Congo Nile Trail – Everything You Need to Know

Congo Nile Trail Along Lake Kivu

To help other travelers, I’ve taken the liberty to consolidate all the information I collected before and during my tour along the Congo Nile Trail in Western Rwanda.  This post includes general information on the trail, maps (with distance and elevation), guesthouse and campsite information, GPS tracks, and bike rental information.  Hope this can be of use to others as they plan their hike or cycling trip!

View my photo gallery of the trip here.

The Basics:

Difficulty – I would rate this trip at moderate difficulty (easy if you’ve done self-supported cycling trips before).  The trail is well-marked with frequent villages, shops and guesthouses/campsites.  The trail primarily follows rocky, dirt roads that wind up and around the numerous hills between Gisenyi and Kamembe.  Do not expect a pleasant rural single track – you will be sharing the road with moto traffic and the occasional Primus delivery truck or minibus.  There are a few long climbs, but the gradient is quite gradual.  You are constantly ascending and descending between 1450 and 1800 meters.

Food and Water – Both are available throughout the entire trail.  You are never more than 5-10 km from a village with a drink shop.  For newcomers to Rwanda, like myself, you might not immediately recognize shops in village centers – they are not always obvious.  Simply look for an MTN, Tigo or Primus sign and glance in the door; usually these shopkeepers will sell an array of goods.  Since most days are relatively short, I took snacks with me to eat at the top of hills and ate meals at my destination.  I enjoyed excellent meals everywhere I stopped, including homemade pizza and pina coladas at L’Esperance and delicious sambaza and rice at Kinunu Guesthouse.

Sleeping – You don’t need a tent for this trail.  RDB has setup numerous campsites, but you’ll need your own gear.  These campsites are well-marked and do not need to be booked in advance.  I planned my route so that I cycled around 3-6 hours/day and reached a guesthouse.  The trail from Kinunu to Kibuye is the hardest and longest day, but can be done in 4-6 hours if you don’t have major bike maintenance issues (like my Swiss companions).  I spent a day with a friend and his former Peace Corps host family in Tyazo, so I didn’t make it all the way to Kamembe (30 km after Buhingo on the main road).  Here is a list of guesthouses on the trail:

  1. Gisenyi – Inzu Lodge is 10,000RWF (BYO tent) or 20,000 (Safari Tent)
  2. Kinunu – Kinunu Guesthouse is 15,000RWF
  3. Kibuye – Home Saint Jean and Bethanie Guesthouse are two good budget options at 5,000-10,000RWF
  4. Mugonero – L’Esparance Guesthouse is donation-based (suggested $10/night inc. all meals)
  5. Kibogora – Kibogora Guesthouse
  6. Kamembe – I am told that Peace Guesthouse is a good option

I have marked all of these, as well as the campsites, in my GPS tracks at the bottom of this post.  You should book guesthouses in Kibuye and at L’Esparance, as both tend to be popular.  The latter has ample tents and campsites should all their rooms be full.

Gear – I traveled light with just the following items: sleep sack, Nalgene bottle, small bike pump, extra tire, patch kit, one jersey, one change of clothes, toiletries, headlamp, sunscreen, books, roll up coat (it gets cold at night), dust mask, scarf, and assorted snacks (nuts + fruit).  If you are camping, I’d recommend a 40-50 degree F bag, as it will usually drop into the 50’s at night and there can be a gentle breeze.

Bicycle Rental/Purchase – I was fortunate enough to borrow a bike from a friend in Kigali.  I encourage you to shop around a bit and reach out to the various parties mentioned – better yet, try out the bikes for yourself to see what best matches your needs.  Since it is expensive and difficult to import bicycles, quality cary vary widely.  Rwandan Adventures (Rwandan Adventure Cycles) and Inzu Lodge, both in Gisenyi, can arrange for rentals that include panniers, racks and spare parts.  RA charges $30/day ($75/week) for sturdy (if heavy) locally-made Rwanda Adventure Cycles 21-speed mountain bike without shocks.  A number of people have ridden their bikes around Rwanda, Goma and even elsewhere in Africa.  As well, through its self-guided bike tour rentals and full adventure tours, RA also supports a number of worthy social projects.  A few individuals I saw at Inzu Lodge rented very nice Giant mountain bikes – not sure about the price point.  There are a few options in Kigali for bike rentals, including TR Companion, which rents nice-looking German Focus Cypress mountain bikes for $25/day.  For purchases, keep an eye on Living in Kigali forum and/or bargain with the used bike sellers near Nyambugogo bus station – I purchased a basic mountain bike from one of the traders for under $200 and added a rack for an extra $10.

Itinerary Options – I would recommend starting in Gisenyi and heading south to end in Kamembe.  If you don’t have time to complete the full 5-day trip, you can opt for the most beautiful portion from Gisenyi to Kibuye.  This can be completed in one long 120 km day or two easy days with a stop in Kinunu.  There is a three-hour 2,000RWF boat that goes from Kibuye to Gisenyi two times a week, which would allow you to return your rental bicycle.  Rwandan Adventures can help to arrange this 2-day bike and boat trip.

