Why we cried at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali Genocide Memorial

It was our first day in Rwanda, in Kigali, the beautiful capital city of the East African country Rwanda, to be precise. We had landed in the early hours of the morning and the place looked like a slice of paradise as we left the airport to our hotel which was interestingly and excitingly named as Gorilla Hotel.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Kigali Genocide Memorial

It was definitely a sign of things to come. After a lot of ooh’s and aah’s at the beautiful views of the city that stretched out below us in the hotel, we had a filling breakfast.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Kigali Genocide Memorial

We tasted some exotic fruits including the Passionfruit which seems to be ubiquitous in Rwanda washed down with some really invigorating Rwandan coffee.

It was then time to start our adventures in Rwanda, but before that, it was befitting that we first visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial – a must visit place in Rwanda. Frankly, like most of the world, I was not much aware of the Genocide and its aftermath, but the visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial changed my perspective and left me shaken and in tears.

Hotel Des Mille Collines

Before proceeding to the Kigali Genocide Memorial, we had a small stopover at the historic Hotel Des Mille Collines to have a look around. We were actually supposed to stay in this hotel, however as it was full owing to an ongoing high-level conference, we were put up in Hotel Gorilla. We were intrigued by the hotel which now had all the signs of a normal functioning luxury hotel.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

But back during the time of the Rwandan genocide, the hotel was the scene of dramatic action. The Manager of the hotel at that time, Paul Ruesabagina was instrumental in providing refuge to and saving the lives of  1,268 people. Paul Ruesabagina’s struggle to protect his family and the people who had taken refuge in his hotel, has been immortalized in celluloid by the movie Hotel Rwanda. It is interesting to note that though Hotel Des Mille Collines is the setting for the movie, it does not actually figure in it. The movie was shot in South Africa.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Kigali Genocide Memorial

We drove to the Kigali Genocide Memorial across beautifully laid roads lined with green trees, a city that seemed to seamlessly blend with its natural environment.

At the Kigali Genocide Memorial, we were received by a volunteer who briefly explained to us about the memorial and advised us that we were free to take pictures outside, in the grounds, but not inside the museum which houses three permanent exhibitions. The main one is a poignant portrayal of the events of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

As we moved from exhibit to exhibit, as we watched videos and looked at the collection of weapons and instruments used in the genocide, the horrendous past seemed to leap in front of our eyes and we could almost hear the cries of the anguished millions.

Time seemed to stand still as the events of the past seemed to unfold right in front of our eyes.

A brewing civil war, a conflict between the Government and the Rwandan Patriotic force, two ethnic groups embroiled in conflict. A deathly concoction of events that led to one of the most horrific and traumatic holocausts of recent times. April, 6th, 1994, a plane carrying the then Rwandan President Habyarimana is shot down as it descended into Kigali. Immediately after this incident, all hell broke loose. The Hutu ethnic group which was in majority backed by the Hutu Government and Military went on a killing spree against the minority ethnic group known as Tutsi. The violence and the killings raged on without respite for a shocking 100 days as the world watched in mute silence, the rivers and lakes of Rwanda turned red and the air was pierced by the agonising wails of men, women, and children who saw and experienced death and brutality of the kind that the world had never seen before. The Hutu extremists were hell bent on annihilating the entire Tutsi population, no one was spared, not even the infants or the aged. Neighbours of many years became bloodthirsty tyrants as the storm of hatred, violence, and bloodshed enveloped Rwanda in a dark and sinister cloud. The events seemed to lead to an apocalypse of Rwanda till finally after 100 days of bloodshed that saw more than a million dead and more than two million homeless, the killings stopped. The Rwandan Patriotic Front led by Paul Kagame and backed by the Tutsi finally took control of Rwanda. Entire families and villages had been wiped out, lone survivors traumatized and not knowing what to do and where to go were many in the blood-soaked streets of the villages and cities of Rwanda. Somewhere an infant wailed for its mother and somewhere else a mother wailed for her baby. Rwanda now lay shocked and the burden of its dead was a cross that it would bear for posterity.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

As we watched the tragic moments of history unfold before us, the tears came unbidden, our hearts became heavy and our voices choked with emotion. We could see that the events were not too far in the past, less than 25 years ago, wounds that were still raw. The one question that seemed to haunt us was, “why did the world allow this to happen?”

