Rwanda
Jan 2024
1 Month

Kigali

Does 'Africa's cleanest city' live up to its name?

[Local Time}
{Temperature}
°C ·
[Description}

Three decades after the genocide, Rwanda stands as a vibrant East African hub.

The nation's progressive development is exemplified by its parliament, boasting one of the highest rates of female representation worldwide. Its capital, Kigali, showcases impressive infrastructure development and a thriving tourism sector.

Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

Hard to justify traveling to as a city in isolation, but if you are already in East Africa, it's definitely worth spending up to a month as a base to explore Rwanda from.

🌎
Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

Hard to justify traveling to as a city in isolation, but if you are already in East Africa, it's definitely worth spending up to a month as a base to explore Rwanda from.

Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

Hard to justify traveling to as a city in isolation, but if you are already in East Africa, it's definitely worth spending up to a month as a base to explore Rwanda from.

👎
Verdict:
Worth it if in the area

Hard to justify traveling to as a city in isolation, but if you are already in East Africa, it's definitely worth spending up to a month as a base to explore Rwanda from.

🛫
Rwandan Francs (RWF)
1.2 Million
💰 Great value
🏝️ Great for a holiday
🧳 Would like to return

Summary

After a month in Nairobi and running down the limit of my tourist visa in South Africa, I felt there was another box to tick on the continent to round off the experience. After much research of viable destinations, Kigali emerged as one of the better options in Sub-Saharan Africa, looking like an ideal place to work from with a reputation for being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the region.

Accommodation
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

There isn't a huge selection of properties on the market when it comes to modern, high-quality apartments, but I had a great experience staying at the recently completed Urban Oasis apartment complex. I can't imagine there are many better options across the city, both with regard to its location and the quality of the fit-out.

Given the amount of construction going on in the city, the number of choices on the market is likely to grow year by year. Air conditioning is not a common feature, but there wasn't any time when it would have been required.

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New legislation
Recent changes introduced by the Turkish government has made short-term rentals for under 100 days more restricted. Keep an eye on Reddit threads for up-to-date assessments of how the new legislation is impacting short-term rentals in practice.
Places to work
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

There's a sparse selection of dedicated coworking spaces across the city, but none quite at the standard as what you can get in Nairobi or in Europe. That being said, there is no shortage of coffee shops to work from and the quality of both Wifi and 4G across the country is impressive.

Value
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

If you are earning a foreign wage, the cost of living in Kigali is very reasonable. Local food is tasty and particularly inexpensive (a good lunch can cost under £3), while international cuisine is more in line with what you may expect to pay in Europe.

You may want to budget ahead for excursions like Gorilla Trecking ,with prices commanding up to $1,500 a day due to the limited availability. The prices for guided safaris appeared to be in line with those in neighbouring Kenya.

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The yen is currently at a 34-year low
While this is undoubtedly a negative for the Japanese, it makes for an exceptionally good time to visit Japan from abroad. Although this trend is unlikely to reverse significantly in the short term, it's still worth checking before visiting.
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View the cost of living
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Working hours
Great
Good
Ok
Bad

Rwanda follows Central African Time (CAT), placing it 1 hour ahead of Central European Time (CET) during the winter months of the year and aligning with CEST during the summer.

The quality of roads across the city centre is impressive, making cycling a viable option throughout the city.
The quality of roads across the city centre is impressive, making cycling a viable option throughout the city.
Buffets are a popular lunch option - this plate of avocado, stewed matoke, peanut sauce and grilled chicken wings comes in at £2.20(!)
Buffets are a popular lunch option - this plate of avocado, stewed matoke, peanut sauce and grilled chicken wings comes in at £2.20(!)
Kiyovu resembles something of a commercial hub in the city, but there is little of interest there.
Kiyovu resembles something of a commercial hub in the city, but there is little of interest there.

Where to stay

There's no real central hub to speak of in the city, with its main attractions being dispersed across a number of different areas. It's a long and hilly journey on foot from Gishushu to Kiyovu, so I'd plan ahead on where you wish to spend your time.

