WE HAVE ARRIVED.
After a couple of days of traveling including a long layover in Doha, we arrived in Rwanda. We have a few days here before we head to the DRC, and with limited time in Kigali have tried to make the most of our brief time in the nation now fondly known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’. Before that of course, it was known as the location of the Rwandan Genocide, which happened in the context of the Rwandan Civil War, and it’s a history that’s so recent that you can’t help but be taken with the Rwanda of 2016. As a 30-year-old woman I can’t help but recognize that some of my peers – people my age in Rwanda – lived through this horrifying experience as young and impressionable children.
What’s more incredible is that the spirit of Rwanda today is something so palpably bright and positive that visitors can’t help but be awe-stuck by the very soul of the Rwandan people. Somehow, just a couple of decades after the genocide, people have come together to build a stronger unified country that celebrates a positive way forward while remembering the tragedies of the recent past. With legislation banning the use of plastic bags and a monthly community cleaning initiative that Rwandans collectively participate in, it’s hard not to be inspired by a place that has come impossibly far in such a short time.
Hotel des Mille Collines
When we booked our trip with Inspired Journeys, we specifically requested to stay at Hotel des Mille Collines, the hotel that inspired the movie Hotel Rwanda (if you haven’t seen it, you must). While fancy, five-star properties continue to crop up in Kigali as Rwanda focuses on bolstering its tourism, the history of Hotel de Mille Collines can’t be replicated.
While the hotel itself isn’t a five-star property, the surroundings are incredible and the history is such a draw. We actually checked into Mille Collines after our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial which made everything that much more impactful. The hotel is walking distance from a number of great restaurants as well (it’s totally safe to walk), and has a spectacular breakfast buffet in a gorgeous setting.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
The photo above is us trying to smile after exiting the memorial, and I couldn’t help but think my eyes were puffed up beyond belief after leaving teary-eyed. If you do one thing in Kigali, you must visit the Genocide Memorial. It is a heart-wrenching experience but the museum is so incredibly well done and does such an amazing job of remembering the lives of those lost and explaining the context in which the genocide occurred. It’s divided into a few sections with indoor and outdoor spaces, including a mass burial site for 250,000 people. The first section gives some insight into Rwandan history, and colonialism and its impact on Rwanda. The memorial then goes on to cover the genocide itself, with videos from survivors, photos of slain family members, a section on lost children (be prepared for an exceptionally emotional journey), and photographs from 1994. The final section talks about genocides broadly, and I admire the fact that the memorial dedicates a section to talk about other genocides that have happened in recent history including sections on Cambodia, Armenia, Bosnia, and Germany amongst others.
Kigali’s Genocide Memorial is emotional but it’s an absolute must for anyone visiting Rwanda.
Entry to the museum is free but an audio guide costs $15 and is a great way to contribute to the memorial in a useful way. The audio guide is incredibly well done. With upwards of 40 sections, it takes around two hours to walk through the entire memorial and take it all in. You’ll finish the tour with the mass burial site, including a wall inscribed with some of the names of those buried at the site. Kigali’s Genocide Memorial is emotional but it’s an absolute must for anyone visiting Rwanda. There’s also a gift shop on site which stocks goods crafted by wives and other family members of those lost in the genocide.
An Evening in Kigali
After visiting the memorial and checking into the hotel, we had time to clean up and head out to dinner in Kigali. Within walking distance of us were two restaurants that piqued our interest: Heaven, an international restaurant and boutique hotel; and Khana Khazana, an Indian restaurant touted as being one of Kigali’s best restaurants. We had a hard time deciding between the two, but after great recs from former expats in Kigali, we opted to dine at Khana Kazana and grab a drink at Heaven before hand as a way to see both places in our short time in Rwanda’s capital. While Heaven’s menu looked great, this ended up being a perfect choice for us. For anyone dining out in Kigali, we had wondered about safety of walking around at night. From Mille Collines to these nearby restaurants, walking felt totally safe and took us less than 10 minute to get to our restaurants!
For our first brush with Kigali, we were impressed. We were greeted with absolute warmth and we were astounded by the cleanliness of the city. The roads are great, clean, and it could be an easy place to rent a car and self drive if you’re comfortable with getting around on your own. All in all, a fabulous introduction to Kigali to kick-start our time in Rwanda!
Have you been to Kigali? What are your recs for a day in Kigali?