Kiyovu stretches from UTC at the top of the hill down to Cercle Sportif, passing plenty of restaurants, hotels, President Kagame’s house, and a bunch of NGO offices. Though it’s popularity has probably been usurped by the likes of Kimihurura and Kacyiru, you may still find yourself in Kiyovu a lot, either for lunch meetings, dinner with friends, or house parties with complete strangers.
For some, it might be disturbingly packed with Europeans and Americans, and it is indeed far removed from the more authentic Kigali, but it really is quite beautiful. Also, while it’s not geographically very central, it’s close to town (banks and grocery stores) and Nyamirambo (good local Rwandan food and fun). I’ve resisted the lure of Kimihurura for many years and Kiyovu remains my favourite area of Kigali to live in.
Accommodation in Kiyovu
Finding a house in Kiyovu is a bit tricky as the best places seem to be taken for the long term. Houses in this area tend to be older, one-story places with amazing, well-established gardens that are more like small jungles. There aren’t too many of the super huge mansions that can be found in Nyarutarama but those places have no soul anyway and the seem to have yards made up of grass and concrete, which is super lame. Kiyovu houses have a lot more character but you’ll end up paying more for less in this area.
Kiyovu is very well-stocked for a wide range of hotels and guesthouses. Up where it meets with Town, you’ll find a lot of the city’s most fancy and well-known hotels. Besides the places mentioned below, there are a few small boutique hotels in this area like Inside Africa, Zebra Boutique, and 5 Swiss, plus some budget places like Iris Guesthouse and the Presbyterian Guesthouse. For regular, mid-range hotels, Hillview Hotel, Galaxy Hotel, Nobilis, Stipp Hotel, and the brand new Mythos Hotel.
- Heaven Chalet – This is a good mid-range option for people who prefer staying in a place that feels more cozy and friendly than a hotel. The rooms are simple but totally adequate and their garden is lovely. They have a fabulous gym on site and run zumba, yoga, and other classes here.
- Hotel des Mille Collines – This is Kigali’s most iconic hotel and the one that was featured in the movie Hotel Rwanda. I’ve heard that the rooms are showing signs of wear and tear, but the grounds are still very beautiful and the pool is a great place either for lounging or for laps. The outside area is a popular hangout spot on the weekends.
- Marriott Hotel – Marriott is the fanciest hotel in town and it really is a stunning place. They have a lot of events going on all the time, three lovely restaurants (Iriba Bar, Soko, and La Cucina), and the rooms and pool area are both stunning. The staff will take great care of you and this really is high standard accommodation and where presidents and fancy people usually stay. Even if you’re not staying there it’s a great place to go to hang out with your laptop, for events, or for their amazing buffet.
- Park Inn – Park Inn by Radisson is one of those types of places where you know your stay will be smooth and everything will just work well. It’s a slick operation at a fair price with beautiful decor and the rooms, pool, and gym are all top notch. They’ve got an excellent breakfast buffet and a restaurant on site, as well.
- The Retreat – The Retreat is Heaven’s answer to the higher-end hotels in Kigali like Serena and Marriott. They wanted to offer a more boutique, personal feel for all of those fancy folks paying a fortune on an African safari trip. It’s a small place with only about 12 rooms and they’ve managed to accomplish their goal, I think. It feels like luxury and they have the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on.
- Serena Hotel – This is Kigali’s oldest fancy hotel and it still stands up. It’s an African brand and feels quite warm and cozy, with a different vibe than the Marriott which would be its main competition. Their gym and pool are the best in Kigali (and also the most expensive) and the rooms and service are both excellent.
Restaurants & Cafes in Kiyovu
Kiyovu has a bunch of restaurants and cafes nestled in among the leafy streets but many of them close between lunch and dinner or don’t open until 5 or 6pm.
- Baso Patissier – The person who started this lovely cafe was one half of the original founders of Brioche. He’s branched out to do his own thing and Kigali is very happy he did because this place is great. The eclairs and mousse cakes are wonderful and they’ve got a nice menu including a very tasty burger.
- Chez John – This is one of Kigali’s older places with a focus on local Rwandan food. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s quite popular for its large and affordable lunch buffet, something that’s sort of rare in these parts.
- Chez Robert – Another of Kigali’s oldest restaurants, this could be considered a sort of upscale version of Chez John. They’ve also got a buffet but it’s more high end and expensive and the same goes for all of the dishes on the menu. This place is most popular with Kigali’s francophone community.
- Heaven – Heaven is a popular choice for tour groups and people with a bit of extra cash to throw around. It’s one of the more expensive places in town but the atmosphere is nice and the food and service are usually very good.
