After what seemed like our fastest commute and airport transfer experience yet, Mark and I arrived in Rwanda, thrilled to be spending some time in the country. Our travel to Kigali went quite smoothly and it all began right from the point of leaving our home in Nairobi.
Rather than a 30-minute ride to the airport, on a good day with no traffic, we made the journey in less than half the time, thanks to the recently commissioned Nairobi highway. Checking in for our flights and going through security was also fast and after a short 1-hour flight, we arrived in the land of a thousand hills.
Travel to Kigali, Rwanda: Getting a Visa
In the past, Nigerians needed a visa to visit Rwanda and I was under the impression that this was still the status quo. This visa can usually be gotten online or at the port of entry in Kigali. As a Kenyan Resident, I had come prepared with my Interstate Pass but was pleasantly surprised to hear at Immigration that I didn’t need one.
Rwanda currently allows visa-free entry to Nigerian passport holders, along with all citizens of the Commonwealth, African Union and the Francophonie member states. For citizens of countries outside these states, a visa on arrival can be gotten at the airport for $50.
We picked up our bags, headed out of the terminal building, got sim cards for our stay and a taxi to transfer us to our hotel.
Travel to Kigali, Rwanda: First Impressions
As we drove into the city, I peeked my head out of the car windows, excitedly “inspecting” the surrounding areas. Like me, you might have heard it said a thousand times that Kigali is the cleanest city in Africa. As we travelled across the country, I found this to be a true statement, not just for the capital city but for every other place we visited.
The roads and gutters were indeed free of rubbish and I thought the Kigali city centre was quite beautiful and well organized. Outside the centre, local stalls lined the side of the roads, and juxtaposed with urban developments were rural buildings.
My overall first impression about Rwanda, on the surface level, was that the country was “Africa at its finest”. It’s hard to put my thoughts into words, even more so, when a short visit to a country in most cases, does not reflect the reality of living there.
But I would say that I loved the sense of community I felt while travelling around the country. I enjoyed the views of pastoral villages and the sceneries of the countryside. I loved how easy it was to move around, and apart from the costs of the Gorilla Trekking experience, I found Rwanda to be very affordable to travel within.
Travel to Kigali: Where to Stay
We chose to stay at Phoenix Apartment by Link, a self-catering apartment located closer to the airport. This place was great for our fairly long-term stay in Kigali. It was affordable, with very few downsides and had good amenities and customer service. I will review all the places we stayed in Rwanda in more detail in a separate post.
Things to Do in Kigali: Visit the Nyandungu Eco-Tourism Park
On our first free day in Kigali, we set out early in the morning to Nyandungu Urban Wetland Eco-Tourism Park. This park was only a walking distance from Phoenix Apartment, and within a few minutes, we were enjoying a quiet and pleasant walk in the park.
I would only recommend a visit here if you stay close to where it is or if you are staying in the city long-term. There’s really not much to do in the park besides taking a leisurely stroll, bike ride or run. So, if you’re staying in the city centre, with only a few days to spare, then you can choose to optimize your time by exploring other places of interest instead.
That being said, the park was a great way to start out our day of exploring in Kigali
Things to Do in Kigali: Sign up for a tour with the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre
Later in the afternoon, we set out to visit the Nyamirambo Women’s Centre (NWC). This is a Rwandan NGO that supports disadvantaged women in the community by providing them with free classes in literacy, basic computer skills, handicrafts, sewing and empowerment training on gender inequality, gender-based violence and discrimination.
To support its mission and initiatives, the centre offers 3 different experiences to visitors. These include a cooking class, a basketry class and a walking tour of the Nyamirambo neighbourhood. We chose to do the walking tour during our visit.
Nyamirambo Walking Tour
The tour began with an introduction to the centre and the work that the women do. Then, we moved to explore the neighbourhood, stopping first to enjoy a refreshing glass of cold milk at a Milk Bar.
After that, our guide, Joeseline took us around, showing us the day-to-day living of the people in the community. We visited a hair salon, she pointed out beer shops, we went to a market, as well as a few other minor stops. These stops, when viewed alone, weren’t spectacular, however, I did enjoy our interactions, as well as those of the people we came across.
Again, here I felt a deep sense of community, and the friendliness and the openness of the people we encountered were something I greatly admired.
Nyamirambo Car Free and Art Zones
We then made our way to some car-free zones that featured art-covered walls and a long stretch of outdoor restaurants.
Nyamirambo Walking Tour – Lunch at Aminatha’s
After about an hour or two, we circled back to our starting point and went to the home of one of the centre’s beneficiaries, Aminatha. Her home is also where the cooking class takes place and there, we enjoyed a spread of delicious homemade meals.
This lunch stop is when you sign up for the walking tour with the NWC, however, I recommend that you do not skip it.
Things to Do in Kigali: Pay your respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial
After the tour, we got some souvenirs from the centre and then headed to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, the final resting place of 250,000 people who lost their lives in the 1994 genocide.
There are several memorials across the country but I believe this is the most visited. The Memorial houses a curation of audio and visual information about the events leading up to the genocide and its aftermath.
It is an emotional visit that nothing quite prepares you for but one you must see when you visit Kigali. The memorial is free to visit but donations are welcomed.
Things to Do in Kigali: Shop at Kimironko Market
On my second free day in Kigali, FOMO got the best of me and I decided to check out the Kimironko Market. The truth is that I do not particularly enjoy visiting African Markets as a tourist. Having been born and raised in Nigeria, I think that I have seen my fair share of African Markets.
Yet, when I looked up articles about the best things to do in Kigali, visiting Kimironko Market featured on many lists.
Since it was only a few minutes away from where we stayed, I hopped on a motorcycle and made my way down there. This market is the largest in Kigali, it is clean, well organized and easy to navigate. I found the fabric section in no time and decided to make an outfit for myself and Mark.
I met a tailor in the market, chose my preferred fabric and style and after an hour, the outfits, complete with matching hairband and earrings, were ready and delivered to me at the apartment (free of charge).
Even though we stayed in Kigali for a week, I only had limited days to explore the city. I would have loved to visit Mount Kigali and Fazenda Sengha but unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to do so. I guess that leaves us with something to look forward to the next time we travel to Kigali.
Best Time to Visit Kigali
The drier months of June to September are considered the best time to visit Kigali and Rwanda in general. We visited in August and had warm weather conditions in the afternoons and cooler temperatures early in the mornings and late evenings.
Even though August is supposed to be a dry month, it rained quite a bit in Gisenyi (Lake Kivu area) and Musanze – the gateway city to the Volcanoes National Park, where we went hiking to see Mountian Gorillas. Luckily, the rain did not affect any of our outings and we had a great stay in Rwanda.
In my next post, I will write about our experience in Volcanoes National Park and what it takes to plan a DIY Gorilla Trekking experience in Rwanda. I hope you stick around for that!
If you would like to explore Kigali in 24 hours with an organized tour, you can check out this city sightseeing tour, which has stops in Juru Park, Kigali, Kandt House Natural History, Rwanda Art and Kigali Museums, Camp Kigali Memorial, Kigali Genocide Memorial site, Kimoronko Market and Caplaki Craft Village.
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If you have been to Rwanda, I would love to hear all about your experience. And if you haven’t, is it a country you’re looking forward to visiting? What else would you like to know about Rwanda and/or our trip? Please leave your comments in the comment section below and I’ll be sure to include details in the coming posts…