The Congo-Nile trail
The Congo-Nile trail in Rwanda is both a cycling and hiking adventure that takes place along the shores of Lake Kivu and through the great Nyungwe Forest National Park. its not necessarily in Congo as a country, Lake Kivu borders Rwanda to the east and Democratic Republic of Congo to the west; it lies in the Albertine rift and is listed as the fourth largest lake in Africa as the Nyungwe forest is a prehistoric biodiverse rain forest that covers an area of about 970 sq km south west of Rwanda.
Launched and opened in 2009, the Congo Nile trail is quite a long route of single trails and ancient dirt roads leading to several villages along the trail, plantations and offering a trailer beautiful nature sceneries. The trail experience offers you a chance to challenge you hiking and cycling abilities as you appreciate the unique and beautiful scenery of Lake Kivu and its surrounding, see several birds species along the trail and on Lake Kivu including the white tailed blue flycatchers and White-breasted cormorants, experience the rural communities in Rwanda, witness the different plantations along the trail that include tea, coffee, and banana plantations plus appreciate the unique lifestyles of the small communities along the trail activities like fetching firewood, children playing rural games, market activities and fishing among other things.
The Congo- Trail is a network of matted trails and road routes that start from the north of Lake Kivu to the south thus Gisenyi and Kamembe respectively; it follows a combination of rocky, track routes that wind up in various hills in the middle of Gisenyi and Kamembe. On your hike or cycling experience, you will have a bumpy journey all through the trail because of the difficult terrains of the trail; in fact, this trail is not easily done by first-timers, you need to have some hiking or mountain biking experience before you take on the trail. And this experience is best done by adventure lovers, nature lovers, birders and anyone who loves a good challenge.
Hikers/cyclers normally take 5 days or more to hike or cycle the Congo- Nile Trail from the start in Gisenyi then continue through to a section that divides the Nile River and the Congo waters; this division is the reason for the name Congo-Nile Trail. The hikers/cyclers continue on the trail as they pull away slightly from the Kivu waters into tea plantations and track roads that go through the great Nyungwe rain forest. The hikers/cyclers then go out of the forest through to more track roads all the way to the finish point in Kamembe.
Though this is a must-do activity for every adrenaline rush lover; it’s quite a difficult trail to navigate; the trail terrains are quite mountainous and steep making it one of the most difficult trails in Nyungwe Forest National Park to hike or cycle in the region. The most difficult part on the trail is the section between Kinunu and Kibuye which is known to be the steepest but also the section with the most scenic breath taking views and experience.
The hiking and cycling on the Congo-Nile trail is guided by experienced guides and the trail routes are well-indicated with markers in several points about 5 – 10 km apart. Plus all the villages along the trail are very helpful, with locals providing support when you need it. The villages also have shops where you can purchase essentials for your route like water, snacks, fruits, soap, etc.
This trail, because is normally done over a couple of days, Rwanda Development Board has provided several campsites along the trail where one can spend a night for overnight rest from the hike or cycling experience. These campsites are well-maintained and readily available for any user, you don’t need to make prior bookings to access them; you will just show up and be given a tent; though you need to carry your own sleeping items or camping gear. Along the trail, there are also guesthouses you can opt to stay in if tents or campsites are not your things. Guesthouses are booked in advance and they attract an extra cost.
Tourist who do take part in this trial experience normally challenge themselves to complete the whole trail, which, may take 5 or more days; however, some people opt to have a shorter experience of one long day or two short days hiking or cycling along the trail from Gisenyi to Kibuye; and after return to the mainland by boat.
The entire break down of the trail is
- 50 km from Gisenyi to Kinunu which is normally the first day and hikers or cyclers have quite a steep elevation climb to conquer on this day.
- 70 km from Kinunu to Kibuye normally tackled on the second day of the hike or cycling experience; this section has quite a number of hills and has several steep points that’s why it’s the most difficult to navigate on the trail.
- 30 km from Kibuye to Mugonero done on the third day, this is the shortest section on the trail but has one of the highest hills that is up to 1, 887 meters high.
- 35 km from Mugonero to Kibogora best known as the descending trail, it is normally a slope down the lake kivu shores before one climbs a few more hills again.
- 60 km Kibogora to Kamembe the beauty with this section is that its tarmac, which makes it a straight sail till the end of the tail.
As you prepare for this trail, remember to travel light so that your luggage doesn’t wear you down as you hike or cycle. Your luggage should have a sleeping bag if you plan to sleep at the several campsites along the trail, bottles of water, first aid kit, sunscreen, toiletries, change of clothes, torch or headlamp, a warmer/thick coat for the cold nights and other things that you dim essential for your entire the Congo-Nile trail experience.
As stated you can either hike or cycle the trail; cycling in more advised because it’s less tiring than hiking but travellers are free to do what pleases them. For cycling, you will need to rent a bicycle at a cost that varies from 75 – 85 USD a week.
To get to the trail from Rwanda’s capital Kigali you will use a bus or a private vehicle from a tour operator; there busses available that carry bicycles too, so you lookout for those. From Kigali to Gisenyi which is the starting point of the trail is about 4 – 5 hours and the return journey from Kamembe to Kigali is about 5 – 6 hours.