Lake Kivu is located in western Rwanda bordering Democratic Republic of Congo. Lake Kivu is one of a string of huge freshwater lakes which lie along Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest lake in Africa.
Lake Kivu is surrounded by three main towns are roughly 3-4 hours apart from each other. However, on our last visit, extensive road construction works were making the journeys longer.
Towns around the lake
Gisenyi (also referred to by its new name Rubavu) is a large town spread over several hills on the northern edge of Lake Kivu.
There is a pleasant public beach on Gisenyi’s lakeshore but it can get quite busy, particularly at weekends. Some hotels have private beaches and water sport options.
Driving north from Gisenyi (Rubavu), the Imbabazi Orphanage founded by American Rosamund Halsey Carr, is a beautiful memorial to a remarkable lady. On returning to Rwanda after the genocide at the age of 82, she transformed her ransacked house into an orphanage for survivors and over 400 orphans have since called this place home. Sitting among colourful gardens, the house looks like an English country cottage, complete with an aging Labrador. Imbabazi is planning to develop a cultural centre in Carr’s memory and runs a variety of projects for local people, continuing to support its former orphans. Your driver/guide will need to contact the orphanage beforehand should you like to visit.
About 100km south of Gisenyi, Kibuye (also known by its new name Karongi) is probably the prettiest of Lake Kivu’s towns. It’s a verdant, tropical spot surrounded by hills covered in eucalyptus and pine. If you’re visiting in August, you may catch thousands of yellow-billed kites here flying over Lake Kivu on their annual migration. Most of Kibuye’s hotels are in beautiful locations overlooking the lake and facing the sunset.
You can take boat trips on Lake Kivu to nearby islands: Napoleon Island with its colony of fruit bats and Amahoro Island, which became popular locally for the sundowner bar set up on the island seasonally!
It’s also possible to visit Kibuye’s genocide memorial church, with brightly coloured stained-glass windows, in a quiet location on a hill above Lake Kivu. Despite a tragic history, it’s a place for peaceful contemplation.
At the southern end of Lake Kivu, Cyangugu (pronounced ‘Shangugu’ – its new name of Rusizi is easier to pronounce!) is an old border town whose fading façades tell of its past as a vital trading gateway. It makes for a convenient base if you want to combine a stay on Lake Kivu with Nyungwe Forest National Park, which is only 45 minutes away, although there are limited hotel options.