She might have gone through a dark history of wars and a genocide that claimed over hundreds of thousands of innocent lives but she still remains determined and strong to pick up and mend the broken pieces of ages long gone. As we talk, with shoulders upfront, heads high, Rwanda is not only a pronounced peaceful and stable country, she has gone further to prove to the world that however young she is, she is not in any way deprived of words to speak out loud as one of the leading tourism destination when it comes to safari East Africa.
Well known for Gorilla trekking safaris and Golden Monkey tracking in the Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda is blessed to have three more National Parks; Nyungwe National Park which is famous for having Colobus monkey and chimpanzee trekking. Akegere National Park is a perfect choice for boat cruises, game drives and primate tracking at the Gishwati Mukura National Park. As per saying, creativity is key and in that regard, Rwanda has gone further to diversify her tourism sector by introducing the Congo Nile Trail.
The Congo Nile trail is a trail made up of several base camps, two paths accompanied by four sub trails and running past ten villages, three cities, coffee washing stations and numerous tea plantations and beautiful landscapes along the Lake Kivu shores. Commissioned in 2009 by the Rwandan Government, the Congo Nile trail passes between the Nile River and Congo while streaming across beautiful landscape along the shores of Lake Kivu. The trail runs along Rutsiro, Rugavu, Karongi and Nyamasheke districts before ending in Kamembe in the Nyungwe Forest National Park. The Congo Nile Trail stretches a distance of 227km.
Attractions along the Congo Nile Trail
Along the dirt covered roads/trail are several attractions. One of which is the beautiful landscape of terraced hills from side to side, forests, towns, tea plantations which bring you down to the villages where streams of children come out shouting with their hands waving high as they escort you as far as their legs can carry them. While passing through the villages, you can spot elegant African women making their way to busy market places. The trail passes along the shores of Lake Kivu and its clear waters. The trail ends at the Nyungwe rainforest which is home to Chimpanzee and several primates.
Hiking through the Congo Nile trail also exposes travelers to a rich variety of flora – over 1300 species of plants recorded and 18 species listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN). The trail has a recorded 43 species of reptiles and about of 360 of birds.
Exploration options along the Congo Nile Trail
The 227 km trail offers more exciting and adventurous moments for tourists who love to experience the real Africa – in this case Rwanda, the landscape, beautiful weather and rich cultural heritage that gives you a feeling of having known the real Africa up-close. The Congo Nile trail is made up of several routes that can used by both tourists who have limited exploration time of those with enough time to spare. The most common routes used are Gisenyi to Kibuye and that which runs from Gisenyi to Kamembe. The later route is longer but both can be completed in 10 days of hiking or 5 days of biking depending on your option of choice. However it’s good to note that these exploring options have their cons and pros. For instance hiking enables you enjoy each meter of the tour but very tiresome which is reversely true with biking.
Biking and cycling
Biking and Cycling is mostly an option for travelers with limited time in Rwanda. Biking offers you an adventurous experience and challenging experience navigating through the dirt covered and skill demanding zigzag routes. A biking tour through the Rwanda countryside also gives you a chance to interact closely with the locals as you get to know their cultures, foods, dressing and traditional dances and you can always stop by shops for refreshments and or warm coffee and tea depending on how you like it.
Bikers are advised to carry along with them warm clothing, sleeping bags, biking shoes/gloves, helmets, masks and sunglasses to protect against dust. Biking and cycling is best done during dry seasons as wet seasons can be quite challenging with slippery and muddy grounds.
Cyclists and bikers have to be extremely vigilant of pedestrians, cars and other road users along the trail.
Hiking across the Congo Nile Trail takes a minimum of at least 10 days. Apart from the beautiful scenery, you will be delighted to mingle with the local natives for the most part of the journey. It is essential to walk along with an interpreter to bridge the language gap. Hiking allows you time to properly observe things, go bird watching, swim on the lake shores, visit nearby churches/schools, checkout the waterfalls, take a boat cruise on Lake Kivu or just relax while having a taste of fresh Tilapia fish on the sandy lake beaches. While in Gisenyi you can spot the dormant volcano peaks of Rwanda and Mt. Nyiragongo in the nearby Democratic Republic of Congo.
Hiking is a more strenuous activity which requires a certain level of fitness in order to complete the full stretch of the route according to your initial plan. With help from available porters to help with your extra loads, the hike hurdle can be tremendously reduced.
Guidelines for a successful Congo Nile Trail hike
- With the help of your tour operator, obtain a detailed copy of the trail map. These have all the relevant information such as elevation changes, camping facilities, routes and directions, walking time and much more important information you may need.
- Rain jackets, warm clothes, umbrellas since rains are important during your journey along the trail.
- A water proof back pack to carry your valuables and protecting them from damage from extreme weather conditions or dust.
- Pocket money is vital especially for transactions along the way. The US dollar is allowed but the Rwandan franc is preferred.
- Snacks and drinks are essential as reliable shops may not be easy to find in some sections of the trail.
- Long sleeve shirts and trousers and comfortable hiking shoes are a must.
- A camera and a Binoculars will enable you catch every interesting part of the journey.
- Insect repellents to help keep away bacteria carrying insects such as mosquitoes
There are several lodges, guest houses, coffee washing bays, government provided camping sites, orphanages and schools that provide accommodations to tourists along the Congo Nile Trail routes. Most offer beds and spaces but you may need to come along with sleeping tents and bags for the camping sites, orphanages and schools. Lodgings usually offer better services like breakfast, lunch/dinner, nice views and well furnished resting rooms but are more expensive.
Some of the recommended guest houses are the Bethanie guest house, Kinunu guest house, Peace guest house, Kibogora guest house and Saint Jean guest house among many more others.