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Basic information

  • Area: 730 km2 (280 sq mi)
  • Calling Code: +250
  • Currency: Rwandan franc (RWF)
  • Population (EST): 1,132,686
  • Official language: Kinyarwanda, French, English
  • Time Zone: CAT (UTC+2)

10 Reasons to Visit Kigali

1. Kigali Memorial Centre

The Kigali Memorial Centre is a tremendously important part of any tourist's itinerary while visiting Kigali. The Centre serves to educate its visitors about the genocide that took place in Rwanda; making sure that no one forgets what a horrific event it was for Rwandans; with repercussions for all the peoples of Africa, and the world. Walking down the halls of the Centre is not easy as you come face to face with the pictures and displays, but it's at the end of the day quite life affirming, and leaves you with the desire to be a better human being, and more tolerant of those around you. Paying a visit to the Centre is a great way to pay your respects to the amazing people of Rwanda.

2. Shokola

Shokola is a great hidden gem nestled in the hills of Kigali, and serves as an indoor/outdoor cafe offering healthy, fresh food, as well as a tranquil garden to sit and enjoy some coffee. This is a favourite among expats, where you can enjoy one of the fine outdoor couches within the walled garden. There is also a drawing room lined with books, and an Arabic-style tent in the garden. A great place to go for any meal of the day, but perhaps the best time is in the morning when the coffee is piping hot and the pastries are delicious.

3. New Cactus

This is a Spanish-style hacienda that sits majestically on a ridge overlooking the glittering lights of Kigali at night. Enormously popular for parties and business events, the food and drinks are great and the view is spectacular no matter what time of day you go. This is a real hotspot among the well-to-do in Kigali, but that doesn't mean that it's not welcoming to the modest traveler as well. Go for a drink at night and marvel at the gorgeous skyline.

4. Hotel des Mille Collines

This luxury hotel sits in the centre of Kigali, and was the inspiration for the film Hotel Rwanda. The swimming pool is open to visitors, and the bar next to the pool is a hot spot during the weekends. There's also a fantastic Sunday brunch that the local expats flock to. You'll find everybody who is anybody at the Thursday night happy hour. This doesn't mean that you can't go poolside if you're not hip and fashionable, because like all other places in Kigali, all are welcome. Its not a bad idea to spend the whole day on the patio, and take advantage of the amazing hospitality at the hotel.

5. Nyanza Genocide Memorial

It is true that there are a number of genocide memorials in Rwanda, and for good reason. Even though they aren't the easiest destinations for any traveler, it's terribly important that you explore the best ones. Located in Kicukiro, the Nyanza Genocide Memorial is worth the trip. This is the resting ground for 5,000 Tutsis who took refuge in the Ecole Technique Officielle. It's a moving experience to come here and pay one's respects.

6. State House Museum

This was once the Presidential Palace, and it rests on the eastern outskirts of the city. It's in the process of being restored, but there are some fine exhibits inside that give you a glimpse into the politics of Rwanda. For instance, there are a number of secret rooms in the former palace, as well as a presidential nightclub and offices. It's possible to take a guided tour through the grounds, or simply go on a walk and explore. There are some wonderful pieces of African art inside, and the surrounding lawn and greenery are quite pleasant as well.

7. Bourbon Coffee Shoppe

Rwanda produces some of the finest coffee in the world, however, they ironically only serve instant coffee at most cafes. The reason for this is that pretty much all the good stuff is shipped off to be sold abroad. For the coffee-loving traveler, the answer to this problem is to make your way to Bourbon Coffee Shoppe. This is where you'll find the real thing, as well as custom coffee drinks like lattes and cappuccinos. Be sure to get there early as the queue can be quite long in the morning. However, if you have a little time to spare, it's definitely worth the wait.

8. Belgian Monument

This is another stunning and moving display that honors those whose lives were lost during the genocide. The memorial rests on the very spot where 10 Belgian peacekeepers from the UN lost their lives on the first day of the genocide.

9. Museum of Natural History

The Museum of Natural History is a great afternoon activity, and is said to be the first building ever constructed in Kigali. It also happened to be the home of explorer Richard Kandt in 1907. Today, the museum houses a number of beautiful exhibits that highlight the diversity of flora, fauna, and geology in Rwanda.

10. The Flamingo

It may seem strange to be advised to visit a Chinese restaurant in an African city, but no trip to Kigali is complete without going to the Flamingo Restaurant. This is Chinese fare at its best, and a godsend if you need a little break from African food. Everything from the traditional black and red colour scheme, bamboo water foundations, and swizzle sticks served in fresh juice drinks, make this one of the most successful Asian restaurants in Africa. You'll find the restaurant in the lush Kimihurura part of town, and you'll be happy that you made the trek.

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