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 over several hills and valleys, with many of the better restaurants and hotels away 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 African ‘experience’ 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 popularity with foreigners is that it is easy to forget you are in Africa.
Learn a bit of French and 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.
- 1 Kigali International Airport (KGL IATA). Kigali International is a small and organized airport, and it is rare to encounter any problems. Plastic bags are illegal in Rwanda for environmental reasons, so you should bring only reusable bags into the country.
Flag carrier RwandAir has by far the largest selections of flights to KGL including one from O R Tambo Airport, but other airlines also offer flights from their respective hubs, including KLM from Amsterdam Schiphol, Brussels Airlines from Brussels, Qatar Airlines from Doha Hamad International Airport, and Turkish Airlines from Istanbul IST.
If you fly from Kigali airport, you may need a Yellow Fever Certificate at your destination (e.g. South Africa) - Airport officials will ask for this. Also be careful of waiting in the cafe for your flight - some flights (e.g. 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.
A new airport called Bugesera Airport is under construction, but as of Dec 2019 is not expected to be operational until 2032.
Buses arrive and depart to many parts of Rwanda regularly.
- There are a couple of daily buses that run directly between Kigali and Kampala in Uganda with some services continuing to Nairobi. The buses are sometimes cramped and uncomfortable, but are the cheapest choice.
- There are a couple of daily buses that run directly between Kigali and Bujumbura in Burundi. Yahoo Car, New Yahoo, East African Car Express (big bus) and Belvedere have buses in the morning.
- Motorcyle taxis (motos) are the most popular and fastest way to get around town. The fare for the motorcycle ranges from FRw200-1000, depending on distance, but most of the motocyclists will ask for FRw200-500. A trip to or from the airport should be FRw1500-2000. 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/city buses (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 maintained 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 FRw600. The distance to Ruhungeri cost FRw2500 and to Gisenyi FRw3000.
- City buses in Kigali cost FRw240. Bus number 105 goes from the Bus station where you get off the bus from Uganda to the Kigali Youth hostel.
- 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 FRw2,000 after haggling, going up to FRw10,000 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 Airport Taxi service. A reliable individual is Alex, who is on 0788741559 (French & some English spoken).
- 1 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. Audio guides and real guides are available. Cafe on site that makes excellent coffee, and supports local youth and businesses. free/donation - extra fee for photography.
- 2 Presidential Palace Museum (Rwanda Art Museum), KK 106 St (in Kanombe, 4 km east past the airport - under the flightpath), ☏ . 08:00-18:00. The abode of the former President Habyarimana, who died in that infamous plane crash of 1994 that sparked the genocide. 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. To get there a moto should cost about FRw1,000, 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 m along the dirt road (GPS coordinates 1.97543S, 30.17206E). FRw6,000 (FRw5,000 for resident foreigners).
- 3 Inema Arts Centre, ☏ . 07:00-18:30 daily, closes late on Thursdays. Displays of artwork from around Rwanda.
- 4 Kandt House Museum, KN 90, ☏ . 08:00-18:00 daily. Natural history museum focusing on Rwanda flora and fauna in the former home of a German named Richard Kandt. Also excellent venue from which to view the city skyline.
- 5 Belgian Peacekeepers Memorial (Mémorial de camp Kigali), ☏ . 06:00-19:00. Memorial to 10 Belgian peacekeepers were gunned down on the first day of the 1994 genocide crisis while attempting to protect the Rwandan Prime Minister. Adjacent is the Kigali Cultural Village where events may take place and souvenirs purchased.
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, ☏ . afternoons & evenings. Professional ballet school in Gaculiro - lessons for both children & adults, beginners & experienced dancers. Good mix of Rwandan and expatriate students.
- Gisozi circuit (behind Gaculiro). A great 10-km running circuit through Kigali's suburbs - flat, very little traffic and some great views over the rice paddies.
- Ten pin bowling, Kimihura (a custom-built shed next to the pool at Mamba Club), ☏ . 12:00-00:00. 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 FRw3,000 per person and the second is FRw2,500 each.
