I’ve recently returned from a trip to Lisbon, Portugal which has grown into quite a nice little hub for digital nomads. The city seems to be filled with laptop-toting folk who have found themselves in Lisbon as they build their online empires, work remotely for some company, or add a new post to their blog that only their mom reads. I’ve chatted with a few of these wanderers and the conversation usually eventually turns to where I live now and people, without fail, are always amazed that Rwanda is a pretty sweet place to be.
Living in Kigali probably isn’t the place for a full blown ‘Reasons Rwanda Should be on the Digital Nomad Trail’ (I think I’ll pitch the idea around to more appropriate ‘nomad-y’ sites) but there are plenty of us here already – consultants, journalists, designers, and people doing a variety of cool things without an official office to call home. I know that I get bored working from home in my underwear so like to venture out into the world sometimes, and I’m sure you do too. Therefore, I thought it was about time to put together a list of my favourite places to in Kigali to be a laptop zombie. (Pants required.)
I’ve lived in Kigali for seven years and have worked online the entire time so I dare say that I’ve covered some good ground when it comes for searching for new places to work. This list has actually grown to be pretty huge which is a testament to the growth of Kigali’s cafe and restaurant scene over the years. The internet mostly still sucks, but it’s getting better. Since people working online will probably have smartphones, I’ve also listed places that don’t have wifi. I just tether my computer to the data on my smartphone (or buy a USB dongle thing) and I actually rarely bother even trying each place’s wifi connections because they can be frustrating.
I’ve provided as much information as I can to make this a useful list for deciding where to plop down with your laptop. If you have a favourite place I’ve missed, let me know! I’d love to check it out and add it to the list.
The Bistro (Urban Hotel)
The Bistro is one of those restaurants that both impresses and frustrates all at the same time. They’ll have great food and fast service one time, and the next they’ll have run out of chicken and take 500 years to serve a cocktail. But as a relaxed place to work where you’re happy to chill and get down to business, it’s one of my favourite places. The atmosphere is laid back, there’s plenty of space, the menu is huge, and the prices are ok, though a bit more than the average cafe.
The Bistro has reliable and pretty fast wifi and the view is one of the best in Kigali. The seats are padded to defend against butt-numbness and you can even take things up to the next level by… going up to the next level. The Sky Bar upstairs has an even better view and it’s got the atmosphere of a den which makes it sort of a cool place to work. The main restaurant isn’t very well-equipped with power points, so beware. If you do need power, make sure to claim the couch area next to the bar.
What I Like Best: Beautiful view from their breezy veranda.
Order: Bang bang cauliflower and a mojito.
Bourbon Coffee has long been a very busy cafe and the first stop for new arrivals in Kigali but I think that has to be changing given all of the good alternatives that have sprung up in the seven years I’ve been here. Bourbon isn’t the only game in town anymore, and I feel like it’s rarely anywhere close to as busy as it once was. This means that there’s more space to hang out and work. Long gone are the days of them turning off the power sockets or limiting the internet to make sure the laptop zombies move on.
But this is good news because Bourbon is still a very good place to work from. There are a bunch of locations these days but the three I know best are at KCT, UTC, and the MTN Centre. The KCT branch is mostly made up of a patio so it’s not ideal for working, but the UTC and especially the MTN Centre locations are good choices. The Bourbon at the MTN Centre has lots of nooks to hide away in and I always seem to get a lot of work done from here. Or you can chose to sit on their small balcony for a great view, but be warned that it’s usually quite busy out there.
Bourbon is Kigali’s original cafe for working and now that it’s not so rammed with people all the time, it might be time to revisit. The food is the usual Kigali fare and nothing special and the drinks are expensive (but they have lots of smoothie and iced coffee type drinks to choose from). But they’re in handy locations and after your work session you can grab groceries. Grocery proximity – always a bonus!
What I Like Best: Cozy spaces at the MTC Centre location.
Order: Zucchini bread and a Funky Monkey Kawacchino.
Brioche has four locations scattered sort of evenly around the city spreading all the way from town to Kagugu with Gacuriro and Kacyiru locations thrown in for good measure. I don’t go to Brioche quite as often as I used to because there seem to be some many new cafes vying for my attention, but it’s a nice chain and I always like it when I end up there. They’ve overhauled their menu recently and now they offer a full menu and alcoholic drinks (including cocktails) to go along with their delicious pastries and cakes. There’s a pretty good chance that they’ll have whatever it is you’re craving.
