Rwanda’s charming and stunning capital, Kigali has a fascinating and disturbing history that has given way to the incredibly peaceful and forward-thinking city of today.
Traveling two hours east of the city, you’ll reach Akagera National Park, Rwanda’s premier safari destination. The park itself is extremely beautiful and was started as a conservation project initially, rather than for tourism. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Akagera, with the human-wildlife conflict wiping out several animal species over time through poaching and land being needed for agricultural use. However, today, through the efforts of the conservation teams, the park has been repopulated and now you can see many different animals including leopards, lions, and elephants.
Three hours away from Kigali is Mount Bisoke, also known as Mount Visoke, in the Virunga Mountains. The mountain stands at a respectable 3,711 meters high and is a steep and challenging trek, but the main attraction is the stunning crater lake at the top, which is the largest in the region. You begin the climb at 8 a.m., so be prepared for an early start.
A couple hours away, to the northwest of Kigali, you will find the stunning Volcanoes National Park, home to the incredibly beautiful and endangered mountain gorilla. For 1,500 dollars per person, visitors can spend the day trekking through the jungle and spend up to one hour observing these very humanlike creatures in their natural habit—a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience that should not be missed if you can afford the luxury.
If you have the time and want to get a good insight into the Kigali scene, take in the arts or get involved in one of the many activities offered at the Inema Arts Center. There are various artworks on display from some of Rwanda’s brightest talents and you can see the artists at work in the studio. Here you can purchase locally made items from local artisans, attend one of their events, or even learn a new skill, such as drumming or dancing.
Best Day Trip
Rwanda is a small country, so if you’re looking for a different scene, head to Lake Kivu, a three-hour drive away near the border of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. There are several activities available at the lake including boat tours of the islands or cycling along the shores on the Congo Nile Trail, where you’ll get a true taste of local Rwandan life.
Off the Beaten Path
For a new adventure, why not climb Mount Kigali. Starting in the Nyamirambo neighbourhood, it’s a relatively gentle incline and you’ll get fantastic views of the city below. At the top, you’ll find a pretty wooded area and you can stop for a celebratory beer and some food at a bar called Mera Neza.
Most Iconic Place
Visible from all over, the brightly lit and colourful Kigali Convention Centre is one of the most iconic attractions in the city. The venue is shaped like a giant beehive and was inspired after the architect visited the King’s Palace in Nyanza, which also had a similar shape. It’s adjoined to the Radisson Blu Hotel of which the design was based on Rwanda’s traditional basket-weaving techniques.
Kigali is a very up-and-coming city with a good choice of bars and restaurants. For a good night out, perhaps start your evening with sunset drinks (known locally as a sundowner) at Choma’D, a hip and trendy bar with pretty views, or Pili Pili Boutique Hotel, before heading to Nyamirambo for what’s likely to be a very interesting evening. Another popular spot with the expat crowd is the Kimihurura neighborhood, which is home to some of Kigali’s best nightspots.
Today, Kigali epitomises the modern, progressive African city, however, just a few decades ago it was home to one of the most brutal genocides in the history of mankind. The Kigali Genocide Memorial was built to remember the victims and to educate people on the atrocities to ensure that this never happens again. It’s an insightful but upsetting experience, so be prepared.
Neighborhood to Explore
A great place to explore is the buzzing and vibrant neighborhood of Nyamirambo, a multicultural and extremely interesting part of the city. Nyamirambo is the heart of Kigali, with cool shops, markets, bars, and restaurants. It’s a primarily Muslim neighborhood, so don’t come here looking for akabenz, but you will find tasty brochettes and fish offered. There are a few tours through the area if you don’t fancy exploring by yourself.