Lake Kivu is located in the Albertine Rift with the western branch of the East African Rift Valley area. The lake empties its waters into the Rusizi River which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.
Lake Kivu is approximately 90 km long and 50 km wide. It has an irregular surface shape which makes it difficult to estimate its actual surface area.
The Lake is Africa’s 8 largest lake covering a total surface area of about 2,700 sq km. The lake sits at a height of 1,460 meters above sea level and is 475 meters deep thus making it the world’s eighteenth deepest lake.
Lake Kivu is believed to have been created as a result of volcanic activity hence there are higher chances of a limnic eruption excepted to occur in the lake every 1000 years. Limnic eruptions on lakes occur as a result of excess methane and carbon dioxide gases present in the lake which can cause the death of the plant, marine and human lives within and around the affected lakes.
Lake Kivu is harboring the world’s 10th largest island which is called ‘Idjwi’. This island lies within the boundaries of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
On Lake Kivu are a few settlements along its lakeshores and these include; Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Cyangugu in Rwanda as well as Bukavu, Kalehe, Sake, and Goma in DRC.
Marine Life in Lake Kivu.
Lake Kivu has four species of barb such as Ripon Barb, East African red- finned barb, Red- spot barb and Pellegrin’s barb.
The lake has 2 species of catfish namely Amphilius Catfish and Clarias Catfish. The lake also has some tilapia fish species like the Nile tilapia, Redbreast Tilapia, Longfin tilapia, Blue-spotted tilapia and the Lake Tanganyika sardine which was only found in Lake Tanganyika and been recently introduced in Lake Kivu.
Lake Kivu originally had 6,563 fisheries on the lake in the early 1990s and of these, 3,027 were associated with the pelagic fishery and 3,536 with the traditional fishery. However the number of these fisheries has greatly reduced due to a number of reasons, one being the limited number of fish in the lake.
Also, the wider conflict that occurred in the region in the mid-1990s [the Rwanda Genocide inclusive], led to the reduction in the number of fisheries on Lake Kivu.
Lake Kivu also hosts four species of fresh water crabs in it and it is one of the Rift Valley Lakes that has fresh water crabs; the others being Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania and Lake Victoria in Uganda and Kenya.
The Lake is a marvel that tourists can delight in while on safari in Nyungwe Forest National Park and Volcanoes National Park. While on the route, get to enjoy the beautiful sights of the rolling hills and tropical mountains that grace the lake from Gisenyi and all the way to Cyangugu town, with Kibuye town being at its central point.
The Lake as earlier mentioned has three main towns and these are Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Cyangugu. These towns are about 3- 4 hours’ drive away from each other.
Gisenyi town is located on the northern side of Lake Kivu. It is presently known as Rubavu town. The town is spread over quite a number of hills making it a beautiful sight to see for tourist visiting the area.
Gisenyi town is blessed with beautiful lakeshores that are characterized by a nice beach where both visitors and locals can engage in water sport activities like swimming and windsurfing.
While exploring Lake Kivu from Gisenyi town, tourists should also visit the Imbabazi Orphanage. The orphanage was founded by an American humanitarian called Rosamund Hasley Carr who returned to Rwanda after the genocide war.
She used her house as a shelter for survivors of the civil war, the majority being women and children. It is here that she housed, fed and clothed those who sought refuge in her small shacked home.
Since then the orphanage has undergone lots of reconstruction and improvement works, and has since then become a place to call home for over 400 orphans.
Gisenyi town also has nice, cozy and trendy bars which are ideal hangout spots for tourists to mingle with the locals in the town and enjoy a sundowner cocktail drink.
Tourists can enjoy activities while in Gisenyi town like taking walks on the beach, swimming, boat rides, and birding.
Accommodation in the town is readily available depending on one’s tastes and preferences. Some accommodation options to choose from include; Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, Kunda Gisenyi Guesthouse, Ubumwe Hotel, Stipp Hotel, and Motel la Corniche.
Kibuye town is currently known as Karongi Town and is located just 100 km south of Gisenyi Town. It is a tropical destination surrounded by hills and covered in eucalyptus and pine trees.
