Lake Kivu is a beautiful high altitude lake which forms the border between the Congo and Rwanda.
It’s a busy lake, always alive with traders and fishermen in their dugout canoes. The drives along Lake Kivu are longish, on unmade roads, but they offer the opportunity to see rural life as it has been for centuries, virtually unchanged.
It is a very scenic route and you see people at work, cultivating bananas, cassava, sorghum, beans, rice, potatoes, and even coffee in their steep and tiny fields.
In addition, there are several massive tea plantations, villages, innumerable tiny brickworks, and surprises around every corner.
Cyangugu, a port at the southernmost end of the lake has grown up around the border crossing into the Congo. It’s pretty run-down, with a few faded colonial buildings. From the rather shabby Hotel Du Lac Kivu is so close to the border that you can virtually jump across to the DRC from your bedroom window. The Peace Guesthouse, run by nuns, on a hill overlooking the town is a lovely spot and a nice place to stay.
Kibuye, half-way up the lake is much more of a town. It’s about a five-hour drive from Nyungwe, or six from Cyangugu, over unmade dusty roads, but its well worth it for an incredibly scenic drive which enables you to get a full picture of rural-life Rwandan style. It’s hilly and cultivated wherever possible; not only tea plantations but tiny fields and terraces of beans, rice, bananas, cassava, potatoes and coffee. There are lots of tiny brickworks, and, when you look down at the lakeside, one can see traders bringing goods to sell or exchange from other parts of the lake.
Kibuye itself is the prettiest of the lakeside towns, with a bit of a beach, but apart from the lake, there is not a lot to see.You can take a boat out on the lake and explore some of the many tiny islands.
There’s a haunting genocide memorial – a church on the hill above the lake where more than 4000 Tutsis took shelter and were massacred.
Kibuye Guesthouse occupies a prime spot by the towns only postage-stamp sized beach, but at time of writing it is closed, looking for a new owner. That leaves the Centre Bethanie, run by priests.
Gisenyi is a somewhat faded lakeside resort and a border crossing point into the Congo. The shore is lined with crumbling colonial villas. It is now enjoying a renaissance as it boasts its first international standard hotel, the recently-opened Kivu Serena.
Getting there involves either another long lakside drive, about four hours up from Kibuye on dirt roads, or, if you are on a group tour, there is often a ferry service from Kibuye across the lake. If you do go by road, that’s another fascinating drive with plenty of excitement.
There is more to see and do in Gisenyi. Take a boat on the lake, visit the Imbabazi Orphanage, take a drive into the remnants of ancient Gishwati Forest, or, when the border is open, cross into the Congo to visit the town of Goma, site of the volcanic eruption in 2002.
From Gisenyi it’s a two-hour drive to the head of the gorilla trail in Volcanoes National Park.