Rwanda might be most famous for the mountain gorillas who live among the leafy green shadows of Volcanoes National Park. For many, this tiny central African nation’s capital city, Kigali, is merely a landing spot before heading off to explore the mysteries of Rwanda’s volcanoes and rainforests. But on your way to the national parks for trekking and game viewing, spend a few days in this city considered to be Africa’s greenest, cleanest, and safest capital. Kigali is a phenomenon of development and modernity and welcomes visitors with luscious views of rolling hills and a dynamic food, music, and art scene, all of which boast a rhythm entirely of their own. With 48 hours on hand, this is how you should experience Kigali.
Coffee With A View
Rwanda is known for its locally grown beans, so what better way to start your morning than with a cup of Rwandan coffee? Head to Baso Patissier in the Kiyovu neighbourhood, which also offers some of the best pastries in town. A Rwandan-owned enterprise that draws its culinary inspiration from Belgium, Baso is tucked among the hills of Kiyovu on a sprawling garden with outdoor seating.
Into the Hills
After a leisurely morning, make your way to Fazenda Sengha to go horseback riding through the lush, forested terrain surrounding Mount Kigali. If you’re more prone to walking, take a short hike through the hills to Mount Kigali and follow one of the many paths around the base of the mountain traversing local villages. Goats, chickens, and children will all likely join you along your walk. (sengha.com)
Kimironko Market offers a dizzying variety of wares, including vibrant fabrics. Photo Courtesy: Oscar Espinosa/ Shutterstock
Markets And Local Grub
As you make your way back down from Mount Kigali, wander through the vibrant neighbourhood of Nyamirambo, the Muslim centre of Kigali. Check out one of the area’s famous milk bars, which serves exactly what you think: A fresh glass of milk. Stop for lunch at the infamous Panorama Ten To Two, a no-frills fish joint boasting one of the best views of the city. Order a whole fish—small, medium, or large, dependent on the size of your group—grilled to perfection with your preferred accompaniments. Grilled potatoes and a cold Mutzig beer are my personal recommendations. The service is as reliably slow as the food is good so come prepared to be on Rwandan time.
Support Rwandan Crafts
After lunch, take a trip to Nyamirambo Women’s Center and learn about one of Kigali’s social enterprises. The centre provides vocational training and education to women and seeks to address gender inequality and gender-based violence. Be sure to check out their woven baskets, kitenge fabric bags, and other products for sale. If you’re feeling inspired, take a basket weaving class or local cooking class at the centre. (nwc-umutima.org)
A Sunny Dip
One of the best ways to relax in the Rwandan sun is at a pool. From the famous Milles Collines to the Hotel Serena, many of the hotels have sun-soaked pools to pass an afternoon of relaxation. (millecollines.rw; serenahotels.com/serenakigali)
Rwanda grows both tea and coffee in several plantations. Photo By: Sifkigali/Shutterstock
Quick meals at Now Now Rolex make for a must-visit. Photo Courtesy: Now Now Rolex/Facebook
Art And Beats
Head to Inema Art Center in the early evening, which showcases sculptures and paintings from some of Rwanda’s most talented artists. Founded by brothers and painters Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza, Inema was developed to invest in creative expression and family during Rwanda’s recovery post-genocide. Inema serves as Kigali’s creative hub, hosting artists in residence and art classes for community youth. On Thursday nights, the exhibits stay open late, a pop-up bar is in full swing offering Rwandese twists on classic cocktails such as passion fruit mojitos, and live bands or DJs play tunes into the night. (inemaartcenter.com)
Tapas In A Garden
After an evening of art and music, continue down the street to Casa Keza. Set among a garden in the back of a house, this Spanish-inspired restaurant serves tapas and garlic mushrooms with pitchers of sangria. (inemaartcenter.com)
A cuppa at one of Kigali’s several coffee shops like Question Coffee is essential. Photo Courtesy: Question Coffee/Facebook
Another morning necessitates a visit to another of Kigali’s coffee shops. Situated in the Remera neighbourhood, Question Coffee offers a minimalistic, modern space in which to enjoy a cup of Rwanda’s finest coffee. Question Coffee is a socially oriented, sustainable business that invests in rural, low-income coffee farmers through training and market access. For the coffee aficionado or those learning to deepen their knowledge even further, consider arranging a coffee cupping with the baristas as well. (questioncoffee.com)
Make your way to Kimironko Market, which offers a dizzying kaleidoscope of goods for sale. Get lost exploring the winding maze of vendors selling everything from fish and goats, mangoes and passion fruit, to second-hand shoes and suitcases and artisan goods such as carved masks, baskets, and kitenge fabric. The market may be initially intimidating. Take note of the stall you first walked in through as a point of reference for finding your way back out of the market. Tasting some of the local produce is a must! Tree tomatoes and passion fruit are among my personal favourites. If you are looking to have clothing made, meander through rows of vibrant fabrics from across the continent and take your pick from seamstresses eager to help you design your new wardrobe. And remember: bargain, bargain, bargain!
Lunch On The Go
For a quick and delicious lunch, stop by Now Now Rolex in the Kimihurura neighbourhood. Inspired by the renowned Ugandan street food, rolex, Now Now offers international spins on this traditional egg and chapati wrap, with additions such as English cheddar and caramelised onions to spice up your wrap. (facebook.com/NowNowRolex)
A visit to the Genocide Memorial is a haunting reminder of Rwanda’s past. Photo Courtesy: Oscar Espinosa/Shutterstock
Take a walk through the Kimihurura neighbourhood while your lunch digests. As you walk past blossoming bougainvillea bushes, keep your eyes peeled for some of the street art in this zone. The colourful work of Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga—an organisation whose mission is to instigate social change through art—has brought this district to life. (facebook.com/NowNowRolex)
Refresh Your History
Following lunch, head to one of Kigali’s most historically important sites. The Kigali Genocide Memorial provides a humbling account of Rwanda’s complicated past and serves as a fascinating point of comparison to the ever-modernising city that Kigali is today. Learn about Rwanda’s history from the late-19th century, pre-colonial era up to the civil war and genocide in 1994, and read moving tributes to victims and survivors of the genocide. Take a silent walk through the gardens at the close of your visit, which act as the final resting place for over 250,000 victims of the genocide. (kgm.rw)
Kigali is widely considered as Rwanda’s greenest, cleanest and safest city. Photo By: FCG/ Shutterstock
When in Kigali, fine dine at Poivre Noir and taste their blend of cuisines. Photo Courtesy: Poivre Noir/Facebook
Catch A Sunset
Friday evenings are best spent at Inzora, a café nestled into a craft shop and bookstore in the Kacyiru neighbourhood. On Fridays, Inzora offers a craft cocktail inspired by local flavours, a rotating cheese and charcuterie board, and wine. Head up to the rooftop seating for a remarkable view of Kigali and watch as the sun drops behind the hills, spilling shades of peachy gold across the sky. (inzoracafe.com)
Rwanda Haute Cuisine
Enjoy a relaxing meal at one of Kigali’s fine dining establishments. Poivre Noir’s menu blends Belgian and French cuisine, drawing inspiration from local Rwandan ingredients. Their creative starters are just as enticing as their indulgent desserts. Head to the candlelit, atmospheric Brachetto for the best Italian in town. Their tasty homemade pasta dishes are complimented by a note-worthy wine cellar. If you’re in the mood for music, book a table at Repub Lounge, where you can eat in Rwandan-inspired plates of grilled meats and vegetables, while listening to a jazz band. (facebook.com/poivrenoirkigali; republounge.com; facebook.com/Brachetto-Restaurant-Tapas-Bar-1410485739227980)
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