Most tourists who travel to Rwanda skip through Kigali on their way to see the gorillas in remote parks. It’s such a shame as Kigali is an incredible, vibrant and beautiful city. With a bustling art scene and social conscience (that includes banning of plastic bags and monthly city cleanups), Kigali is leading the way for many other cities in Africa.

Angela, Programme Manager from our incentive teams, visited Kigali for 2 days and shares her experience.

Travel to Rwanda: Kigali, the Capital City

Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda and roughly located in the center of the country. The city is spread over valleys, hills and ridges with a vibrant restaurant and nightlife scene. More than 26 years after the horrific genocide in Rwanda, Kigali has emerged as a proud city that has overcome a lot of history.

As a first-time visitor, on arrival at the airport, I was immediately impressed by how friendly and efficient the airport staff was. A quick and easy immigration process; a comfortable lounge where I could enjoy refreshments while I waited for my luggage to be collected and go through security checkpoints. What a lovely luxury! Can’t all airports offer this? What a stress-free arrival.

The second thing that I noticed on our drive to the hotel were the clean streets. It’s unnerving and strange – it felt like a surreal experience. Everything is spotless! We passed poorer neighborhoods and districts and the streets were cleaner than I’ve experienced in any First World country or city.

Our friendly guide explained that this is all due to the concept of Umuganda. On the last Saturday of every month, one person between the age of 18 and 65 of every Rwandan household has to go outside to clean, fix or do maintenance work. Derived from a Kinyarwanda word, it can be roughly translated to  “community service”.

It’s part of Rwanda’s heritage and was introduced to reintegrate the community after the genocide. The aim of Umuganda is to bring the country together and to re-integrate all people in their communities. This practice was encouraged in 1998 and is now part of the country’s law. Although you can be fined for skipping your clean-up duties, everyone I spoke to was in favour of the nationwide ritual of pitching in. It’s abundantly clear that Umuganda is working – a concept that I think a lot of other countries should adopt.

Travel to Rwanda: The Kigali Genocide Memorial

A visit to The Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must-do for any visitor. It was a heart-wrenching experience for me. But it feels important to understand what this country went through and how far they’ve come in such a short time.

It’s been 26 years since the 100 days when the nation fell into the most brutal civil war of the 20th century, pitting one colonially defined group against another and resulting in about 800,000 deaths. The Genocide Memorial experience left me with a clearer understanding of what combination of factors led to those 100 days of terror – and what mistakes were made (including how the world stood by and did nothing).

The museum also takes the visitor through the healing process that the country has adopted – and how forgiveness, tolerance and love are the three most important areas to focus on. The genocide does not define Rwanda… it’s a land of simple daily life, fresh food, peaceable people; it’s not defined by its history, conflict or genocide. The genocide will never be forgotten so that it cannot be repeated again elsewhere in the world.

Kigali: Inema Art Centre

We visited the Inema Art Centre, which is a possible venue for one of my client’s upcoming conferencing events. This was another surprisingly pleasant experience. Located in the heart of Kigali City, Inema Art Center is one of East Africa’s biggest art galleries, housing a collection of artists from around the African Continent.

Founded in 2012 by brothers and self-taught painters Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza, Inema Arts Center promotes artists from East Africa. The gallery provides space for 10 artists in residence to explore their creative talents from contemporary art to music, dance and crafts. It’s a quirky venue filled with all sorts of mixed art mediums scattered  in the driveway, garden and outdoor café area. At first it appears haphazard, but once you’ve had a chance to walk through the gallery it all makes sense.

Our host Emmanuel was animated, chatty and informative; he’s clearly passionate about this place. I left feeling inspired, enthused and amused with all the positive things that are happening in Kigali.

During our stay, we visited many restaurants and hotels on site inspections and to try their food! They all offered friendly service, delicious cuisine, charming décor and sophisticated systems and processes. This city exceeds expectations; it’s definitely not what you would expect to see and experience in East Africa. And I would agree that it lives up to its name as “the Singapore of Africa”.

Are you keen to travel to Rwanda or learn more about Kigali’s restaurants, hotels and venues for your next incentive trip? Then get in touch with our team now.