Shopping for Rwandan Souvenirs
There are plenty of places all over Kigali with a variety of Rwanda-y items that will wow and delight friends and family. I’ve already written about what sorts of things make for good Rwandan souvenirs, and now here’s an article about where to actually buy all of these wonderful things! The list below covers some of my favourite places to shop for a bunch of different types of Rwandan souvenirs and mementos all across the city.
Abraham Konga Collections
Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am – 9pm, Closed Monday
Phone: 0785 561 626 / 0788 492 546
This new store, run by Abraham Konga, funnily enough, used to be called Art Point and has recently moved from its small store near La Galette in town to a larger and pretty awesome new location right night to Twistiblendz in Kimihurura. Smoothies and souvenirs! What a combo! Abraham is a talented jewellery maker working mainly with recycled metals and bone. His store is also his workshop and you can see him crafting his beautiful pieces while you visit. It’s the jewellery that sets this place apart and makes it unique but he also has a nice collection of items brought in from many different artisans and this central store makes one of the best stops for a variety of interesting items.
Azizi Life Boutique
Azizi Life are a small organisation that support rural Rwandan artisans. In addition to arranging fun Experience Days, they also operate a gift shop located on the grounds of Heaven Restaurant. The items you’ll find here are more creative and interesting than what you’ll get at the average tourist shop around town and it’s definitely worth a stop. They also have a store in Muhanga.
While you’re here you can grab dinner or brunch at Heaven and check out the Inema Arts mini-gallery which is also located in this complex. Plus, the Azizi Boutique also sell The Map – Kigali and they’re the only place in town where you can buy an unfolded version for your wall. A wall map! What better souvenir than that, I ask ye?
Hours: 8am to 6pm
This is Kigali’s largest souvenir-specific market and they’ve got tonnes of items spread across dozens of individual stalls. I’m a bit anti-Caplaki though because they start their prices crazy high. Sure, you can bargain them down to the ‘normal’ price with a bit of effort but thinking of the people who get ripped off here on a regular basis makes me annoyed.
For example, their starting price for a small bowl is Rwf 3,000 when compared with Rwf 1,500 to 2,000 most other places. Their aprons start at Rwf 8,000 and the starting price everywhere else I check was Rwf 5,000. And so on. They get away with it because this is the place that overland tourist trucks stop and they might not know to bargain. Anyway… Caplaki has a lot of items in one location and it’s a good one-stop shopping place but make sure you bargain hard here. Personally, I prefer to give my business to stores who offer fair prices from the start and I never shop at Caplaki because of this.
Hours: Daily, 9am – 7pm
Phone: 0788 567 798
This is my favourite place for banging out some cheap souvenir buys in a short amount of time and with zero hassle. The items you’ll find here aren’t all that unique but the appeal is that they’re all corralled in one place and the prices they charge are fair from the start. I’ll only bother to wrangle over the price if I’m buying a lot of items from one vendor which usually means they’ll be up for a little bit of negotiation.
COOTRAC used to be divided up into individual stalls manned by separate vendors but the walls have since been removed to make way for one large open space which makes it easier to see what’s on offer. The vendors are friendly here and, while the souvenirs found aren’t super unique, they’re still nice and they’ll make your family and friends happy.
Much of the pottery you see on sale around Kigali comes from Gatagara Pottery, located in the town of the same name about 90 minutes out of Kigali on the road to Butare. The pottery has a distinctive chunky style and is often painted in beautiful blues, greys, and browns. If you want to get a bit more hands on than just browsing and shopping, you can have a crack at making some pottery of your own through Vayando, an awesome website that connects visitors with artisans in Rwanda.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 10am – 8pm, Friday and Sunday, 10am – 9pm, Sunday, 10am – 6pm
Phone: 0785 084 810
This small fashion boutique has a lot of really nice things for sale. They’re a Rwandan business and certainly the country’s styles and fabrics come into play here, but they branch out a bit from making everything from kitenge. You can find plenty of styles of clothes that are a bit more practical for day-to-day stuff (might out of lighter, summer-friendly fabrics) along with some more vibrant fashions. Plus they have a few home decor items and accessories like scarves and bags. And as an added bonus, J. Lynn’s has just opened up a second branch of their popular cafe and they do amazing smoothies and baked goods with a view.
House of Tayo
House of Tayo is a fashion line run by young Rwandan designer, Matthew ‘Tayo’ Rugamba. They’re located in Gacuriro and have a great selection of accessories… everything from their well-known ties to shoes, scarves, and handbags. They’re also the few shops in town to put a strong focus on men’s fashion. Matthew has garnered quite a lot of international media attention and his shop is worth a look to take in some of his exciting designs.
I only just discovered Ibaba Rwanda while I was writing this article so I don’t have any personal experience with them. What I can say is that their embroidery works are quite unique and beautiful and what I’ve seen on their website is pretty great. They seem to take embroidery to another level and not only do they embroider things like baskets, linens, clothes, hats, and purses, they also have an artistic collection and their pieces have been featured in Rwesero Art Museum in Nyanza and are gaining attention worldwide.
I’m working on finding out more about their location and will report back when I do. In the meantime, take a look at their websites as they’re both very good.
Ikirezi Book Store
Hours: Monday to Friday, 8am – 8pm, Saturday and Sunday, 9:30am – 6:30pm, Umuganda and Public Holidays, Noon – 6:30pm
Phone: 0788 560 358 / 0252 571 314
When you come from a city like I do where ethnic diversity means either Scottish or Italian, it’s difficult to find many books about the ‘exotic’ places of the world at the local bookstore. Beyond a couple of Africa Lonely Planet guidebooks and one or two ‘history of Africa’ type books, there was never a lot of choice, especially when I was searching for a good read about Rwanda. True, Kindle has come along and changed all of that with access to pretty much any book on demand, but it’s still great to wander a bookstore, flipping through a few books in search of some gems that aren’t likely to be found even online.
