Rwanda. When you hear the name of this Central African country, two things probably come to mind: genocide and gorillas. The gorillas are, luckily, still there, while the massacre has, thankfully, ended. In the past 10 years, the economy has grown, tourism has increased, and the animal populations have thrived. It’s time to return to Rwanda.
Your Rwandan trip shouldn’t begin and end with a safari, though. Many visitors head straight for the national parks. Volcanoes National Park for the gorillas. Akagera National Park for the elephants and the giraffes. Nyungwe Forest National Park for the chimpanzees and the monkeys. And then they leave without seeing the rest of the beautiful country.
But within two hours, you could drive from Volcanoes National Park to Lake Kivu, one of the African Great Lakes. The freshwater lake, which is located in the Great Rift Valley, sits on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. During the Rwandan Genocide and the First and the Second Congo Wars, thousands of bodies were dumped in the lake. Today, it’s a peaceful oasis surrounded by lush mountains, eucalyptus, and bananas. Mount Nyiragongo, which last erupted in 2002, stands north of the lake. Colorful kingfishers fly between the trees. And friendly locals greet you with smiles and waves.
You’re staying at the Hotel Malahide Paradis, a lakeside hotel just outside of Gisenyi. Your-volcanic rock bungalow overlooks the golden sand, the calm water, and Akeza Island just offshore. Between the dense palms and the bright purple bougainvillea, you’re barely visible from the water. Inside, there are cool flagstone floors, bamboo chairs, and a mosquito net. Colorful fabrics brighten up the dark space. Relax with a Bralirwa beer and play Bao at the bar. Wave goodbye to the local, singing fishermen as they depart when the sun starts to set. And eat grilled Nile tilapia by candlelight and the fire pit.
The next day, explore Gisenyi. Colonial mansions line the waterfront, and the market is relatively calm compared to the others you’ve visited on your trip. Bike through Pfunda, and visit the tea estate, where the leaves are picked by hand. See the amazing views from the Rubona Peninsula. And return to the lake to relax on the beach, or head out on the water in a wooden canoe.
Lake Kivu may not be the highlight of your trip. The gorillas will surely be the first pictures you show off. But it’s here you got to see the real Rwanda. It’s a place with a troubled history, welcoming people, and gorgeous scenery. It’s the low-key, relaxing part of your journey. A place that more people will hopefully start to visit soon, as well.