Kigali:The Land Of A Thousand Hills
January 1, 1970
by Kitavi Muia
To say I was excited about this trip would be downplaying the enthusiasm I had for my stay.Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda, it is a modest city reflective of the country and its people.Upon arrival, I could clearly understand why it is dubbed the ‘land of a thousand hills’…and it sure is a hilly place. The positive trade-off from this hilly aspect is the picturesque views from almost anywhere. You can see the sprawling city which might I say is breathtaking at night.I haven’t even mentioned how clean the city is, there is literally no litter, the roads are ever clean even when it rains which for a country whose infrastructure isn’t the best may be a challenge but does not seem so for Kigali. The city makes the best of what it has and the mix of modern exquisite architecture blends well with the preexisting structures and the trees in a way that doesn’t make you think that something looks amiss.What stands out on the landscape is the Kigali convention center built by the Raddison Blue chain of hotels, I often used it as a marker during my random escapades around the city.
Golden Tulip La Palisse
Nested in a tiny town about 37km from Kigali called Nyamata is this spectacular hotel. The high ceilings at the entrance with exquisite lighting gave off this feeling of regalness. The staff helped us with our bags and gave us a little tour before settling us in our rooms. The rooms were tastefully furnished and I didn’t mind kicking it there for a few days. The pool was a huge plus and most of my time at the hotel was spent poolside enjoying Waragi (A type of gin native to Uganda), on the rocks which I conveniently ordered from their well-stocked bar.
Being a small city I would say navigating isn’t all that hard although Uber doesn’t operate there and their equivalent of a taxi app feels like a cheap knockoff to be honest. Nevertheless, they have the best motorcycle transport system I have used in a while. I kid you not, I am not a fan of taking motorcycles anywhere but after seeing that’s how everyone gets around, who was I to challenge the status quo and I ended up using it my entire stay there. For starters they are efficient, drive safely, the rider always insists on the passenger wearing a helmet (the helmet enhances the whole biker vibe) and I would always find one around the corner. If I was with a group that wasn’t a problem I’d simply ask the rider to call his buddies and voila! we’d be an entourage on motorcycles which makes for great Snapchat content if I do say so. The only downfall to this is that some of the riders didn’t speak English so there was a bit of the whole language barrier situation but that’s where Google Maps comes in handy id just point on a location on the map and we’d ride off into the sunset. So when you’re in Kigali you should definitely check out the ‘Yego Moto’ riders.
On matters food, (for some this is the only part that matters) I would say the Kigali food scene is representative of the food scene you’d find anywhere else in East Africa but with a slightly higher preference for beans. There is a good mix of local and foreign cuisine restaurants as is expected in the 21st century (Man cannot live on one cuisine alone).
There are pretty decent places to eat, I happened to visit one quaint unassuming restaurant called Pilipili (a Swahili word which translates to Chili). It was one of those ‘hidden gem’ kind of restaurants. It was unassuming from the sidewalk or from afar which is a huge plus for me as I usually don’t like establishments (restaurants, bars, etc) taking away from the overall aesthetic of the environment. This is something I must commend Kigali for as the city districts really flow well, there isn’t that sudden harsh change in zoning there is a mix of upper-end low-end scenery in most of the views. So, back to this restaurant it had a nice view (which is a staple in Kigali) and this less is more vibe where they didn’t try too hard with the decor and let the nicely stained wood bar shine as its centerpiece. Sadly this was as far as my satisfaction at Pilipili went, the service, food, and cocktails didn’t live up to the expectations set up at the front door. They hardly had any of their signature cocktails and I was forced to have a mojito and the waiter mixed our order up, safe to say it was a lackluster experience.
Don’t take this one negative experience as a summation of the Kigali food scene as there is an Italian Cafe in the Kigali Heights mall whose Gelato is to die for and pocket-friendly at Rwf2500 per scoop and Rwf3500 for two scoops.They also serve coffee and wine but I’m sure after seeing the delicious spread of gelato on the ice cream bar you wouldn’t even care to see the rest of the menu.
There is also a Java (a chain of cafes from Kenya) so there were some familiar tastes. I had my usual Thai chicken salad and an Iced tea with Mango juice(a very refreshing combo). Their menu is diverse they have in-house roasted coffee and an array of delicious pastries. So whether you’re there for a meal or a light snack, they’ve got you covered.
One of the things that stood out the most for me was the people. Upon first interactions with the people, I immediately got a sense of openness and warmth and I could feel the spirit of comradery as I caught glimpses of the community. And true to this spirit on one Saturday during my stay I witnessed how broad the spectrum of this community spirit was during the monthly ‘Muganda’ which is basically when people from the community both common folk and leaders gather to clean their surroundings. At first, I was skeptical but it is truly a serious event as one isn’t meant to be on the road between 8am-12noon lest you are partaking in the cleaning. This is one thing I believe many can learn from the people of Rwanda.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
A visit to Rwanda wouldn’t be complete without visiting the Kigali Genocide Museum. It was then I really got to understand how the nation had rebuilt itself from the ground up following the horrific events of 1994, truly like a phoenix rising from the ashes Kigali was a testament to how far Rwanda had come since then. It is one thing reading or hearing about it but actually seeing the devastation and horrific acts is an experience worth having while in Kigali.I would urge anyone visiting Kigali to definitely visit the genocide memorial.