Day 1. Emeraude Kivu Resort, Cyangugu to Nkombo Guesthouse We spend a couple of hours packing and getting ready, before setting off before lunch (in the wet season) or after lunch in the dry season.
This first day is one of the best. We pass several uninhabited islands get close to the rainforest and see many dugout canoes travelling around the islands. Overnight at a new guesthouse on Nkombo Island.
Day 2. Nkombo Guesthouse to Ile Sasa (campsite)
After breakfast, we pack up for our first full day on the water. We meander amongst small boats taking crops, people and livestock to market. Villages and agricultural fields cling to the steep sided hills as we journey close to the Rwandan mainland. We pass the Shangi Germano Post, a gift from a former King of Rwanda to the then German ambassador, which has a remarkable history in the story of Rwanda.In the afternoon we approach Ile Sasa, a small, uninhabited island where we stop for the night, cooking a simple meal and enjoying a campfire. If we have time we may visit one of the fishing communities nearby or go for a short walk on the mainland. Exploring Ile Sasa, with its trees and a few small fields also makes an interesting short walk.
Day 3. Ile Sasa to Ishara Guesthouse
Rounding Muyange Peninsula, we are suddenly treated to the spectacular wide vista of Lake Kivu stretching out in front of us. We follow the shore down the far side of the peninsula and cross to a headland where yellow billed ducks, cormorants, and grey-headed gulls roost on small nests. We arrive at Ishara guesthouse in time for lunch, where sitting on the terrace we soak up a spectacular view over the water. As the sun goes down, fishing boats set off to spend the night on the lake, their lights creating an amazing spectacle.[Note that whilst this day takes us close to the DRC border, the Rwandan Defence Force has a military base closely. We inform the Commanding Officer of our passage and so they will look out for us and be on hand to assist if necessary.]
Day 4. Ishara Guesthouse to Traditional farmed island (campsite)
Setting off after breakfast, we pass many of the fishing boats we saw in the night, with their crews repairing nets or working on their boats. We round a corner and stop for a rest at Kumbya, a religious retreat that maintains a wonderful atmosphere. With a small wood of native trees, it's a birders paradise – and look out for the monkeys swinging from the trees or jumping on the lawn. We arrive in the campsite island in the afternoon and set up our camp on the flat ground, buy vegetables from the local community and cook our dinner overlooking the water. It’s a very special place.
Day 5. Traditional farmed island to Long island (campsite) or Lake Kivu Lodge
Today, as we continue our journey along the lovely coast, with many small, farmed islands. People are curious and wave to us and we in turn see just a little of the challenges that they face. Sometimes farmers herd their cows to find better pasture… but not on land, wait, what’s that in the water… Are those are cows really swimming from island to island? As we approach our stopping place for the night we pass Ile Mushati a rainforest clad island that is home to many birds and other animals. If you’re lucky, you may spot more monkeys or a fish eagle in the trees. Tonight we make camp on another island or stay at Lake Kivu Lodge.
Day 6. Long island or Lake Kivu Lodge to Rwiza Village Resort, Bethany
Guesthouse or Cormoran Lodge, Kibuye After breakfast on our small island [or on the lodge terrace], we’ll be setting off to paddle around a headland that will finally take us into Kibuye. However, still far from the town – we will still be surrounded by nature with the peace and tranquillity that can be found only on the water. Lake Kivu is a fascinating lake for many reasons; not least is its potential to safely provide power to Rwanda for decades to come. So as we approach Kibuye, looking carefully out into the lake we’ll see an example of how Rwanda is advancing into the modern era. A new methane extraction platform is sustainably tapping into a vast reserve of energy – not in the rocks below the lake but dissolved in the deep water itself. Your guides will be able to explain more about what’s happening, but one thing is for sure, the surface water is clean and safe, with all the gas trapped in the deep water, hundreds of metres below the surface. Tonight we deserve a break so we stop off at one of the lodges or guesthouses in Kibuye. There are several to choose from.
Day 7. Rwiza Village Resort, Bethany Guesthouse or Cormoran Lodge to Gishai Island (campsite)
Today we are kayaking though Rwanda’s “Bay of Islands”. With its many protected, uninhabited forested islands, we’ll be looking out for monkeys jumping in the trees, African Fish Eagles flying to catch fish, many birds in the bushes and Congo Clawless Otters swimming in the water. We aim to stop on Munini Island for lunch. Popularly known as Napoleon Island (because it’s shaped like his famous hat!), a raucous colony of thousands of Fruit Bats roost here during the day. They are quite a spectacle!
