Kigali, Rwanda’s impressively organized and clean capital, is growing fast. With the population expected to hit 3 million by 2025, it is quickly developing the amenities found in larger neighboring cities like Kampala and Nairobi. Goods and services previously nonexistent are becoming readily available. However, with its current 1.3 million residents, the city maintains somewhat of a small-town feel. While on its way to becoming a major regional hub, Kigali attracts with its quaint charm, manageable size, and growing private sector.
Here are 10 things to keep in mind when moving to Kigali:
1. Welcome to Endless Summer.
Kigali’s weather is reliably mild. Although Rwanda sits just a few hours’ drive from the equator, the city’s altitude of 5,000 feet ensures conditions that are dry and never humid. While the sun can be hot at midday, nights and early morning are always cool and crisp, so pack your layers. Rainy season in the spring and fall can be grey, but it sure beats snow and ice. Just be sure to invest in a trusty rain jacket.
2. When it comes to housing, bigger is better (and cheaper).
Apartment buildings are new to Rwanda and there are few in Kigali. Those that do exist are quite pricey. Instead, most people opt for house shares. Kigali presents a range of housing, from modest one-story houses with large gardens found in the older neighborhoods, to large Malibu-style mansions in newer areas. Housing can be found on a number of Craigslist-type websites, such as Living in Kigali and the kigalilife Yahoo group, but word of mouth is the most common way to find open rooms.
3. The shortest distance between two points is a moto-taxi.
While owning a car is ideal, especially during the pesky rainy season, for those without four wheels of their own, motorcycle-taxis are the answer. Although not the safest form of transport, motos are no doubt the fastest way to get where you need to be. Effortlessly weaving through traffic jams, moto drivers can be found cruising the streets in every neighborhood, at every hour of the day. Hail one, hop on the back, and tell them where you need to go. Moto drivers know every corner of the city and never hesitate to take detours onto dirt roads, back alleys, and even sidewalks to get you to your destination. Rates start at 300 francs (less than $1), and most places in the city are accessible for under 1,000.
4. Confirm, confirm, and re-confirm appointments.
Having learned the hard way, I can safely say that confirming meetings, be they business or social, can save you hours. When scheduling an appointment, especially with a person of high office, confirmation in the form of both an email and text message, as well as a call the morning of the meeting and perhaps another phone call on your way over, are quite necessary. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting an entire morning, or without a meeting altogether.
5. Don’t fear the streets.
Kigali is a surprisingly safe city. Police and military patrols roam main roads throughout the night, with an eye out for troublemakers. Of course, basic precautions for urban living should be taken as in any city, but most crime in Kigali is petty theft, with very little of the violent crime found in other major cities.
6. Buffets are the way to go.
With a young and nascent service industry, wait times at Kigali restaurants are notoriously long. Professionals get around this by frequenting the city’s many bountiful buffet lunches. Whether you’re on a $5 budget or looking to impress a client at the swanky Serena Hotel, there’s a buffet for every need, in nearly every neighborhood.
7. The Internet is only getting faster.
With the introduction of 4G LTE this year and fiber optic cables crisscrossing the country, Rwanda’s connection speeds are set to pick up. The country’s target is to have connectivity even in the most remote villages.
8. Take time to escape.
Kigali is small and the routine can get old, so remember to take time to get out into the beautiful Rwandan countryside. Kigali is centrally located and excursions to lakes, mountains, and national parks are easily doable. A lazy weekend by Lake Kivu in Gisenyi or Kibuye can rejuvenate you for the week ahead, while hiking Mount Bisoke or Karisimbi promises adventure.
9. Small-town charm.
Social life revolves around house parties and private gatherings. Kigali feels even smaller than its size, and you will soon start to see the same familiar faces everywhere you go. Before you know it, you’ll know everyone!
10. Peaks and valleys.
Kigali may seem baffling at first with its absence of reliable addresses and street names, but the city (and the entire country, in fact) is a series of peaks and valleys demarcated by landmarks. Getting to know the city neighborhoods by their hills and landmarks will help you navigate this maze like a pro. Until you commit this labyrinth to memory, there’s a handy new map to help you out.