Congo Nile Trail
Get lost along the lake in Rwanda's wildest corner.
The Congo Nile Trail is a trail along Lake Kivu that extends from Rubavu, continues through Rutsiro via the Karongi, Nyamasheke districts and ends at Rusizi District.
227 km (141 miles) of beautiful landscapes, including rolling hills and clear water. The entire trek can be completed in a 10- day hike. However, the trip can be done in sections if travelers do not have the time to complete the entire trail. Trails give stunning views of the Lake Kivu coastline and offer adventurous travelers an exciting way to discover Rwanda.
Biking the Congo Nile Trail can be completed in 5 days, with rich views and immersive cultural experiences along the way. This trail appeals to adventure travelers and is a great way to experience Rwanda. The trail can also be split up if visitors do not have the time to commit to the 5 day journey. However, it is an experience worth selling to those who crave an off the beaten path adventure.
Whether you’re keen to tackle the trail with paddles, pedals, or pieds (feet), the RDB publishes a detailed map available for free at any of their offices in Gisenyi, Musanze, or Kigali, which can point you in all the right directions. Featuring detailed descriptions of the day-to-day trail conditions, walking times, elevation changes, camping facilities, and not to mention more than a few of the unforgettable sights along the way, the RDB map is everything you need to get you from Gisenyi to Kamembe and everywhere in between. If you don’t have the time to commit to the whole 10-day excursion, there’s still plenty to see on any stretch of the trail, and the map also features the rarely-trod sub-trails at Pfunda (for tea lovers), Gisovu, and Shangi. Side trips from the trail abound as well, and the RDB can even help you paddle over to the otherworldly Nkombo Island if you’d like to stretch your trip just that tiny bit further. It may seem at first like there are a lot of options when it comes to exploring the trail, but there’s no wrong way to do it. With 227km of magnificent forests, plantations, villages, and vistas over the lake, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got 1 day or 10, you’re sure to come away smiling. Given the safety of the region and the warm welcome offered in all the villages along the way, self-guided backpackers can hike the trail end to end with a few supplies, a bit of confidence and a good map, or more luxurious travellers can set up a fully guided experience complete with porters, cooks, and an English-speaking guide. Any of the RDB offices can put you in touch with a recommended tour agency to set up your fully customizable trip, or simply give you advice on the latest trail conditions and which bit of trail would best fit your budget, time, and interests. Allowing you to see more trail in less time, and with the added thrill of tackling its countless hills, valleys, and overlooks on two wheels, biking is a fantastic way to get out and explore the Congo Nile Trail, and you’ll have no shortage of fellow cyclists, bicycles piled high with produce, joining you as you pedal from village to village. For ambitious travellers who might be short on time but don’t want to miss a metre of the Congo Nile’s spectacular 227kms of undulating lakeside trail, doing the trip on a bike cuts the 10 day hiking time by more than half, and any RDB office can work out an itinerary with you. If you don’t have a bicycle of your own, they’ll refer you to one of several specialized mountain biking outfitters. For riders who are shorter on time, it’s of course equally possible to tackle any section of the trail in short stages that will either have you back at your hotel by nightfall, or pitching a tent under the stars at one of the eight serviced campsites along the way. With twelve coffee-washing stations, three tea plantations, three cities, dozens of villages, and more beaches, coves, waterfalls, valleys, and vistas than we can count, the winding path of the Congo Nile Trail is a true rambler’s paradise, and offers some of the finest hiking to be had anywhere in east and central Africa. Winding its way along the fringes of the lake through the peaks of Rwanda’s endlessly verdant mille collines (thousand hills), a through-hike of the Congo Nile Trail is as challenging as it is rewarding, and with a peak elevation of 2630m, it’s a serious workout to boot. The full 227km route takes 10 days to complete on foot (including a rest day to soak up the beaches around Karongi), but can be approached in sections based on your ability and interests. Whether you’re keen to soak up daily life in a traditional village, tour a historic church, swim and paddle on the lakeshore, or see where your morning coffee gets its start, drop by any RDB office and they can get your Congo Nile excursion started. With eight serviced and well-marked campsites spaced out along the Congo Nile Trail, as well as basic accommodation at some of the coffee washing stations and a full range of guesthouses in the major towns, there’s no shortage of accommodation options along the trail. Most visitors prefer to camp when possible, and six nights on the classic 10-day through-hike are spent under the stars in a series of picturesque campsites on the fringes of local villages and plantations. (Some of the sites are affiliated with local schools and orphanages, so you’re practically guaranteed a royal welcome when you arrive.) If you don’t have gear of your own, not to worry—not only are supplies readily available along the trail, but for gear, RDB can usually arrange the hire of tents (though in the dry season you’ll hardly need one!), sleeping bags, and other equipment for those who need it, or direct you to an outfitter who can.