We walked out in silence to the beautiful grounds outside, lines of mass graves lay in silent anguish amidst beautifully landscaped gardens. Flowers and wreaths lay on the graves, a mark of respect, a sign of peace and love to the ones who had been bludgeoned with the weapons of hatred and violence. We too lay a wreath and roses at the graves and stood for a minute in silence.

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Another volunteer, her voice choked with emotion and herself a survivor explained about the mass grave. We did not take pictures as it would have been blasphemous to the sanctity of the place, we feared that it would disturb the eternal sleep of the people who lay there, their lives snuffed out in the most horrendous manner. Over 259,000 people lay here, their final resting place, a beautiful and peaceful abode, an anticlimax to the last few hours of their lives.

We learned that the citizens of Rwanda who had lost their families in the genocide visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial frequently and spent hours in the peaceful environs. This way they felt they were with their near and dear ones and felt one with them.

As we walked in silence in the beautiful gardens, birds chirped noisily, a bee hummed around a flower bush, but we could only hear the desperate cries for help of children, men and women and we hoped that the world would never see something like this again.

Our thoughts were on War and Peace, love and hatred, the futility of war and violence as we left the Kigali Genocide Memorial. We thought about similar incidents that had happened closer to home, the partition of India and Pakistan and the tragic Jallianwalah Bagh massacre in Amritsar. We thought about the holocaust in Nazi Germany, we thought about the terror that grips the world today and we prayed that peace be given a chance. We walked away from the Kigali Genocide Memorial with a heavy heart and moist eyes and something within us seemed to have been transformed.

The visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must for visitors to Rwanda as it serves as a reminder to humanity about the depths of depravity that the human mind can plunge to. It is also an opportunity to pay our respects to the departed and apologize for our sins, as in some way or the other, the entire world is responsible for what happened during those chilling 100 days.

Important Information for visitors to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

  • The Memorial is open to visitors on all days except the last Saturday of each month, Christmas and New Year between 8.00 AM and 5.00 PM., last entry is at 4.00 PM
  • On the last Saturday of each month the Memorial is open from 1.00 PM to 5.00 PM
  • The Memorial is a 10 minute drive from the town centre of Kigali
  • One can opt for a guided tour or audio-guide when visiting Kigali
  • It would take about 2 hours for visiting the Memorial
  • There is no entrance fee to the memorial, however donations are accepted
  • Do check out the Kigali Genocide Memorial website for more details

Have you visited any site that has moved you like we were moved at the Kigali Genocide Memorial? Do let us know in the comments section.



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87 thoughts on “Why we cried at the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda

  1. Jean Reply

    Oh I remember studying this at uni. So heart breaking, thank you for sharing.

  2. Aina liquiddreams.pl Reply

    Coming from a country with many places like that (not so recent though) I know how it feels like to visit and I’m not surprised that you cried. It’s so sad & horrble that people do such things to other people. Heartbreaking really 🙁

  3. Alli Smith Reply

    I remember watching Hotel Rwanda! What happened there was such a tragedy. I remember crying and praying for the families who lost loved ones. I would love to visit someday and pay my respects.

  4. Our Family World Reply

    I was reading the story and I was sad and angry at the same time. Why so much hatred and violence? What has become of the world? The burial place is beautiful though. If I get to travel to Rwanda, I will make sure I pay respects to the souls of the people who lost their lives in this horrendous genocide.

  5. robin rue Reply

    I totally get it. I cried when I visited the 9/11 memorial in New York. It’s so emotional to see the tributes to all the people who died needlessly.

  6. Jaime Nicole Reply

    What a moving place and experience that must have been. I think places retain some of the sadness of such terrible events.

