Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu

Rwanda is bordered on the west by Lake Kivu -one of a series of large freshwater lakes along Africa’s Great Rift Valley Region. Lake Kivu forms the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is bordered by steep, terraced slopes with different peaks of 2800 meters or higher. The three most important places along the lake are Gisenyi (also referred to as Rubavu), Kibuye (also referred to as the new name Karongi), and Cyangugu (also known as Rusizi).

Gisenyi is located in the extreme north and is a great city built on several hills. On the banks of the lake are a number of resorts and trendy bars, including the internationally famous Lake Kivu Serena Hotel. Gisenyi is the most crowded place and especially at weekends very popular.

Gisenyi is the closest to Volcanoes National Park by less than an hour’s drive and its 2.5 hours drive from Kigali.  This makes it easy to combine Lake Kivu with gorilla tracking.

Kibuye (Karongi), is located about halfway between the lake and is the best of the three places. It is a city of modest size, spanning attractive hills covered with eucalyptus and pine trees. Most hotels are in great locations on the whimsical, lagoon-like bays of the lake. Kibuye is unlike Gisenyi not as discovered by foreign tourists.

Cyangugu (Rusizi) is an old frontier town near the Democratic Republic of Congo and has no significant hotels of any standard. It is at the southern end of the Lake close to Nyungwe Forest by 45 minutes drive. The places are approximately a 3-4 hour drive from each other.

Top Things to Do at Lake Kivu

Boat cruises on Lake Kivu

From Kibuye (Karongi) you can take boat trips on Lake Kivu to nearby islands: Napoleon Island with its colony of fruit bats and Amahoro Island (aptly known as “One bar island” because all it has on it is one bar).

Relax at the Beach

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 sports options.

Cultural / Historical Visits

It’s also possible to visit Kibuye’s genocide memorial church, with brightly colored stained-glass windows, in a quiet location on a hill above Lake Kivu. Despite a tragic history, it’s a place for peaceful contemplation.

From Gisenyi (Rubavu), you may visit the Imbabazi Orphanage which was founded by American Rosamund Halsey Carr. 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.

Today the Imbabazi Orphanage is dedicated to the continuation and preservation of Roz Carr’s legacy of nurturing and empowering Rwanda’s children and local communities through education, skills training, and income-generating opportunities.

While at the Orphanage, you may explore the garden and have tea served there, and get to experience the Ntore Dance Exhibition.

Birding on Lake Kivu

Kibuye area bird species include the common kestrel, African Pied Wagtail, Tropical Boubou, Common Waxbill, spotted Yellow-throated Greenbul, Speckled Pigeons, Chin-spot Batis, Ashy Flycatcher, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bronzed Sunbirds.

The shores of Lake Kivu have bird species like the Southern Red Bishop, Red-chested sunbirds, Hadada Ibis, Crimson-rumped Waxbill, Scarlet-chested, Spectacled Weaver, Striated Heron, Common Waxbill, Black-headed Heron, Red-billed Firefinch, Little bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Canary, Sacred Ibis, Holub’s Golden Weaver, Variable Sunbird, and the Bronzed Manakin.

Gisenyi area bird species include Bronze Sunbird, Grey-rumped Swallow, Common Bulbul, Spot-flanked Barbet, Red-rumped Swallow, Black Saw-wing, Lesser-striped Swallow, White-browed Robin-chat, Long-tailed Cormorant, Speckled Mousebirds, Grassland Pipit, Olive Pigeons.

Other bird species include, African Black Swift, Angola Swallow, Mosque Swallow, the Black Crake, Common (Rock) Kestrels, swifts, African fish eagles, Yellow-throated Greenbuls, Pin-tailed Whydah,  Black-crowned Waxbills, Holub’s Golden Weaver, and many others.

Where to Stay at Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu Serena Hotel

The hotel comprises of 66 rooms, of which 37 are Standard Rooms and 23 are Family Rooms, with a choice of double or twin beds. 6 Luxury Suites are also available and provide guests with separate living and working rooms. It also offers guests the use of a swimming pool as well as a fitness center.

The best time to visit Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu experiences two wet seasons and two dry seasons. The dry seasons are from June until August and from mid-December through to mid-February, though you can expect some showers in the latter part of the season.

Traveling in the dry months is great for enjoying sunbathing or swimming in the lake. Birders can go exploring to catch sight of many of the 60 avian species that abound here.

The long rains in this region occur from March to May, and especially in April. The short rains fall from September to November and into the beginning of December, bringing a burst of new vegetation that can be breathtakingly beautiful.

The best time to visit Lake Kivu

This largely depends on your preferences and what you plan to do there. However, generally speaking, the dry season, which typically runs from June to September, is often considered the best time to visit. During this period, the weather is generally sunny with lower chances of rain, making it ideal for outdoor activities such as swimming, boating, and hiking around the lake.

Additionally, the dry season usually brings clearer skies, offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding landscapes. Wildlife viewing may also be better during this time, as animals are more active in the drier conditions.

That said, Lake Kivu can be visited year-round. The wet season, which occurs from October to May, brings higher rainfall but also lush greenery and fewer crowds. If you don’t mind occasional showers and enjoy a more verdant environment, visiting during the wet season can still be enjoyable.

Other Rwanda Destinations

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