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Rwanda’s pristine Lake Kivu makes this country not only a hiking destination but a beach one as well. The lakeside towns of Gisenyi and Kibuye offer plenty of kayaking opportunities, from casual to lakeside rentals to trips with Kingfisher Journeys. Early mornings on the lake are quite calm, as hazy mist coats the terraced farms, and fishing boats return with a dawn’s haul. Rwanda by land is gorgeous, and Rwanda by water is even more impressive.
There’s nothing quite like hiking through a thick forest on the side of an extinct volcano, dripping with sweat and covered in mud, before coming across a family of endangered mountain gorillas. Rwanda is one of the only countries in the world—along with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda—that offers trekking with endangered mountain gorillas, and conservation efforts in the past fifteen years have impressively buoyed the species forward. If your budget allows for gorilla trekking, it really shouldn’t be missed.
Nyungwe National Park, in addition to housing most of the country’s primate and bird population, is also Africa’s largest montane rainforest. As a result, hikes in this park are plentiful, lush, and incredibly rewarding. Make sure to check out the waterfall hike and the canopy walk, and bring a raincoat or two.
Rwanda’s Congo Nile trail spans the length of Lake Kivu, and can be hiked, biked, or even kayaked. The trail takes travelers through bright green tea fields, terraced farms, lakeside viewpoints, and small towns. It takes about eight days to kayak, three days to bike, and 11 days to hike, and there are plenty of small guesthouses and campsites for travelers to stay at along the way.
Hiking Rwanda’s highest mountain, Mt. Karisimbi, entails a difficult two-day trek to the picturesque summit. Though the trails in the rainy season are particularly treacherous, the views more than make up for it. Make sure to pack warm and waterproof clothes, and cross your fingers for good visibility.
Two marathons happen in Rwanda every year. The Nyungwe Marathon and the Kigali Peace Marathon usually occur in March and May, respectively, and take participants through the lush forests of Nyungwe and the gleaming streets of Kigali. Runners from all over the region attend these events, and the country is abuzz when they occur.
Chimpanzee trekking is gorilla trekking’s infinitely cheaper and more active cousin. Though tourists flock to Rwanda for a chance to see the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat in Volcanoes National Park, Nyungwe National Park, located in the southwest of the country, is home to the country’s rambunctious chimpanzees. Trekking to these primates is an experience in and of itself—you will hear their screeching calls in the canopies of the trees long before you see them, and once you actually find the chimpanzees, keeping up with the pack can be quite challenging. It’s an incredible experience for those looking to expand their time in Rwanda, and Nyungwe is a great introduction to the country’s southern districts.
The twin lakes of Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo provide some of Rwanda’s most impressive views and idyllic days. On Lake Burera, Cyuza’s Island is the preeminent camping spot in the area, and offers island walks, kayaking, swimming, and boat rides. Though rarely on the tourist map, this island and surrounding lake are absolutely stunning.
Mt. Bisoke, an extinct volcano that straddles Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is one of Rwanda’s most popular day hikes. The hike takes about six hours round trip and features an impressive crater lake at the summit. Panoramic views of the surrounding Virunga volcanoes are available on clear days, and lucky groups can sometimes spot mountain gorillas hanging out on the trail.
Rwanda is now home to Africa’s big 5—the elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, and leopard. In Akagera National Park, travelers can search around for these impressive creatures, safariing around the Northern Plains and southern marshes and glamping in the evenings at Ruzizi lodge. Try your hand at animal spotting, though the community guides and park rangers at Akagera’s entrance are excellent trackers and have a lot of insider knowledge.