While in Kibuye town, tourists can engage in birding activities since the town is a haven for some bird species like the yellow-billed kites which are famous for their annual migration in August.
In case you are looking for accommodation while on your tour to Kibuye, there are some hotels and lodges you can stay in like; Bethanie Guesthouse, Moriah Hill Resort, Rwiza Village guesthouse, Rebero Kivu Resort, and Macheo Eco lodge Camping.
Currently called Rusizi town, Cyangugu is located in the southern part of Lake Kivu. It is the closest town to Nyungwe Forest National Park which is about an hour’s drive.
Cyangugu Town is on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and tourists can view the Congolese city of Bukavu. Also, get to visit Lake Kivu and enjoy a boat ride on the lake.
While in Cyangugu, pay a visit to Nyungwe Forest National Park and enjoy numerous activities offered by the park such as nature walks, birding and the best being the forest canopy walk.
As for your accommodation, There are some that you can choose from such as; Motel Gloria, Munini Hill Hotel and Rubavu Motel.
All the above mentioned accommodations offer guests both budget and mid- range accommodation while some like Lake Kivu Serena Hotel offering its guests luxury accommodation as well.
Activities at Lake Kivu
Tourists visiting Lake Kivu from any of its surrounding towns can take part in activities such as;
Boat Ride: Lake Kivu offers its guests beautiful scenery and there are quite a number of boat rides that can be arranged for tourists who want to explore the lake and its surroundings. While on your boat cruise, get to enjoy the lake side shores of Lake Kivu as well as it rolling hills and lush, green mountains. Boat cruises taking tourists through the towns of Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Cyangugu can be arranged for those tourists who want to explore all the three towns.
Birding: Lake Kivu is blessed with over 780 species of birds like the egrets, yellow-throated Greenbul, Speckled Pigeons, Chin- spot Batis, Cardinal Woodpecker, Bronzed Sunbird, African Pied Wagtail, the Common Waxbill and Tropical Boubou among others.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Lake Kivu is approximately 41 miles from Nyungwe Forest National Park. While at the park, get to enjoy activities such as birding, forest nature walk and the canopy walk to mention but a few.
Beach Walks: Lake Kivu has a number of beaches along its shores with the best being in Gisenyi Town. Take a walk along the lake side especially in the evenings and enjoy the picturesque sights of hills and view the sunset.
Congo Nile Trail: The Congo Nile Trail is a newly developed 257 km trail that runs near the shores of Lake Kivu from Rubavu [Gisenyi] town through Kibuye and onwards until Congo. The trail is great for mountain biking and hiking activities.
Visit the Hot springs: Lake Kivu has a couple of hot springs which tourists can pay a visit to and these include; Bugarama hot springs located 60 km from Cyangugu town, Kinigi Hot springs, Gisenyi hot spring and Nyamyumba Hot springs which are found in Gisenyi/Rubavu Town.
Tour Coffee Farms: Tourists can visit coffee plantations in the famous coffee growing Island of Nyamirundi on Lake Kivu. While there, one can learn about the coffee-making process and support the local community by buying some processed coffee.
Explore the Local Islands: The Lake has quite a number of islands located within the lake like Napoleon Island which is best known for its fruit bats, Amahoro Island, Akeza Island and Nyamirundi Island.
Swimming: The Lake is a good spot for tourists to indulge in swimming activities. Go for a swim in the lake as it is free of hippos and crocodiles. The lake is also free of Bilharzia spreading parasites which are a common infestation in most African lakes and rivers.
Accessing Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu can be accessed by road and air from Kigali City. It takes about a 3 hours’ drive from Kigali by road to the Lake.
The lake can also be accessed from the towns of Gisenyi, Kibuye, and Cyangugu. Tourists on a solo Rwanda safari can also board a bus from Kigali City heading to either of these cities and are available every day.
Lake Kivu can be accessed by air with charter flights taking off from Kigali International Airport to Gisenyi Airport.
Lake Kivu is one of those marvelous destinations that any tourist visiting Rwanda just can’t miss. The lake is accessible to all both local and foreign tourists and can be visited at any time in the year.