Kigali: Rwanda’s Beating Heart

Shining with creativity and colour, this buzzing African capital has emerged as an emblem of innovation.  
Rwanda
Churchgoers on the town. Photo by: Yana Paskova

Rwanda’s capital city sits in the middle of the country and is, in many ways, the heartbeat of the nation. With a bold push forward in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide, Kigali has emerged as an economic engine and emblem of innovation. Powered by a population of about 1.2 million and counting, this geographically varied city has pursued development while embracing sustainability through initiatives that include a monthly countrywide cleanup (started in 1962), a ban on plastic bags (since 2008), and a forthcoming urban ecotourism park. These efforts have turned Kigali into one of the cleanest cities in Africa.

Connections count in this city, where high-speed internet access is available to nearly all residents. The effort to build technological and social networks has strengthened Kigali. Travellers who once breezed through town on their way to see gorillas in Volcanoes National Park now spend time and money discovering an urban gem that shines with creativity and colour.

—Heather Greenwood Davis

 

Eat

Home Grown

Rwandans love their brochettes—grilled and skewered cubes of meat or fish. See what the fuss is about at Repub Lounge. The popular local spot offers live music, wine and cocktails, and from the patio a striking view of Kigali’s twinkling lights. At Question Coffee, the beans roasted on-site are grown by female farmers, and the sweet treats that arrive daily come from the Women’s Bakery, an initiative that provides vocational training for local women. For fancier fare, try Poivre Noir, which puts a French spin on Rwandan ingredients in dishes such as crème brûlée with tree tomato sherbet.

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Clockwise from top left: Snap up vibrant kitenge fabric at Kimironko Market; The Retreat by Heaven’s saltwater swimming pool; A stained glass window at the Kigali Genocide Memorial; An “African Sunrise” cocktail at 1000 Hills Distillery. Photos by: Yana Paskova (market), HandZaround.com (pool), Renato Granieri/Alamy (stained glass), 1000 Hills (Cocktail)

Stay

Past Meets Present

Made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda, Hôtel des Mille Collines opened in 1973 and during the genocide sheltered more than 1,200 people. Today the hotel draws crowds to its restaurant and bar featuring a sought-after view of the city (millecollines.rw). In a residential area close to downtown, Heaven Boutique Hotel offers tropical gardens and a spa (heavenrwanda.com). You can boost the luxury quotient at its sister property (and neighbour), the Retreat by Heaven, a solar-powered resort with a saltwater pool and butlers who arrange bespoke tours and experiences (heaven-rwanda.com/retreat.php).

See

More than an Eyeful

Creativity thrives at Inema Arts Center, founded by brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza. With about a dozen artists-in-residence, the centre hosts regular rooftop exhibitions and performances. Travellers can find the work of young artists in places such as Ivuka Arts Kigali, Niyo Art Gallery, and Uburanga Arts Studio. Learn about the tragic chapter of Rwandan history at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, a thought-provoking site aimed at ensuring those events are never repeated. City buses reach most major landmarks and have free Wi-Fi on board.

Shop

Markets and Malts

Head to Go Kigali, inside the Kigali Marriott Hotel, for made-in-Rwanda items from more than 50 designers. For a taste of daily life, hit up Kimironko Market, where handicrafts share stalls with fresh fruit, and seamstresses stand among bolts of colourful fabric called kitenge, ready to stitch a dress or accessory. Another worthy souvenir? A bottle of triple-distilled malt whiskey, gin, or rum from 1000 Hills Distillery. Pop in for a tour to discover how the distillation process provides crop fertiliser and animal feed for local farmers.

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