  7. candy Reply

    Looks like a beautiful place to go but not on my radar to visit right now. There are too many places like this around the world. Neighbors lived for generations next to each other and turned on each other. So very sad.

  8. Amber Myers Reply

    Oh wow, how powerful. I imagine I’d cry too. The memorial is lovely, and important place to remember those who lost their lives.

  9. Anosa Reply

    Most memorial places around the world makes me feel like that I think one that brought me to tears was in Berlin and Warsaw. Great post

  10. Joel MUGABE Reply

    Thanks Sandy & Vijay for visiting Rwanda. Let me just add a small detail. The directors of the movie “Hotel Rwanda” made a small but grave mistake of not mentioning that the movie is based or inspired by a true story, which means there’s a lot of Hollywood dramatization. Nevertheless we thank them for putting the history of the genocide against the Tutsis on a worldwide stage. For the real story of what happened in “Hôtel des milles collines”, I’ll invite you to buy this book written by real survivors of the Hotel.


  11. christine K Reply

    It is good that there is a memorial and museum to tell the whole story. Many people will visit, remember, and tell the story again. Your article was excellent and I learned a lot by reading it. I can understand the sadness you felt.

  12. Jon Bailey Reply

    Absolutely heart wrenching. You did an excellent job capturing your experience so that others can learn from what happened in the past.

  13. Sarah Bailey Reply

    Oh wow I bet it is such an emotional place to visit, it is important that we don’t forget these events and the people it has effected both now and then.

  14. Henry Reply

    This sounds like one of those places that everyone needs to visit at least once in their lives. Horrifying yes, but it reminds us that we need to be ever vigilant against forces in the world that would bring this type of terror back. Thanks for sharing a moving piece of writing.

  15. ada Reply

    wow I actually never heard about this before ! What a sad story! I am not surprise you had tears in your eyes! Your post in amazing, very well written! Thank you for sharing it !

  16. Lynzy & Co Reply

    OMG this is such an emotional place. I would love to see this place in person. This is such a beautiful moving post.

  17. Bella Reply

    Wow that must have been such an overwhelming experience! Your post is a beautiful reflection of your time spent at the memorial, thank you for sharing it with us!

  18. Claudia Krusch Reply

    This looks like a beautiful place to stay. The Kigali Genocide Memorial would be a powerful place to be. It would be hard not to cry.

  19. Joan Narciso Reply

    It is touching how the families find solace in the memorial for their loved ones. This is a touching visit, and definitely something beyond a tourist destination.

  20. Ayushi Reply

    Oh! That’s a sorrowful experience. Yes, sometimes it is important for us to know that world is not a bed of roses. There maybe thorns in it too. Thanks for sharing this experience, the words could surely say your feeling in a true manner.

  21. Danik Reply

    I remember reading about this when I was at school and I can imagine the sorrow you went through when visiting the memorial 🙁

  22. Dannielle Reply

    That sounds truly harrowing, but it’s so important to visit places like this when we travel. We have to take the negative aspects of a destination’s history with the good to paint a clear picture. I’d have cried too!

  23. Matilda Reply

    I remember watching Hotel Rwanda and a few years ago we visited Rwanda and the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It was definitely moving but also very educational.

  24. Ambuj Saxena Reply

    Hey Sandy and Vijay,
    Thanks for sharing a moving yet enlightening post on the genocide. Such places make you realise the importance of the human life and give you a whole new perspective about life, doesn’t it?
    I remember heading to the Balidan Stambh (Sacrifice tower) in Jammu district in Jammu and Kashmir. I went through a similar set of emotions!

  25. Kita Bryant Reply

    The genocide that occurred there was horrendous. I can only imagine the emotions that would surface from it.

  26. neha Reply

    War is so cruel…and so inhuman. I don’t know when human being will realize it. I deeply feel for the people who have been through so much. Your account itself is so moving so I can imagine how experiencing it in person will be

  27. Marge Reply

    This is such a beautifully written post, rife with emotion, and the story is truly heartbreaking. I cannot even imagine the horror that the survivors faced while everyone around them, loved ones, friends, and acquaintances are being annihilated. It is horrendous and I also question the seemingly lack of empathy of the entire world who only stood watching as this was happening.

