Miles-long rolling hills lead to valleys and hillsides dotted with houses. Small skyscrapers mark the city skyline. Motorcycles buzz around. People walk about, dressed well, with friendly smiles on their faces. Kigali, the heartbeat of Rwanda, is a wonderful city and unlike most capital cities in Africa. This bustling metropolitan area in Rwanda is very clean and safe. There are several sights of interest to see during your one day in Kigali that will definitely leave an impression on your trip.
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What’s the best time to visit Kigali?
Kigali is best visited during the dry months of June through September. There is also a shorter window of dry months between mid-December and early February. Typically, Rwanda is a jumping point to visit mountain gorillas, which is best to do during the dry months.
What’s good to know about Kigali?
With a population of over 1 million people, Kigali is the center of transportation, culture and arts in Rwanda. Kigali hit global news in 1994 because of the genocide that took place there. Over 1 million people were massacred in just 100 days. Since then, the country has united and prospered more than many of its African neighbors.
The rolling hills of Rwanda do not cover a large area, as each corner of this country can be visited in just a few hours’ drive. Many come to Kigali to head to Volcanoes National Park, home of the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Whether you stop for one day or multiple days, Kigali is the place to learn more about the unique history behind Rwanda and experience a true African culture.
One Day in Kigali Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Kigali.
Start of your day with a stop at the Genocide Memorial
While it is a sight hard to see, the Genocide Memorial cannot be missed. Be prepared for a gut wrenching and extremely sad experience. It is an amazing museum as well as burial grounds for an estimated 300,000 people. It does an excellent job explaining the issues in Rwanda – what led to the genocide, why it occurred and the results. It also goes beyond Rwanda to talk about other past genocides as a memorial for victims all over the world.
Stop at the Belgian Memorial
10 soldiers who protected the Prime Minister were taken by rebels to a military compound and slaughtered. They fought back with only two handguns and the standoff lasted for hours. The Belgian Memorial stands where the massacre occurred, with the building untouched showing the damage done by the rebels. There are 10 stones that represent each of the brave soldiers.
Walk to Hotel Rwanda
This famous hotel is actually named Hotel des Mille Collines, but known as Hotel Rwanda from the critically acclaimed movie released in 2005. The movie depicts some brief history, but turns to the story of this hotel acting as a refuge and safe house during the genocide of 1994. The management and workers risked their own lives by helping save so many, giving shelter inside the hotel. Nearly 1,300 people took refuge here. Come walk around the hotel grounds and stop in for a coffee. Rooms start from $280 USD.
Grab lunch at a traditional Rwandan buffet
Rwanda is known for their lunch buffets. They cook an assortment of food for a set price. Typically, you can get chicken, meat stews, vegetable soup, fried fish, rice, french fries, potatoes, saute vegetables, and a cabbage salad. Kigali buffets are usually priced between 2,000 Franc to 3,000 Franc (~$2.50 – $3.50 USD).
Spend the afternoon at the Kimironko Market
The excellent Kimironko Market has it all. Enjoy the many rows of fresh fruits and vegetables. Food stalls are separated by category like aisles in a supermarket. Apart from the food, there are hundreds of stalls for home gadgets, electronics, clothing, crafts, and eventually at the far end, fabrics. Fabrics are a specialty in Rwanda with beautiful bright patterns and excellent tailors for women’s dresses and clothing. Buy one sheet of fabric for 5,000 franc ($6) and have it made into a dress, skirt, or tops for an additional 5,000 franc.
Where to stay in Kigali?
Kigali has several neighborhoods to explore. With a wide range of accommodation, we recommend staying in the Remera neighborhood.
There is an abundance of restaurants, budget guesthouses and high end hotels. Most offer shuttle services to and from the airport, a 10-minute drive. While there are several hostels in Kigali, guesthouses function very similarly with dormitory rooms and breakfast included.
For a mid-range stay, we recommend Five to Five Hotel with rooms from $75 USD.
For a high-end hotel, we recommend Hotel Chez Lando with rooms from $130 USD.
DAY TRIPS FROM KIGALI
If you’re staying more than one day here, you really should set some time aside for a day trip from Kigali. This is Africa, after all! Incredible nature, fantastic animals, but also a lot of culture and fancy resorts can all be found reasonably close. Read on to see what to visit!
Akagera National Park
You want animals? Akagera National Park has loads of them! It is a beautiful piece of African savannah, right next to the Akagera River. Elephants, buffalo, hyenas, lions, leopards, impalas… this is the essence of Africa right here. Even crocodiles can be seen in the river. You can even grab a lunch there, so this will certainly be an unforgettable day for any traveler.
If you head east, you will come across the town of Kibuye, which is a perfect destination for a day trip from Kigali. It is a resort town located on the shores of Lake Kivu. The lake has a small island called Amahoro, and that is really a fascinating getaway. You can swim and enjoy the beach, set up camp or visit a quaint little restaurant for a memorable meal. Once you’ve had enough, return to the town and explore it a little bit or simply enjoy the beautiful shore.
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park holds a very special secret – this is where mountain gorillas live. These incredible creatures are unfortunately an endangered species, which why you should stop to listen to a short lecture about them. You will actually head out and look for the gorillas, and once you find them you have one hour to observe these creatures and take some photos that’ll last you a lifetime. After meeting the gorillas, you can have some delicious lunch and learn more about animals.
Ntarama and Nyamata
This day trip from Kigali is not a happy one, but it’s extremely educational and enlightening. Ntarama and Nyamata are national memorial sites to commemorate all the Tutsi victims of the genocide committed by the Hutus. thousands were killed, and you will see some very vivid reminders of this terrible part of human history. This is not for everybody, but everybody should be aware of what happened here. If you want to learn about the country’s history, this is the place you want to visit.
Extra tips for visiting Kigali
– Days can get hot in Kigali, so be prepared for the hot sun (bring your sunblock). However, once the sun goes down, the temperature drops in the evening due to the higher elevation of Kigali. It is good to bring layers or a light jacket/hoodie for the evenings.
– Kigali has local mini-bus transportation called matatus. They have many routes and cover all of Kigali, but it could get confusing and timely. It is best to hire a taxi or moto-taxi while in Kigali between all of your sights.
– Nighttime in Kigali is safe and you should not feel in danger if you are out after dark. With that said, there are always opportunists, so be cautious about where you are after dark.
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What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Timon and Yana are a traveling duo who quit their jobs in 2015 to travel the world. They spent months backpacking through Africa and the Middle East. They continue to venture to new places with upcoming backpacking destinations in New Zealand, Australia and South America. Follow their story at www.beardandcurly.com