Africa Destinations

Exploring Rwanda’s Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest lake in Africa, something that is quite noticeable when driving around the hills of Western Rwanda.

Lake Kivu, one of a string of huge freshwater lakes which lie along Africa’s Great Rift Valley, dominates the border between Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). Driving the intertwining roads around the lake and between the towns is certainly the better route between Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park.

The road gently curves back and forth as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake from Gisenyi all the way to Cyangugu, with Kibuye almost at its centre point. Every corner produces another gorgeous view of the lake as Eucalyptus trees line the road. The hills are mixed between rolling tea plantations or terraced with bananas.

Villagers smile and wave, and children constantly call out “Abuzungu!” as you drive past (the Kinyarwanda term for white people, like “Muzungu” in Swahili). You will find most of the drive is spent with your arm out the window waving.

Top 5 things to do at Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is a fantastic area to explore when in Rwanda. From land activities to water sports, it offers an array of options to keep you busy. While most travellers just pass through the area en-route to Volcanoes National Park or return to Nyungwe National Park, here are some of the top things to do in the area that may make you consider taking your time when travelling through the region.

Lake Kivu is a fresh-water body that is safe for swimming as it is crocodile free, hippo free and bilharzia free. The water in lake Kivu has a cool temperature, perfect for cooling off in after a hot day. There are beautiful beaches along the lakeshores, with some of the better swimming points from the major towns of Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu.

Hiking and biking along the shores
Take a stroll along the beaches of Lake Kivu and just enjoy the view. With all the hills, step it up with a longer hike. There are a number of hiking tracks in the area. One of the most popular is the scenic Congo-Nile Trail. It runs roughly parallel to the eastern shore of Lake Kivu between Rubavu and Rusizi along 227km of existing roads and motorable tracks. Divided into ten stages, it takes ten days to complete on foot, five by bicycle and two or three by 4×4, sleeping at various lakeshore villages and towns.

Lake cruise
This can be done on local dugout canoes or using engine boats. Cruising on the lake enables a different view of this land of a thousand hills. Even when on the water, there is much to experience. Take a dinner cruise or even explore the lake’s major islands like Napoleon and Amahoro Islands.

Wind surfing and other water sports
The waters of Lake Kivu have waves that support water sports activities like windsurfing, kayaking, speed boat rides and sport fishing. Wind surfing and kayaking equipment can be hired from around Gisenyi. To watch the sun set over the lake from a kayak is definitely worth the paddling.

Take in the sunset

No matter where you are along the shores of Lake Kivu, there is always a place to sit down, relax and watch the sun set. It may not always be over the water, but the golden glow that reflects off the water is worthy of a photo.

Where to stay

While Rwanda has a number of fantastic hotel and lodge offerings, sometimes you want to choose an option that feels more like home. This is exactly what Karongi Lake View Retreat offers.

A private residence set on the hills of Kibuye, this retreat is a private, secure property that is your home away from home. A modern house with 200 degree views of breathtaking Lake Kivu, both from indoors and out, Karongi Lake View Retreat is the perfect choice for larger travelling groups and multiple families to relax for a weekend, a week, or longer.

The house is built and furnished with local materials from expert craftsmen/women, giving it more of a Rwandan homely feel. Enjoy a full kitchen equipped with all the cooking facilities and utensils needed. For a small charge of USD$40 per day, you can have a cook prepare your meals (food must be supplied for this).

Relax in the lounge room, stocked with games and books for entertainment or enjoy the evening on the terrace around the wood fire.

There are four bedrooms in the main house, each with double beds to sleep eight people in total. The main bedroom opens up to the terrace and has a large ensuite bathroom with shower and separate free-standing bath. The other bedrooms on the top level share a bathroom, while the fourth bedroom on ground level has its own bathroom. All linen is supplied, including bath towels.

To book, phone +250 788286364 or email Rates start from USD$300 per night for main house. Includes drinking water, basic tea & coffee supplies. Any other food needs to be brought by guests.

To book travel for Lake Kivu in Rwanda, contact Heritage Safaris on

Kate Webster

Kate Webster is the founder and owner of Captured Travel Media. She is a world traveller, ocean lover and conservation warrior who is determined to make every moment count for not only herself, but the world around her. An editor and travel journalist, Kate travels the globe in search of vivid imagery and compelling stories that capture the essence of the people and places she visits. She is a passionate conservation advocate, sustainable traveller and always travels with reason and cause.