I did it! I finally did it! After 6+ years of staring across the valley at Mount Kigali from the couch on my back porch, I finally got off of my butt and walked up the thing. Though I’d been on top of Mount Kigali several times, each time I was driven in a car or I cheated and took a moto up. Lame, I know, but I finally redeemed my sad self this past Sunday and it was a really nice way to spend a few hours.
So after six years of Mount Kigali avoidance, I finally decided that the weather was perfect for a hike up the hill with a friend. Though the hike isn’t exactly strenuous, it wouldn’t have been quite as pleasant in the scorching dry season sun or the torrential rain of the early rainy season. We got a perfectly mild day with friendly cloud cover and decided to go for it.
Mount Kigali isn’t a ‘mount’, exactly. It’s more of a hill and most of the hill is populated with houses so it’s not exactly remote wilderness, either. But somehow it’s still a nice little walk. The houses on the way up are small and charming and the narrow roads as you start the hike are kind of cool, too. If you’re hoping for a physically challenging day of mountain climbing then Mount Kigali will probably be a disappointment, but if you’re looking for an interesting stroll up a large hill leading to beautiful views of the city, then this is a great way to spend a few hours.
Mount Kigali is located on the southwestern edge of the city with the walk starting in the Nyamirambo area of town. Mount Kigali does stretch north to cover other Kigali neighbourhoods and I think it can be approached from different locations, but the most common access point is through Nyamirambo. Be warned that Nyamirambo is a deceptively large area so, unless you want to spend an hour walking through the neighbourhood in order to get to the bottom of the hill where the walk starts, you’ll probably want to take a moto or taxi straight to the bottom of Mount Kigali. Sun City Hotel is a good landmark that many moto or taxi drivers will know. Or if you’d prefer to start your walk a bit more towards the bottom of the hill, the Kigali Stadium (probably known more commonly as ‘Stade Nyamirambo’) is another good landmark to ask for.
Or if you’d rather make a day of it, a stroll through Nyamirambo either before or after the hike is a great way to make it into a full day outing. If you start in Biryogo (where the green mosque and Nyamirambo Women’s Centre are located) then it’ll take about an hour to walk to Kigali Stadium with a gradual uphill incline. The area is lively and there are lots of small shops and local bars the while way along and you could start the walk with a cheap and yummy lunch at Chap Chap. Or you could hike first and then wander around Nyamirambo afterward, rewarding yourself with a neighbourhood pub crawl or ice cream at Kubrom’s Place. Nyamirambo is my favourite part of Kigali and if you don’t find yourself there very often, I’d recommend exploring around a bit as an add-on.
There are a few ways to get to the top of Mount Kigali and it seems impossible to get lost as long as you just keep going up. If you want to be sure of your approach, follow the signs for Fezenda Senga and you’ll get there eventually. We attempted to be a bit more adventurous but ended up pretty much in the same place as the signs direct you to go. We started our hike by turning right on the road right before Galaxy Bar. A few rights and lefts later and we were well on our way in an up direction. There will be plenty of people around at this early stage to point you in the right direction if you’re not sure of where you’re going. The walk to the top from Galaxy Bar can be done in under an hour.
There are lots of different directions you can wander once you’re up on the hill though we only explored a few before getting the feeling that we were going to get hopelessly lost or end up on the complete other side. As you approach the top, you should see a local bar called Mera Neza on a road that goes towards the left, and to the right you’ll see a sign for the horse riding place called Fazenda Senga. If you walk towards the horse place, you’ll see great views of the city. And horses! If you go past the bar, you’ll be taken into a really beautiful wooded area and you can search for spots with views of the areas beyond the edge of the city.
If you’re trying to navigate using Google Maps, beware! There are a lot of small roads and paths up there that aren’t listed on the very basic map of this area. Do be aware that there’s a military base up there somewhere and they’re not too thrilled when hikers wander onto their property. I didn’t find it myself, but be aware that if you encounter a yelling military dude, do as they say. Nobody I know that’s stumbled onto the base has ever had a problem beyond being told to turn around, but knowing it’s up there should better prepare you if you do happen to find it accidentally.
The bar I mentioned, Mera Neza, is known for rabbit and it’s also a convenient place to stop for a reward beer and a slightly terrifying bathroom break. If your plan is to explore a bit on Mount Kigali before returning to the bar for a bite to eat, I’d recommend you put your order in as you walk pastm especially if you’re a large group of people. Given the painfully long time it can sometimes take to have food served at local places in Rwanda, you’ll be happy that you did.
When we were up there on Sunday we saw quite a few parked cars and eventually found a group of people sitting in a circle looking as though they were praying. I’m told that Mount Kigali is an area where many people come for spiritual stuff. We decided to give them some space and turned around so I’m not sure what lies beyond the trees. But my curiosity about what else can be found on Mount Kigali is motivation for another trip here. Hopefully it won’t take another six years!
It was a really great day and I’m just bummed it took me so long to actually hike up this hill!