Destination Kivu Belt

Biking The Congo Nile Trail – Complete Guide

The most popular way to complete the Congo Nile Trail is by bike. Any normally fit individual can complete the entire 280 kms of the Congo Nile Trail from Rubavu to Rusizi in 5 days on a bike at a leisurely pace without pushing themselves too much. Most people who bike the Congo Nile Trail will do so through a tour operator, but it is also possible to complete completely on your own with your own equipment.

The 280-kilometer Congo Nile Trail from Rubavu to Rusizi lets you explore and discover the many delights of Rwanda’s Western Province: Coffee, tea and banana, quiet natural beaches, and amazing views of the beautiful, often dramatic landscape. Along the way, you ride through rural villages, cooperatives invite you to visit community based projects and you get to know the three larger Rwandan towns on the shores of Lake Kivu.

Most of the trail runs on unpaved dirt roads or on thin single tracks. A good mountain bike is necessary to complete the track. Remember that Rwanda is known as the Land of a Thousand Hills for a reason and you will constantly be biking uphill or downhill. There are fully serviced accommodation options along the Congo Nile Trail and good camping facilities should you bring your own tent. 

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 1, Rubavu – Kinunu

Distance: 36.5km – Elevation: Uphill ~1300m – Effective Riding: 4h

This first biking stage of the Congo Nile Trail begins some 7km south of Rubavu (formerly Gisenyi) in near the Braliwra Brewery. From the starting point after the Bralirwa Brewery, you ride overland to the agricultural village of Rwinyoni. Early birds enjoy the sunrise lighting up the lake shores.

The next village is Nkora Fishing Village where you may see fishermen returning from the traditional overnight fishing and children playing in the lake.

 The trail then leads through coffee and banana plantations to Kinunu from where accommodation on the shores of Lake Kivu is available.

Accommodation: Kinunu Guest House or Rushel Kivu lodge

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 2 Kinunu – Bumba

Distance: 28.5km – Elevation: Uphill ~1250m – Effective Riding: 3h

 A wonderful ride on the shores and hills above Lake Kivu, interacting with the local communities and enjoying the scenic views, you pass a coffee washing station before you reach Musasa where you can have lunch at Musasa Homestay which offers meals to bikers and hikers. Bike through the scenic Coko Valley renowned for its yams. In the valley the trail continues next to the Coko River. A steep climb on the far edge of the valley takes you up to Bumba and the Congo Nile Center makes you sweat as you conclude the day.

 Accommodation: Bumba Base Camp or Dian Fossey Hotel Rutsiro

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 3 Bumba – Karongi (Difficult via Mukura Forest)

Distance 61.3km – Elevation: Uphill ~1700m, – Effective Riding : 7h

This is the more challenging stage between Bumba and Karongi as it passes uphill all the way to Mukura Forest. An early departure is highly recommended as the stage is long. At the beginning of your ride – while still fresh – visit Mary Mother of the Poor, the impressive church whose bishop Aloys Bigirumwami is also a pioneer and writer on the Congo Nile Divide.

 From the Carvary hill of the Parish, a dirt road takes you on a climb through the tea plantations of the Rutsiro Tea Company. At the turn-off to the tea factory, you have already reached an elevation of almost 2450 m.

A series of descents to cross rivers, and ascents to climb out of the deep valleys, makes you reach the Continental Divide which gives the Congo Nile Trail its name. At an elevation of 2600 m you have a wonderful view of the valleys to the east which drain into the Nile River and those to the West which drain into the Congo River

Straddling the Divide is Mukura Forest, a part of the new, Gishwati-Mukura National Park. A long descent through Mukura Center and past the Ntaruko Waterfall makes you reach the Muhanga-Karongi main road in Rwimpiri.

 Rather than descending on the main road, the trail takes you through the irrigated lands of the Kwiperu community to Rubengera and – for some 2 km on tarmac – to Ryanyirakabano Center.

 Turn sharp left to join the alternative trail coming from Sure for the final 16 kilometers to Karongi.

Head towards Kibirizi, a small town with a large market and shops. From there, the trail descends to cross Musogoro River and climb along the northern flanks of the impressive Sakinnyaga mountain chain to reach Matyazo Center.

Lake Kivu welcomes you as you ride around the tip of Sakinnyaga. A 5km ride on the main road brings you to Karongi town – still referenced mostly by its old name Kibuye.

Accommodation: Karongi town offers different option for accommodation ranging from small guest houses to big hotels.

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 3 Bumba – Karongi (Easy via Sure)

Distance 31.2km – Elevation: Uphill ~800m – Effective Riding: 3.5h

This is the less demanding route to Karongi from Bumba. This stage of the Congo Nile Trail this beautiful alternative makes up for by-passing the Congo Nile Divide by bringing you much closer to the farming communities.

 Descend to Sure on a different track than the one you used on  the prvious day to climb to Bumba. Continue through banana plantations to the sandy valley of Musaho.

 Cross Muregeya River on a suspension bridge and climb gently out of the Valley up to the main road at Ryanyirakabano.

