Cyangugu. It’s a name that refers to the two southwestern districts in Rwanda, Nyamasheke and Rusizi. Some call it the most beautiful place in Rwanda, but few brave the five to six hour ride from Kigali to witness its grandeur. Read on, as this little guide to the sites of Cyangugu might just convince you to make the trip off the tourist map.
On a geographical note, you might hear Kamembe confusingly called by either Cyangugu or Rusizi. Cyangugu was the former name of Rusizi and Nyamasheke districts, and many Rwandans still refer to the area that way. Generally the city on the hill, where the bus park is located, is called Kamembe, and the area down by Lake Kivu and the border (umupaca) with the DRC is called Rusizi or Cyangugu; it’s about a 10 minute, Rwf 400 to 500 franc moto ride from the official Kamembe town.
First, decide on how you’ll get to Cyangugu. You have four choices: either take a bus from Kigali to Kamembe (Rwf 5,200 one way), the boat from Gisenyi (Rwf 6,000) or Kibuye (Rwf 3,500), make the drive yourself, or fly. Impala, Sotra, and Omega bus lines all offer trips to and from Kamembe almost hourly, although you’ll need to take a bus from Nyabugogo leaving no later than noon if you want to make it to Kamembe before dark (the bus ride is six hours).
As you go through Nyungwe Forest, keep your eyes open for adorable monkeys outside the bus, and for the nausea of your fellow passengers inside the bus. Restocking on your supply of motion-sickness medication before making the trip is highly recommended. If you own or can rent a car, you can arrive in a little more than five hours; Butare makes for a nice halfway point for picking up some food or drinks. If you want to get off at the Nyungwe visitor center, where most hikes leave from, just tell the bus driver “Uwinka”; it’s approximately five hours from Kigali.
The boat runs southward from Gisenyi/Kibuye to Kamembe on Sundays and Wednesdays, and returns northward on Tuesday and Friday. It takes about 6 hours to get to Kibuye and 9 hours to Gisenyi from Kamembe, and vice versa (call 0788 870 308 or 0722 069 594 to confirm its schedule). Although the boat isn’t the speediest vessel on Lake Kivu, it is relatively comfortable, serves some food, and it has some amazing views. Get there a little before 7 am; the boat usually leaves promptly.
The final option is to fly! RwandAir runs daily flights from Kigali to Kamembe; flight time is around 30 minutes.
After arriving in Kamembe, there are lots of lodging options to fit all budgets.
- New Hope – Get a budget room at New Hope, near the Kobil Gas Station in town. Rooms with a shared bathroom and no hot water are Rwf 5,0, Rwf 10,000 en suite bathroom and hot water. 0788 750 596 or 0783 422 533
- Home St. Francois – Rooms at Rwf 8,000 have shared bathrooms/showers and no hot water. The Rwf 15,000 rooms have hot water and en suite bathrooms. Located just a few meters from the DRC/Rwanda border. 0784 093 490
- Hotel des Chutes – A solid mid-range choice is the located near the border with en suite rooms from Rwf 15,000 to 50,000. All rooms have hot water except the 15,000 rooms. Prices include breakfast. Wifi is available and Visa is accepted. 0784 343 191 or email@example.com
- Peace Guest House – This place is run by the Anglican church and is quiet and slightly removed from Kamembe, on a scenic hill towards the airport. They offer everything from simple rooms to small bungalows and VIP villas (from Rwf 7,000 to 94, 400 per room. Breakfast is included and wifi available. 0252 537 799, 0788 522 727 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Emeraude Kivu – The newest (and really, only) upmarket choice. A beautiful place set right on the lake, on the Karambo peninsula, with unreal sunsets over the Congo mountains. Rooms and boarding options range from 65,000 to 133,000 per room and Visa is accepted). There are discounts for residents and citizens of the EAC. Their food is delicious if a bit pricey, and their wifi is fast. Watching the singing fishermen of Lake Kivu come out while enjoying some wine and a pizza is well worth the price. Even if you choose not to stay at the Emeraude, I highly recommend getting food or drinks on their deck around sunset. They also organize boat trips around Lake Kivu and the islands. 0787 010 900 or email@example.com
As far as food goes, there are enough options to satisfy every palate. Take in the amazing views of Lake Kivu and DR Congo mansions while enjoying some brochettes, fried bananas, and cold beverages at Ku Bagore, located right on the lake near the border, next to the post office (take a moto from town), or head to Kwasa’s/La Seule Addresse near the Obama Shop on the main road in Kamembe for a great omelette especiale and some soccer matches on the TVs. Motel Rubavu near the market also offers a good Rwandan buffet and a diverse selection; their fish brochettes are highly recommended.
