Lake Kivu is one of Africa’s Great Lakes of the Rift Valley. It lies in a beautiful region on the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This guide explains how to visit beautiful Lake Kivu, Rwanda. I outline how to get there, things to do, costs, accommodation, safety, and more.
When to Visit Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu lies just a few hours from Kigali by bus. A visit here makes for a great overnight or weekend trip to get out of the city. The lake would also be a convenient stopover for those traveling to visit Virunga National Park in DR Congo. You could easily make a small detour before traveling on to cross the border at Goma.
If you are visiting Rwanda for a gorilla trekking safari in Volcanoes National Park, Lake Kivu would be an excellent place to stop by for a rest either before or after the trip.
The climate of Lake Kivu
Because the lake is located so near the equator, the weather is pleasant and accessible year-round. With that being said, it is better to visit during the dry seasons which run from June until August and December through February.
Where to Go on Lake Kivu
Rwanda is fairly small so Lake Kivu is easy to access from anywhere in the country. Most people visiting Lake Kivu will travel there from Kigali. The three most popular places to visit on the lake include:
The most convenient, and in my opinion, the most beautiful town to visit is Kibuye. The 84 miles (135 km) trip from Kigali takes about 3 hours by minibus. Kibuye is a small, picturesque town located right on the shore of the lake. The road from Kigali to Kibuye is paved and in good condition. Here, you’ll be surrounded by beautiful pine and eucalyptus covered hills. The sunsets here are incredible.
From Kigali, you can also reach the lakefront towns of Gisenyi which is in the Rubavu region of Rwanda. The town is located on the north shore of the lake. Gisenyi is the largest resort town on Lake Kivu and is much larger and more heavily populated than Kibuye.
Because of the population, more options are available in terms of hotels and restaurants. The drawback is that everything is more crowded. It is a city. Buses leave from Kigali to Gisenyi every hour and the journey takes about 3 hours.
If you plan to visit Lake Kivu either before or after your gorilla trek, Gisenyi is the most convenient lakeside destination. The town lies just an hour and a half away from Musanze, the jumping-off point for most Rwanda gorilla treks.
A third option is the region of Rusizi. This less frequently visited region lies at the southern end of the lake near the border with DR Congo. This would be a convenient region to visit if you’re planning a trip to Nyungwe Forest National Park which lies just a short distance away.
How to Travel to From Kigali to Lake Kivu by Bus
The Journey to both Kibuye and Gisenyi is easy as no transfers are required. Purchasing tickets in advance is not necessary as buses leave about every hour.
How to Travel From Kigali to Kibuye by Bus:
- Make your way to Nyabugogo Taxi Park- This station is also known as Kigali Bus Station. This area is really crowded and hectic so be prepared. You can get there by public minibus or taxi. This is one of the main bus stations in Kigali so everyone you ask will know where it is.
- Once you arrive, look for the Capital Express ticket office- This company runs an express service from Kigali to Kibuye. The bus is safe, reliable, and fast. Other companies also make the trip but may require transfers or have older, less comfortable buses.
- Purchase your ticket- Buses run on a schedule, leaving every hour. Tickets cost about 2500 Rwandan Francs (around $3). If you’re looking to save money, it is possible to make this trip by shared minibus for slightly less though the ride may take longer or require transfers.
- Once you are on the bus, it will travel directly to Kibuye with just a few stops in between- You don’t have to make any transfers. Roads are paved and in decent condition.
- Kibuye is a small town that is easily walkable- Motorcycle taxis are also available if you prefer.
How to Travel from Kigali to Gisenyi, Rubavu by Bus
- Make your way to Nyabugogo Taxi park (Kigali Bus Station)- Again, you can get there by public bus or taxi.
- Look for the Virunga Express Bus ticket office- Other companies also offer this route but this one has the most departure times and the newest buses.
- Purchase your ticket- Buses leave every hour and tickets cost 3000 Rwandan Franks. If the cost is too high, it is also possible to make this trip by shared minibus for slightly less.
- You should arrive in Gisenyi in around 3 hours- This is an express service with a few stops along the way.
For more information on bus travel in Africa, check out my guides:
- The Ultimate African Bus Guide
- How to Travel From Kampala to Kigali by Bus
- How to Travel From Kigali to Arusha by Bus
Where to Stay in Kibuye, Rwanda
Several hotels can be found along the shore of the lake ranging in quality from simple guesthouses to resort-style hotels.
I stayed in a basic hotel called Home St. Jean. This place is popular among backpackers and budget travelers. Rooms start at around 12,000 franks and go up from there. The room I stayed in was clean and comfortable. No complaints here.
The hotel is fine but its main selling point is the view. The place is built upon a hill overlooking the lake on all sides. Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth taking a walk to the hotel just to sit around and take in the spectacular panorama of the lake. It also has a decent restaurant and bar. It’s a great place to grab a beer.
If you’re on a tighter budget, the guesthouse St. Marie offers rooms for around 3500 Rwandan Franks per night. I haven’t stayed there so I can’t comment on the quality but the price sure is right.