  28. rika Reply

    This place looks amazing! I would love to visit and learn the history of this place!

  29. Bonnie G Reply

    I have never been to a memorial before. I am a pretty emotional person, if I had visited I would have been very emotional there as well.

  30. Ami Reply

    This must have been such an intense visit. I can feel the emotions here as I read it. I felt that way when I went to the Cellular Jail in Andamans. Angst and sadness! It is only befitting to visit the place as a pilgrimage and honor to those who lost their lives.

  31. Nicole Anderson Reply

    It is stunning to think that man is capable of such inhumanity to man. This is borne out in the other examples of Amritsar and the Nazi concentration camps that you cited. When will we rise above such acts as a species? We are meant to be so intelligent and yet this still occurs. So senseless and so heart-breaking.

  32. Marion Halliday (Red Nomad OZ) Reply

    This was such a terrible conflict and all the worse because people who used to be friends ended up as bitter enemies. I would therefore find a visit to this memorial very confronting – but this part of the country’s history must be told so we decide that as humans, we will not tolerate this kind of behaviour.

  33. Shruti Prabhu Reply

    Such a sad incident. We would cry as well. The post flows so well from plush views and rich breakfasts to the horror and devastation.

  34. Iza Abao Reply

    I have a better understanding after reading your post. The volunteer was brave for sharing her story. It was nice that you put flowers on the graves. I would include this in my itinerary if I would have a chance to visit Rwanda someday.

  35. Fi Ni Neachtain Reply

    What a heartbreaking place to visit. It’s unbelieveable that these tragedies and horrors happened not too long ago in history, isn’t it?

  36. LaiAriel R. Samangka (Thelittlelai: Beyond limits) Reply

    This really made me sad as well while reading this. I didn’t know that this country suffer a great war in the past. Anyway, I like how they preserve the history as this will remind everyone in this country the pain of the past and how brave they were to fight. It is really interesting as I rarely read an article like this. It is something new and I can learn from it. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

  37. Nadine Cathleen Reply

    This is so sad. Rwanda is on my travel bucket list and I’m sure I will have similar feelings. The time when I really felt super touched, shocked and sad was as the concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland. The museum is really ‘good’ in the way that it brings you very close to how the people must have felt when they were taken into the camp, ripped away from their families and eventually murdered. I think everyone who is there should visit the museum so that history will not repeat. Ever.

  38. John Reply

    What a moving memorial. It is unbelievable that things like this occur in the modern world. Powerful post, thanks for sharing your experience.

  39. Candy Reply

    I remember watching the movie Hotel Rwanda and was in tears. Such a sad time in our history. I think museums like this are very important to teach and share the history so that it will never repeat.

  40. Stella Reply

    I can certainly see why you cried when visiting this memorial. I would cry too. What a horrible story of how cruel people can be to each other. I am glad to hear that at least people are making an effort to remember those who were killed so senselessly.

  41. Anne Slater-Brooks Reply

    You have beautifully told this story. I remember this happening when I was at University and could not comprehend the level of hatred. Of course, nothing has changed as senseless killing still continues to this day, as we have seen just this week in Manchester. I would definitely visit this place on the basis of this post. I just need to get to Uganda first. Thanks for sharing such an emotional recollection

  42. Laura Nalin Reply

    What an emotional post. I would have certainly cried there as well, should I ever visit. I cannot ever wrap my head around the genocide, and I don’t think I would be able to walk away with a better understanding either. This type of hatred can not, and will not prevail. Thanks so much for sharing <3

  43. Gina Reply

    I teared up a bit reading this. The way you described the horrors painted a sad picture in my mind. I don’t know how humanity allowed this genocide to happen. I pray for the souls of the lost.

  44. Trippin' Turpins (Kelly) Reply

    How horrific. I was unaware of the extent of this genocide. These are very emotional places to visit. I went to S21 and the Killing Fields in Cambodia and it is impossible not to cry when you realise how some humans can treat others.

