Congo Nile Trail /Rwanda/ — With Regularly Updated Expert Advice

LATEST NEWS (JULY 2022):

• Some bridges are damaged, making it challenging for a support vehicle to follow hikers on the Northern Congo Nile Trail. The river at Nkora is even difficult for bicycles to cross — but it is doable!

• The signposted road connecting Karongi/Kibuye to Gisovu is in a bad condition and should be avoided when travelling by car.

Unlike the Gorilla Highlands Trails in Uganda and Rwanda, the Congo Nile Trail on the Rwandan coast of Lake Kivu is abundantly signposted. Not only that, it has accommodation and other solutions specifically created to facilitate independent exploration.

We update this page as a public service for anyone interested, however, we do believe you will have a better experience if we get you a guide. We have two specialists on our team —  César Niyonkuru, a hiking expert, and Olivier Tuyisenge, a cycling guide featured in “Slow Travel” (3 op Reis/ BNNVARA).

You are invited to select a 30-minute slot for a video call to ask any questions and learn how we can:

• solve any guiding, transport and accommodation needs you might have before, during or after your trip on the Congo Nile Trail — wanna book a bicycle, motorcycle or a car?
• remotely support you via WhatsApp
• connect you with providers of extraordinary cultural and other experiences on the Congo Nile Trail — and elsewhere in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo!
• organise for you a DR Congo boat cruise between the cities of Bukavu and Goma, completing a wondrous Lake Kivu loop
• take you hiking or cycling towards Uganda, tapping into the Gorilla Highlands Trails system


General Information

The Congo Nile watershed (the divide between the drainage basins of Africa’s two great rivers) has given a name to an extraordinary 10-day hiking adventure. It covers the 227 km/ 141 miles between the very north and the very south of the Rwandan coast of Lake Kivu.

The Trail has well-established overnight options (place names on the map below) wherever darkness is likely to find you. More information about each of them is provided in the Itineraries section.

Some notes concerning the Congo Nile Trail:

  • it is not true that hiking on the Congo Nile Trail from Karongi/Kibuye to Rusizi/Cyangugu has lost its attractiveness because of tarmac; new paths have been developed
  • camping in your own tent is possible everywhere but at Musasa Homestay
  • the Rubavu/Gisenyi – Karongi/Kibuye part can be done with a 4×4 vehicle or a motorbike 
  • the (R) symbol on the map means that the walking path includes river crossings that become tricky in the rainy season

You are invited to listen to frequently asked questions being answered in our podcast:

 

Itineraries — Northern Congo Nile Trail

These itineraries were written to assist both a solo traveller and a package guest in getting and idea of what is happening every day.

If you don’t feel like budgeting for different expenditures and figuring out the details, we can offer you a complete solution as well — let’s get virtually together and talk.

photo: César Niyonkuru

DAY 1 🥾/🚲 (Rubavu/Gisenyi — Cyimbiri)

You will leave Rubavu/Gisenyi on the Kinunu main trail that leads past Rwanda’s biggest brewery. A methane plant construction site will follow, a grand project to convert Lake Kivu’s gas into energy. That will be the end of modern developments and the beginning of real lake village life. The route will keep you on the lakeshore the whole day, and you will be running into many fishing boats parked lakeside awaiting their night duties.

photo: Marcus Westberg


The first Congo Nile Trail base camp is a church-built guesthouse on the sand beach of Cyimbiri. A local cultural group will demonstrate their herbalist knowledge together with dances and songs. Would you fancy a massage of your tired feet with the special grass they have in store?

base camp location: Cyimbiri
distance from Rubavu/Gisenyi: 18 km/11.2 mi
special attractions: traditional healing and dancing
unique transport solutions: public boat back to Rubavu/Gisenyi
accommodation prices (in RWF): single 12,000; twin/double 20,000
meal prices (in RWF): dinner buffet 5,000; breakfast 3,000

DAY 2 🥾/🚲 (Cyimbiri — Kinunu)

With a series of islands on your right you will continue hiking or cycling on the shores of Lake Kivu. In the fishing village of Nkora, boats are being repaired using scrap materials, but more importantly for the Congo Nile Trail folks, Mama Nelly is refreshing travellers with her tasty local cooking — and she’ll serve you breakfast.

photo: Miha Logar

You’ll pass a small fishing market, Maziba, and continue through some coffee plantations on the path to the second base camp in Kinunu. This is where one can see the whole process of coffee growing, from seedlings to processing. You can, of course, also taste the product and buy yourselves some packaged coffee.

