by AdminSoa
April 7, 2017

Kigali: Modern City with a Dark Past and a Bright Future

Rwanda's capital is one of East Africa's most cosmopolitan cities, a modern and green city with delicious food,

Kigali is a city that does not shy away from its dark past, with the capital's role in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide being memorialised at both the world-famous Kigali Genocide Memorial and lesser-known genocide sites such as Ntarama and Nyamata.

Despite its dark past, the city is nonetheless a bright and modern place; a bustling city that continues to develop at a rate unheard of in Africa.

While you'll undoubtedly feel Kigali's distinct African charm and brush against its sadder past during your visit, you'll also find many causes for happiness. Fantastic foods from around the world, luxurious hotels, and uplifting stories like those told at the Nyamirambo Women's Centre add to the Rwandan capital's distinct charm.

kigali motorbike Image courtesy of Dylan Waters.

How to Spend 24 Hours in Kigali

So, you're in Rwanda and you're looking for ideas on how to spend a day in Kigali.

Maybe you're in the thriving city for business, or maybe you've just finished up your gorilla trekking experience and you're preparing to head on to your next destination.

Whatever the reason, Kigali offers visitors a wealth of ways to spend their time.

kigali genocide memorial Image courtesy of Adam Jones

Kigali Genocide Memorial

No visit to Rwanda would be complete without paying a visit to the heart-wrenching Genocide Memorial. Part heartfelt tribute and part educational experience, this memorial is free to enter, but does have an optional cost for renting an audio guide.

The Genocide Memorial is divided into a number of sections.

Introduction

Upon arrival, visitors are asked to check in and watch a short (but soul-destroying) video on the Rwandan Genocide. This is a fitting introduction to the Memorial, and it's rare to see people leaving the presentation with dry eyes.

The Genocide Memorial

From here, you'll continue on to the Genocide Memorial proper. With your audio guide in tow, you'll proceed through exhibits that highlight the background of the genocide, the gory details of the events, and the aftermath.

There are also sections on the international response to the genocide, or the lack thereof.

Other somber highlights of the Kigali Genocide Memorial include Wasted Lives - a wrenching display of photos and personal effects from those who died during the genocide, and the haunting Children's Room in which the most innocent victims of the genocide share their stories.

The Memorial Gardens

After your time in the memorial, you're invited to take some time to reflect and recover in the gardens that surround the centre.

These gardens are divided into the Garden of Reflection, the Wall of Names, and the Burial Place where more than 250,000 victims of the genocide have been interred.

After reading over the Wall of Names and paying your respects at the Burial Place, some time in the Gardens of Reflection will be a must. Spending a few quiet moments in contemplation is a great way to finish what has doubtless been a confronting visit.

Cafe and Gift Shop

On your way out of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, you're encouraged to pay a visit to the gift shop and/or the cafe.

The gift shop has a good selection of books, souvenirs, and keepsakes to help raise money for the ongoing healing process, while the cafe is a good place to refuel before heading out to continue your exploration of the city.

Presidential Palace Museum

The former home of Habyarimana Juvenal, the Presidential Palace today offers visitors a chance to see how the president lived and died – as his plane crashed into his own compound in the hours before the 1994 Genocide.

Visitors can tour the former state house, see the wreckage of the fateful plane crash that was one of many triggers for the Rwandan Genocide, and learn more about post-monarchy Rwandan history.

Note: The Presidential Palace Museum is currently closed for renovations. It is expected to re-open in July 2017.

Natural History Museum

Formerly known as the Kandt House, the Natural History Museum was built by German explorer, Richard Kandt.

The building itself has special significance as the first modern house built in what is today Rwanda, but this historic home is also home to an exhibition that aims to document the natural beauty of Rwanda from its geology all the way to its flora and fauna.

While not as comprehensive as most natural history museums, visitors can expect to learn quite a bit about Kigali's indigenous flora and fauna as they tour the grand old home. While many of the exhibitions are labelled in French and German, there's still plenty to see for those who speak English.

The North Wing

The North Wing is dedicated to the natural sciences, and it's here that you'll find specimens of Rwanda's bird and animal life.

You can expect to see everything from gorillas and larger fauna to rodents, lizards, birds, and insects here.

The rear portion of this exhibit is dedicated to Rwanda's geological history, with detailed diagrams and descriptions of the Great Rift Valley and Rwanda's distinctive volcanoes.

The South Wing

Continuing the geological theme, the south wing of the Kigali Natural History Museum is dedicated to Rwanda's mineral wealth.

Here, you'll see gemstones and minerals mined within the country, and learn more about how mining has contributed to Rwanda's development over the years.

kigali market Image courtesy of Kate Taylor.

Craft and Food Markets

If you're curious to see how locals live, a tour of a pair of bustling local markets offers great insights into modern Rwandan life.

Craft Market

The Kigali Craft Markets are an excellent way to familiarize yourself with traditional Rwandan arts and crafts, as well as being a great place to do some souvenir shopping.

Wandering the market, you'll see how resourceful local artists are producing everything from the practical to the out and out beautiful. It's a great opportunity for you to practice your haggling skills and pick up a few gifts for those who weren't lucky enough to join you for your adventure!

Food Market

See how the locals buy and sell their food at one of the city's bustling food markets.

With many Rwandan families not owning refrigerators, locals often shop twice a day for the food they'll need.

This is a working market, so don't expect to find charming street food vendors or souvenirs here. It's a glimpse into everyday life rather than a shopping experience.

hotel des mille collines Image courtesy of Adam Jones

Hotel des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda)

Many visitors to Kigali are excited to visit the Hotel des Mille Collines. Famously known as 'Hotel Rwanda', this luxury hotel still operates today much as it did in the years before the genocide.

In fact, visitors may be disappointed to find it is 'just another hotel'. There is very little on display to indicate the vital role the hotel played in saving Tutsi lives during the 1994 Genocide, but it is nonetheless a popular stop on any visit to Kigali.

While touring the hotel is not a possibility, visitors are welcome to enjoy a delicious buffet lunch at the hotel's restaurant during their visit.

Nyamirambo Women's Centre

For those wanting to learn more about modern Rwanda and the vital role the nation's women play in its development, a visit to the Nyamirambo Women's Centre is sure to be a highlight.

Started in 2007 by eighteen Rwandan women who had been victims of gender violence or discrimination, the centre now acts as both a project to raise awareness as well as a means for disadvantaged victims to better their lives through education.

These educational programs include computer skills, English, handicrafts and sewing, and tourism training.

Visitors to the centre not only have the opportunity to buy some locally made crafts to support the centre, but can also participate in cultural activities such as a guided village tour, basket weaving classes, and Rwandan cooking classes.

ntarama church rwanda Image courtesy of Manuel Bierbaeur

Millennium Village and Genocide Sites

For those wanting a window into the 1994 Genocide and the repercussions of the tragic event, a visit to the Millennium Village offers a window into both Rwanda’s past an present.

You’ll start your day paying a visit to the Nyamata and Ntarama Churches, both of which were sites of true horror during the Genocide.

You’ll then visit the Reconciliation Village, where the perpetrators and victims of the 1994 Genocide live side by side as a part of the healing process. You’ll not only speak with these brave individuals, but also learn about how they manage to co-exist despite their tortured pasts.


As you can see, Kigali is a city with plenty to see and do. You can learn more about things to do in Kigali as well as where to eat and to stay in our Kigali City Guide.

Interested in visiting Kigali, but don't want to organise it all yourself?

Let Shadows of Africa organise your half-day Kigali City Tour or full-day Kigali City Tour.

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