Rwanda’s western side is bounded by Lake Kivu, one of a string of huge freshwater lakes which lie along Africa’s Great Rift Valley. Dominating the border between Rwanda and the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo); Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake, and the sixth largest lake in Africa. The Volcanoes National Park (Parc des Volcans) was made famous by Dian Fossey’s work, and the film Gorillas in the Mist. Along with an array of other endangered species, more than half of the world’s last mountain gorillas live here. At present, it’s probably the best place in Africa to see them.
The real joy of this area is driving between the towns, and it’s a lovely option for a slower route between Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park. The road gently curves back and forth as it weaves through hills and mountains beside the lake from Gisenyi all the way to Cyangugu, with Kibuye almost at its centre point. Every corner produces another gorgeous view. Eucalyptus trees line the road, while every inch of the hills seems to be terraced with bananas. Villagers smile and wave, and children constantly call out “Abuzungu!” as you drive past (the Kinyarwanda term for white people, like “Muzungu” in Swahili). You’ll end up with hands tired from waving, and feel like royalty at the end of the trip!
What to see and do
Discovering the three colourful lakeside resort towns, pursuing the various water sports they have to offer, and boating to the numerous islands on the lake are just some of the activities available in the area. Away from the main resorts, Rwanda’s lakes offer visitors rewarding glimpses into ancient African lifestyles, as men go about their fishing and women fill the air with the strummed sound of a traditional guitar. Birdlife around the lakes is fantastic and includes large numbers of pelicans, crowned cranes, malachite kingfishers and much more. For sun-bathing, swimming and water sport acitivities, the Rwanda Riveira town of Gisenyi offers speedboats, canoes, and casual mountain walks and picnics. Ideally, guests can base themselves at one of the lovely accommodations around Lake Kivu and alternate between days spent lake-side with feet up, and days spent on thrilling excursions to find the primates dwelling in the rainforests of Nyungwe and Volcanoes National Park.
seasons & climate
The country of Rwanda is at a high elevation level, the lowest lying areas estimated at about 900m above sea level. The mountainous topography, particularly in the gorilla trekking areas, means that the altitude can reach up to 3000m.
The elevation, combined with Rwanda’s proximity to the equator allows the country to experience quite a tropical climate with temperatures remaining fairly constant throughout the year. Average temperatures are at mid to low 20s (degrees Celsius).
Rainfall defines the seasons in Rwanda. There is a ‘long rainy season’ that lasts from March until May, during which time the rain is heavy and persistent. June to September brings the ‘long dry season’, which maintains some cloud cover and might bring rare, light showers. The short rains follow in October and November before a short dry spell returns from December to February.
The best time for a gorilla trekking safari is in the dry seasons when the hiking conditions are ideal.