- Ikawa Cafe – Set at the very top of the building that houses Impact Hub, this cafe fills up with people who wander up for a change of scenery while they’re working. The large tables encourage people to share when it’s busy and it’s a great space with a nice community feel. They’ve recently taken over from Neo Cafe and have introduced a new menu with a lot of interesting options. The space is bright and airy and has an awesome view.
- Iriba Bar – When the Kigali Marriott first opened, Iriba Bar was my sort of secret hangout spot. I think few people ventured here because they assumed it would be super expensive when meant that I had their awesome round tables and fast WiFi to myself for ages. Then the word got out that the prices are affordable and the food is quite good and it’s become a busy place for meetings and laptop workers. It’s a nice spot to hang out and their large draft beers are a good bargain.
- Khana Khazana – Though my Indian loyalties lie with Zaaffran, Khana Khazana is also excellent and many people would argue that it’s the best in town. It’s fairly fancy and a great place for a nice meal, especially for groups. Go for someone’s birthday if you want to be serenaded and really embarrass them.
- La Cucina – This is an Italian restaurant located inside the Marriott Hotel and they’ve really gone all out with it. They’ve got an Italian chef, a wood-fired pizza oven, an amazing selection of wine, and great food and prices that aren’t cheap, but they’re a lot less than you’d expect to pay at a 5-star hotel.
- New Cactus – This is one of my favourite restaurants in Kigali with a menu serving up some unique dishes (fondue, frog’s legs, etc), a great view, and friendly service. The goat triangles are the stuff of legend and their ‘Boeuf Arlequin’ with mashed potatoes is still on of my favourite meals in the city after all of these years.
- The Bistro (Urban Hotel) – This rooftop restaurant has an excellent view and some interesting choices on the menu (coffee-encrusted steak, anyone?) The food is usually pretty good and it’s a reliable spot for excellent cocktails. The view from the restaurant is awesome, but there’s another bar up even higher that has a cool vibe and an even better view.
- The Silverback (Gorillas Hotel) – This place is tucked away inside Gorillas hotel so it’s not such an obvious choice when deciding on a place to eat, especially with so many other good options nearby. But the food is really good at a decent price.
Nightlife in Kiyovu
Kiyovu is mostly a sleepy residential area and Le Must, one of the few night spots in the area, closed a few years ago. Hotel des Mille Collines has Legacy Club and Park in has JJ’s, but I’ve never heard of people going to either.
- Dolce – Dolce is a decent local place to start your night and it’s popular for watching football. They serve brochettes and pizza, the drinks are cheap, and there’s a cool patio. It’s not a dance place but it’s a great spot for pre-gaming.
Shopping in Kiyovu
Kiyovu doesn’t have much shopping but UTC and the other shops in town are very close by. For groceries, you can pick up the basics and La Bonne Source (next to Dolce) or Habari Supermarket which is located under Impact Hub on the way to Cercle Sportif. This building also has a couple of small clothing stores including Afriek and Moshens, two cool made-in-Rwanda brands. Across the road, Super One Supermarket is a new addition and it’s another place with a good supply of basics. Further up the road there’s La Gardienne which is a small grocery store that’s also known for their delicious samosas. There are also some alimentations (small corner stores) peppered around the neighbourhood.
Though it’s a stretch to call it Kiyovu, the Caplaki souvenir market is located at the bottom of the hill. It’s packed with different stalls but this is the place that unsuspecting tour groups are brought and they start their prices high. Very high. So if you come here, bargain hard. If bargaining isn’t your thing and you want a selection of beautiful items that are a little different, Azizi Life Boutique is a great place to come. They’re located on the same compound as Heaven Restaurant.
Recreation & Entertainment in Kiyovu
Kiyovu is a great neighbourhood for walking with leafy, winding, somewhat confusing streets to keep you guessing where you are. Hotel des Mille Collines has a large pool as well as tennis courts. Cercle Sportif has a pool, tennis courts, table tennis, squash and a large playing field. You pay a flat rate for entry and then an additional amount for each activity you’d like to do. It’s a popular place for playing tennis and the pool is popular for laps but rammed with kids on the weekends.
Both the Kigali Marriott and Serena Hotel have wonderful gyms and pools. If you’ve got some cash to splash around and enjoy working out and lounging by the pool, a membership at either place would give you a little piece of luxury tight here in Kigali. Park Inn also has a great gym (small but with new equipment) and small pool for a lot cheaper.
The German Goethe-Institut is located here and they host some cultural events and movie nights. Impact Hub is one of the busiest events spaces in the city and you can count on something interesting happening here several times a week.
If you’re a runner, Kiyovu is one of the best areas as it’s quiet and leafy and just feels like a nice place to explore on foot. If you don’t like hills, stick to the streets on the top of the hill. If you’re a sadist then you’ve got lots of streets to choose from as most of them seem to be sloping drastically in some direction.