Different parts of Rwanda offer unique experiences. The country has been a top tourist destination for a few years now, mainly due to the unique mountain gorillas that inhabit the Volcanoes National Park in the north, the must-see Nyungwe rainforest in the south, as well as the abundant wildlife that roam the Akagera National Park in the east.
However, one of the country’s best treasures is nestled among the undulating hills and valleys of western Rwanda. Off the beaten track, Karongi – which is also known as Kibuye – is a vibrant, intimate little paradise that is ideal for that traveller who prefers a quiet and serene environment.
If you are coming from the capital Kigali, it’s a captivating journey that takes approximately two hours 30 minutes by bus. The journey offers scenic views of this part of Rwanda’s emerald, gentle hills that are usually drenched in modest sunshine.
After crossing the Nyabarongo Bridge, which separates Muhanga and Karongi districts, the first thing that welcomes you to Karongi is the Inyange Girls School, one of the few schools in Rwanda that are steeped in history due to a troubled past.
One day in 1997 – years after the end of the grotesque Genocide against the Tutsi that claimed the lives of a million people – the notorious Interahamwe militia stormed the school and ordered students to identify themselves according to their ethnicity. However, the students refused to comply, much to the chagrin of the merciless militia who subsequently opened fire undiscriminatingly, leaving many young girls dead.
The best of Lake Kivu
Lake Kivu is Rwanda’s largest lake that straddle different districts, but it’s Karongi that offers some of the most breathtaking views. Karongi town itself is small in size but the lakeside offers the best place for relaxation.
For accommodation, one has several options to choose from, ranging from budget to high-end. There are cottages, single and double occupancy, as well as shared rooms. Suits are also available although not in all hotels. Depending on your budget, you can choose from the Golf Eden Rock Hotel, Rwiza Village Guest House, Moriah Hill Resort, Centre Bethanie, Saint Jean Hotel–Kibuye, Cormoran Lodge and Holiday Hotel, among other facilities.
However, despite the many hotels and guest houses that have been set up here in the recent past, the good news is that Karongi is still not as crowded as Gisenyi, another beach town located on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
On my last visit to this little paradise, I took a 30-minute boat ride to Amahoro Island, which not only offers the most panoramic view of the lake, but is also home to a variety of bird species and a couple of mammals, including monkeys.
This island also boasts a sandy beach from where one can enjoy the game of volleyball. You can also just lay in the sand and read a book. Or, on a more leisurely ramble, you can jog around and sample the life and soul of Lake Kivu.
When it comes to food, the most popular dish here is called Igisafuriya, a cocktail of boiled plantain, chicken and groundnuts. Delicious stuff!
When darkness falls, a campfire is set up where you can sit and chat with friends and strangers before spending the rest of the night in one of the tents – a cosy camping option for two cuddly people.
Well, next time you are looking for a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of Kigali, just head to Karongi. After all, to dust off an age-old adage, there are few things more breathtaking than nature!