is Chinese. An added plus is that service only takes 15 minutes or so. One of the few restaurants with rabbit on the menu - and very tasty it is too.Mains Rwf 4,000. edit
Kinyinya Topview – (GPS co-ordinates -1.9173, 30.1121) pleasant local brochette bar near the Deutsche Welle radio masts. Somewhere different to go – great at night time when the masts are lit up like a red Christmas tree. Brochette and chips around Rwf 2,000
Kigali Hotelin the Muslim quarter behind the mosque. This is about as budget as you will get, but still not cheap. Good rooms, breakfast available.
Auberge De Cavern hostel - style accomodation. individual and double rooms available for US$15 per night, good location near main round in the direction of the post office and just down the hill 5 minutes. Friendly staff, clean rooms and good basic breakfast.
Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel, Kigali, ☎ +250782265679, . Discover Rwanda Youth Hostel offers clean beds in dorms and private rooms as well as a free breakfast, internet access, and hot showers. It also has space for campers inside its 24-hour guarded gate. Discover Rwanda is an Aegis Trust social enterprise in which all proceeds go towards social programs offered by its parent organization at the Kigali Genocide Memorial. *Centre National de Pastorale St. Paul is a guesthouse and community center conveniently located near the main shopping center. Single/double rooms with ensuite/shared bathrooms are available. The price, as of August 2012, is 8000 RWF(shared) /12000 RWF(en-suite). The rooms have beds, desks, a sink, mosquito net, bedding, a towel, closet, and an electric socket. The ensuite rooms have cold water, but the shared showers have hot water (most of the time). There is no Wi-fi and breakfast is not included, however, there is a small supermarket and cafeteria within steps of the center. The Centre is gated and has a security guard. Phone: 0252 576371; m 078 8644468. Dorm Bed-9000 Rwf;Camping-6000 Rwf; Private Room-12,000/15,000Rwf. (-1.950785,30.093538)edit
Kigali Serena Hotel, ☎ +250 252 597100, . Formerly a Belgian-owned hotel known as the Diplomates and briefly portrayed in Hotel Rwanda. Renovated in 2003 and 2011.From $310 per night. edit
Hotel des Mille Collines, Avenue de l'Armée/Avenue de la République, ☎ +250 252 576530 (email@example.com, fax: +250 252 576541), . While the movie Hotel Rwanda was filmed in South Africa, this is where the actual events took place. The hotel has two restaurants, a pool, internet and a gift shop. The hotel underwent extensive renovation in 2010. Rates are slightly higher for pool view rooms. All rooms have safes but no hair dryer or coffee maker. Free access to Wi-Fi, but coverage is uneven. Wonderful breakfast buffet. Apart from the movie this hotel is also the setting for the novel Un dimanche à la piscine à Kigali.Prices from €151. edit
Hotel Laico Umubano, Boulevard del Umuganda. Still known by its former name Novotel by almost everyone. Ask for a swimming pool view room on a high floor for a beautiful sunrise to wake you from your slumber.From $150 per night. edit
Kigali is relatively safe and friendly as far as African capitals go. Keep your eyes open and your wallet out of the reach of pickpockets, especially in crowded areas. Avoid walking after dark if possible, especially alone. Take extra precaution in the area between New Cadilac Nightclub and Carwash bar.
Police officers are generally helpful if you're in a bind, but don't expect speedy results.
Akagera National Park, is a nature preserve in the eastern part of Rwanda. It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Kigali and is a great day trip for wildlife viewing: giraffes, elephants, hippos, baboons, zebra, impala, etc. You can rent a car or go through a tour operator, which costs on average, $150 USD. You can hire a guide, a boat cruise, or stay the night at their lodge.
Parc National des Volcans, home of the mountain gorillas, and the setting for Gorillas in the Mist author Dian Fossey's research. If you can afford it, it's an excellent experience, even possible as a day trip from Kigali. You can also take the "Dian Fossey Trek" or the "Golden Monkey Trek" for $75-100 USD. You might be able to see a gorilla group on one of these hikes if you're lucky. Inquire at the Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), Boulevard de la Révolution n° 1, Kigali, +(250) 576514 or 573396, firstname.lastname@example.org. $750 USD cash or Visa card.
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