The Hotel des Chutes also offers a large variety of food at reasonable prices – the veggie burger and fries for just Rwf 2,000 is delicious, and their pea curry is great for when you’ve tired of potatoes and brochettes. Just be prepared for a bit of wait, as their service cane be fairly slow and they never seem to have more than three menu items available at any one time.
See & Do
Two local specialties are sambaza, small, crispy silvery fried fish from Lake Kivu, and akabenzi, chunks of local pork, often cooked with bananas. Sambaza can be found at almost any restaurant in Kamembe, including Hotel des Chutes, the Emeraude, Hotel Rubavu, and Ku Bagore. Akabenzi (roasted pork) can be found at Hotel Umucyo in town near the I&M bank, and at Kwa Monica near the bus park.
While you’re in town, you should also check out the newly finished green and white Kamembe mosque. It’s beautiful!
At night, you can often catch some live music at Motel Rubavu in town near the main market; a busy pool table, football matches, a DJ, and dancing at Kwasa’s (La Seule Addresse), near the BIMOPHAR pharmacy, or check out the nightclub and some waragi at Ku Bagore while looking out over Lake Kivu and the DRC.
As fun as it can be, there’s more to the Cyangugu than just Kamembe. In Rusizi district, make sure you visit the hot springs of Cimerwa, near Bugarama. Take a Tripartite bus straight from Kamembe; the trip takes about 1.5 hours. It will drop you off in Cimerwa town, and then it’s about another 10-minute moto ride or 30 minute walk to arrive at the hot springs (amashyuza). The water is usually pretty hot, so most people go in for a few minutes at a time and then sit on rocks to cool off for a bit.
Relax by wading or swimming in the water while being stared at by locals bathing themselves in various states of dress. Extra points if you photo bomb one of the many Rwandan wedding shoots on a weekend. All joking aside, the water is really soothing, and there are great views of the mountains of Rwanda and Burundi. When you’ve had enough hot water and staring for one day, head to the newly opened resto-bar by the hot springs for some refreshment. The last Tripartite bus back to Kamembe leaves at 4 pm, or you can take a moto to Bugarama and catch a taxi back to Kamembe at almost any time, although the latter option is more expensive.
Nyamasheke district forms the other half of the Cyangugu, and offers some stunning views of Lake Kivu. Perhaps one of the most obvious things to do in Nyamasheke is to hike part or all of the Congo-Nile trail. Maps are available at RDB, and the trail is usually clearly marked, with little green signs pointing the way. Although guesthouses are available in some towns, it’s best to bring your own tent as well.
One hidden gem along the Congo-Nile Trail is the Kumbya Retreat. It’s located near the town of Nyamasheke, on a little peninsula on Lake Kivu; take a bus to Nyamasheke town from the Rusizi bus station and then a moto (about 1-2 hours total). It’s secluded and peaceful, and there are small cabins available for 10,000 (two people), or you could camp. There are swaying palm trees, fire pits, a swimming area complete with diving board and a floating island. Bring your own food and cooking equipment, some music, and enjoy a relaxing couple of days. To make reservations, call Julie at 0782 327 661 or Bernadette at 0785 384 273.
Another more well known spot is Nyungwe forest, as well as the “annex”, Cyamudongo, where you can go Chimpanzee trekking, which at $90 a person is a steal compared to the gorillas. (But, unlike the gorillas, you’re not guaranteed to see the chimps). Most of the hikes start at the Uwinka visitors’ center, although some start from Kitabi on the eastern end, and others start from Gisakura on the western end of the forest.
Happy travels, and see you in the Gug!