Exploring Rwanda's Congo Nile Trail

Congo Nile Trail
Congo Nile Trail | Leah Feiger / © Culture Trip
Leah Feiger

Rwanda, known as the land of a thousand hills, is currently one of the world’s hottest vacation destinations. Though many tourists pop in for a day of gorilla trekking, Rwanda has plenty of hidden gems worthy of further exploration. Stretching the full length of Rwanda’s Lake Kivu for 141 miles, the Congo Nile Trail is one of the country’s most impressive adventures where travelers can hike, bike, and kayak, enjoying all the gorgeous views Rwanda has to offer.

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The Congo Nile Trail, located entirely on the coast of Lake Kivu, extends all the way from the northern Rubavu district down to the southern Rusizi district, passing through Rutsiro, Karongi, and Nyamasheke. Gisenyi, the capital of the Rubavu District, is generally the starting point for the Congo Nile Trail, though trekkers can begin at any point.

Rolling hills in the Karongi district


It takes approximately 10 days to hike, five days to bike, and eight days to Kayak the trail. Many travelers, instead of completing the entire Congo Nile in one go, choose instead to attempt small sections and make fun weekend or day trips out of it. Regardless of where hikers, bikers, and kayakers join the trail, they can be assured of panoramic views of the Lake Kivu coastline, bright green tea fields, and insight into daily Rwandan life.

The road between Cyangugu and Kibuye

Planning the trip

Rwanda is incredibly safe, and this trail can easily be completed independently by experienced and confident hikers, kayakers, and bikers. For those less interested in a solo experience, the Rwanda Development Board recommends a variety of tour agencies that can customize a hiking or biking Congo Nile Trail trip with porters, guides, and cooks. Most tourism information centers around the country are fully stocked with a detailed map of the entire Congo Nile.

Kibuye’s majestic views
Kayaking in Gisenyi

Travelers interested in kayaking the trail should be sure to check out Kingfisher Journeys, the country’s only official kayaking operation. They currently only offer half of the Congo Nile trail through a four-day kayaking trip between Gisenyi and Kibuye, but are very open to private and customizable trips.

Places to stay and eat

There are eight official Congo Nile campsites in addition to several guesthouses along the way. For those on a budget, save a few bucks and camp in the midst of banana plantations under thousands of stars on a clear night. Campgrounds are clearly marked on the trail map, and are generally well known in the surrounding area.
For those interested in a warm shower and a bit of respite from the trail, Emeraude Kivu Resort, Cormoran Lodge, Rushel Kivu Lodge, Kinunu Guesthouse, and Paradis Malahide all offer some cozy upmarket options for the weary hiker, biker, or kayaker. Plus, the food at all the lodges along the way is generally quite good and filling.

Views from the trail to Cyangugu

Things to see and do

In addition to attempting the trail itself, there are plenty of activities for travelers along the way interested in getting off the Congo Nile. Various tea and coffee excursions—such as with Huye Mountain Coffee and Pfunda tea plantation—can be booked in advance, and general market visits, beachside naps, nature walks, and quiet afternoons are also recommended. For those interested in getting even further off the trail, Volcanoes National Park and Nyungwe National Park are located one hour from Gisenyi and Cyangugu respectively. Take some extra time to go gorilla or chimpanzee trekking, hike a volcano or two, and enjoy the misty green and blue mountains of Nyungwe—Central Africa’s largest montane rainforest.

Lakeside retreat in Kibuye
Bright green tea fields near Cyangugu

Best time of year

Rwanda is one of the most temperate countries around, with temperatures rarely rising above 90 °F or lowering below 50 °F. However, Rwanda’s infamous rainy seasons are nothing to be scoffed at. From the months of March to May and October to November, tourists should be wary of attempting the Congo Nile Trail due to the season’s impressive downpours. While there will definitely be some nice and dry days during the rainy season, the weather is just not reliable enough that time of year to plan an extended (and outdoor) adventure.

First glimpse of Lake Kivu out of Gisenyi
Several different sub trails of the Congo Nile make for excellent day trips
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