Lake Kivu, Rwanda: where to go and what to do

After our busy trip around Uganda featuring gorillas and volcanoes it was time to slow down the pace a little and kick back on the shores of beautiful Lake Kivu in Rwanda.

From all our reading and chatting to people living in Rwanda we couldn’t decide between heading for Kibuye or Gisenyi, also confusingly known as Karongi and Rubavu respectively. Instead we decided to visit both and it was one of the best decisions we made all trip.

First we went to Kibuye which sits about half way down the lake’s Eastern shore. We traveled from Kigali with Capital Express, a one way ticket cost 2500 Rwf (about £2). The journey, while not exactly express was good value for money. We were dropped at the main bus station in Kibuye town which was about a miles walk from our chosen bed for the night. We had been recommended Home St Jean by a friend and it did not disappoint. After the customary round of ‘you are most welcome’ we were shown to our accommodation complete with spectacular view over an inlet of the lake. A million dollar vista all for the princely sum of $50 a night for a triple en-suite room.

The relaxed atmosphere of the terrace and restaurant perfectly matched the general ambiance of Kibuye town. There was very little to do but wander the one way system; definitely a contender for one of the world’s most picturesque. It was Easter Sunday so it seemed the whole town was out an about in their Sunday best; great people watching. We were also pleasantly surprised to find that the museum of the environment was open. The museum is housed in a modern building near the dock and contains some fairly low key exhibits relating to the natural world with a focus on energy and traditional medicine in Rwanda. The highlight of the museum was having a guided tour by one of the staff members. The exhibits themselves were a little dry but our tour guide was happy to chat all things Rwandan and was well informed about the current environmental struggles the country was facing.

Later in the day we took a short boat ride out onto the lake which allowed a sneak peak at some of the villas that lined the lake shore. We also made a short stop at a little island which used to be home to a bar, restaurant and campground. Some locals had set up their own bar and the party was in full swing which was quite a contrast to the general vibe of Kibuye. Unfortunately it seemed quite a popular hang out and was one of the only places in Rwanda we saw lots of rubbish lying around.

Two nights in Kibuye was just right. There aren’t a lot of eating options outside the hotels so entertainment was a little thin on the ground, perfect for a few days of peace and quiet.

Knowing that the road between Kibuye and Gisenyi was VERY windy we decided to take a special hire taxi for the journey, this cost us about £40. The journey was around 2 and a half hours on smooth, new, Chinese road.

I can’t find the words to describe this welcome to Gisenyi

Compared to Kibuye, Gisneyi, which sits right on the Congolese border was a much more bustling affair. We had enjoyed Home St Jean so much that we booked into one of it’s sister properties; the Centre D’Acceuil Saint Francois Xavier. This was a little more basic than Home St Jean and had none of the glorious views but was cheaper still and retained the warm welcome we had experienced in Kibuye. It was right in the town so ideal for exploring. Although a major hub for the area, the attractions of the town were still firmly in the low key arena. We wandered in the market and bought yet more fabric, strolled by the lake and sought out some food with a little more flavour and a little less beige than we had been experiencing. This was delivered in the form of a delicious curry at Lake Kivu Serena Hotel and some fantastic deli style sandwiches at Calafia Cafe.

Top tip; you may have seen the Pfunda Tea Estate on your way into the town and think it a good place to visit. We tried to do this but when we got there found out it was closed that day – phone ahead! However, all was not lost as we really enjoyed our ride there and back in a local minibus taxi. The sight of muzungus (tourists in Kinyarwanda, the local language) in the local transport definitely raised a few eyebrows of confusion but never in an intimidating way. Like many things in Rwanda there was order to proceedings. The minibus was never over full, it only stopped at designated bus stops and you paid the conductor your 200-300 Rwf (about 20p) at some point during your ride.

The rainy season began to catch up with us a little in Gisneyi and our planned sunset kayak on the lake was rained off. Nonetheless, we had really enjoyed the small town feel of Gisneyi and the chance to get a feel for day to day life in this corner of Rwanda.

Both towns had their charm; Kibuye was in a more beautiful setting and was really tranquil with lovely accommodation, while Gisneyi had a bit more going on and a lot more choice of places to eat and hang out. If you have time I can definitely recommend spending time in both.

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