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Why Your Next Road Trip Should Be Through Western Rwanda

A week ago I did a grand tour of western Rwanda that I would rather term as a green belt.

Beyond Nyabihu there’s nothing but volcanic fields, green tea field and  luxury resorts.

For the past decade, travel to western Rwanda has meant sleeping in an unremarkable  hotels and day-tripping to the golden Gisenyi currently called Rubavu, that 130-km circuit of green waves and rolling hills outside of town, and then capping your trip with a pre-departure soak in the lush vegetation in Gishwati forest before heading to golden lake views of all times. All done along-side everyone else stopping over between the Rubavu and Karongi. But newly opened luxury-design lodges 3B Hotels who own Kivu lodge, on the lake—are restoring the fantasy of a Rwandan lunar frontier worthy of exploration beyond a weekend.

 

Kivu Lodge.

Kivu Lodge in Western Rwanda. Part of the 3B Hotels Group.

You could helicopter between their properties between Kigali, Musanze, Karongi and the soon to be opened close to Akagera National park in the east of Rwanda, but consider going by car, driving from Kigali to Musanze on Gorilla safari lodge up to the Rubavu peninsula via the more rugged north, then looping back down to the Blue lake Kivu.  If you spread out the 227-mile drive over four or five days, spending a night or two at each hotel, you’ll have time to take in the haunting volcanic fields and vast plains reminiscent of Rwanda. Out here, you’ll see more hills, vegetation, mind blowing views than people.

GISHWATI TEA FIELDS AND FOREST

Gishwati Tea fields are so amazing for both camping close and tour onlookers

Volcanoes close to Gorilla Safari Lodge where you can start off your journey to the western green belt

Once you land, you don’t have to drive too far to feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere. The concrete-and-green adventure is just 1 and 20 minutes from Musanze but seems a world away. Close to is Gishwati forest.  It has an outdoor hot activity for some of you who love birding life, that looks out onto massive green tea covered fields.

There is no artificial light and no noise of any kind (you will only hear bird chirp, since just there are so many trees). The other break from the silence is the gentle hiss of wind waves coming from the upper hills rolling down the valleys. It’s particularly spectacular during a soak of the afternoon, in the fading western sunlight (and even more surreal when you consider sleeping in Musanze at Gorillas Safari lodge and wake up on a mega breakfast to give you energy of stretching your eye lenses to grasp the endless fable mountains).

Luxurious 3B Hotels group restaurants.

From here, continue west to Karongi via Rubengera on the famous Congo Nile trail. Route 1 cuts through mile after mile of sharp bends and hills, but the only traffic you’ll encounter is packs of eucalyptus galloping next to your car sliding backwards. The drive to Kivu lodge Farm is nearly 2 hours, so plan to stop stare, stop, stare and stop to stare at the glamorous west. Packed snack and water is advisable as you will not find much stop centres where you can buy a trusted snack

CONGO NILE TRAIL

Part of the snake soft roads that make up the Congo Nile Trail in Western Rwanda

The 227 Kms long distance has been known as the best product so far to me Rwanda development board has ever developed, for the country that’s yearning for After Gorilla experience packages. I guess this forms part of your experience as you traverse via the western green belt in Rwanda. Here you need to plan for 5 days or so if you are to cycle around. Each stopover will usher you into another one. I did not get a chance to camp or stop a lot but managed to have a brief glance of Mugonero base camp that happens to be close to Kivu lodge where I was staying.

Warning !!!

Please do not forget to pack your camera, summer like wear as the place looks more like Hawaii and those other places you see in movies and celebrity shows. Stop take a photo and you will thank me later

In the next episode I will tell you life on water with Iliza boat courtesy of iliza expeditions.

IliZA House Boat owned by Iliza expeditions. Wait for the Iliza story next.

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Darius in An Interview With Hear it From Locals about Kigali and Rwanda

Darius Dossantos is a full time traveller who has managed to visit over 46 countries on 4 continents and is still counting. In 1996 when he was a toddler he left home and toured Western Uganda in Rwenzori and since then life has never been the same for him. He got stuck in this thing called travel. He has guided a number of media houses including the famous BBC, New York times Journalists, famous photographers like Mark Metternich and many others. All the little money he gets is spent on his personal project called Travel With Darius TV.

