Kigali International Airport, in all its renovated glory, is quickly becoming an important stopover for a lot of major international airlines in the region. In addition to the ever expanding Rwandair (is that direct New York flight really coming soon?), Ethiopian Airlines, Kenyan Airways, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, KLM, and Brussels Airlines all fly through Kigali, and long layovers in our favorite East African city are happening more frequently than ever.
Although Kigali’s airport leaves a little more to be desired for the layover crowd (the Bourbon Coffee just doesn’t do it for me), it’s luckily located right in the city itself – sorry Kampala and Nairobi! As a result, ventures into the city are extremely possible and encouraged. On your next business trip or random stop on the way home, don’t hesitate to spend a few hours exploring Kigali! Read on for some tricks and tips to enjoying your next layover in our fair city.
How to Get in and Out of the Airport
Starting January of 2018, citizens of any country in the world are able to get tourist visas upon arrival in Kigali. They are priced at $30 USD. per person, and are valid for thirty days.
The airport is located in the Kanombe neighborhood of Kigali, just a thirty minute drive out of the city’s bustling center. Official taxis are available for hire within the airport gates, and motorcycle taxis can be found right outside. The official and trustworthy taxis have a set price, but don’t hesitate to bargain away with the motorcycles – rides on a motorcycle from the airport to city center shouldn’t be more than Rwf 1,500. Expect to pay from around Rwf 7,000 to Rwf 15,000 for a taxi from the airport, the farther the neighbourhood, the higher the price. So Remera should be Rwf 7,000, Rwf 10,000 for a ride to the Kacyiru neighborhood, and Rwf 15,000 for a ride to Kiyovu and town. Prices have risen recently because of a rise in the cost of parking. If you take a taxi back to the airport, you’ll have to bargain but you could actually get a cheaper fare than the set prices of the airport taxis.
ATMs and currency exchange are available within the airport parking lot, in a row of little kiosks just outside the departures area. On your way back to the airport, don’t forget to leave a good bit of time for all of Kigali’s security checks. There are a total of four different checks, and each can take an impressively long time. The first, and longest, is a car check where all luggage has to be removed from vehicles and sniffed by some very adorable German shepherds, with the others just general x-ray machine experiences. Just make sure to leave at least two hours for returning to the airport. If you’re on a moto, continue past
For a 6 Hour Layover
Six hours is really the minimum amount of time for a good Kigali layover. One of those hours will be spend getting off the plane and going through immigration, and two will be spent checking back into the airport and going through security. That leaves you with three solid hours for some sightseeing, eating, and adventure.
During this time, we recommend you don’t venture too far away from the airport. Instead of going to the city center, head straight from the airport to Kimironko, diving headfirst into one of Kigali’s most colorful neighborhoods that’s located just ten minutes away. Spend an hour exploring Kimironko Market, sampling fresh avocados, checking out the tropical fruit selection, and buying handwoven baskets and vivid kitenge fabric. This market is Kigali’s biggest, with farmers from across the country coming to hawk their wares, and business people throughout the city joining in on the hustle and bustle. It’s the best place to buy Rwandan souvenirs very cheaply.
After getting your market fill, grab a beer just outside the market gates at Gorillas Bar, a classic Kigali joint. The people watching at Gorillas is always spectacular, and it’s it the perfect place to review your excellent market purchases. Next, go to Chez Lando, a Kigali institution in the Remera neighborhood, for lunch, and be sure to order a classic plate of Rwandan food – brochettes and fries. Beware that a la carte orders in Rwanda can take up to an hour to prepare so if you’re not able to carve out an hour for food, sample their delicious lunch buffet instead. Lunch buffets are a thing in Rwanda! Almost every restaurant has them and it’s a great way to sample a bunch of different types of local food. After lunch, head back to the airport in time for your flight.
For a 11 Hour Layover
11 hours really is the ideal Kigali layover time. It’s not long enough you’ll need to rent a hotel room, but it’s long enough that you’ll be able to see a good amount of the city. After exiting the airport, first head to Inzora Rooftop Cafe. Inzora is located in the Kacyiru neighborhood, and famously serves some of the city’s best coffee and tea. The rooftop features one of Kigali’s loveliest views, and their gluten free chocolate brownies are the tastiest (and perfect after a long flight!).
After Inzora, walk across the busy main road to check out the Inema Art Center. Founded by brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza, it’s one of Kigali’s most renowned art galleries. Spend some time wandering through their public gallery space and creative garden, before checking out their well curated gift shop.
Next, head to the Kigali Genocide Memorial to engage with some harrowing Rwandan history. Although Rwanda has since come a long way, the well-designed memorial and museum eloquently recount the events of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The museum is free, and donations are encouraged. The memorial is located in the Gisozi neighborhood, just an eight minute drive from Inema in Kacyiru. From Gisozi, head to the Kimihurura neighborhood for an upmarket Rwandan lunch at Repub Lounge.
Repub Lounge, one of the city’s most classic restaurants, continues to have some of Kigali’s best culinary offerings. Be sure to try their fish brochette, mizuzu (panfried plantains), and curried vegetables. The view from Repub Lounge is gorgeous (most restaurants have amazing views of Kigali’s beautiful hills), and the food is reliably delicious. After your leisurely lunch or early dinner, head next door to Papyrus bar for a nightcap prior to heading back to the airport.
Additionally, if the idea of organizing a whole day in Kigali on your lonesome is a little daunting, don’t hesitate to check out Go Kigali – the city’s best day tour operator. Go Kigali organizes city tours – ranging from half day to full day – taking travelers all over the city to little known milk barks, restaurants, lookout points, coffee shops, and more. Tours start from the impressive new Kigali Marriott in town which is also an excellent place to get a huge chilled mug of Mutzig beer for Rwf 3,000.
From art galleries to city tours, you’ll definitely enjoy your time in Kigali. What do you think Kigali-ites? Any other recommendations for a good Kigali layover? Let us know in the comment section!