We had read a little about Rwanda before we left London and continued hearing wonderful stories on our travels from both locals and travelers. Since the unimaginable horrors of the genocide in 1994, the country has made incredible progress: life expectancy has doubled, over 90% of the population is now covered by health insurance, the proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved, nearly all children now go to schoool, crime is low, women hold 64% of seats in Rwanda’s parliament, which is more than any other country in the world, and the average annual GDP growth rate over the last 15 years has been 7%-8%.
Similar to when we traveled to Djibouti, which is known as the ‘Dubai of Africa’, we thought maybe we’d cross the border in to another world. Our first impressions, however, were same same Africa, just driving on a different side of the road!
The tourist board seem to favour low-impact, high-cost tourism and while perhaps not overly welcoming for backpackers, we were really just looking forward to seeing a piece of everyday life.
After a wonderful five weeks traveling through Uganda, we crossed the border at Cyanika and caught a slightly less-overcrowded minibus to Musanze (formerly Ruhengeri). It wasn’t the best start as we peered into closed cafes and looked at pricey rooms in the pouring rain. After buying a stale sambusa, we found a nice coffee shop La Paillotte and over a delicious coffee on sheltered outdoor seats, it was time to figure out a plan!
Catherine noticed a poster for an island the restaurant owns on nearby Lake Burera where it was possible to camp. It was getting late in the day so we hopped on a boda- boda to the lake and were met by a boat and taken to the island. It’s a very small island with magnificent views of the Virunga volcanoes (see featured image) and a lovely place to chill for a few days. You can use the canoes for free, swim in the lake or simply enjoy the hammock. We had brought ingredients from the cafe and the island team recreated the delicious menu from the mainland.
A laid back lakeside town, Rubavu (formerly Gisenyi) is an easy place to spend an few days walking down the coast, having a swim and enjoying local life. We really enjoyed many a Rwandan buffet at Auberge de Gisenyi and despite its name, New Tam Tam Bikini Club is an awesome spot on the beach for a cold beer and an excellent people-watching spot, especially on a weekend. If you are looking for divine local coffee, and a delicious change from rice and beans, head to Calafia.
Rubavu is on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and we are using it as return base for our side trip to see the gorillas and to climb the active Nyiragongo volcano. We’re excited to continue our travels around Rwanda when we’re back.
On arrival at the border – $30.
There is no running water and bottled water is sold.
You can take food and cook yourself (gas and kitchenware available) or choose from the menu at La Paillotte and they’ll give you ingredients or drop off food by boat!
Boda-boda to the lake – 3,000 RwF each way/person
Boat to the island – 6,000 RwF (per boat return)
Camping – 12,000 RwF/person/night
Accommodation in Rubavu
We found a few affordable options –
- The local prespetarian church (Centre d’Accueill St Francois Xavier) – 10,000 RwF for a double room or 5,000 RwF camping/tent
- Discover Rwanda Gisenyi Beach- 8,000 RwF/person camping (includes free breakfast and good wifi)