Discover the Lakeside Charm of This Rwandan Town

Gisenyi | Leah Feiger / © Culture Trip
Leah Feiger

The bustling town of Gisenyi, located in northwest Rwanda in the Rubavu district, makes for a perfect weekend trip. Sitting on the coast of Lake Kivu and offering up casual eateries, lovely accommodations, plentiful activities, and expansive views, Gisenyi is a spot in Rwanda that shouldn’t be missed.

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Places to stay

Gisenyi is approximately three hours away from Kigali, and one hour away from the gorilla-trekking capital of Musanze. Though it is difficult and time-consuming to visit Gisenyi for just a day trip, Gisenyi luckily possesses a variety of accommodations suited to all budgets and styles.

The expansive yard at the Palm Garden hotel

Luxury travelers will find themselves at home at the scenic Lake Kivu Serena hotel, where private beach access, a fresh breakfast buffet, and lake views reign supreme. For midrange travelers, the Palm Garden (previously known as the Waterfront Resort), Paradis Malahide, and Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel are the best. The restaurants at all three hotels serve up excellent meat and fish brochettes as well as an included hearty breakfast. For budget travelers, the Discover Rwanda dorm room is a good option and is located right next to the public beach.

The beach at Paradis Malahide

Things to see and do

Gisenyi’s leafy green promenade, located just outside the center of the bustling downtown, is the place to be. Walk around the area, peeking into the thick tree canopies for a glimpse of the town’s famous bat colony before going to the town’s public beach for a lazy afternoon. On a nice day, make sure to explore the hilly green coastline by boat or kayak. Pretty much every hotel in town rents out boats for day trips around the area, or tourists can pick them up on the beach. Kingfisher Journeys is currently the only kayak trip operator in the area, and they offer trips ranging from a few hours to a few days.

Boat rides on Lake Kivu
The flora of Gisenyi is both brightly colored and diverse

Daily markets both in the center of town and on the lakeshore sell vegetables, fruit, colorful kitenge fabric, and fresh sambaza—a small fish found in Lake Kivu that is served deep fried or in a stew.

Sorting sambaza at Gisenyi’s lakeside fish market

For the adventurous traveler, the Democratic Republic of Congo is right across the Grand Barrier border in Gisenyi—just a few minutes walk from the town center. Congo’s Virunga National Park has plenty of exciting adventure activities for really reasonable prices, including an overnight hike of the active Nyriragongo Volcano and endangered mountain gorilla trekking. For those interested in gorilla trekking at a fraction of Rwanda’s current permit price, Virunga National Park is the place to go.

Gisenyi shares a border with Goma, a populous city in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Food and drink

Gisenyi, as one of the larger towns along Lake Kivu, has plenty of eating options that will satisfy everyone’s palates. TamTam, Gisenyi’s eponymous beachside bar, is the place to be during the weekend. Offering up some of the town’s best local food, including grilled meat brochettes, roasted potatoes, and cold beer (definitely go for a Skol or Mutizig), dance parties, DJs, and daytime boozy lunches are the name of the game at this place.

Cold beers on a hot day at TamTam

Next door, the Lakeside bar and restaurant (formerly known as ThaiJazz Beach Restaurant) continues the party and serves a large selection of both local and international beer, as well as a variety of simple cocktails all overlooking the gorgeous Lake Kivu.

For those interested in some international cuisine, Calafia Cafe, a Rwandan-take on Californian fresh food, serves up some of the area’s best brunches and casual dinners in their colorful and laid-back space right near the lakefront. Make sure to get the grilled chicken sandwich, beet goat cheese salad, and any of their homemade smoothies.

Calafia Cafe serves up Gisenyi’s freshest cuisine

The Bistro Wine Garage is Gisenyi’s resident pizza parlor, and the only place in the area with a proper wood burning pizza oven. Go for the classic Margherita, or switch it up with a couple of fun vegetable toppings.

As one of Gisenyi’s premier restaurants, White Rock Bistro is located right next to the Goma border and cooks up some excellent Italian and Rwandan food while offering the dreamiest dinnertime view. Sparkling lights from neighboring Congo, coupled with fishing lights on the reflection of water are absolutely gorgeous, and their lasagne and well-seasoned steaks are an added bonus.

Casual seating at Calafia Cafe
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