Translated from the French of André Verbruggen, author of Guide André: My 100 best restaurants in Kigali, by Janice Booth
…In the north of Rwanda are two lakes, Bulera and Ruhondo. They’re typographically similar to Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda, which is only 20km away. Lake Bulera (aka Burera) is about 100m higher than Ruhondo, and this difference of level is exploited at Ntaruka by a large hydro-electric plant which supplies Kigali.
It’s a 112km circuit from Ruhengeri town (now known as Musanze). Some say the road is good, others say it’s very difficult… I set off in my good old Toyota Crown, which does not have four-wheel drive.
Leaving Ruhengeri in the direction of Cyanika, on the Ugandan border, one passes the stadium, the cathedral with the bishop’s house and the Fatima pastoral centre, the military camp and, on the left, the road leading to the Volcanoes National Park. Ruhengeri is at an altitude of 1,800m. Continuing northwards from the town, the road, asphalted and in good condition, passes Muhabura volcano which is clearly visible on the left.
After 16km there’s a small sign indicating “Virunga Lodge”. I’ve never been there, so I turn off the road on to a narrow and roughish track. After 4.5km I reach a small parking area from which a path leads me to the hotel, situated on a kind of promontory between the two lakes. It’s at an altitude of 2,300m and the view is magnificent.
The hotel was built by an Englishman of Indian origin, who owns three similar hotels in Uganda. There are only eight rooms, in the form of individual bungalows, and a central building with a communal lounge area, a dining room, and a very cosy lounge bar. All around the building are terraces where guests can enjoy the fantastic panoramas. The impression is one of luxury, but ecologically achieved, using local materials and without spoiling the natural environment. It’s magnificent!
If that tempts you, be aware that the price per night could be somewhat prohibitive: US$480 per person single or $800 for a double room, but that includes everything – meals, soft drinks and alcohol, and even a sauna and massage. I settle for a reasonably priced coffee and a quick tour.
Returning to the tarmac road I continue northwards. After about 7km I turn right on to a track, which is perfectly manageable for my large car. My tour of the lake has started. I drive through a fishing village, and rounding a corner I’m faced with absolutely magnificent panoramic views. I’d been told this was one of the most beautiful landscapes in Rwanda, and it’s true. The road twists up and down hills, sometimes close to the lake and sometimes further off but never leaving it completely.
After about 20km, the road reaches an impressive waterfall. Going to take a closer look, I discover the confluence of two rivers just before the fall. The water of one is the colour of laterite, like most of the rivers in the region, while the other is black. Local people say that the latter rises from deep in the earth, from which I conclude that the Rwandan sub-soil contains oil!
Beyond the waterfall, the quality of the road deteriorates greatly. In fact some people had advised me to turn back at this point, but it would be frustrating not to complete the circuit. I continue, and manage to get through deep mud and other hazards. After 20km I reach the village of Kirambo; it’s midday, and a break is welcome. There are even cool beer and brochettes available.
From Kirambo, I’ve the choice of two itineraries. The first goes towards Cyeru and Kinihira, the new administrative centre of Northern Province, but the villagers tell me the road is bad. The second rejoins the tarmac road via Base (pronounced Bassé); it’s slightly longer, but the road is good. Given the anxieties I’d experienced during the previous stretch, I opt for prudence and take the better road. I rejoin the main road and get back to Kigali before nightfall.