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Doing Kigali as a local

Many of us, whether traveling for business or leisure, want to meet real people and discover real places. It’s easy to get cocooned in the Marriott Hotel, shuttling around in a four-by-four, but the real excitement starts when we get off the beaten track.

And Kigali is one of the best cities in the world to discover the truly local. This is because it’s one of the safest and because its people are so welcoming.

As an outsider to the city, here’s my top tips for doing Kigali like a local.

First and foremost, don’t be afraid to use the motorbike taxis. I’ve rarely been on a motorcycle but quickly got into the habit of using them. Not only are they cheap and fun, but they are also a quick way of getting around, and many are now going electric, so even more environmentally friendly.

Do some real local shopping by visiting a couple of the markets. Kimironko Market is probably the most famous and is great fun, you can get great souvenirs, but Kigali City Market is also worth a trip. A multi-stored building, you can start at the top and work your way down past all the stalls and shops. I picked up some beautiful African material which I then had made into a dressing gown.

Nyarugenge Market

Higher end, you can buy some lovely African art work and pottery at various workshops dotted across the capital. Laini Studio is one of my favorites, the quality and its unique designs make it very special.

Laini Studio

A major highlight in the city is its excellent and varied cuisine. You will not go hungry in Kigali and there are restaurants, bars, and food stalls to match all tastes and budgets. Head to Nyamirambo, traditionally a Muslim sector of the city, for excellent street food, including kebabs, papadams and other spicy dishes.

Kisimenti is another area that is buzzing with lots of authentic African bars and restaurants – one favorite is Nigerian, called Jollof Kigali. The beer throughout the country is great, perhaps an outcome of former Belgian colonialism and whilst younger local people drink Virunga, and European associated beers like Amstel, Primus remains a hit with older people. Be warned Turbo King is strong!

Jollof Kigali

For a more laid-back vibe, drive out to one of the bars high on the hills surrounding the city. A particular favourite is Pili Pili bistro lounge. Here you’ll find great drinks, nice food, excellent music, a swimming pool, and impressive views of the capital.

If coffee is more your thing, Rwanda has some of the best in the world, you have a great choice of cafes. Meeting up with Smayah Uwajeneza, all round coffee expert – and cupper, as they’re known – the venue she chose was Rubia Coffee Roasters, which must surely be an endorsement for its excellent range and quality.

The ultimate chill out in Kigali has to be experiencing one of the independent spas that are dotted throughout the city. La cabaña spa is my favorite. Run by Paola and Coco, it provides a sweltering sauna, excellent massage, and various beauty treatments. It has the added benefit of being right next door to Casa Keza, a tranquil café by day, Spanish Tapas bar by night, with a shop, children’s play area and evening classes – what more could one want.

La Cabana Spa

The next time you’re in Kigali, or any foreign destination for that matter, make a point of also supporting the local independent businesses that offer a more bespoke and often better value experience. Not only are you likely to have more fun, but you’ll also be putting more of your money into the very local economy.

Simon Danczuk is a former British Member of Parliament and is now a business consultant and author. 

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