KIGALI
Rwanda is a landlocked East African country also known as the land of 1000 hills. It’s highest point is Mount Karisimbi at 4507 metres and lowest is 950 metres. It is a part of Africa’s Great Lakes Region which is one of the richest regions of the continent in natural resources. The other countries which are it’s part are Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya.

Kigali is the capital and largest city of Rwanda. It is considered as one of the most modern and cleanest cities in the African continent. So much so that it has recently been nominated for the first edition of the Wellbeing City Award, an award that recognizes cities placing wellbeing at the center of urban design and planning. Kigali has appeared in the Public Health category in it where it will be competing with cities like Gothenburg, Los Angeles and Vancouver.

What is the best time to visit Kigali?
Kigali is an interesting city. First of all it is build on a high altitude. When its hot everywhere, you will find it cold. When its raining and flooding in other cities, you will find Kigali dry and clean. So all year around it’s a good city. But most importantly is visiting it during genocide commemoration time which starts around April and ends around July. The first two weeks are teasers. You feel the touch of what human kind can do to the rest yet you were not there. Everything is quiet in the city. Kigali doesn’t have peak time unless unusual conferences come over.

Which is the most convenient and favored transport of Kigali?
I will start with types of transport available. Kigali has city buses which are really on time and clean. City buses use swipe cards too, so everything is a bit modernized and cashless. Swipe cards are prepaid so that you can keep checking the balance.

Besides that you will get a number of taxi cabs parked in gazetted places. But the most common means of transport is taxi motto.

Taxi motto is basically motorcycles that you can call anytime, in any place around time. This is the most favored means of transport. Some companies have invested in extra cash to make it modernized with modern apps. You can pay a motto guy using mobile money for example. Kigali is on Google maps and streets are numbered so finding you is very easy. Sophisticated and transport companies like Uber have not hit Kigali market yet.

What are the top three must visit places in Kigali
The best day trips would be Kigali city tours. You can tour on a moto or even walkable distances depending on where you are coming from. Kigali city is not that big and besides the cleanliness will give you a chance to walk with no dust. Kigali also has Nyamirambo that is best loved by urban lifestylers with mostly Swahili speakers.

Get an afternoon visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial site at Gisozi and see trauma and danger that befell humankind in 1994. It’s a hard story for me to tell. It evokes bad memories for me. Entrance is free but you can donate to help this work of preserving history go on. The Rwandan genocide has a lasting and thoughtful impact not only to Rwanda but also on its neighboring countries.

Lastly don’t miss your evening sundowner at Ubumwe grand hotel rooftop where you will have an iconic view of Kigali at night.

Night View of Kigali from Ubumwe Grand Hotel Rooftop. Image Source : Tripadvisor

Night View of Kigali from Ubumwe Grand Hotel Rooftop. Image Source : Tripadvisor

What are the best day trips for nature, culture and history from Kigali?
Of course everyone knows Rwanda is home to the famous Gorilla. So my number one is Volcanoes National Park (Parc National Des Volcans). Apart from being the only place with volcanoes, this Northern part of Rwanda is so contagious. You don’t feel like leaving every time you go there. Karisimbi volcano is the highest peak and will greet you with a smile. Musanze town houses this park. Gorillas, people and hiking mountains will always come number one in this area. After seeing gorillas you will be given a dessert of Dian Fossey itinerary that will show you an amazing woman who sacrificed her life to save these amazing creatures that share 99+% of  DNA with human beings.

There are various accommodation options available in and around the park. However, Bisate Eco Lodge, a luxurious and eco-sensitive safari camp, is considered as one of the world’s best new hotels. It focuses on Africa’s most immersive wild primate experience and has been recently shortlisted in the Global Ahead awards in ‘Lodges & Tented Camps’ category.

Bisate Eco Lodge, Rwanda.

Bisate Eco Lodge, Rwanda.

Second place to me is Kibuye, a city in Karongi District, around 110 km from Kigali. It lies in the western stretch of Rwanda along L.Kivu that touches Rwanda to the west and kissing Democratic Republic of Congo to the West. It is just 1 hour’s drive away from Volcanoes national park and Gisenyi. To me this place has been underrated by all bloggers and travellers. It’s the Caribbean type of environment you will experience in Rwanda. It’s enchanting, its extremely gorgeous and one Rwanda’s hidden nature paradise. It is hard to believe that it is the same place which experienced the most killings of Tutsis by Hutus in the 1994 genocide. To learn more about things to do in Kibuye, click here.