Kigali is lucky to have the Ikirezi Bookstore, a wonderful little place in Kacyiru that’s been around for years. It’s a pretty large space packed with a wonderful selection of books in both French and English and even a growing collection in Kinyarwanda. Their main focus is on Africa-related books but they have a large children’s section and also a pretty good language-learners selection. They’re also the only place in town that I’ve found that sells art supplies.
Ikirezi also has a small section for more traditional souvenirs like imigongo paintings, African dolls, and baskets. Plus if you want the ultimate Kigali souvenir, they also have The Map – Kigali for sale here (yes, that was a shameless plug). As a added bonus, the Inzora Rooftop Cafe shares its space with the bookstore and not only is it a great place for a coffee and cookie (best in town!), they also have local teas and other interesting products for sale that would make nice gifts.
Hours: Daily, 7am – 7pm
Phone: 0783 187 646 / 0788 653 683
Inema Arts makes a great stop both for paintings (both from their main gallery in Kacyiru or their smaller one at Heaven Restaurant) and for jewellery, ties, pottery, and other crafts from their small gift shop at their Kacyiru location. There are about a dozen resident artists at Inema and you’ll get a nice range of different styles to choose from. Plus you can even pop back to see them at work in the studio behind the gallery.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday, 10am – 5pm, Closed Sunday
Phone: 0781 600 160
Inzuki is the best place in Kigali to come for chunky, colourful, bold jewellery. They have a style all their own and their showroom in town (the entrance is through a gate on the right, behind the building) is filled with their designs. Plus they have a good selection of accessories and creative things for your house, all Rwandan made, primarily for local materials. Inzuki is the creation of Teta Isibo who started the business in 2010 and has watched it grow from there. It’s a great place to come for something a little more unique than you’ll find in the regular tourist shops.
Hours: Daily, 8am to 8pm
If you’re willing to brave the somewhat overwhelming Kimironko Market, you’ll be rewarded with some cheap prices on the usual souvenirs. A good piece of advice would be to embrace the help of the young guys who approach you. They’re masters at finding things fast and for a small tip at the end they’ll save you a bunch of time and probably money too. Describe or show them what you’re looking for and off they’ll go! My embarrassing admission? I’ve never been to Kimironko Market. I’m not a lover of markets so I really have nothing else to say about this place except that I’m lame and you should definatly check it out at some point. I will one of these days …I need a photo, after all.
New Cactus Gift Shop
Hours: Daily, Noon – 2:30pm and 6pm – 10:30pm
Phone: 0783 620 854
This gift shop is known around Kigali has having some unique items for sale, many of which don’t seem to be the typical things you’ll find everywhere else. It’s just a small shop but you can combine a visit here with a nice meal at New Cactus, one of my favourite restaurants in Kigali. There’s also usually a dude outside the restaurant at the bottom of the driveway selling pretty nice masks and wall hangings.
Nyamirambo Women’s Center
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 4pm, Saturday, 10am – 3pm (Umuganda, 12pm – 3pm), Closed Sunday
Phone: 0782 111 860
This small shop is known for making some unique items with kitenge fabric. They produce some pretty cool children’s items like dresses and pants in small sizes, kid’s hats, baby blankets, and even cute fabric balls to kick around. If you’re shopping for kids, this should be your first stop. They also offer your usual bags and things like that but they seem to make them in different styles than you’ll find around town. Nyamirambo is my favourite area of Kigali and you can combine a stop here with one of their walking tours.
Rwanda Clothing Company
Hours: Monday to Friday, 7:30am – 7:30pm, Saturday, 10am – 5pm, Closed Sunday
Phone: 0786 134 128
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RWANDACLOTHING / https://www.facebook.com/RWANDACLOTHINGSTORE
If you’re after a custom fitted reminder of your time in Rwanda then swing by Rwanda Clothing Company and take a look at their fashion line. They’ve got a great range of clothes for both women and men and find creative ways to incorporate Rwandan fabrics in a modern way. You can choose a style off of the rack and have them create one in your size or you can take a look through their book and see if anything in there is more your style. This place is about loud, bold, colourful fabric so if you want clothes that really make a statement, this is your place. They also sell jewellery, bags, ties, and other accessories.
Hours: Monday to Friday, 9am – 5pm
Phone: 0788 428 580 / 0788 520 874
Tubahumurize Association is a small grassroots organization that aims to support and empower female victims of violence through trauma counselling, vocational training, microcredit loans, a sewing school and a thriving cooperative! Their little shop is located in Kabeza (not far from the airport) – ask any moto driver for l’Escalier (the bar next door) and they’ll know where to take you. Tubahumurize is most famous for their custom made quilts, but they have everything from circle scarves and yoga bags to children’s toys and kitchen swag. The prices are reasonable and all purchases fuel the continuation of their programs. Check out their + 100 designs in this new catalogue.
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10am – 6pm (Umuganda 1pm – 6pm), Closed Sunday
Phone: 0788 662 275
Though the focus of Umutako is on furniture (which, lets be honest, doesn’t travel well in your luggage), they also have a good selection of more transportable items like vases, pots, paintings, candle holders, and fabrics. A visit here is dangerous though… they’ve got some pretty awesome things for sale here and a trip in for a couple of souvenirs could very easily result in a surprise purchase of a new couch. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
This is one of the best places in town to get the less traditional Imigongo paintings. They still have a wide selection of the usual patterns and colours, but they also have a growing display of the more modern style that seems to be increasing in popularity.[WPMAP;244]