Destination Kivu Belt

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail – The Complete Guide

The Congo Nile Hiking Trail is one of the most iconic hiking trails in Rwanda. The trail is popular with both cyclists and hikers, traversing rain forests, bracken fields and bamboo forests. The entire Congo Nile Trail passes along the hills of Lake Kivu with magnificent views from the hiking trail of Lake Kivu and the rolling Rwandan hills. The Congo Nile trail takes 10 days to complete on foot combined with two short boat rides. It is possible to hike each single section or the entire trail, which is the longest trail for hiking in Rwanda. The hiking trail follows mainly the footpaths of the local people and is a wonderful way to soak up daily Rwandan life in traditional villages, very close to nature and experience Rwanda up-close.

With interesting community-based tourism activities, coffee-washing stations, tea plantations, big towns, dozens of villages, and innumerable beaches, coves, waterfalls, valleys and vistas, the winding path of the Congo Nile Hiking Trail offers some of the finest hiking in Rwanda and perhaps to be had anywhere in east and central Africa. Winding its way along the fringes of the lake via the peaks of Rwanda’s green hills, the Congo-Nile Trail as challenging as it is rewarding. With a peak elevation of 2,630m, like most hiking in Rwanda, it’s a serious workout to boot.

There are camp sites along the trail or guest houses in the towns for those after a bit more comfort. Refreshments are available along the route supplied by small shops. Active hikers can discover the coastal waters on kayaking tours and boat rides and visit the many islands of Lake Kivu. The Congo Nile Trail can be trekked from both directions (North to South/ South to North). Hikers are advised to book ahead for accommodation facilities and /or meals

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 1, Rubavu – Cyimbiri

Starting point: BRALIRWA Brewery Ltd.
Duration: 5 hours
Length: 16.5 km

The 16.5 km stage of the Congo Nile Trail starts from Rubavu, the largest beach town of Rwanda. The town has a range of accommodations from budget guest houses to four-star accommodation. Stage one ends at Cyimbiri Guest House located on the shores of Lake Kivu and surrounded mainly by coffee estates and other green plantations. In the middle of this stage, you can choose to do different community-based activities from traditional pottery, traditional healing and music to coffee and tea experiences.

Accommodation: Cyimbiri Guest House with possibility to camp or rent one of the apartments.

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 2, Cyimbiri – Kinunu

Starting point: Cyimbiri Guest House
Duration: 4 hours
Length: 13.4 km

The second stage of the Congo Nile Trail passes near or along Lake Kivu and offers some of the most varied hiking in Rwanda. The 13.4 from Cyimbiri to Kinunu passes through small villages and harbours. This stage of the Congo Nile Trail starts with the traditional healing trail and continues with the charming views of the amazing landscapes and coffee plantations of Kinunu. In the middle of this stage, hikers have opportunities to experience some community-based tourism products including the beekeeping experience, coffee experience as well as handcrafting experiences with a local women cooperative.

Accommodation: Kinunu Guest House or Rushel Kivu lodge

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 3, Kinunu – Bumba

Starting point: Kinunu Center
Duration: 7 hours
Length: 24 km

This challenging but walkable stage of the Congo Nile Trail gives hikers an opportunity to walk around rolling hills and have a great view of the clear water of the Lake Kivu with some of the best views of hiking in Rwanda. Different agro-tourism activities are available for those who prefer to spend some time with the local communities in their daily activities. The hiking trail is high above Lake Kivu providing amazing views of the lake and the Koko-River Valley. This stage of the Congo Nile Trail has has some steep and challenging hikes.

Accommodation: Bumba Base Camp or Dian Fossey Hotel Rutsiro

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 4 Bumba – Karongi

Starting point: Bumba Base Camp
Duration: 5 hours
Length: 15.9 km

This 15.9 km is the last stage of the northern part of the Congo-Nile Hiking Trail from Bumba to Karongi Town. Karongi is one of the most unique places for hiking in Rwanda as it has numerous of bays and islands. Before entering the calm town of Karongi, hikers take a short boat trip to Home Saint Jean, one of the many of accommodation options available in Karongi. One of the most iconic experiences in Rwanda is the Night Fishing Experience which we advise you to do during your stay in Karongi. There are also other community-based activities including the swimming cows, sorghum beer making and silkworms’ experiences as well as boat rides to different hilly islands available in Lake Kivu. Cross Muregeya-River on the suspension bridge, then follow small the footpaths of the local people up and down over some hills, down to the lake and up again. Pass banana forests and the rich diversity of landscapes.

Observe! This stage requires a boat passage across the bay just before arriving at Home St. Jean which must be booked/announced in advance. Your local guide or the previous accommodation can help you book.

