This post is dedicated to Butare, because we’re having a bit of a love-in. Today is, quite simply, the most beautiful day you could ever hope for – and we’re not just saying that because we want you to come visit and eat ice cream (though of course, we do!).
Since six o’clock this morning the sky has been gorgeous blue, with barely a cloud in the sky. It’s wonderfully warm without being uncomfortably hot (we may be almost on the equator, but in this part of Rwanda we’re very grateful for the Albertine Rift, which puts us at a high altitude and keeps the temperature moderate). Rainy season is well and truly over so we haven’t seen a drop in days. The air has a husky hint of smoke and dust, and the flowers glow so bright in the sunshine that they’re almost fluorescent. There’s a nice bustle to the streets, World Cup fever is putting a smile on (most) faces… we’re just really happy to be here.
It’s lovely that so many people from around the world have been following this blog, but perhaps not everyone knows much about Butare. So, while we’re in such giddy love with the place, here’s a quick guide to give you a flavour of Rwanda’s traditional second city.
If you arrive in Rwanda by public transport, you’ll typically be dropped off at the northern edge of the city centre. And, on a lovely day like today, you’ll see something like this:
Before 1962, lil ol’ Butare was the administrative centre of Rwanda but, when independence came, the decision was made to make Kigali the new capital, because of its central position within the country. Since then, Kigali has exploded in size, and has things like company headquarters, skyscrapers, pricey restaurants and traffic jams. Lucky Kigali. Butare escaped much of that modernisation but it still retains some of its original prestige, notably because it’s here that you’ll find the impressive National University of Rwanda. Not only that, but there are some neat bits of history, such as Hotel Faucon, which dates to 1943 and is, we’re told, the oldest hotel in Rwanda.
Continue a little further down the street and you’ll come to another of Butare’s landmarks: Ibis. Due to its history as Butare’s premier hotel, Ibis is also the second-most prestigious place to sit and watch the world go past (after a certain ice cream shop, of course).
Opposite Ibis is Matar Supermarket, which may not sound thrilling to readers from the US, but is the envy of all Rwandan residents outside of Kigali. You want it, Hassan and Tariq sell it… and they’re normally good for a chat as well.
The big tourist attractions in Butare are the National Museum to the north, and the university, with its beautiful campus and tranquil arboretum, to the south. But one other spot to look out for is the market – just turn right after Matar and follow your nose. Work is currently underway to build a big new one, but the existing space is a bustling treasure trove of clothes, seamstresses, fresh fruit, vegetables, mounds of flour and rice, butchers and plenty more besides.
Several members of Ingoma Nshya work at the market, and today we stopped by to see Epiphanie, who sells tomatoes, aubergines and all manner of other fresh, local produce. Epiphanie passed her final English exam today and received a certificate to show she’d completed the Inzozi Nziza English Language Programme – so it wasn’t just us who felt that this was a particularly beautiful day.
Of course, there’s lots more to see and do in Butare than just this. If you’re planning on paying the city a visit (whether you’re coming for ice cream or not), feel free to ask for any information you need by commenting on this, or any other, post. We can help with information on travel, hotels, restaurants, attractions, anything. We love this city, and we’re happy just to spread the word.