base camp location: Kinunu
distance from Cyimbiri: 14 km/8.7 mi
special attractions: bee keeping in Rugamba (on the way to Kinunu), one of the few populated islands nearby, Bugarura
unique transport solutions: public boat back to Rubavu/Gisenyi
accommodation prices (in RWF): single 30,000 B&B; double 35,000 B&B; twin 45,000 B&B — these are the charges of Kinungu Guesthouse (pictured) but there is also a more upmarket option, Rushel Kivu Resort
meal prices (in RWF): dinner on order

DAY 3 🥾/🚲 (Kinunu — Bumba)

A looooong day, and your last lakeshore fun! You will cross River Koko where big boats from Rusizi collect sand for the cement factories at the southern tip of Lake Kivu. There’s a guesthouse in Musasa …

base camp location: Musasa
distance from Kinunu: 15 km/9.3 mi
special attractions: suitable for those who can’t make it to Bumba
unique transport solutions: /
accommodation prices (in RWF): 10,000 per person — the rooms are few and there is no campsite
meal prices (in RWF): on order

… but aren’t you too strong to end the day that soon? Instead, you may climb the big hill to Bumba, the third base camp. A lucky traveller will get to observe youngsters playing football on an idyllic pitch under the mountain.

photo: Miha Logar

Bumba is another basic place but the stupendous views are something else! You will be able to admire the the bay of Kibuye/Karongi, and plot new adventures as this one is about to end …

base camp location: Bumba
distance from Kinunu: 27 km/17 mi
special attractions: the start of a newly discovered and therefore not signposted path to Kibuye that includes crossing by boat
accommodation and meal prices (in RWF): low-price options at the base camp at 15,000/20,000; more comfort available at Diana Fossey Rutsiro hotel
meal prices (in RWF): dinner 5,000; breakfast 4,000

DAY 4 🥾/🚲 (Bumba — Karongi/Kibuye)

On the last morning, a hiker will make it down to the lake level and take a motorboat straight to the town of Kibuye/Karongi. A cyclist, on the other hand, has no other choice but to hit the tarmac and begin an exhilarating descent!

Among the many offers of Kibuye, most travellers opt for Home St Jean. This spacious Catholic hostel is built on a peninsula not far from the centre of the town. The church next to it is one of Rwanda’s genocide memorials; decades ago it was a tragic hideout for people being chased by the machete-wielding mob. You are invited to contemplate the country’s remarkable turnaround as you take a stroll on the smooth road to the pier …

base camp location: Karongi/Kibuye
distance from Bumba: 17 km/10.5 mi
special attractions: the only Museum of the Environment in Africa, motorboat trips to several islands
unique transport solutions: a hub, regular public transport to any direction
accommodation and meal prices (in RWF): solutions for all budgets at numerous hotels — we have Home St Jean pictured as it tends to be the most popular option

You are reading one of the six hiking itineraries covering Rwanda and Uganda. Click for an overview of treks or check out the tour examples.

Itineraries — Southern Congo Nile Trail

When the Congo Nile Trail was inaugurated in 2009, there was no tarmac between Rubavu and Rusizi. A highway now connects the two extreme ends of Lake Kivu, and while it didn’t affect the northern leg much, it radically changed the southern part of the Trail. A traveller on a mountain bike needs to follow the motorway but for walkers new paths have been developed. Our itinerary is spelled out for hikers. Cyclists do it in three days, usually sleeping only at Mugonero and Nyamasheke — the Gisovu subtrail (see the box) offers a grand alternative.

DAY 1 🥾 (Karongi/Kibuye — Mugonero)

You will leave the streets of Kibuye and walk on the dirt road under Mt Karongi. As you approach the beautiful waterfall of Buhari there is a grand view of Lake Kivu and the highway (see below).

photo: César Niyonkuru

Through the village of Mubuga you will eventually proceed towards Mugonero. Here, a former orphanage offers rustic but colourful rooms for the night.

base camp location: Mugonero
distance from Karongi/Kibuye: 21 km/13 mi
special attractions: nearby sorghum experience
unique transport solutions: walking distance from public transport
accommodation prices (in RWF): 15,000 per person at the base camp — but you can also get fancy at Kivu Lodge
meal prices (in RWF): dinner 5,000, breakfast 3,000

THE GISOVU SUB-TRAIL ALTERNATIVE

Instead of sleeping in Mugonero, a cyclist or a hiker can proceed over Mt Kabuye and past the the Kiziba Refugee Camp, a huge settlement built for the Congolese two decades ago. You will end up at the Gisovu Tea Estate and spend the night there. This is one of the most gorgeous places in Rwanda, with tea extending in all directions around the company’s guesthouse. Almost 60 years after tea growing was introduced to Rwanda, Gisovu’s green cultivated hills are truly a sight to behold … It’s also fascinating to see the complicated machinery involved in the factory that lies at the plantation centre.