 Bend right to join the main trail coming down from the Congo Nile Divide and Mukura Forest for the final 16 kilometers to Karongi.

Head towards Kibirizi, a small town with a large market and shops. From there, the trail descends to cross Musogoro River and climb along the northern flanks of the impressive Sakinnyaga mountain chain to reach Matyazo Center.

Lake Kivu welcomes you as you ride around the tip of Sakinnyaga. A 5km ride on the main road brings you to Karongi town – still referenced mostly by its old name Kibuye.

Accommodation: Karongi town offers different option for accommodation ranging from small guest houses to big hotels.

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 4 Karongi (Kibuye) – Gisovu

Distance: 29.5km – Elevation: Uphill~ 1375m – Effective Riding: 4-5h

 Start at the roundabout in Karongi Town for the longest continuous ascent of the entire trail. See beautiful Lake Kivu behind as you climb on the dirt road.

Tea plantations and fresh breezes announce you are getting close to the end of the climb on top of Mount Karongi. Bearing right through alternating rocky descents and slit ascents the trail carries you into the heart Gisovu, one of the most famous and largest tea estates in Rwanda.

Accommodation is available some 6-9km further towards the Source of the Nile. Set in a serene paradise of tea and with sunbirds fluttering in the crisp atmosphere, the Guest House of the Gisovu Tea Eactory receives visitors for an unforgettable stay while the guest house of the Catholic Church in Twumba has rooms for budget-minded riders.

Accommodation: Gisovu Tea Eactory or Twumba Catholic Church

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 5 Gisovu – Mugonero

Distance: 11.5km – Elevation: Downhill ~675m (Uphill ~100m) – Effective Riding: 1h

After four days with much climbing, the 5th day is 95% downhill. Enjoy the long descent to Mugonero through forests and community farms. Refreshing winds blow from Lake Kivu and shade is provided by eucalyptus, pine and fruit trees.

 This short stage ends in Mugonero at the tarmac road.

Accommodation: L’ Esperance Orphanage Mugonero or Kivu Lodge(+8km)

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 6 Mugonero -Tyazo

Distance: 56.6km – Elevation: Uphill ~1800m – Effective Riding: 6h

Start day six by choosing between a boat ride from Kivu Lodge to Ku Rukunda or a thrilling downhill on tarmac around the famous Dawurimwijuru corner.

Whichever way you choose, you reach Dukoni center, from where you continue your ride through banana farms to descend to the rice fields in the estuary of Gisuma river. Then, the trail climbs to Muhombori and Mukamina, and brings you – via Mu Gakoma – back to the Lake for a beautiful stretch along the shores.

A rocky climb takes you to the main road in Ryadomori. 9km on tarmac to Kadehero let you relax and catch your breath, before looping again on dirt roads and single trails through hills and across community made bridges to arrive in Tyazo.

Accommodation: Plan A Motel, Tyazo Guest House or Ishara Beach Hotel 5.5 kms further

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 7 Tyazo – Kigaga

Distance: 34.2km – Elevation: Uphill ~1175m – Effective Riding: 4-5h

A good ascent to a center called “Kigali kwa Sebujangwe” will warm you up for the pleasant descent to Kinini back on the main road.

Decide in Kinini, if you want to bear left to climb to Gisakura to visit Nyungwe Forest (8.8km), or continue on the main trail to Kigaga.

For Kigaga, continue on the other side of the main road through a stretch of villages to eventually descend into a wide valley. Crossing the rivers, you arrive at the so called “Olympic climb” – a very short, super steep climb, challenging even for Tour of Rwanda riders.

A series of descents and ascents will take you to Bushenge market, where a stop for refreshment is recommended. The last portion of this stage to Kigaga is mostly flat or downhill.

It is here on the shores of the Lake Kivu, the first German Post was founded in 1896 by Captain Berthe. Richard Kandt settled here and called the post “Bergfrieden”, after having discovered in 1898 what he then believed is Caput Nili, the Source of the Nile.

Accommodation is available at the Shangi St. Martin Parish. Alternatively you may push on with Stage 8 to reach Kamembe on the same day.

Accommodation: St. Martin Parish

Biking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 8: Kigaga – Kamembe

Distance: 20.2km – Elevation: Uphill ~475m – Effective Riding: 2.5h

Without too much elevation to gain, this short last stage of the trail ends your ride on a relaxing note. Descend to the beautiful rice fields in Cyunu Valley. Crossing the bridge, you arrive in Rusizi, the last of the five Districts you visit on this trail. As in Eastern DRC, you see villages (Nkaka and Gihundwe) with wooden houses lining the road.

The Congo Nile trail ends in the middle of busy Kamembe Town, where accommodation in all categories and transportation back to Kigali is available.

Kamembe, formerly known as Cyangugu, always played important role in Rwandan History. Today the border post down at Rusizi River sees a bustling exchange with Bukavu.

Accommodation: The town offers different option for accommodation ranging from small guest houses to big hotels.

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