Would avoid
Recommended
Gishushu
Situated just off the main RN3 road and within a ten-minute walk from the convention centre, Gishushu has a number of coffee shops and small eateries dotted around its vicinity
Would avoid
Recommended
Kimihurura
Home to the convention center and the Kigali Heights shopping center, the main residential area is a peaceful, leafy neighborhood easily accessible from anywhere within the city
Would avoid
Recommended
Kiyovu
Even though it's home to most of the city's main commercial buildings, there felt little need to be based in the immediate area, with a better variety of food and drink options to be found further East.
Would avoid
Recommended
Nyarutarama
If you are planning on hiring a car or a moto, this could be a great option. However, if you intend to navigate primarily on foot, the more northern areas of Nyarutarama wouldn't be ideal.

Where to work

Westerwelle Start Up Haus
Top Choice
☕️ Good Coffee
📍 Top Location
🥗 On Site Cafe
🧍Community Focused
⭐️ Quality Fit Out
🌳 Outdoor Space

Located a five-minute walk from the convention centre, Westerwelle occupies the fourth and fifth floors of the Fairview Office building. While the fit-out quality is basic, it offers reliable Wi-Fi, ample spaces for calls, and access to the building's roof terrace.

There's no coffee served in-house, but a couple of convenient options are nearby in the immediate vicinity, with both Tugende and The 3K within a minutes walk from the buildings entrance.

While it may not be of a quality to necessarily plan your trip around, if you are in the Kimihurura area, it provides a reliable and inexpensive place to base yourself (a flexible desk is priced at £79 for a month).

Remote work visa

No remote work visa
Remote work visa available
Remote work visa coming soon
If staying for a prolonged period, you may want to consider a dedicated visa for this destination.
This country is actively working on a visa support for remote workers.
Check your government website for details of how to obtain a tourist visa.
View full details
To the best of my knowledge this information was correct as of 27th April 2024. If you notice something has changed drop me a message and I'll update it!

Citizen Remote is a great source of up to date knowledge for everything to do with remote work visas.

Safety

  • Remarkably safe and secure. Having spent sometime in Nairobi, Cape Town & Johannesburg prior to arriving, where security is a constant concern, within 10 minutes of setting foot in Kigali I felt immediately at ease. Expect to see men, women and children walking unaccompanied late into the evening. I would bet considerable money that you would have a greater chance of getting your phone stolen in London, than at anytime in Kigali.
  • Do not expect western standards from taxis.If using the Yego taxi app, do not be alarmed if the rider doesn't conduct the ride and payment through the app. From what I could gauge, it is used by the drivers for hailing the initial ride but then the price negotiation takes place in person. Settle on a price and payment method before embarking using the in-app reference as an estimate. Whilst such behaviour would be enormously concerning in somewhere like South Africa, it is not something to be concerned about here.
  • Place Kigali at the end of an African itinerary.Exploring Kigali by foot felt incredibly exhilarating after 3 months in the security paranoia of South Africa. If arriving as your first stop in the continent, you're unlikely to encounter that same liberating feeling.

Off-work

Visit the Genocide Memorial

An essential part of any visit to Kigali, the Genocide Memorial is a sobering reminder of the atrocities etched into the country's recent history. The memorial includes a well-constructed museum outlining the historical events preceding the tragedy and the country's subsequent efforts to reconcile its differences.

Admission is free, with personally assisted tours and audio guides also available. It's well worth including at the start of your trip to provide added context to the numerous smaller memorials you'll see across the city and in each village.

Learn more
Visit Lake Kivu

One of the great African lakes, Lake Kivu runs along the western border of Rwanda along the border with the DRC. There's little worth seeing in it's largest town, Gisenyi, to justify the four hour bus ride, but the tranquil surroundings and great quality roads make it an ideal place to explore on bike or scooter.

Explore the countryside on bike

If you're a fan of cycling, Kigali and the surrounding region make for an ideal place to explore on bike. The main roads are suitable for road bikes, but a mountain bike is ideal to explore the neighbouring villages where you're likely to be warmly greeted by the local population. Good quality bikes are available to hire from 'Tugende' situated near the convention centre.