10 Things to do at Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu isn’t really a major tourist destination but there are quite a few interesting things to see and do on the lake. It is a great place to just get away from the city and relax for a few days.
1. Take a Walk Along the Shore of the Lake
Lake Kivu is a beautiful place to simply walk around and explore. The whole area is picturesque. Rolling hills surround the wide, freshwater lake. Exploring the nearby trails and roads is a great way to spend an afternoon. Traffic is light which makes walking around safe and really enjoyable.
2. Go for a Boat Ride
From Kibuye or Rubavu, you can arrange a relaxing motorboat tour of the lake. While walking around, tour guides will inevitably chat you up and try to sell you a tour. Negotiate hard as they will be trying to overcharge.
If you feel like some exercise, it is also possible to rent kayaks or canoes and go out and explore the lake under your own power. The same tour guides can point you in the right direction.
3. Relax on the Shore
The greatest part about going to the lake in Africa is just getting away from the stress of the city and relaxing. Sit out on the deck, enjoy the sun, and take in the view. Maybe enjoy a cold beer while you’re at it. Life on the lake is quiet and slow moving. Lake Kivu is a great place to go to get away from busy city life.
4. Go Birdwatching
Lake Kivu is home to more than 60 species of tropical birds. I don’t know anything about birdwatching but I do know that the lake is a top destination for birders.
5. Check Out The Congo Nile Trail
This newly developed 160 mile (257 km) trail runs near the shore of Lake Kivu from Rubavu to Kibuye and beyond. It is an excellent trail for hiking, bikepacking, or mountain biking. Check out this awesome guide from Bikepacking.com for more info as well as some spectacular photos.
6. Visit the Hot Springs
From Gisenyi, you can easily access the hot springs where you can enjoy a relaxing mud massage. This isn’t a luxury experience but it is a nice way to spend a couple of hours. Check out this great guide from Jasmine Ally for more info.
7. Visit the Islands
If you decide to venture out on the lake by boat, you might as well explore some of the nearby islands. For boat tour from Kibuye, you can visit Napoleon island known for its fruit bats as well as nearby Amahoro island.
Another popular island for tourists to visit is called Nyamirundi Island. It is known for its coffee plantation. You can also take a tour of the island to learn about the coffee making process.
8. Go for a Swim
Lake Kivu is a great place to take a dip. The water is hippo and crocodile free. It is also free of the Bilharzia parasite which is commonly found in African lakes and rivers.
With that being said, before you jump in you should know that the water has been found to be contaminated with various parasites and bacteria in places. If you do decide to go for a swim, It is a good idea to ask around to make sure that the area is safe. Also, avoid swallowing any water and be sure to shower off under clean water right after you get out just to be safe.
9. Go to the Beach
Gisenyi is home to the best beach in the landlocked country of Rwanda. This would be a great place to go for a swim or just relax in the sand. I haven’t been but have been told that the public beach gets very busy. Several hotels have private beaches that guests can access.
10. Take a Coffee Tour
If you’re going on a boat tour, consider checking out Nyamirundi Island. Here they offer a coffee tour where you will learn, step-by-step, how coffee is made. After the tour, they offer a tasting of the finished product.
Staying Safe at Lake Kivu
Rwanda is one of the safest countries in Africa. Police presence is high in the cities. Crime rates are fairly low. Violent crime is rare. While visiting Lake Kivu, your biggest concern safety-wise is staying healthy.
Lake Kivu lies in a malaria zone. Take all of the normal precautions to avoid getting bitten. You should wear a decent mosquito repellent while the bugs are out. You’ll also want to cover your arms and legs during the morning and evening. Taking malaria prophylaxis is also a good idea. For some more tips, check out my Traveler’s Guide to Malaria Prevention, Treatment, and Tablets in Africa.
Another concern while visiting Lake Kivu is the disease Schistosomiasis (also known as Bilharzia). This is a disease which is caused by parasitic worms that enter your body when you come into contact with contaminated water. Unfortunately, parts of Lake Kivu are contaminated. For more info, check out this guide to Bilharzia from Medical News Today.
One final safety concern is that Lake Kivu has the potential to ‘explode’. Basically, a massive amount of methane gas is trapped at the bottom of the lake. This gas could potentially release at any time, suffocating anyone near the lake.
This natural phenomenon has been recorded twice in Cameroon where it has killed over 1700 people. Luckily, steps are being taken to resolve this interesting problem and create energy for the 2 million people living around the lake. For more info, check out this fascinating about Lake Kivu from The Guardian.
Final Thoughts on Visiting Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu was one of my favorite places in Africa. The lake is big and clear and absolutely beautiful. Some parts are so wide that you can’t even see across. It looks more like a sea than a lake. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend enough time there. I hope to return on a future trip. Next time, I’d like to visit Goma in DR Congo and explore the lake from the other side.
Have you been to Lake Kivu? Share your experience in the comments below!
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