The trek can then continue to the outer edges of Nyungwe National Park, through forests that could even offer some primate viewing. Just don’t expect the park’s famous chimpanzees — in this part of Nyungwe they are a rare sight. It can be arranged to camp on the football pitch near the woods.

On the third day you rejoin the main trail at Kumbya. The substantial downhill hike can be spiced up with a traditional meal hosted by a local family (an experience we developed for a Dutch TV crew in 2020).

photo: Marcus Westberg

DAY 2 🥾 (Mugonero — Karengera)

You will trek through a hilly landscape involving plentiful sweat and gorgeous vistas. A rice plantation crossing will add to your visual pleasures. One part of the hike is done by motorboat.

In addition to this official new route that is very pretty and very hard, our team has found an easier path. You will get a view of Nyungwe National Park and pass through a small natural forest as you enjoy it. Eventually both options bring you to the secondary school at Karengera, your next base camp.

base camp location: Karengera
distance from Mugonero: 16 km/9.9 mi or 22 km/13.7 mi (if you opt for the route that includes a boat ride)
special attractions: /
unique transport solutions: walking distance from public transport
accommodation prices (in RWF): 15,000/20,000 per person, few rooms available
meal prices (in RWF): dinner 5,000; breakfast 3,000

DAY 3 🥾 (Karengera — Kumbya)

The easiest day on the Trail, as you will be descending the entire time. The hiking route takes you down on village paths, on the other hand. The overnight is at Kumbya Bay, where wooden bungalows, a small forest with monkeys and swimming opportunities await.

base camp location: Kumbya
distance from Karengera: 14 km/8.6 mi
special attractions: /
unique transport solutions: walking distance from public transport
accommodation prices (in RWF): 30,000-50,000 B&B at the Kumbya Kivu Life Ecolodge (pictured); there is also Kumbya Retreat Centre
meal prices (in RWF): dinner on order

DAY 4 🥾 (Kumbya — Nyamasheke)

Many rivers flow into Lake Kivu (remember Koko from the Northern Congo Nile Trail?) but River Karundura is one of the biggest; it will escort you today. You’ll hike by a local market at Tyezo village, grab some fresh fruits and see a bit of the Kamiranzovu Swamp before you reach Ishara Beach Motel. Your overnight stay is located in the centre of the Nyamasheke district that you have been exploring since leaving Karongi. A local cooperative will invite you to see their pottery making in action.

base camp location: Nyamasheke
distance from Kumbya: 14 km/8.6 mi
special attractions: pottery
unique transport solutions: walking distance from public transport
accommodation prices (in RWF): 20,000-50,000 at Ishara Beach Motel (pictured)
meal prices (in RWF): on order

DAY 5 🥾 (Nyamasheke — Shangi)

You will be trekking through plantations and on the shores of the lake, towards the peninsula of significant historical importance — the Kivu home of Richard Kandt, a German physician and explorer who is most known for founding the city of Kigali.

base camp location: Shangi
distance from Nyamasheke: 25 km/15.5 mi
special attractions: /
unique transport solutions: /
accommodation prices (in RWF): 10,000-20,000 — apologies, we do not have images of St Martin Guesthouse, a neat and simple Catholic establishment
meal prices (in RWF): on order

video still: Francis Mweze

DAY 6 🥾 (Shangi — Rusizi/Cyangugu)

As you walk towards the town of Rusizi/Cyangugu, you will soon be admiring the views of Bukavu on the other side of the border …

base camp location: Rusizi/Cyangugu
distance from Shangi: 20 km/12.4 mi
special attractions: borders Bukavu, the most beautiful city of this part of Africa
unique transport solutions: a hub, regular public transport to Kigali or Karongi — including daily flights to Kigali Airport!
accommodation and meal prices (in RWF): solutions for all budgets at numerous hotels

Have fun browsing through the Dutch Ultimate Hike pictorial!

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