Visit the Genocide Memorial

An essential part of any visit to Kigali, the Genocide Memorial is a sobering reminder of the atrocities etched into the country's recent history. The memorial includes a well-constructed museum outlining the historical events preceding the tragedy and the country's subsequent efforts to reconcile its differences.

Admission is free, with personally assisted tours and audio guides also available. It's well worth including at the start of your trip to provide added context to the numerous smaller memorials you'll see across the city and in each village.

Visit Lake Kivu

One of the great African lakes, Lake Kivu runs along the western border of Rwanda along the border with the DRC. There's little worth seeing in it's largest town, Gisenyi, to justify the four hour bus ride, but the tranquil surroundings and great quality roads make it an ideal place to explore on bike or scooter.

Explore the countryside on bike

If you're a fan of cycling, Kigali and the surrounding region make for an ideal place to explore on bike. The main roads are suitable for road bikes, but a mountain bike is ideal to explore the neighbouring villages where you're likely to be warmly greeted by the local population. Good quality bikes are available to hire from 'Tugende' situated near the convention centre.

Duration & season

January belongs to one of two 'dry' seasons, running between June - August and December - February. Even during January, the rain and resulting storms can be ferocious, bringing all traffic across the city to a grinding halt and leaving you stranded wherever you've taken cover. Such outbursts generally last no longer than an hour, but I'd be in no hurry to visit during a wet season.

There's little to justify a full month exclusively in Kigali City, but combined with some weekend excursions, it's a great base to work from and explore the country.

Food & drink

Mount Kigali
·
Walk
The perimeter hills of Kigali offer great routes to explore. Mount Kigali is underwhelming, with restricted movement due to a military base, but excellent views are available from the neighboring hill tops.
Golf Course Loop
·
Run
Nestled in a valley between Gacuriro and Kimihurura, the golf course features a newly finished purpose-built running track, making it a popular spot for morning runs among locals.
Cycle to Kayumba
·
Cycle
Heading south of the city across the Nyabarongo river, you'll discover excellent gravel trails for cycling, leading through small towns and rural villages. It's advisable to avoid cycling back via Butamwa due to intense elevation on poor roads.

People

Warm, friendly, and welcoming – my experience with the Rwandan people was entirely positive at every step. English and French are widely spoken, with varying degrees of fluency alongside the native Kinyarwanda.

During morning runs, locals cheer you on with enthusiasm, as if you were in the painful latter stages of a marathon – perhaps a testament to my fitness. As a caucasian, groups of school children take interest in greeting you as a 'Myzungu' (white person), with a mix of excitement, apprehension and laughter.

While there's not much of a remote work community, numerous expats work in the city for development organizations, and there's a steady stream of tourists passing through, with Francophones overindexing. Additionally, there is a prominent Chinese population in the city due to the nation's investment in Rwanda.

Exercise

Mount Kigali
The perimeter hills of Kigali offer great routes to explore. Mount Kigali is underwhelming, with restricted movement due to a military base, but excellent views are available from the neighboring hill tops.
keyboard_arrow_down
Golf Course Loop
Nestled in a valley between Gacuriro and Kimihurura, the golf course features a newly finished purpose-built running track, making it a popular spot for morning runs among locals.
keyboard_arrow_down
Cycle to Kayumba
Heading south of the city across the Nyabarongo river, you'll discover excellent gravel trails for cycling, leading through small towns and rural villages. It's advisable to avoid cycling back via Butamwa due to intense elevation on poor roads.
keyboard_arrow_down
Mount Kigali
The perimeter hills of Kigali offer great routes to explore. Mount Kigali is underwhelming, with restricted movement due to a military base, but excellent views are available from the neighboring hill tops.
Golf Course Loop
Nestled in a valley between Gacuriro and Kimihurura, the golf course features a newly finished purpose-built running track, making it a popular spot for morning runs among locals.
Cycle to Kayumba
Heading south of the city across the Nyabarongo river, you'll discover excellent gravel trails for cycling, leading through small towns and rural villages. It's advisable to avoid cycling back via Butamwa due to intense elevation on poor roads.

