Being the Rwanda’s largest lake and the sixth in Africa, Lake Kivu dominates the border between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Karongi (also known as Kibuye) lies on the middle part of Lake Kivu's shores and is accessible from both the northern edge of the lake (Gisenyi) and the southern edge (Cyangugu), but a drive from Kigali, passing through Kamonyi, Muhanga, and Ngororero, has itself a unique experience to offer. Going there, you ought to drive with windows rolled down to eyewitness the 'behind the scenes' of Rwanda's nickname “The Land of Thousand Hills”.
I am just talking about my 2017 kick off trip, from Kigali to Karongi, sharing a drive with the squad behind books that keep children's faces lightened up, Bakame Editions' team. Our primary destination was the Museum of Environment which is located on the shore of Lake Kivu, but along the way, we couldn’t resist accommodating ad-hoc stopovers as some places are truly worth it, especially when your camera eye is very sensitive to scenic views. With the road curving back and forth weaving through mountains, the drive would have been so tiring unless we were kept entertained by the impressive view of beautiful trees, rocks, hills, and houses lining the road.
Between Muhanga and Ngororero, a stopover at Nyabarongo river is worth your time.
As you drive ahead, a stopover at ‘Ndaba’s Rock” for a storytelling session is highly recommended.
The waterfall at Ndaba's Rock
Byukusenge is there to tell you the story of ‘Ndaba’s Rock’ in Kinyarwanda, English, and French, playing along his iningiri tuneful sound.
At Karongi, standing in front of the Museum of Environment, you can take photos of the crystal clear deep blue water of Lake Kivu, but you better visit the museum and go to the lake after.
At the Museum of Environment, experienced guides help you touring the museum and explain everything you need to know about different types of energy and their effects on the environment. Afterwards you walk upstairs to tour the beautiful garden of numerous medicinal plants labelled with their names and uses. I was happy to find some rare plants I used to see in my home village when I was a small child. Before you drive out of the museum premises, don't forget to buy some souvenir items at the showroom beside the reception.
The Museum of Environment at Karongi. (A written permission from the Institute of National Museums of Rwanda is required for any visitor to take photos inside the museum).
After touring the museum, you can have lunch at one of the nearest hotels located at the shore of Lake Kivu such as Golf Eden Rock Hotel, Centre Bethanie, and more.
Driving from the Museum of Environment to Centre Betanie, you pass through a small forest with beautiful trees, and from there you have the stunning view of islands with a uniquely beautiful flora in the middle of the lake.
At the lake, there is a variety of fun activities like water sports, paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming, jet-skiing, and more, but we are going for a water tour visiting a number of islands found in the middle of Lake Kivu.
At Centre Betanie, we took a boat and sailed to ‘Napoleon Island’. It was named so following its shape which is similar to the Napoleon’s hat famously known as 'Bicorne’. At the island, there are rare beautiful trees that harbor thousands of bats. Touring the island you need to alert bats that you are around so that they entertain you with their thrilling parade.
Trees at Napoleon Island reflected on the water of Lake Kivu.
It takes more than 30 minutes to walk up to the top of Napoleon Island.
Bats' parade at Napoleon Island.
From Napoleon Island, we sailed to ‘Inyenyeri Island’ which is occupied by a single vervet monkey. Before you set your foot on the land, the vervet monkey comes on the boat to welcome you in his kingdom.
Next, we visited ‘Amahoro Island’ before we sail back to ‘Centre Betanie’ passing by the side of other small islands where cattle were busy grazing courageously paying no attention to us.
The view of ‘Centre Betanie’ as you sail back from Amahoro Island.
Like other sides of Lake Kivu, when you go to Kibuye, don’t forget to taste on the ‘isambaza’ in local restaurants.