Transport to/from the Trail – Kigali Safari and Belvedere bus companies were the most accommodating with my bicycle.  I paid for the back four seats in the bus for the bicycle and one seat for myself (3,000RWF/seat) on the 3.5 hour trip from Kigali to Gisenyi.  The 5.5 hour trip from Kamembe to Kigali was 5,000RWF/seat.

Websites & Blogs:

The Rwanda Development Board’s website is largely useless, and my visit to their offices yielded no information or map.  While preparing for my trip, I relied largely on two excellent blog posts:

Whit and Jake’s Peace Corps Journey

Seeking Claire-ity

Map:

RDB has produced a nice map, but it was unavailable in Kigali in June/July.  Luckily, I came across a copy at Inzu Lodge in Gisenyi.  I’ve taken a few high-quality photos of the map below:

Congo Nile Trail Map 1

Congo Nile Trail Map 8

Congo Nile Trail Map 7

Congo Nile Trail Map 6

Congo Nile Trail Map 5

Congo Nile Trail Map 4

Congo Nile Trail Map 3

Congo Nile Trail Map 2

The map is not entirely accurate when it comes to elevations and distances.  Below are the approximate distances between the villages where I stopped:

  1. Gisenyi to Kinunu – 50 km
  2. Kinunu to Kibuye – 70 km
  3. Kibuye to Mugonero – 30 km
  4. Mugonero to Kibogora – 35 km
  5. Kibogora to Kamembe – 60 km

The first day features the steepest elevation climb.  However, Day 2 on the road to Kibuye has the most hills spread out over 70 or so kilometers – definitely the most taxing day.  Day 3 to Mugonero is short, but incorporates the highest climb of the trip to 1,887 meters.  On Day 4, you rapidly descend to 1,440 meters (Lake Kivu level) and climb back up to 1,750 meters over 10+ kilometers.  Day 5 is easy – you’re on beautiful new tarmac road and there are only minor rolling hills.

GPS Tracks:

You definitely do not need a GPS, as the trail is relatively well-marked and there are people everywhere that can help you with directions (do not, however, trust their feedback on if there are hills/mountains up the road).  The RDB map is sufficient for most travelers.

You can check-out my GPS tracks here at Garmin Connect (the Garmin Player version is the best viewing option).  I marked waypoints for all the major villages, campsites, attractions and guesthouses.  Some of these do not appear on the RDB map above.

A pair of German travelers also produced these tracks that run all the way from Gisenyi to Nyungwe National Park.

Side Adventures:

If you want to spice things up and getting off the main trail, would recommend heading east from Kibogora on a small valley path that leads into Nyungwe National Park.  Alternatively, there is a trail from Nkora village and/or Kinunu Village that cuts through Gishwati Protected Forest.  One of my friends said that this was amongst his top three favorite rides in Rwanda.  If I were back in Rwanda, I’d also consider a multi-day kayaking trip along the shores of Lake Kivu.

~ by responsiblenomad on August 7, 2013.

21 Responses to “Congo Nile Trail – Everything You Need to Know”

  1. I will ride the whole trail in the coming month with a group of 6 persons! Thx for the valuable information.
    If anybody needs new quality bikes for rent, please have a look @ the rental page of our website: http://www.trcompanion.com
    Enjoy the CNT!

  2. […] Congo-Nile Trail – Everything You Need to Know […]

  3. […] Finally able to access high-speed internet to post these photos from my five-day Congo Nile Trail cycling tour in western Rwanda.  For an overview of the trip, including maps, GPS tracks and general tips, check out my posting here. […]

  4. […] mid-range accommodation is starting to open in Virunga national park, and the development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain-biking trail – which takes in stunning Lake Kivu – will no doubt lure intrepid active travellers. With […]

  5. […] mid-range accommodation is starting to open in Virunga national park, and the development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain-biking trail – which takes in stunning Lake Kivu – will no doubt lure intrepid active travellers. With […]

  6. […] mid-range accommodation is starting to open in Virunga national park, and the development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain-biking trail – which takes in stunning Lake Kivu – will no doubt lure intrepid active travellers. With […]

  7. […] mid-range accommodation is starting to open in Virunga national park, and the development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain-biking trail – which takes in stunning Lake Kivu – will no doubt lure intrepid active travellers. With […]

  8. […] and other primates, is a firm favourite with National Geographic. The development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain biking trail is also a draw for the intrepid travellers, and it takes in the stunning Lake Kivu, one of […]

  9. […] mid-range accommodation is starting to open in Virunga national park, and the development of the Congo Nile walking and mountain-biking trail – which takes in stunning Lake Kivu – will no doubt lure intrepid active travellers. With […]

  10. Hi I am a traveler from Hong Kong just arrived Kigali last week, I m interested to do the 10 days hike but have some Qs would like to clarify,

    1. I was told the path from Kibuye to further South is under construction and not good for hiking, is it true?

    2. Now it is the rainy season so its quite muddy along the whole path and not suitable for hiking.

    3. Any difference to go from North to South or S to N?

    Thank you.