  45. Clair Kelly Reply

    I have so much love for this post and for Rwanda. I worked with an NGO there almost 15 years ago not long after the genocide. It is unbelievable how resilient to people are. Well done for capturing this experience.

  46. Bhusha Reply

    I don’t know if you’ve been to Anne Frank’s House or to Berlin Memorial for Murdered Jews! I had a very similar feeling at those 2 places. Its just too much to even wrap our minds around what these people would have gone through!

  47. Cathy Reply

    All my prayers are with the victims and I wish them a peaceful soul upon reading your post.

  48. Marian Reply

    I had similar feelings when I visited the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, Cambodia earlier this year. Another atrocious genocide under the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime in the 70s. I had already seen Auschwitz which had chilled me to the bone but in Phnom Penh I really did cry. In the middle of the Killing Fields there was what they call the Killing Tree, reserved just for the children. Held up by their feet they were flung mercilessly against the tree until beaten to a pulp. Even writing this now brings a lump to my throat. It seems that history teaches us nothing and we are forever doomed to seeing these atrocities or people fleeing from them. I live in Sicily where we are seeing dozens of women and children drowning in the Mediterranean every day trying to get away from their war torn countries. Some make it if they manage to avoid the rape and abuse they have to fight off in Libya first of all. Hundreds of daily tragic stories which the international press hardly mentions as no-one wants the problem of placing these refugees. Uganda and Rwanda are on my list in the near future.

  49. Ava Meena Reply

    Your photos are really lovely. I was similarly moved and also really humbled when I visited Auschwitz last year. These sites can be sobering but truly are important to remember.

  50. Megan Jerrard Reply

    I’ve heard about the Rwandan Genocide, though it’s a completely different thing to stand there in the country on a site which is memorialized to the event. Kigali Genocide Memorial sounds incredibly stirring and I can understand why the experience brought you to tears. I do think that it’s important that such memorials exist so that we can remember the past and never let history repeat itself. Such atrocities should never happen again.

  51. Paul Reply

    This is such a moving post and we know exactly how you must have felt, as we’ve been to both Auschwitz and the killing fields in Cambodia. These places are never easy to visit but definitely necessary. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  52. Miranda Reply

    I had never heard of this genocide; thank you for sharing it. I was pretty shaken up reading this.. actually had to remind myself to breathe. It’s so sad that these things happen in this world.

  53. Carol Reply

    It’s important to keep these historical horrors in the public eye. And they are indeed touching. I cried like crazy when I visited the 911 memorial in New York.

  54. Nina Danielle Reply

    I think this genocide served as quite a lessen around the world, that sitting back in times of conflict is not option. Such a moving blog post, thanks for sharing. Many people have told me Rwanda was one of the most powerful trips they went on.

  55. Angie (FeetDoTravel) Reply

    It’s shocking that genocide events continue to happen; the Nazis, Pol Pot of Cambodia and this! I keep saying that these places need to be visited and the stories told to stop such atrocities in the future, but then I read another account of more horrors, such as this which, I will be honest, I never knew about (you did say the world was silent). A truly moving story, and one that needed to be told! #feetdotravel

  56. Shona @ paraphernalia.co Reply

    I have to admit guys, I wanted to stop reading this but persevered, as we all should, to learn about these horrendous crimes against humanity in order to stop them from happening in the future. Thank you for taking the time to write and publish such an emotional but important post. 🙁

  57. Efthimis K. Reply

    Your post really touched me. The way you narrated the story was really vivid and made me watch these incidents occurring in front of me. I’m so glad that I know so many things about this brutal genocide now. I would love to visit Rwanda in the future.

  58. Swati & Sam Reply

    This must have been such a moving experience. You have very beautifully described the story. I am pained as to how such things have happened in this world.

  59. Brianna Reply

    Such an impactful place to visit. It’s sad that we don’t learn more about these things in school. There is so much more violence in our past and present than we are aware of as children.

