19 Sep Kigali Travel Tips + Photos
My impression of Rwanda:
Rwanda, one of the smallest, and historically one of the poorest nations in Africa, is undergoing a stunning transformation. The event that looms large over Rwandan history is the genocide. In 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans were brutally killed in just 100 days and by the most rudimentary weapons (machetes were the main tool used for killing).
You can get to know more about Rwanda by clicking here.
Today, however, Rwanda is a VERY different country. It is a country determined to put its painful past behind and is steadfastly looking to the future. The evidence of this stunning transformation is most visible in Kigali, an extremely clean, safe and vibrant capital city.
My impression of Kigali (the capital city of Rwanda):
One of the safest, cleanest cities in the entire world! Safe and clean are not adjectives I use to generally describe cities in Africa. But for Kigali, these are apt words. While there are not tonnes of things to do in the city, I very highly recommend spending at least one full day here.
One thing to be aware of is that Kigali is an expensive city. Food, accommodation, etc are not cheap here but you should spend at least one night here. The great thing is that most of Kigali’s must-to-do activities, listed below, can be done in one full day:
1) Kigali Genocide Memorial – Click here for more
2) Camp Kigali Belgian Memorial – Click here for more
3) Visit a local market – Click here for more
Kigali Genocide Memorial
Why you should not miss the Kigali Genocide Museum: The museum, while heart-wrenching, is extremely well curated. It painfully captures the level of brutality that humanity is capable of. What makes the going through the museum especially harrowing is that it reminds us that we, the rest of the world, did nothing to stop the atrocity. It will force you to ask why we did nothing, and why we continue to do nothing while these types of horrors are ongoing in many parts of the world even today.
While photography inside is not allowed, I quickly took this photo seen above. When in the museum, sit on this chair, and look at the photos of the victims and pay respect to the innocent lives taken away in the most brutal way. That is the least we can do to honour the lives of our fellow human beings. And yeah, take something with you to wipe away the tears that will inevitably come.
Camp Kigali Belgian Memorial
What is Camp Kigali Belgian Memorial about?
This is a lesser visited site but I suggest that you don’t miss it. This site marks the death 10 Belgian UN Blue Beret soldiers who brutally killed on the premises. When the Rwandan Genocide first broke out, the only country to respond was Belgium, the former colonial power. The 10 soldiers were part of a larger UN peacekeeping force deployed in Rwanda.
Even the UN couldn’t contain the senseless violence: In order to pressure the UN to withdraw its presence in Rwanda, the 10 soldiers were captured and transported to this camp, where they were tortured and killed by the Hutus. Their bodies were later mutilated and dumped at a morgue in Kigali. The massacre achieved the desired result. The UN pulled out of Rwanda, leaving the country vulnerable to the senseless and unspeakable violence that followed. Each column made entirely of stone represents each soldier that was murdered, and the horizontal cuts in it represent the age of the dead soldier.
Visit a Local Market
One of the most fun things that I did in Kigali was to visit a local market. There are a number of local markets to choose from – Kimironko, Cootrac, Caplaki, Nyabugogo, etc.
Kigali Travel Tip: While there are a number of markets to choose to from, I recommend going to the Kimironko market, the largest one in Kigali. From the outside, the market looks innocuous. But inside is whole another story! There are multiple levels inside, and each level contains endless rows of good and vegetables that you can find under the sun! Lots of vibrant, colours, sounds, smells and people! It will give you a chance a bit of local, authentic Rwanda.
Kigali Travel Tip: A visit to the Kimironko market can overwhelming. While it looks pretty tame from the outside, inside is a mass of hustle-bustle. I strongly recommend you hire a local guide prior to going. Or take an organized tour, which is what I did. I hired a local tour company for a full day Kigali tour and part of the tour was a stop at the Kimironko market.
Kigali Travel Tip: Of all the places I have been to, I found that Rwandans are least photo-friendly. They just did not like to be photographed. I think it has to do the genocide. My feeling is that they think the photo will be used exploitatively. So take photos very discreetly, or ask for permission. Don’t take random photos of people. Having said that, Rwandans are very friendly and the worst that can is you will get an unpleasant stare or be yelled at.