Gateway to gorillas: A guide to Kigali
Rwanda’s burgeoning capital is fast becoming a destination visitors won’t want to miss
By reputation, Kigali is dull: a place in which to land – including aboard Rwandair’s new direct services from Gatwick – and then leave, en route to wonderful wildlife. Bad move. Rwanda’s capital thrills with its mix of expat-run coffee bars, feminist Muslim barrios and wacky nightspots.
What to see
Rwanda is indelibly associated with its terrible 1994 atrocities where the Hutu majority murdered around a million people. The Kigali Genocide Memorial marks their loss, its rose gardens symbolising unity and reconciliation, and should be seen.
Where to shop
Kigali’s oldest and most multicultural district is labyrinthine Nyamirambo, to the south-west. You can tour it with the guides from the Women’s Centre (NWC) – which supports disadvantaged females – and enjoy its chapati-makers, mosques, markets and milk bars where cocoa-powdered lattes are served up.
Where to eat
Rwandan cuisine is great if you’re vegetarian: particularly matoke (fried green bananas) and dodo – a garlicky plant served with nuts and chillies. Try Republika Lounge (KG 674 Street) for any of those, or the more expensive Heaven, whose San Franciscan owners serve creative international-style fare such as fish tacos.
Where to drink
Once upon a time, most bars here closed at 8pm. That’s no longer the case, though, with nightclubs such as Papyrus. Undoubtedly the best venue, however, is Executive Car Wash (KN 7 Rd) – it is a carwash, but also an alfresco disco serving grilled lamb and banana wine while everyone jives to live music and all kinds of African beats.
Where to stay
Remember the film Hotel Rwanda? It wasn’t filmed here, but the basis is Hotel des Milles Collines, near the CBD. Its pool, bar, chic interiors and luxurious rooms render it the city’s swankiest spot.
What to see
Of course, one wouldn’t visit Rwanda and not see its magical mountain gorilla troops. Volcanoes National Park is the place; you’ll need permits and to book onto guided tours. Rwanda specialist Expert Africa can sort all this, as well as suggesting holiday itineraries including lions and elephants in Akagera National Park, chimps at Nyungwe Forest and, yes, time in Kigali.