The Congo-Nile Trail

It’s no secret that gorilla trekking, the Nyungwe Forest and Akagera National Park are the destinations most sought after by international tourists and expats living in Rwanda. However, for those of us who have been living in Rwanda for a while and have already checked the above off their to-do list (or quite simply cannot afford them) there aren’t too many alternatives for recreation and adventure in this tiny country unless you have your own gear. Thankfully there are other options that are becoming available thanks to efforts by the Rwandan government as well as enterprising expats and locals.

One of the newest developments is the Congo-Nile Trail. Officially opened at the end of 2009, the Congo-Nile Trail is actually a tangled network of trails and roads that run from Gisenyi at the north end of Lake Kivu 227 kilometers south to the town of Cyangugu at the southern end of the lake. The landscape between these two familiar points is made up of unending rolling hills and innumerable towns and villages, offering cyclists and trekkers a glimpse of Rwandan rural life rarely experienced by the city dwellers that make up most of Rwanda’s expat community. Bird lovers will also enjoy a wonderful diversity of fowl found along the way, including white tailed blue flycatchers, black headed herons and White-breasted cormorants.

There are several options for enjoying the Congo-Nile Trail. Walking, motorcycling and cycling are all options, but you won’t get very far walking up the hills, and you can’t adequately appreciate the scenery if you’re zooming by on a motorcycle, so I recommend taking a cycling tour to get the most out of the Trail. On a bike you have a plenty of touring options. You can keep to the wide roads, challenge yourself on the more technically demanding narrow footpaths that snake through the hills and villages, or a mix of both. There are several guides available to provide tours on the Congo-Nile, but I would highly recommend Rwandan Adventures.

Rwandan Adventures is run by a very experienced British cyclist, Tom, who started the tour company with the idea of providing a unique recreational experience in Rwanda while also building up the local community around Gisenyi. They train locals on how to perform bicycle repair and maintenance and they also produce and sell good quality bikes to people in the local community at a greatly discounted price. Tom is an excellent guide having a keen knowledge on the terrain, flora and fauna up and down the length of Lake Kivu. He also has a wonderful relationship with seemingly every villager in the area and an intimate understanding of the local culture and language. While the rides are very impressive on their own – with their stunning panoramic views of the hilly landscapes and Lake Kivu as well as intimate encounters with rural Rwandans – touring with Tom is also a pretty impressive learning experience, which is added bang for your recreation dollar.

With Rwandan Adventures you can take a short tour of just a few hours or go crazy and try to make the seven day journey from Gisenyi all the way to Cyangugu, or anything in between. A popular route starts in Gisenyi and ends in Kibuye, stopping overnight on the way at the Kinunu coffee washing station. From Kibuye you return back to Gisenyi by boat along the shore of Kivu. For accommodation in Gisenyi we recommend Paradis Malahide or Inzu Lodge and in Kibuye, check out Home St. Jean and Bethany Guesthouse. Rwandan Adventures offers all sorts of walking and biking tours. To find out more about them and their rates, visit their website or give Tom a call at +250 786 571 414.

The Congo-Nile Trail is a few years old now, but somehow few expats are aware of its existence. So take notice. Whether you’re a cyclist or trekker, amateur or hardcore, it is definitely an experience anyone in Rwanda should take advantage of. Sure, your legs might ache like hell a day or two after, but trust me, it is totally worth it.

Here are a few very detailed and extremely useful blog posts about the trail:

About Sean Jones

Back in January 2010 I decided to trade the flat wind-swept plains of West Texas for the endless hills of Rwanda...for only six months. Nearly four years later and I'm still here, running an orphanage on the outskirts of Kigali and sharing my arguably useful collection of knowledge about Rwanda with anyone who will listen, even if they don't necessarily want to hear it.