BLVD Rwanda writes:
We recently returned from a month travelling around Rwanda, particularly Lake Kivu, using the 4th edition of your guidebook:
Certainly off the tourist trail and with little to offer unless you have a private vehicle. Nonetheless with this aid you can certainly find some great off-the-beaten track points of interest. Our particular favourite were the Bugarama Hot Springs. These are really worth the visit although incredibly hard to find and you definitely need a 4×4 vehicle. Unfortunately we only had a small saloon car so it was quite the adventure!
To reach the springs the road mentioned in your book is currently under construction and instead an alternative route can be found before you reach Bugarama on the left. In case you miss it, if you reach Bugarama, turn around, go back and take the first right. Though it feels like you may never find the cement factory, we promise you it is there. As you approach the factory, take the left hand fork. There are several factory gates. If in doubt you may be able to ask for directions by using the word ‘Amashyuza’ especially as we found gesticulating and describing hot springs is rather difficult. Keep driving straight down this road, you will pass a quarry on your left, shortly followed by a bridge which crosses the hot springs. You will probably see small children washing in the waters, if you take a stroll up the hill you will come across a large pool, which is the source of the hot springs (and is too hot to touch!). We were fine leaving our car at the bottom.
Another great activity for a morning/afternoon is a boat trip to the islands (Gihaya and Nkombo) in lake Kivu. We went to Hotel des Chutes who were able to sort us out with a small motor boat for 20,000 RWF, this gave us up to 3 hours exploring the islands and on the water (although you may not need this long). You also may be able to get the boat for cheaper.
Some good accommodation is available. Peace Guest House was lacking in atmosphere but had some great views across the water. Hotel des Chutes was more lively and had a good menu (we’d recommend the chinese pancakes (for meat eaters)). Both had great rooms for around 15,000 RWF a night. Hotel du Lac appeared to have closed down.
We would thoroughly recommend this as a place to spend a few days, although there is little in the way of organised activities. Given that, it is the perfect place for a bit of R&R. The rooms were great and offered hot water sporadically. The hotel had a great bar and restaurant (and yes it does now serve alcohol) and in the morning breakfast offered a great selection and a fab made-to-order omelette bar. A taxi can be taken from the town centre for 3000 RWF (with some bartering) and a moto for 500.
It is very easy to hire a boat for a few hours, to visit some of the islands including Napoleon’s hat where there is a colony of fruit bats and Amahoro Island (peace island) where there is 1000 RWF entry fee, which includes a drink and use of all facilities including a volleyball court. We paid 35,000 for a tour of the islands including time to get off and explore (for 8 people). The next day we returned to Peace island and paid 20,000 RWF for the boat to wait for 4 hours. A lot of people were taking these excursions and we managed to get it for a cheaper price by asking people to join our party, making great friends in the process. Our new friends also took a walk around the area and thoroughly enjoyed it, something to do for when we return to the area, which we most definitely will do.
A good base for visiting the Volcanoes National Park is Ruhengeri. An early morning start-time led us to stay down the road from the park headquarters at Kinigi Guest House. The dorms were good value for money, although the shared facilities left a lot to be desired. Nonetheless, it did only cost 5000 RWF per person, and early breakfasts were available as well as packed lunches for the day ahead (consisting of a cheese sandwich, egg and 2 bananas- we’d advise bringing your own snacks too!). There is also a good selection of pasta dishes, a perfect energy boost for the following day.
We chose to do the Bisoke trek, which is certainly a demanding day hike and even living in the country for 3 months could not prepare us for the altitude. However, we would thoroughly recommend the trek since it was very enjoyable. Ask your guide about how much to tip the porter but roughly 5-10,000 RWF. Another member of our group went on the hike to Diane Fossey’s grave. He also really enjoyed the walk, although was slightly disappointed that they’d failed to maintain the area well. It is particularly important to have a 4×4 vehicle, with plenty of petrol and good suspension. The drive from the headquarters to the trail head is incredibly bumpy and the road is one of the worst in Rwanda.
For nice warm showers and comfortable rooms we’d recommend Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima for after the trek. This establishment has great showers, great food, great wine (they certainly weren’t shy with the portion sizes!) and was in an ideal location in Ruhengeri.
If you have a spare day and your own vehicle, exploring lake Karago and lake Burera is a good option for some stunning views. We stopped at Virunga Lodge, highly exclusive and some may say overpriced, but it was worth the long drive for the amazing views over the lakes and the whole volcano range. The fruit juice was delicious, as was the complimentary banana cake, though for $5 a drink, you’d expect it to be!
We caught a bus very easily from Ruhengeri to Gisenyi very easily. The bus took us to an out of town bus station, which was not labelled in the Bradt guide map. This made it trickier to find the accommodation but we managed to find our way by asking the locals. There was an option to get off the bus earlier, which we’d recommend. We stayed at the Presbyterian Church Centre which is now owned by the Bethanie Group, so it is worth noting the name change. There was no hot water, but buckets were available on request and Olivier, the receptionist/manager was extremely helpful and very friendly. We paid 12,000 RWF for a triple and 10,000 RWF for a twin. Though on the second night we discovered they had a house with 6 beds, lounge and ensuite for 25,000 RWF which was much more comfortable and quieter. Breakfast is available in a small restaurant on site, although not included in the price.
Due to the time of year (the Christmas holidays) we found it harder to find activities to do to entertain ourselves. The Pfunda tea plantation, which we’d been told you could do tours for $10, was not available to us since it was the weekend and the managers weren’t there. It may be advisable to ring ahead. The Brewery in Rubona was also closed to visitors and here they advised a letter of permission prior to arrival. Since both of these options were unavailable to us we decided to check out the hot springs instead. We asked staff at the Paradis Malahide hotel who gladly gave us directions. Whilst not as impressive as the Cyangugu springs, there were worth a visit. Paradis Malahide is an excellent place to spend a rainy day, where you are provided with blankets and small charcoal fires to warm your feet. The food here was also fantastic. A moto to Rubona peninsular costs 700 RWF.
We completed a tour of the best hotels in Gisenyi. The Serena had great cocktails and nice food, although it was rather expensive. The Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel had an impressive menu and offered swimming for 4000 RWF a day. Stipp hotel was a bit of a walk and a tad overpriced but we’d recommend the lasagne.
All in all, a fantastic trip and Rwanda has much to offer.