- 1 Nyamirambo Women's Center, KN 7 Ave, ☏ . Here you can take guided walking tours, cooking classes, or have lunch at an enterprise geared toward enabling women to succeed with computers, literacy, sewing and handicrafts.
Your best bet would be with an aid organization or NGO. If you are a resident of the US or EU, you can avoid paying for an expensive residency permit 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 can be 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 vendors 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.
Cash machines/ATMs – most banks ATMs now accept Master Card, Visa card, American card, Diners Club, Union Pay, and JCB, including Equity Bank , Ecobank, Bank of Kigali, Kenya Commercial Bank, GT Bank, I&M Bank; Ecobank HQ is in the center of town next to CNLS and near UTC. There are many ATMs accepting international cards at the airport also. Don't count on any particular ATM to have money or be working at any particular time - even at the airport.
There are banks in Kigali with counter service for withdrawals (and Ecobank can do MasterCard withdrawals).
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 FRw4,000 per 500 g. Rwandan honey is great, especially the Nyungwe Highlands type. Around FRw1,750 per 500g. Rwandan tea (both black and green) is also pretty good.
Local markets are stocked with Rwandan handicrafts, clothing, fabulous colorful 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.
- Union Trade Center Shopping mall. The biggest shopping mall at this time in Kigali. Home to 80 shops and a supermarket.
- T-2000 Supermarket.
- Simba Supermarkets. The anchor tenant at the new Kigali Heights mall. Also has branches in Gishushu, Kimironko, and Kicukiro.
By all standards Kigali is an excellent city in which to dine. A combination of Belgian 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 it's all pretty affordable.
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; some places mentioned in some print guidebooks no longer exist. (The oft-mentioned Turtle Cafe has been closed since 2003!)
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 meal at lunchtime, there are several African buffets 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.
- 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 FRw3,500 lunchtime buffet Mains from FRw4,000.
- Ki Asili Resto Bar and Fast Food (the name Ki-Asili comes from the Swahili word Asili for Natural/Original), Kn 55 st, ☏ , [email protected]. 24 hours. Rooftop resto bar serving Ethiopian/Eritrean food. Ideal for groups, birthdays, get-togethers. Check with customer care before planning, and book your date. Many times venue is booked in advance. US$5.
- 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.
- 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.
- 1 Kigali Guestlux. one of the few eateries in Gacuriro – serves up adequate fare in the gardens of the guesthouse.
- 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.
- Africa Bite – pronounced locally as “Africa Bi-te”. Popular lunchtime African buffet, with excellent rotis, for FRw3,000.
- Repub Lounge, 16 KG 674 St. Great restaurant, great environment. +250 788 388 333
- 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 FRw7,000.
- Zen (north of the MTN Centre), ☏ . 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 FRw8,000.
- Sol e Luna, Boulevard de l’Umuganda (signposted so quite easy to find), ☏ . 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 FRw5,000.
- Tangren Chinese Restaurant (near Rwanda Development Board), ☏ . 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 FRw4,000.
- Camellia tea house amazing selection of teas, good food. Lunch buffet is very popular
Bottled water is recommended for foreign visitors. It can be bought at almost every supermarket or pomp station. About FRw2,500 without deposit.
- For alcohol try the New Cadillac night club and the Repub Lounge. Both are superb. Watch out for pickpockets outside the New Cadillac.
Accommodation in downtown Kigali is noticeably more expensive than neighboring capitals like Kampala and Nairobi. Most of the budget options (for example the Hotel Gloria mentioned in older LPs) are gone. Outside the city center however, it is possible to find good budget options.
- 1 Auberge La Caverne, Nyabugogo Blvd (A few hundred meters before Place de l'Unite roundabout on the left side.). Clean rooms and good basic breakfast. It's a long, uphill walk from the bus station, consider paying 300 for a moto-taxi single from FRw13,000 en-suite. double from FRw20,000.
