Destination Kivu Belt

Lake Kivu, the perfect getaway off the beaten path

Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is one of the great lakes of Africa and stretches across the entire western Rwanda in the Kivu Belt Region. Lake Kivu stands out in several ways from other African Lakes. It is not only the deepest in Africa at 480 meters it is also completely safe. Lake Kivu has very clean and clear water and no crocodiles, hippos or other dangerous animals can be found. Neither does Lake Kivu contain bilharzia, a parasite commonly found in the tropics. This makes the lake completely safe and you will find many nice beaches perfect for swimming along its shores. Even though Lake Kivu is a popular destination in Rwanda it is still out of reach of international tour operators and mass tourism. 

Lake Kivu, still undiscovered by mass tourism

Lake Kivu is still a rather unexplored destination far away from the masses of other similar places. This makes the lake’s beaches, resorts and islands rather calm. Finding a quiet spot on one of the lakes beaches is still not a problem. This is bound to change rather soon. Rwanda is one of the world’s fastest developing countries with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Tourism in Rwanda is fast diversifying beyond the mountain gorillas. The shores of lake Kivu are seeing a range of investments in both infrastructure and new resorts. The newly built Mantis Kivu Marina Bay Hotel in Rusizi, new expansion of Kinunu Guest House, and elegant Cormoran Lodge in Karongi are all examples of this. The Rwandan Government are also investing in a new series of ports in Lake Kivu. The ports will make passenger travel by boat on Lake Kivu more available as passenger ferries are planned to travel between Rusizi and Rubavu once the ports are ready. 

Lake Kivu
Sunset Boat Ride on Lake Kivu

Islands to Explore

A Rwanda is a mountainous country known for its thousands of hills, these have formed many islands which are scattered across Lake Kivu. Many of these islands make for interesting places to visit. The town of Karongi is specifically known for its own archipelago of islands. There are specifically three islands outside Karongi which makes for interesting places to visit. Napoleon Island, perhaps the most well known island in Lake Kivu, is known for its colony of straw-colored fruit bats, listed as nearly threatened and found in the IUCN red list. The bats form a colony numbering in their thousands and spend their day resting in the trees on the island. Another island outside Karongi is Monkey island. Monkey island is one of the few islands on Lake Kivu where monkeys can be found. A group of vervet monkeys inhabit the island and which makes for an interesting visit. Peace Island is another popular island of Karongi. This island has a rich bird life, but is mostly known for the phenomenon of swimming cows. At times, farmers let their cows swim to this island which is used for grazing.  A visit to one of the islands near Karongi can easily be arranged by a local dugout canoe or organized as a tour by a proper boat company.

Another island which is worth a visit is Bugarura Island This island has a thriving farming community living on the island. As these islanders have everything they need on the islands, they very seldomly leave. Times have very much stood still on the island and the traditional life is very alive. A visit to Bugarura Island is only a short boatride across the waters of Lake Kivu and can easily be organized by the nearby Rushel Lodge or Kinunu Guesthouse.

A few kilometres south of Rubavu along the Lake Kivu shoreline, you will find Akeza Island. Akeza island is a private island which belongs to the lodge Paradise Malahide. Akeuza Island is only a few hundred metres of the shores and can easily be reached by a short Boatride. On the small island you will find nice sandy beaches, a well trimmed lawn and a beach bar. You are welcome to visit the island where lunch can be organized by the lodge and fresh drinks served from the bar. The island has no accommodation, but camping is allowed. 

Lake Kivu Napoleon Island
Lake Kivu Napoleon Island

Activities on Lake Kivu

Canoeing and kayaking on is very popular on Lake Kivu and you will find many companies offering to rent or guide you in a canoe or kayak. Canoeing or kayaking can be done over a day or a as a full package for several days. Several tour companies offer multi-day canoeing trips on Lake Kivu. Kingfisher Journeys have several kayaking and canoeing offers on Lake Kivu. Another operator based in Rubavu who offer Kayaking trips is Green Hills Eco Tours. For kayaking and canoeing in Karongi or Rusizi, this can easily be arranged through one of the resorts near the lake.

There are many interesting tours on and around Lake Kivu. There are especially two experiences which stand out and which can be organized from any part of the lake. A normal boat tour can be found anywhere on Lake Kivu. All tour boats on Lake Kivu look pretty much the same and are generally in good condition. They are thin, wooden boats with a thin roof and have padded seats accommodating up to ten people. They are generally operated by a 15hp outboard motor by a captain who sits at the back. The tour will differ depending on where on the lake you are. Don’t expect anything extraordinary, as most Rwandans will be happy to just be on a boat and taking selfies from the boat is the main reason of the tour as for many this is the first time in a boat. A normal boat tour in Rubavu will take you along the shores to the hot spring a few kilometers from the city center and past one of the islands where coffee and tea is grown. A boat tour in Karongi will usually take you to Napoleon Island and have the options of stopping at Peace Island and Monkey Island. A boat tour in Rusizi will take you to the large and inhabited Nkombo Island and the uninhabited Gisimba Island.

Boat on Lake Kivu
Boat on Lake Kivu

Night Fishing Experience

One of the best and most genuine experiences on Lake Kivu and perhaps in entire Rwanda is the night fishing experience which is a must-do when visiting the lake. Every evening, fishermen paddle out in traditional boats on Lake Kivu, to catch sambaza, the small sardine-like fish eaten in abundance around the lake. As the fishermen paddle they sing traditional songs in a forgotten language. Once out on the lake, the fishermen light oil lanterns which attract the fish. The fish are then hauled in using traditional nets. During the night fishing experience, you will accompany the fishermen out onto the waters of Lake Kivu for a night of fishing. The experience can either be organized directly through one of the fishing cooperatives or through a tour company such as Green Hills Ecotours or Ikaze Rwanda Tours. If arranged directly with the fishing cooperative, the experience is probably be quite genuine and you will need to be prepared to spend a night on the small boat with the fishermen. If organized through a professional tour operator, the tour can include an accompanying tour boat where you can enjoy dinner and drinks while waiting for the fish and to take you back to your hotel after a few hours with the fishermen. 

Lake Kivu Night Fishing
Lake Kivu Night Fishing

The famous Isambaza from Lake Kivu

Unlike other lakes in the Rift Valley such as Lake Malawi or Lake Tanganyika, Lake Kivu lacks the biodiversity and especially the amount of different tropical cichlids that can be found in the other lakes. According a study from 2012 by Belgian Scientist Jos Snoeks, only 29 species were found in Lake Kivu. Out of these 29, 10 are cichlids and 15 of them are endemic and can only be found in Lake Kivu. 2 fish species have been introduced in Lake Kivu. These are tilapia, a large fish normally found on the menu near the lake, and Sambaza, a small fish normally eaten dried and fried. There are no modern fishing fleets on Lake Kivu and all fish are caught by hand using traditional methods. 

Lake Kivu
Sambaza or Taganyika Sardine a delicacy from Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu, perfect weekend or way to end a safari

Lake Kivu is the perfect way to end a safari in Rwanda or as a getaway destination for a weekend. Most people stay in on of the larger towns along the lake shore or in a resort further away from any residential areas such as Rushel Kivu Lodge or Kinunu Guest House in Kinunu.

For those who are tired of competing for space with hordes of package tour guests Rwanda’s Lake Kivu is the perfect place to rest and enjoy a different, more genuine experience in the heart of Africa.  

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