Rwanda's extraordinary beauty and history may tempt you to add on some time after your business trip.
The capital has been a hive of construction over the past decade. New hotels, government buildings, shopping centres and residential areas have mushroomed and there are now several shopping malls and even a 24-hour supermarket. Most shopping is still done, though, in local markets selling everything from fresh produce to African fabric and handicrafts.
There is no shortage of accommodation in Kigali, from the top end Kigali Serena Hotel and Grand Legacy Hotel near the airport to smaller guest houses and boutique hotels. An international convention centre, currently under construction, is set to draw international brands such as Sheraton and Radisson Blu, to the city. The Hotel Des Milles Collines, made famous by the film Hotel Rwanda, which captured its history as a refuge for Rwandans during the genocide, has been managed by international chain Kempinski since 2014.
Restaurants in Kigali
Modern and rapidly expanding Kigali has a wealth of restaurants, coffee shops and nightlife. Zuri Restaurant is a top rated restaurant. Others include Sakae Japanese Restaurant, Brachetto Restaurant and Wine Bar, the new Poivre Noir Restaurant serving French and Belgian food, pizza place Sol e Luna near the airport and Republika Lounge Restaurant, which is popular with expatriates. The local tennis club is a relaxed venue and frequented by locals.
Bourbon Coffee Ltd is a popular Rwandan café chain with branches at the airport and around the city. The name originates from the Bourbon varietal of Arabica coffee beans which grow wild in Rwanda. Coffee tours, which take in growing and processing centres, are popular in Rwanda. Blues Café in central Kigali is also a popular coffee shop.
There are number of night clubs and bars but it is best to check with locals or your hotel where to go as places open and close all the time.
Many visitors to Rwanda include a visit to at least one of the eight or so genocide memorials around Rwanda, which commemorate the slaughter of nearly a million Rwandans in just a few months in 1994. The biggest is the Kigali Memorial Centre in the city, which has a large photographic exhibition and an audio guide showing the build up to and execution of the genocide as well as many of the victims. About 250,000 people are buried in mass graves on the property. There is a café to sit and take it all in after the tour.
It is worth visiting some of the smaller memorials around the country, many of them churches, which are where the massacres actually happened and offer a more close-up view of the horror. A few are quite close to Kigali and can be done as a half-day trip.
The mountain gorillas are a major tourist draw card. The Virunga Mountains that straddle Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are home to an estimated 480 gorillas, and in Rwanda they are found in the Volcanoes National Park. Booking is necessary in advance as only 80 permits a day are issued to trek to their habitat. Permits are also expensive - $750 each. Overnight accommodation is available at the park and in Ruhengeri town nearby. At a push, the gorilla trek could be done as a day trip from Kigali.
Most tourist destinations in Rwanda are about two hours’ drive from Kigali on reasonable but winding roads. Heavy traffic can make it longer. This means a long day trip or an overnight stop to visit them. Villages and farms line many of the main roads and mountain views abound in almost every direction.
In addition to Volcanoes, there is the Akagera National Park in the east, which has a lot of wildlife and a lodge that overlooks a network of lakes, which form part of the Akagera River, said to be the most remote headstream of the Nile.
The Nyungwe Forest National Park in the hills of south-western Rwanda, is a centre of flora and fauna with hundreds of species of trees and plants as well as several hundred chimpanzees and other primates. There are a few accommodation options.
Further along the road to Volcanoes National Park is Gisenyi on Lake Kivu, which runs along the border with the town of Goma in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The town is unremarkable but the lake is worth seeing. The main hotel is Serena Kivu Hotel, on the lake shore, but there are other accommodation options. It is possible to get a visa at the DRC border to visit Goma.
The tropical town of Kibuye on Lake Kivu, also about two hours’ drive from Kigali, is worth a visit. Boat trips to islands in the lake are popular and there is a genocide memorial nearby – an old church still in use. There are also a few guest houses.