- Mamba Rwanda Youth Hostel, KG 680 St, ☏ . Check-in: any time. Table tennis and billiards, bar and grill available.
- 2 Hope Guesthouse, Nyabugogo Blvd. Check-out: 10:00. Good basic traveller hotel two minutes walk from the Nyabugogo bus station on a main road. There is a large pub next to the hotel with good food and the usual football TV in the evenings. Downstairs is a massage place. There are also some Visa-accepting ATMs next door. There are plenty of buses to the city center, or walk for about one hour up-hill. Next to the Hope Guesthouse are many other guesthouses with even cheaper clean rooms. Room with one bed FRw10,000; room with two beds FRw15,000. (Beds are big enough to fit a couple).
- Auberge de nyamirambo (near Islamic centre), ☏ . Single room with outside bathroom. Double room with own bathroom. FRw5000/8000/10,000.
- La Vedette Motel (around the corner from Auberge de Ayamirambo), ☏ . Double room with outside bathroom. double room with own bathroom FRw8000/10000.
- Anthurium Residential Hotel, KN 159 Street (Located in Nyamirambo.), ☏ . Single/double rooms. Has 8 rooms. from FRw31636.
- Amani Best Guest House, Remera Kigali, ☏ , . Double room with bathroom FRw8,000.
- Center St Paul (200m east of the place-de nationale.), ☏ . Clean single double rooms with own hot water bathroom. Nice garden. FRw15,000/20,000.
- Gloria Hotel (which only has cold water showers).
- Hotel Chez Lando, ☏ , [email protected]. From US$60 per night.
- Hotel Isimbi, Rue Kalisimbi, District Nyarugenge (down town), ☏ . Also has a good bar and restaurant. US$30-40
- Iris Guesthouser US$75, clean, big rooms, hot water, very good restaurant and free Internet.
- Okapi Hotel Some rooms available for US$25 per night, good location and friendly staff. Some rooms have an excellent view over the outskirts of Kigali. Just forget the US$30 rooms. They are 'downstairs' and aren't worth it.
- Park View Courts Rwanda Enjoy a serene environment in this homely apart-hotel complex, with a view to die for and friendly staff. Prices range from US$150-300.
- Step Town Motel US$50, clean, very nice rooms, hot water, and free Internet.
Kigali now has three international class hotels, built as part of the country's bid to increase tourism and better support business travellers.
- 3 Marasa Umubano Hotel, 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 US$150 per night.
- 4 Hotel des Mille Collines, Avenue de l'Armée/Avenue de la République, ☏ , fax: , [email protected]. 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.
- 5 Kigali Serena Hotel, ☏ . Formerly a Belgian-owned hotel known as the Diplomates and briefly portrayed in Hotel Rwanda. Renovated in 2011. Free WiFi throughout, health club and spa. The lagoon pool and waterfall form a centerpiece to the hotel. While inside the hotel or the restaurants, you can truly be oblivious to the rest of the city outside - which may be a good or bad thing - depending on your mood. From US$310 per night.
English language broadcasts are available from BBC World Service in Kigali on 93.9MHz.
- Simba Cafe, Place de la Constitucion. Free Wifi at this starbucksy cafe attached to a supermarket by the same name.
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.
- South Africa (High Commission), 1370 Blvd de N Umuganda, Kacyiru-Sud, ☏ , [email protected].
- Switzerland (Consulate General), 38 Blvd de la Révolution, ☏ , fax: , [email protected].
- United Kingdom, Parcelle No 1131, Blvd de l'Umuganda, Kacyiru-Sud, ☏ .
- United States, #2756 Ave de la Gendarmerie, Kacyiru, ☏ , [email protected].
- Belgium, Rue de Nyarugenge, ☏ , [email protected].
- 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 daytrip from Kigali. Enquire at the Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN), Boulevard de la Révolution n° 1, Kigali, +250 576514 or 573396, [email protected]. US$600 cash, or it is possible to use your Mastercard.