One of the most common birds we’ll see on the water is the pied kingfisher. It’s special because it is the largest bird in the world that can truly hover. Many small birds like the beautiful red-chested sunbirds (that also dart in and out of the bushes) are well known for their aerobatics. Larger birds like kestrels that we may also see, can hover in a breeze, however the pied kingfisher is the largest bird in the world that can hover in still air before diving into the water to catch a fish. Sometimes as we paddle along, our kayaks surprise the fish, so these majestic birds will plummet into the water just ahead of us and emerge with one of the small fish. Arriving by mid-afternoon, we can take a walk around our island campsite that is still covered in many native trees; it's a haven for many species of birds. Then, as the sun dips towards the horizon, our guides will be encouraging us to get back on the water. This is the time of day when the fishing boats from a nearby village head out into the Lake. Singing as they go to help them paddle in unison this really is one of Lake Kivu’s best experiences. Our communal dinner is cooked on an open campfire, which also forms the focal point for our conversation and reflection during the evening.
Day 8. Gishai Island (campsite) to Rushel Kivu Lodge, Kinunu
Waking to the sound of the birds singing all around us – and the fishing boats returning to their village – our guides will cook us breakfast on our campfire to get us on our way.After breaking camp, we’ll paddle around the headlands and inlets of this incredible coastline. If we spot something of interest, we simply go over to take a look. Friendly children will often call out to us, fascinated by the sight of our colourful kayaks as much as we are by them. Passing through a narrow cannel between Bugarura Island and the mainland we’ll meet many canoes and families who make the short journey back and forth to the island. It’s a great way to connect with the communities who share the resources of the lake. After the relatively long distance we paddled yesterday, today, the distance to our destination today is quite short, so we will arrive in time for lunch at the guesthouse. In the afternoon, we’re free to relax; however, we can also go for an optional guided walk around the local village to see how the community farm their fields, rear livestock and find out more about their often difficult way of life.
Alternatively, if you prefer to be back on the water, our guides will take us on a circumnavigation of the nearby Bugarura Island.
Day 9. Rushel Kivu Lodge to Cyimbili Guesthouse
After breakfast in the guesthouse we’ll be soon back on the water, setting off from a small beach. Today our route takes us north along the coast, where as we round the headland, we get the first uninterrupted views of the Virunga volcanoes rising above the blue waters of the lake. On Fridays there is a vibrant local market right next to the water at Nkora, so if we’re there then, we’ll call in to take a look and come away amazed by sights and smells of this fascinating place. Our guides will show us what is safe to eat, so we can buy street food in the market for lunch. Alternatively, for a more traditional option, we’ll arrive into Cyimbili – where the guesthouse is located right next to the water – in time for a late lunch. Our journey will have taken us past many islands where local people grow coffee. So later in the afternoon, local Cyimbili guides will show us how the beans are harvested and then made into a fine cup of Rwandan Coffee. This is a fascinating insight and, after seeing this, a good cup of coffee will remind you of your time in Rwanda for years to come.
Day 10. Cyimbili Guesthouse to Paradis Malahide, Gisenyi
Staying so close to where they grow some of the best coffee in the world, it would be wrong if we didn’t sample some of it. Indeed, our coffee at breakfast is made with some of Rwanda’s finest that is grown on the bushes around the village. And our tea, whilst growing at higher altitudes is Rwanda’s own Mountain Tea. After breakfast at Cyimbili Guesthouse, when the weather is clear, today’s kayaking provides us with the most spectacular sight of the active Nyiragongo volcano just over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo. With steam rising from its crater that contains the world’s largest permanent lava lake, it dominates the skyline ahead of us all day. Swimming is safe in the deep water around many uninhabited small islands– as well as out in the deep water from the kayaks themselves – and is of course a great way to cool off. At about 23°C year round the fresh water is pleasantly cool.
On the way into Gisenyi, as the town’s influence is felt, there are interesting fish farms to explore. Then just before we arrive at our destination, we’ll call into see – and experience – the local hot springs which local people believe to have special ‘healing’ powers. We’ll arrive at the lakeshore hotel, Paradis Malahide in time for a late lunch (and cold drinks). We’ll may stay here, at one of the nearby guesthouses or hotels in Gisenyi for the night, or continue to our next location…