I haven’t yet been to the Kagugu location but the other three all have nice atmospheres. The Gacuriro location is mostly made up of a covered patio (with one of the city’s best views) so it’s not great when it’s raining and you’ll get a glare on your screen depending where you sit. The town and Kacyiru locations are both spacious and rarely full of people and the one in town has plenty of power points. The chairs aren’t the most comfortable in the world but keep eating their delicious cake, bread, and pastries and pad your ass instead.
What I Like Best: Quiet with an interesting menu with lots of good choices.
Order: Any of their mousse cakes.
This brand new cafe/restaurant is usually very quiet and the view really is beautiful. Service can be a bit challenging and the menu is packed with heavy dishes so I prefer to stick to the coffee, smoothies, and desserts. But if you happen to be craving some comfort food, they have a decent selection of pretty good West African stews and other dishes.
Wifi here is quite fast but they have to issue you a code and I’m not sure how long it lasts for. They don’t seem shy about giving them out, though, and the place is rarely busy, even at lunch. The power points are only along a couple of the walls so have a look before choosing your seat.
What I Like Best: Comfy chairs and it’s not usually too busy.
Order: Tiramisu and a coffee.
Delizia Italiana is a relatively new addition to Kigali’s food scene and they offer something totally different than you’ll find anywhere else. They’ve really embraced Italy and you can find selections of Italian cured meat, cheese, sandwiches, wine, and most important, gelato! I’m not massively into cured meats but I am massively into ice cream and this is a perfect place to hang out with coffee (or a glass of wine) and a big bowl of the yummy stuff.
The wifi here is pretty good and they have a combination of seating out on the balcony (which is usually pretty bright so it makes it hard to see your screen), inside where they have some power points, or in the in-between area which is my favourite place to sit because it’s shady and breezy. Delizia Italiana always seems to be busy with people coming and going for ice cream and it’s a good place to come if you want to see familiar faces or creep on people walking to and from Java House.
What I Like Best: People coming and going and always bumping into someone I know.
Order: Ice cream! It’s all good but I love the mint and chocolate combo.
Heaven is one of Kigali’s very first high quality restaurants and they’re still one of the most popular, especially with visiting tourist groups in the evenings. Up until the past few years, they’ve only been open for dinner but now they’re open from noon for lunch so you can enjoy a midday meal while using their wifi and enjoying the breezy terrace. Their menu often changes depending on who the chef is and these days they have an interesting menu using local ingredients and recipes elevated to a more creative level than you’ll find elsewhere.
If you’d rather come a bit earlier to work, they’re open for brunch on the weekend from 10am and it’s a good deal, especially if you plan on camping out for awhile and grazing over the course of a few hours and consuming lots of coffee. I really love the setting at Heaven and it’s usually not too busy at lunch and a quiet place to work in a nice setting.
What I Like Best: Airy terrace and their creative menu.
Order: Frozen mint (or ginger) lemonade.
Inzora is one of my favourite cafes in Kigali and I think most of Kigali agrees because it’s usually pretty busy here. I always manage to find a table so that’s not an issue and it’s nice to be in a place where conversations buzz around me. They have lots of drinks options (tea, coffee, natural sodas) but their food menu is pretty small with only yoghurt and granola or a grilled cheese sandwich on offer plus a selection of baked goods. Fortunately, everything here is amazing.
Wifi here can be a little hit and miss but the atmosphere makes up for that. There’s a great view from the upstairs balcony and the downstairs part of Inzora has loads of plugs and it seems like it was designed specifically with laptop workers in mind. I really love the large table which forces people to share and maybe even – gasp – communicate with one-another. The cafe’s friendly owner, Katie, chats to guests and it really feels like a welcoming place. Other laptop zombies are generally pretty friendly and open to chatting so if you’re a social person, you might meet a new friend. Or is that weird? I don’t know but I get a good vibe when I’m at Inzora.
What I Like Best: Friendly owner and a welcoming atmosphere.
