Outbound Adventures: Kigali: An African city with a painful past and a glorious future

Bassem Abo Alabass in Kigali, Saturday 7 Jan 2017

If you are into waterfalls, green mountains and rich wildlife -- all on the outskirts of an organised, modern city -- then Rwanda's Kigali is your perfect holiday destination

Kigali City
Kigali City (Bassem Abo Alabass)

As I stepped out of the capital’s international airport, my unconscious mind tried to tell me that I was in a cosmopolitan, eye-catching European city, as I found myself surrounded by green mountains integrated with well-designed modern infrastructure.

Someone smiles at me and says, “murakaza neza!”

Wait a minute – this is not a European language. This phrase, meaning “welcome,” is in Kinyarwanda, the primary language spoken in Rwanda’s capital and largest city Kigali.

The East African city has been rapidly growing and modernising since the early 1990s, when the country saw one of the continent’s most horrific genocides, which saw around one million people killed.

This gory history had put safety at the top of my concerns before flying to Rwanda.

As it turned out, however, it was just history, as Kigali is currently ranked among the safest cities in Africa and its streets are patrolled by heavily armed security forces all day long to protect people and maintain peace.

Kigali, which covers 730 square kilometres, is inhabited by more than one million people, 60 percent of whom are youths.

The exchange rate for the Rwandan currency stands at an average 820 Francs per US dollar.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

The Amphitheater, which is attached to Kigali Genocide Memorial (Photo: Bassem Abo Alabass)
The Amphitheater, which is attached to Kigali Genocide Memorial (Photo: Bassem Abo Alabass)

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is located in Gisozi, a 10-minute drive from the centre of town, and the entrance is free.

The memorial is one of the most important sites to visit in Kigali. However, I do not recommend visiting it at the start of your trip, as you will really feel the pain and grief Rwandans suffered during the genocide, which will likely leave an emotional imprint.

The memorial is considered the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the genocide against the Tutsi ethnic group, which was committed by members of the Hutu majority in 1994.

The Hutu and Tutsi are the major ethnic groups in the country, with the Hutu making up 84 percent of the population, according to the memorial data.

The memorial is attached to a 1,200-seat amphitheatre, which marks the 20th commemoration of the genocide and hosts cultural and historical events.

Don’t forget to take a motorcycle ride!

A motor Ride in Kigali (Photo: Bassem Abo Alabass)
A motor Ride in Kigali (Photo: Bassem Abo Alabass)

It is an exciting experience to take a seat behind a Rwandan biker as an affordable means of transportation, costing half the price of taxi fares, though taxi drivers are more familiar with the city and the destinations you will likely want to visit.

Kigali Convention Centre

The recently-inaugurated convention Center in Kigali (Photo: Radisson Blu.com)
The recently-inaugurated convention Center in Kigali (Photo: Radisson Blu.com)

Inaugurated in July 2016 after a four-year halt in construction and located in the Gasabo district, the convention centre is operated by international hotel chain Radisson Blu.

According to leading Rwandan English-language newspaper the New Times, the country’s president attributed the final completion of the facility to the “Rwandan spirit” of never giving up, explaining that the stakeholders had previously tried to have it completed a number of times, but with no success.

The centre, valued at more than $300 million, comprises a ribbon-striped five-star hotel with 292 rooms and a domed conference hall that can host up to 2,500 people.

Life in Kigali

The best time to book your flight to Kigali is between June and mid-September; the period called the “long dry season.”

Rwanda's long rainy season lasts from March to May, when rains are heavy and persistent.

During working days, you may not find a single person in any of Kigali’s nightclubs, except for some local pubs that start to get jammed by midnight. 

However, on weekends, clubs, bars and restaurants become very crowded and active until the early hours of the morning.

Mutzig, Skol and Primus are among Rwanda’ s most popular local brews, with prices ranging between RWF 750 and RWF 1,500 per bottle.

Rwandans are very obedient to the law and custom, where you will rarely see people smoking in public, as it is considered shameful. They are also very friendly, and do not want to repeat the country’s bloody history, which is why ethnic discussions are widely avoided across the nation.


If you are searching for traditional gifts, your destination will be Capalaki, where you can find Kigali’s largest souvenir market, with items spread across dozens of individual stalls.

Prices in Caplaki are high, though you can bargain down to a more reasonable price. Alternatively, you can head to the Market 2000 in the city centre, where you can find many street vendors and shops that offer more reasonable prices.

For the popular Rwandan tea, coffee and Macadamia nuts, as well as regular groceries, there are Nakumatt and Simba, two of the biggest supermarkets in Kigali’s Nyarugenge district.

Pineapple, banana and passion fruit are the most popular fruits in the capital, and you can easily buy them at cheap prices.

Rusumo Falls

The Rusomo Falls, Kirehe district in Rwandan Eastern Province (Photo:Bassem ABo Alabass)
The Rusomo Falls, Kirehe district in Rwandan Eastern Province (Photo:Bassem ABo Alabass)

If you are a fan of jungle adventures, you can travel about 100 kilometres from Kigali to reach Rusumo Falls, located in the Kiehere area in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.

Rusumo Falls is a waterfall surrounded by green parks and wild animals.

It is situated on the Kagera River on the border between Rwanda and Tanzania, and is part of the most distant headwaters of the River Nile. The falls are approximately 15 metres high and 40 metres wide.

However, around 85 percent of the falls are expected to be lost during the construction of the planned Rusumo Dam, which aims to generate roughly 80 megawatts of electricity to help Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi.

Construction on the dam is expected to start in mid 2017, so you only have a few months to take a selfie by the spectacular waterfall. 

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