  60. Samantha Sparrow Reply

    Place likes this are so important to visit, no matter how hard that may be. You’ve captured the beauty and difficulty in a really sensitive way. I felt the same way when I visited Auschwitz.

  61. Eric || The Bucket List Project Reply

    one of the biggest reasons I travel is to learn both of the beautiful wonders of the world but also the tragic events. I feel that in America we are so locked away from many events in the world that it seems almost unreal or a fiction movie. I remember hearing about Rwanda when I was in College but I don’t know much of it and never saw the Movie. This has been added to my bucket list now. Thank you for sharing this with me and the world so that we know of places like this and honor the history!

  62. Rhonda Albom Reply

    I have not been to Rwanda nor Kigali. When you think that people will learn from the past, atrocities such as the genocide in Rwanda occur. While the Nazi Holocaust built up in intensity, the Rwandan genocide was full on from day one A very sad episode in history.

  63. oursweetadventures Reply

    Very good piece about Rwanda. I had no idea that Rwanda was this beautiful. I have seen the movie Hotel Rwanda but did not think the country would be as amazing as you depicted. I think a trip to the memorial would definitely be a must visit for anyone traveling to Rwanda. Thank you for sharing this very moving information.

  64. Christina Reply

    What a powerful place to visit. It truly is a must for us to visit places such as this genocide memorial so we can learn from history. I think when I finally make it to Rwanda I too will have as powerful a reaction as you did when visiting the Genocide Memorial.

  65. Punita Malhotra Reply

    Visiting tragic memorials like this one can be an intense experience, specially, if one is an emotional type of person. Delving deep into terrible moments of the past is not easy. I felt something similar at Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam, though that was quite different from this one.

  66. Erin Reply

    Wow – what an emotional and moving place to visit. You did such an incredible job of capturing all the emotion in your writing. I know I would have been in tears too! Thank you for sharing your experience.

  67. SindhuMurthy Reply

    It was quite intense reading this post. Millions of innocent lives slain for the benefit of no one and it is quite hard to believe it happened just 25 years ago. What was the world doing when it happened? I m quite agnostic about what happened then but I would definitely watch the movie Hotel Rwanda to know.

  68. Jennifer Reply

    I was nearly in tears reading this. I have a difficult time with these things and finding the balance between the importance of remembering and trying to remain positive. Thanks for sharing.

  69. Siddhartha Joshi Reply

    I can so relate to your sentiments…I was sobbing through the walk, but when I entered the section with stories of children, I was crying audibly. Felt so helpless as well as ashamed at the same time…it’s so difficult to even explain now. The place left a deep mark on me for sure…

  70. Guru Reply

    This is the heart breaking blog that I ever read and you have taken me to another place of the world.

  71. Reshma Reply

    I can feel what you went through while visiting this memorial. It must have been an intense experience for sure. This has happened to me so many times as well, where I can’t stop tears, and I carry the place and the memories with me.

  72. Carmen Edelson Reply

    Wow, what incredible and resilient people. This just broke my heart though. Seems like an intense experience but an important one. Your writing is beautiful and I definitely felt like I was there with you. Thanks for sharing.

  73. Chi Reply

    I haven’t heard of this genocide before and thank you for sharing all of this! this place is so sad but worth a visit. It reminds us of what happened in this world before.

  74. Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) Reply

    Very moving. Unfortunately, I think we need memorials as this to serve as reminders. It is far too easy to be blinded by politics and other factors, and find neighbors turning on one another, and strangers invading our homes and cities. We see it time and again, only to later see memorials and not understand why we see it time and again. Perhaps, one day, there will be no need for the memorials. Thanks for sharing.

  75. Emily Reply

    So moving. While these kind of attractions are not fun/happy places to visit it is so important we take the time to go these memorials. I had a similar reaction at Auschwitz and the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh, it is simply unbelievable the horrors that mankind is capable of. Thank you for sharing and shedding more light on this heart breaking topic.

  76. Jerny Reply

    I remember watching Hotel Rwanda. I think a trip to the memorial would definitely be a must visit for anyone traveling to the place. Thank you for sharing this!

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