    Odia

    ———————————————————————-

    Ochivaye Dreams 中東空姐 繼續流浪+尋夢去
    https://www.facebook.com/ochivayedreams

    ———————————————————————-

    • Thanks for reading! Very happy to help!

      1. I am unsure of the latest construction updates on the road, but it was already under construction when I took the road in 2012. I imagine the bit from Kibuye north is complete now. I would not hike from Kibuye south – it is the least interesting part of the trail and wouldn’t be too interesting on foot.
      2. Probably pretty wet at the moment, but possible if you don’t mind getting dirty. Could be a slog on mountain bike
      3. I would either start in Kibuye or in Gisenyi (assuming you just want to go between the two). If you are cycling, it is a bit easier to go toward Kibuye because of inclines, but not a huge difference. Depends how you want to end the trip. Kibuye is very relaxed and beautiful – you could spend a few days enjoying the calm, lakeside town and cool weather. Gisenyi’s atmosphere largely depends on where you stay. Paradis and and INZU Lodge are wonderful – the latter much more affordable and better vibe (personally). I’d recommend starting at INZU Lodge in Gisenyi and then heading south to Kibuye. End the trip with a few relaxing days there.

  11. Thank you for your blog! What do you think about running it? I live in Goma and am looking to do a 50km run. Any thoughts?

    • I think it would be a beautiful run from Gisenyi to Kibuye, but would skip anything after that. Keep in mind that this is – at the time I did it in 2012 – a bumpy road with infrequent traffic. As such, you won’t be alone in the forest.

      I’d recommend Nyungwe National Park – search on YouTube and you’ll see a few people who have run 20-50km through portions of the park. One of the best national parks I’ve been in East Africa.

      Tim

  12. Hi,

    I plan to walk the portion between Kibuye and Gisenyi alone. Would you do it or rather avoid it for questions of security ?

    Thank you, Great blog !

    Dam

  13. […] La ruta que recorre el Lago Kivu también es conocida por formar parte del Congo Nile Trail, un trayecto de diversas etapas que abarca las áreas cercanas al lago, incluyendo los parques naturales que lo bordean. Aunque en un principio nuestra intención era hacer la ruta completa del Lago Kivu incluyendo los parques, nuestro presupuesto y la escasez de tiempo nos limitó a tres paradas: Cyangugu, Kibuye y Gisenyi. La ruta duró diez días y comenzó desde Kigali hasta Kamembe, finalizando en Gisenyi y de allí cruzamos la frontera hacia Uganda. Si os planteáis hacer la ruta en transporte terrestre, recordad que si recibe el sobrenombre de “el país de las mil colinas”, es por algo. Ruanda es muy pequeño pero se tarda mucho en hacer escasos kilómetros debido a que hay que subir y bajar puertos constantemente. Los trayectos entre las tres principales ciudades que recorren el Lago Kivu pueden hacerse tanto en autobús o matatu como en ferry. Los primeros tienen salidas a diario pero a horas muy determinadas y los ferrys únicamente ciertos días de la semana. Por eso hay muchas personas que se decantan por hacer las rutas en bicicleta. […]

  14. Hi, thanks for this useful blog post. Do you happen to have more information / details on what you wrote on “Alternatively, there is a trail from Nkora village and/or Kinunu Village that cuts through Gishwati Protected Forest. One of my friends said that this was amongst his top three favorite rides in Rwanda”?
    Is it marked? How to find this route, and how long is the ride? (a loop?)

    • Hi Pieter – thanks for reading. Unfortunately I do not have any additional information or advice on the trail. Suggest you look through Garmin’s trail sharing site or Wikiloc. From my recollection, it was relatively easy to find using Google Earth (there is a clear trail using satellite). That said, it has been many years since I visited and things could have changed (e.g. does the forest even exist?)

  15. Hi all,
    This is Joanna, I’m the owner of Rwandan Adventures.

    We’re still renting out bikes and helping people to discover the Congo Nile Trail. As mentioned above the original trail from Kibuye towards Cyangugu (now Kamembe) in the South has now been paved. However, we have an updated route that we’re due to start using with customers by August 2016.

    We can also help you to discover the route mentioned by Pieter above, from Nkora back North going through the Gishwati Forest. We look forward to welcoming you. Joanna

  16. Hello friends, my name is John, i am working at l’esperanceRwanda KIGARAMA VILLAGE, I WOULD LIKE TO LET EVERYONE KNOW THAT THE GUEST HOUSE IS OPEN ALL THE TIME, PLEASE CALL ME AT 0782249423/0725523764
    YOU ARE WELCOME.

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