The vibrant university town of Butare is full of the bustle of everyday life and a number of cultural pit stops well worth a gander. The city is about two and a half hours from Kigali, a trip that takes you through verdant rolling hills and an endless patchwork of terrace farmland on an enjoyable, if long, ride (RWF 2,500).
Entering the city from a busy intersection, the bus will drop you right near the historic Hotel Faucon with its street side terrace restaurant, as well as the popular, and surprisingly quiet, Hotel Ibis. Rooms start at RWF 23,000 for two people rising to RWF 40,000. Both hotels offer full service restaurants. If you prefer to be in the less hectic university area, continue on the bus to Hotel Barthos, right next to the campus, where rooms start at RWF 15,000 for two people.
Dining options are varied. Right across from Hotel Ibis on the main drag, the second-floor Amafu has an excellent buffet for a meal on the cheap. Or, for something a bit different, Inzozi Nziza is known to sell some of the best soft serve ice cream in the country. Popular with locals and expats alike, these sweet treats with a multitude of toppings are just the thing on a hot, dusty day, especially at prices as low as 700 RWF. Sandwiches, snacks, and fruit juices are also available.
Although a stroll through Butare’s National University doesn’t take too long, it provides a change of scenery from the main street, and many of the students are willing to stop for a chat, offer directions, or give suggestions on out-of-the-way places to go and things to see during your jaunt through Butare. If you’re up for a longer walk, you can stop by the Genocide Memorial before heading a kilometer to the University’s arboretum.
Heading back through town, any of the number of handicraft cooperatives, with their exquisitely detailed wares, are worth a look, if not also a purchase or two. From here it’s easy to hop on a moto and head to the National Ethnographic Museum.
On the outskirts of town lies the National Museum, a building whose many peaked roofs are reminiscent of the endless hills of the Rwandan countryside. For an entrance fee of RWF 1,000 to RWF 6,000, depending on age, nationality, and residency status, visitors get a glimpse of Rwanda’s colonial and post-colonial past. Complete with numerous artifacts, displays, and even live drumming and weaving, the museum has something to offer for both tourists and locals.
If you’re looking for a drink after a long week, Hotel Faucon has its own nightclub on Fridays and Saturdays, and the staff at Hotel Ibis can direct you to other local digs for a Friday or Saturday out on the town. And for those staying several days in the Butare area, be sure to head to the Nyanza area. This region is home to the former King’s Palace, now the Rukali Palace Museum, as well as the Rwesero Palace Art Museum to finish off your cultural explorations.