Order: Zucchini orange cake with iced chocolate. Or a cookie. Or yoghurt and granola. Or all of it if you’ll be there awhile.
Impact Hub is located on the second floor of The Office complex in Kiyovu. It’s a building with several floors of offices and Cafe Neo on the roof that also acts as a great events space. Impact Hub is part of a global network of shared working spaces and it’s the best spot in Kigali if you like to work from a shared space that’s not a cafe. Personally, I’m more of a crawl-out-of-bed-and-work-in-my-underpants type, so I tend not to want to pay for a space because I rarely seem to make it out of my front door when I’m in work mode. But for those who prefer to be surrounded by others for inspiration but don’t have an office or coworkers of their own, Impact Hub is a perfect solution.
You can hire your own private desk space or you can hot desk, paying daily or per month for a certain number of visits and using whichever desk happens to be available at the time. Prices are very reasonable and it’s a great opportunity to connect with a creative community of people doing all sorts of different things. The space is quirky, the internet is good, and the view is really great. Plus they organise lots of cool events and it really has grown into a great hub for interesting activities in the city. They have a small kitchen, Cafe Neo is upstairs, or there’s also a shop on the first floor to stock up on drinks and snacks.
What I Like Best: The dinosaur, the view, and the laid back atmosphere.
Order: Grab a sandwich and coffee upstairs at Cafe Neo.
Iriba Bar (Marriott Hotel)
I’ve lived close to town for the entire seven years I’ve been in Kigali and I’ve seen the Marriott spring up from a concrete shell into the behemoth that it is, perched atop the Kiyovu hill in all its glory. It’s a very impressive sight from the outside and seems pretty fancy inside as well, so I was worried that it would be priced insanely and that few people could afford anything there. Surprisingly, the Iriba Bar has a great selection of food and drink that’s cheaper than you’d expect and it’s become one of my go to places for plopping down for several hours of work.
I tend to grab a spot inside because I can’t handle any glare on my computer screen, but there’s also a lot of outside seating in a really nice space. The internet here is reliable but I think they’ve caught on to the fact that everyone comes here to download things and they’ve capped their speeds. It’s still a great place to come for general working but if you’re looking to stock up on pirated movies (not that I would condone such things, of course), it’ll take a lot longer than it once did.
Beware that anytime they have live music, it will be so loud that it will drive you away. Earphones and your own music will not protect you. Earplugs or fleeing the scene are your only options.
What I Like Best: Fastest internet I’ve found (though not as good as it once was).
Order: Gnocchi and a giant draft Mutzig.
Java House is a relatively new entry onto Kigali’s cafe/restaurant scene and it’s made a splash in a big way. Though the service can be frustrating at times, this Kenyan chain has upped Kigali’s food scene with a huge menu, items you can’t fine anywhere else (sour cream, people!), great breakfast choices, and insanely thick and delicious milkshakes. Sure, your waiter might vanish and your coffee might take 30 minutes to materialise, but I dare say that it’s worth the wait.
Java House is popular with laptop zombies and it’s one of my favourite places to work. I try to avoid it around lunch when it’s crazy busy, but breakfast and just before or after lunch are great times to come. I like the background kitchen noises and neighbouring conversations and love that it’s always buzzing with people – I find that more motivating than distracting. There are power points galore and the wifi is pretty fast though it seems to only be reliable about 50% of the time I go.
What I Like Best: Sitting in the booths.
Order: The roast pork platter and the double chocolate mocha milkshake. I challenge you to eat it all!
I have to admit that I haven’t been to kLab in years. Not because it’s not an awesome space to work, but because I totally dropped the ball on the whole mentorship thing. kLab isn’t open to everyone but if you’re someone who works in tech, you can approach them about becoming a mentor. Back when they first opened around 5 years ago, I was all gung ho and worked from there for a few months. Then I realised that I’m not sure I make the best mentor because I really don’t know what I’m doing half the time. True, I make websites… but I cobble them together like crazy and anything more complicated gets sent to my life-saving programmer guy. So I felt a bit like an imposter and I slowly made myself scarce.
