Congo Nile Trail - Bike Tour
I bicycled Rwanda's Congo-Nile Trail in December and wanted to post some trip details and photos. In planning the trip, I found very little information and thought it might be helpful to post my own experience for other riders. Some trip basics: I traveled light - just 10lbs, based on the fact that I stayed at a guesthouse every night. That meant that I didn't need tent, cooking materials, food, tons of water, etc. I could buy bottled water and snack food anywhere- you're never more than a 15 minute ride from the next village center. Staying at a guesthouse meant I had clean sheets, towel, and soap provided as well as breakfast and dinner.
|My bike, with full gear|
For those bringing their own bikes: Express buses in Rwanda were very accommodating to transporting my bike. I simply paid for an extra bus ticket and they stowed it below the bus for me. On one leg of the journey, the bike had to go inside the passenger area, so I paid for a couple of seats extra.
|Tea Plantation between Kibeho and Butare|
I started the trip from my village, so my journey was extended at the beginning and end. But I started the Congo-Nile Trail from Gisenyi. This was just after the cross-border conflict in the Congo had made international news. However the US embassy had removed travel restrictions to the area and I experienced no problems. It was Gisenyi, per usual. I got in to town early so I could find a room, eat, prep the bike, and get an early sleep. I stayed at the very affordable Presbyterian/Bethany Group Guesthouse. Totally basic, but you get your own locked room with a bed, linens, towel, and shared bath. I was the only one there, anyway.
|Self-portrait at first rest-stop - omelet in Kibeho|
Day 1 on the trail. Heading South, follow the paved road toward Bralirwa Bay. Ride through the brewery area and the pavement ends. There's a Congo-Nile official sign pointing you in the right direction. I left at 7am and arrived to Kinunu at noon. Along the way there are a few junctions that could use signage. I just asked locals which way to go and they were happy to help me. I do speak Kinyarwanda, so I could imagine that being more difficult for other foreigners. But if you know the name of the next place South on the map, you could just say it and point. People are friendly and don't want you to get lost. The trail was lightly traveled, just a connecting road between each village. I never saw a car once--just a few motorcycle taxis. Kinunu was about the half-way point to Kibuye. There is a lakeside guesthouse which is not currently in the Bradt Guide or other online resources. I read about it in a Rwandan magazine, featuring the trail. I don't know the phone number to post here, unfortunately. But the guesthouse was hosted by the Kinunu coffee cooperative and they can provide a tour of the plantation and processing plant, which is adjacent to the property. I just showed up, knowing it would be there and all of the rooms but 1 were still available. The guesthouse ran about 16,000RWFs per night and meals were 4-5,000RWFs. It was a welcome rest stop because there is nothing else available between Gisenyi and Kibuye, but the price was 3 times more expensive than anywhere else I stayed on the whole trip (for the same basic accommodation). Something else to consider with this guesthouse is the long downhill to reach it from the main trail. The morning started with a 30-45 minute climb, just to reach the trail again and the distance from the nearest village meant that you were forced to buy meals from the hotel.
|Eucalyptus tree grove|
|The road to Kinunu coffee cooperative|
|Touring between Kinunu and Kibuye|
|Pit-stop on the trail|
|The section between Kinunu and Kibuye was the most spectacular day of the journey|
|The view from Kibuye|
|Local boat tied off to a tree|
|View to Lake Kivu|
|My trail buddies from the day|
|Last push toward Kibuye with my Swedish friends|
|My friends on the trail, these kids actually helped push me up the hill, while still pedaling my bike|
|Hill climbing. Hill #876 from the day.|
|Long descent begins. Christmas Day present unwrapped!|
|Their tour guide, Musweti. We enjoyed chatting in Kinyarwanda for the day.|
|Rice fields in the valley through the banana trees in the foreground.|
|Last stretch to Kibuye. Post-rain.|
|Kibuye looking North|
Day 3 on the trail. I missed the turn to Karengera when leaving Kibuye. There is a GIANT sign ("Phase 2") right in front of the Kibuye hospital and that is the place to turn. You need to leave the paved road (turn left at the fork). I found my way back, but it was a frustrating start because my body was feeling tired already. The southern half of the trail was beautiful, but the road is the main road and you see a lot more bus and truck traffic. It's still very rural and not hazardous, but they're a noticeable presence after the previous part of the trip. I recommend stopping off at La Esperance orphanage just before Mugonero. It's a warm, welcoming place with lots of character and the kids are happy to spend time with you. They range from under 5 to 18 years old, a mix of genocide orphans and kids who lost their parents to AIDS. They have a guesthouse and excellent food! If you look up the orphanage you'll only read rave reviews. You can stay for a couple of days if you want to rest, get to know the kids, and help with projects, play, or find your own way to contribute. I wish I had longer, but I just spent a few hours and shared a meal. I pushed through because I wanted to visit my friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Heidi.
|A large bay of Lake Kivu, just South of Kibuye on the road to Karengera|
|Almost to Karengera, Idjwi Island in the distance|
|PCV Heidi was my very generous host for a much needed rest day! Thanks for the fun!|
|The view from Heidi's house! Coffee trees in the foreground|
|Vista de Heidi|
|Setting out for the last full day of riding (Karengera to Kamembe)|
Day 5 on the trail. Last push to Kamembe. The dirt road converts to brand new pavement just past Kirambo Market Place. The government is blazing through construction of pavement all the way to Kibuye and should be finished within 2 years time. They certainly have a lot of rough terrain to cut through. After reaching the pavement, my pace probably doubled. I flew into Kamembe around noon. The road was pretty quiet until Buhinga, so safety was really good, even though it was a paved road. From Buhinga, traffic picked up because of through traffic for express buses and big rigs going through to the Congo. It still is sparse however, and was never congested or busy. The ride ends with a high speed descent down a quality paved road to Kamembe, which feels like an awesome reward.
In Kamembe, I visited another PCV. Thanks for hosting me AJ! It was terrific to spend some time with you and debrief the trip. The next day, I put my bike on the bus and started the trip back to my village.
|The trail is winding across the center of this picture|