Rwanda’s nickname is the “Land of Eternal Spring,” and the capital city of Kigali fits the bill. The small but attractive city sprawls over valleys, ridges and hills, offering incredible views of the terraced countryside beyond the city limits. Although the capital was badly trashed as a result of the 1994 civil war, its steady rehabilitation has ensured that Kigali and its residents look toward the bright future instead of the dark past.
The Kigali Memorial Center provides an excellent introduction to the civil war and genocide that rocked the tiny landlocked country in 1994. Built on a site where more than 250,000 people are buried, the center is a permanent memorial to the over one million Rwandan genocide victims and serves as a grieving place for those who survived. Three permanent exhibitions take visitors through the genocide’s beginning, peak and end, and a children’s memorial pays tribute to the young people killed during the war. The center is also committed to education, challenging visitors to stop genocide from raging on in the future. The experience is haunting, meaningful and powerful and one that will never be forgotten.
The ethnic tensions that eventually lead to civil war were sparked when President Juvenal Habyarimana was killed when his airplane was shot down in 1994. Visitors to Kigali can now take a guided tour of the president’s palace, catching a glimpse of his life through artifacts and photographs. The museum also houses a collection of eye-catching traditional Rwandan clothing.
Kigali is surrounded by mountains, home to some of the continent’s last remaining mountain gorillas. Treks leaving daily from the city center give visitors the opportunity to see these and other endangered animals up close in the heart of Rwanda. The nearby Nyungwe National Park is the best place to spot primates, including baboons, monkeys and chimpanzees. The rainforest terrain is lush and pristine, and the reward for trekking through the dense forest and steep passes is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness some of nature’s most beautiful and powerful creatures up close.
Not far from the city lies the Parc National des Volcans, a dramatic chain of volcanoes that is also home to one of the largest mountain gorilla populations in the country. Dian Fossey conducted her famous research and battles with poachers there, and the densely forested slopes present many opportunities for unforgettable encounters with silverbacks. Do not venture into the park without a local guide, and make plans as soon as you arrive in Kigali because the government only issues 40 permits per day.
For an authentic Kigali shopping experience, head to the Caplaki, the old street market filled with stalls and locals selling everything from authentic carvings and masks to knockoff designer handbags and fresh fruit drinks. Do not be afraid to bargain; the sellers expect and welcome friendly haggling.
Kigali may not be an epicurean’s paradise, but it is one of the best cities in Africa for dining. Menus are usually a combination of Belgian culinary influence, the freshwater catch of the day, fresh seasonal vegetables and lots of beef. You may have to wait up to an hour to be served your food, but it is almost always worth it.
Kigali Geographical Location
Kigali is located near the center of Rwanda across four ridges and valleys. Kigali is the largest city in Rwanda with a population of approximately 966,000.
Kinyarwanda, French, and English are the official languages of Rwanda. Swahili is used in commercial centers.
Kigali Predominant Religion
- 56.5% Roman Catholic
- 26% Protestant
- 11% Adventist
- 4.5% Muslim
- 2% None
The constitution of Rwanda provides for religious freedom.
The Rwandan Franc is the official currency of Rwanda.
It is typically warm throughout the year in Kigali with little variation. June and July don’t usually experience rain while the rest of the year gets a few days of rain per month.
Kigali Main Attractions
- Kigali Memorial Centre
- Ntarama Church
Other Attraction in Kigali
- Akagera National Park
- Nyamata Church