But if you’re into the tech incubator/startup sort of world then you’ll want to stop by and see what’s happening here. There are lots of young, tech-savvy Rwandans working on interesting projects and you might be able to slot in as a mentor. It doesn’t require a huge commitment (check out their website to see what the requirements are) and it’s an amazing space that’s totally set up with the working in mind. Great desks and chairs, loads of plugs, and fast internet. Plus they have one of the best views in Kigali, host interesting events, and you’ll get to be in the thick of Kigali’s tech scene.
What I Like Best: The view from the foosball table.
Order: Coffee… I think that’s all they have.
More of a restaurant, Pili Pili probably isn’t a place that comes to mind for most people for working. But it should! It’s usually pretty empty in the afternoons, they have lots of great spaces to hide away in, the food is good, they have wifi, and they even have a pool in case you want to break up your work session with a splash around. It’s more setup for diners than workers so plugs are hard to come by, but there are a few around. If you live out in the back of beyond in Kibagabaga then this makes a nice choice for a quiet work space with nice brochettes, burgers, and pizza and one of Kigali’s best views.
What I Like Best: Loads of space to hide away and a beautiful view.
Order: Beer and a burger.
Park Inn is a brand new hotel and it’s sparkly and clean and it’s an awesome addition! I recently got a free stay here to write a review and I took advantage of the laid back atmosphere to get some work done. The rooms are awesome for working but for the rest of us who live here and want a quiet place to work with good food, this is an awesome choice. The internet here is unlocked so no need to
What I Like Best: Fast internet, good food, and so far undiscovered and quiet.
This brand new place is more of a sports bar than a cafe but it seems to be pretty empty in the afternoons and it’s one of my new favourite places to work. The menu is diverse and the things I’ve had have been really good, so I doubt Riders Lounge will be quiet for long. So far I’ve sampled a mojito (having this site forces me to drink at lunch… for review purposes, you see) and the Caesar salad which have both been very good. Maybe the best Caesar salad and mojito in Kigali, actually, which makes me pretty eager to come again to sample more things.
The decor here is slick and you can tell it’s a chain restaurant (they also have one in Kampala) that knows what its doing. The inside is sort of a combo between a sports bar and a diner, but I don’t like that the tables are either high, or low. I’m an average-heighted table kind of gal, you know? Luckily outside on the verandah there are plenty of normal tables, but no power points. I like that there are some walls on the balcony which means you can sit out there and avoid the glare of the sun on your computer screen. Wifi is fast and reliable, the service is nice and nobody gives you the evil eye for hanging around and working, and it’s a nice atmosphere in the centre of the city.
What I Like Best: Reliable, fast wifi and the airy balcony.
Order: A daytime cocktail, just because.
I hesitate to mention Shokola because of a ‘cupcake incident’ a long, long time ago (nothing to worry about, food-wise, just a misunderstanding that was probably my fault) that means I haven’t gone there in years. But their library location is a really excellent place to work from so I really can’t leave them off the list. When I arrived in Kigali back in 2010 their Kiyovu location was one of the few decent cafes in the city. Then they opened in Kacyiru and Kimihurura and then at the top of the library. Currently only the library location remains and I think it’s one of the most beautiful spaces in the city.
Shokola has great smoothies, an interesting Middle Eastern-inspired menu, and you’ll be surrounded by other people working from their laptops while enjoying the super relaxed atmosphere. It shares the rooftop space with Innovation Village, a fantastic place that sometimes hosts interesting events, movies, and art exhibitions.
What I Like Best: Beautiful, chilled setting with a wonderful view and nice outdoor rooftop patio.
Order: Any of their Middle Eastern dishes and a pineapple coconut smoothie.
The brand new Ubumwe Grande hotel is one of the tallest buildings on the highest hill in Kigali and it has an absolutely gorgeous view. The food is pretty good (though more expensive than your average cafe) and if you feel like a boozy work session with a view, then this is a great choice as they have decent cocktails.
Sadly, they’ve done something magical to their internet that means that you can’t download things anymore, but the connection is still pretty fast and reliable. Power points are a bit sparse, so come fully charged. Unfortunately the pool is only for guests, but you’re allowed to hang out beside the pool on their sweet lounge chairs so if you’re someone who likes to work in an ultimate chilled recline pose, this is a great spot.
What I Like Best: Best view in Kigali and you can work from the pool’s lounge chairs.
Order: Tuna sandwich and a cocktail. A fine combination!