 

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

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 5, Karongi – Mugonero

Starting point: Karongi Hospital roundabout
Duration: 6 hours
Length: 19.6 km

This 19.6 km stage of the Congo Nile Trail gives remarkable views of Lake Kivu and its beautiful islands. From this stretch of the Congo Nile Trail, you can see the fascinating Kivu Belt Road twisting on the shores of Lake Kivu a unique sight while hiking in Rwanda. The stage ends at Mugonero Orphanage, which also offers accommodation.

For those who like to challenge themselves and want to extend their hiking in Rwanda for a few extra days, there is the possibility to make a detour and to hike up Mount Karongi to the Gisovu Tea plantations. This hiking trail continues up to Nyungwe National Park or you can re-join the Congo-Nile Hiking Trail the next day. Gisovu offers accommodation facility and tea experience in the middle of the tea plantations.

Accommodation: L’ Esperance Orphanage Mugonero

Congo Nile Trail, Hiking Stage 6, Mugonero – Karengera

Starting point: L’Esperance Mugonero
Duration: 7 hours
Length: 22.5 km

This long but amazing stage of the Congo Nile Trail of 22.5 km offers you beautiful footpaths through hills, valleys and fields. There are several viewpoints to the Lake Kivu and the Kivu Belt road. The hike ends at Karengera High School. The start of this stage is a bit different than other hiking in Rwanda as it starts with a boat trip across Mugonero Bay, climb up small paths to a hill 1,800m high (350m above lake level) overlooking the lake, pass a valley with rice fields, follow a long and small valley framed by steep hills before climbing up through fields and small forests to Karengera.

Observe! There is one boat passage across Mugonero Bay which must be booked/announced in advance. Your local guide or the previous accommodation can help you book.

Accommodation: Karengera High School

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 7, Karengera – Kumbya

Starting point: Karengera High School
Duration: 4 hours
Length: 14.7 km

From Karengera, the 7th stage of the Congo Nile Trail of 14.7 km goes mainly through rice fields. This stage leads you to Kumbya, a hidden gem. This is one of the most serene of all hiking in Rwanda  to the lovely, serene and peaceful retreat center on a little peninsula on Lake Kivu secluded away from the rest of Rwanda. This peninsula with a small forest of native trees is a birder’s paradise and offers two options for accommodation on the shores of the lake, either inside the retreat center or at the Kumbya Kivu Life Eco Lodge. Cross the rice fields of Kilimbi-River on small dams, jump over small ditches, watch the herons on the fields and the monkeys near Kumbya.

Accommodation: Kumbya Retreat Centre or Kumbya Kivu Life Eco lodge

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 8, Kumbya – Ishara

Starting point: Kumbya peninsula entrance
Duration: 3 hours
Length: 13 km

This 13 km of the Congo Nile Trail starts with a very beautiful footpath along the banks of the lake, continues through several villages where you come across charming smiles and greetings from the rural communities along the trail. The end of this stage is quite unique compared to other hiking in Rwanda as it ends with a walk through the rice fields of Kamiranzovu Valley. Ishara Beach Hotel in Nyamasheke is the main accommodation after this stage. However, one can choose to stay in other available guest houses in Nyamasheke. The trail follows the path on the shores of Karundura River.

Accommodation: Ishara Beach Hotel in Nyamasheke or Guest houses available in Nyamasheke Town

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 9, Ishara – Shangi ​

Starting point: Ishara Beach Hotel
Duration: 7 hours
Length: 24 km

Laying very close to Lake Kivu and surrounded by nature, this 24 km stage of the Congo Nile Trail is also a great trek through beautiful vegetations, including forests of eucalyptus trees. The stage of the Congo Nile Trail is mainly on narrow footpaths passing through villages and fields. This is one of the few trails for hiking in Rwanda which also offers astonishing lake views with long passages on the coastal path of Lake Kivu. The stage ends at Shangi Catholic Church where you can stay at St. Martin Parish in the priests ‘compound. In Shangi, you can visit one of the historical landmarks “Richard Kandt House”. For more info about this German explorer and first colonial governor of Rwanda, please download the Richard Kandt Trail App.

Accommodation: St. Martin Parish

Hiking the Congo Nile Trail, Stage 10, Shangi – Kamembe

Starting point: Shangi Catholic Church
Duration: 5 hours
Length: 18.3 km

The last stage of the Congo Nile Trail stretches for 18.3 km from Shangi to Kamembe Town in Rusizi District. Rusizi is the largest town on the shores of the lake Kivu and only approximately an hour drive from Nyungwe National Park and home to Kamembe Airport, one of the two current operating Airports in Rwanda. The town offers different option for accommodation ranging from small guest houses to big hotels. There are many options for community-based tourism activities including night fishing, boat rides to the inhabited islands and other cultural experiences.

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

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