Walking & cycling around Kigali

Sprawling over numerous hills and valleys, with roads which wind crazily around and across the contours, Kigali can be a confusing city to navigate. Just when you think you know where you are going, your destination appears on the horizon in another direction!

However, it’s a fairly compact city and if you are not put off by the idea of steep slopes, over-friendly children and changeable weather, walking is a fantastic way to get about. If you have just arrived, don’t forget that Kigali is at around 5,000 feet, so take it easy on the hills!

Although the geography of the city is confusing, you can nearly always spot a landmark to help you find your way to your destination. Many buildings offer great views across Kigali, so if you plan to explore on foot you will do well to start by getting to grips with the geography, map in hand, from one of these: the panoramic top floor bar of the Top Towers Hotel in Kacyiru; Bourbon Coffee in the MTN building, Nyarutarama; the upper floors of the Bank of Kigali; the terrace of the Museum of Natural History; and Bourbon Coffee in the UTC building.

The ORTPN office in the centre of town sells a large street map for 8,500 RwFr, which is useful as it’s all on one sheet. There’s also a good map on the wall in the foyer of the Novotel.

Public transport is plentiful and cheap, and if you get lost or exhausted, or it starts to rain, you will never be far from a moto (motorbike taxi). Always agree the price in advance, and check the helmet – they are often good for decorative purposes only, as the buckles and straps are broken or far too loose. If you protest, the driver will usually try and readjust the strap for you, or as likely as not offer you his own, usually rather hot and greasy…! Most drivers speak a smattering of French or English, so if you know the name of your destination they will get you there. Don’t be fooled by the maps – road names are non-existent and rarely used. People navigate by buildings and local landmarks, so try using these instead.

As well as walking as a means of getting about town, there are plenty of good hikes on the hills which ring the city. These offer spectacular views and can be surprisingly peaceful away from the constant calls of “Muzungu”. You could start your walk by taking a minibus taxi from the centre of town (near the main roundabout with the fountain). Minibus taxis are very cheap and are all labelled with their eventual destination.

Mt Kigali can be reached by heading for Nyamirambo. You will pass a mosque and a stadium before the cobbled road eventually peters out to dirt. There are many routes up – follow your nose or ask locals to direct you. The top comprises a path along a wooded ridge, with very few people about. Beware that as you head north, you will encounter a military camp and be asked to turn back.

The hills above Gikondo and Kicuikro can be reached by taking a taxi to Gikondo “Stade”. Get off at the last stop, and then keep walking uphill. When you reach the ridge, veering left will bring you to Park Juru, a laid-back outdoor restaurant with pleasant gardens and views over the city. There are numerous roads and tracks all over this ridge, many with spectacular views in all directions. One leads to Kicukiro, where you can find transport back to the city centre.

Closer to the city centre, in the valley above the golf course and between the ridges of Nyarutarama and Kacyiru, lies a lake and area of woodland and scrub. You should see a wonderful variety of birds – pelicans, egrets, ducks, eagles, jacana and many more. The lake can be reached by walking down behind the Novotel or King Faisal Hospital, or from the MTN centre or the Nyarutarama tennis club. While the heat, the hills and the traffic mean that cycling in Kigali is not for the faint-hearted, it can be an exhilarating and rewarding experience.

Heading out of town in any direction will soon lead you to a huge network of dirt tracks and paths, offering a great insight into rural Rwandan life. A good direction to start is to the east and south of the city (head for Kibagabaga, Kimironko, Remera, Kicukiro or the airport, and keep going) where the terrain is a little flatter. (Mercator Assistance (tel: 0788 834 800; email http://www.mercatorassistance.rw rents out bikes and arranges guided cycling tours.)

Caroline Pomeroy

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