Verdict

Positives
  • Seriously impressive infrastructure and landscaping.Compared to neighbouring Kenya, there's an astronomical difference in the quality of public infrastructure on the main roads. Whilst there are still numerous unpaved roads, nationwide, core trunk roads are what you would expect from European standards.
  • A prevailing sense of a country on an upwards trajectory.Whilst questions marks can be raised over curtailed political freedoms in the country, the safety and security within the country which has emerged after the genocide is remarkable. The city is awash with construction projects which show no signs of slowing down.
  • It makes a great base for an adventure holiday.If you are looking to combine your stay with a safari or hiking, there are numerous options within a few hours drive from Kigali.
  • Coffee is taken seriously.There is no shortage of great places to get coffee from in Kigali, with quality coffee and European quality interiors.
  • A consistently pleasant temperature.Even though it's in such proximity to the equator, the altitude of the city ensures the heat is never uncomfortable during the day and the temperatures don't drop below 16 degrees at night year round.
  • A relaxed pace of life.Compared to a major European capital or even neighboring Nairobi, Kigali has a very laid-back feel, with few stress triggers on a day-to-day basis.
  • Relaxed entry requirements.Visa on arrival is available for many citizens of most countries, reducing some of the bureaucracy often found on a visit to Africa.
Negatives
  • Temperamental weather, even in the drier seasons.In the month which I visited, the sky was persistently overcast, with the sun threatening to come through but without a haze never truly lifting over the city. Torrential thunderstorms are likely to feature multiple times throughout a week, even in the 'dry' seasons.
  • Lacking a bit of excitement.Whilst the spread out nature of the city gives it a unique layout, there's no real central hubs of activity or nightlife acting as a focal point.
  • There isn't much going on outside of Kigali.Nature aside, there's no other cities of significance in the country, with the quality of amenities taking a sharp dip outside of the capital.
  • Expensive to get to.If you're not already in the region, you're unlikely to find a cheap flight to the country.
Tips
  • For the best rates on mobile data, get to a MTN store.Remember to bring your passport as they won't issue you one without it. The affiliate sellers located outside wearing the yellow vests may provide a quicker option but you'll pay over the odds. You should pay around £10 for 30 gigs of data for a month.
  • Get set up with 'Momo' the mobile payments platform.This is the predominant form of payment for most Rwandans. If you get a MTN SIM card you can load money onto it which makes it a better option compared to paying with cash or card. Learn more
  • Bring any specialist products with you.Shopping is not Kigali's strong point so for any items like sports nutrition or electrical items, don't expect to find them here.
  • Don't be put off by underwhelming Google Maps reviews.Confusingly, I've seen locals leaving gushing 3* reviews and scathing 5* reviews, making it an entirely unreliable representation of quality. If curious on somewhere, go and check it out.
  • You will pay over the odds for a taxi at the airport.There is a Government ran scheme with VW operating outside the arrivals hall which over charges massively compared to local taxis. Assuming you won't have data, local change or know where you're going, it's probably worth the 3x local charge.
  • Consider the East African Tourist visa.If you are planning an extended trip to the region, this visa will allow you to visit Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda with multiple entries. Learn more
  • You may need time to adapt to the altitude.Most of the city is above 5,000ft which I found had a noticeable impact on any strenuous athletic activities.
Planning a trip?
I loved everything about this trip to Japan. I've put together some thoughts on my entire stay in the country, which may come in handy if you are planning a visit soon.
Even on sunny days, the haze never quite lifts over Kigali hindering your ability to see far into the distance.
A rare clear sunset, taken at Kigali Convention Centre.
Within a 30 minute drive from the centre of the city you can be in the middle of a rural, remote setting.
A bustling Saturday market in Gahanga, on the outskirts of Kigali City.
If there's any data missing that you would like to see in these articles please leave some feedback and I'll aim to add it in.