Lake Kivu in Rwanda

Lake Kivu in Rwanda

Lastly I will not go without visiting Akagera National park. OMG. African parks in partnership with Rwanda Development board partnership have done a great deal of this Eastern Rwanda gem and tourism archipelago. Named after the Akagera river, this park is at the country’s border with Tanzania. Have a great time here by going on a wildlife game drive, fishing in lake Shakani, boat safari on lake Ihema or birding in the park. Here you can forget about being on the news for the introduction of the big five (lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo), but also a number of other animals, plains and luxurious resorts inside the park will never make you delete memories of this park.

Which is the most celebrated holiday of the year in Kigali?
A local brewery company called SKOL has started igniting Kigali city and its revelers. Currently they have started treating and giving back their loyal brew consumers an end of year party to beer drowns. Why not? So far my best!!

What is the most loved local food, savory and sweet of Kigali
French fries, chips or call it “ifiriti” as called in the local language. A meal without Ifiriti in Rwanda is not complete. As you move in the local suburbs you will find many small posters reading AMATA NA FANTA BIKONJE. This literally means,  COLD MILK AND FANTA. Lol. A homemade meal without milk is equally meaningless in Kigali. Vegetables are available but not common since most of them are imported from the neighboring countries.

Are there any popular markets in Kigali which tourists must visit? 
A visit to Kimironko market and Caplaki Craft Village, both local markets with art and cultural items from the Rwandan market would be ideal.

Kimironko market is one of the largest markets of Rwanda located in the outskirts of Kigali. All kinds of goods are sold here, from food to clothes to hardware. An added advantage is that it remains open every day of the week. To shop all you need is some patience and good negotiating skills. To know more about Kimironko market, click here.

Located in the Kiyovu neighborhood, Caplaki is an ideal destination for souvenir shopping. It is full of handmade fabrics, beads, baskets, carvings, ceramics and texture. It’s a great place for finding crafts from nearby countries too, all under one roof, however, almost the same items except maybe a few, can be found in Kimironko and at a much cheaper rate. Nevertheless, it’s worth a visit.

Farmers markets are organized periodically for resident foreigners especially who want to buy organic foods.

Which is the local craft or souvenir of Kigali?
Because Rwanda is a land of strong culture, you will find souvenirs which are 100% Rwandan authentic. Examples are Imigongo made from cow dung and gorilla sculptures.

Imigongo art is a type of art that is made by making patterns using cow dung, mainly in the colours red, black and white. It is a popular art in the whole of Rwanda but it first started in the Igisaka region. In this art, cow dung is given geometric shapes on a wooden board and let to dry before it is painted in different colours.

Which are the best streets of Kigali worthy of taking a stroll on?
Kimihurura. This once used to be a diplomat residential place is now full of high end classic clubs and restaurants. From local to international cuisines and dining places. This area is in the centre of the city making it easier to travel to other parts. Overall a great place for accommodation, restaurants, cafes and night life.

Can you suggest a place from where one can get the best view of the city?
Rebero Hill. Its known to be the highest point of Kigali and will give you a chance for a panoramic view of Kigali city. Over 70% of the city can be seen from this hill. Besides it has something else to see. Genocides heroes’ mausoleum.

Would you suggest any shows in Kigali to drama, music or art lovers? Where can one spot street art in Kigali?
Well am not an art person neither do I love music performances. However, if  you love it then Isaano Arts is an annual music festival that celebrates African music. The festival is one of the largest and most popular musical festivals in the country in which many top local and guest musicians take part.

Besides travel I love comedy and my Friend ARTHUR NKUSI in the same names on social media makes me laugh my ass out. He does his commedy at Camp De Kigali. Seka Live is a show of all times.

For street art check out the work by Rwandese organization, Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga – which translates in English to “To Create, To See, To Learn”. They create works of art that transform spaces and places through color and creativity.

How hard is it to travel in Kigali without knowing the local language?
You need a guide. Almost hard. Unlike other countries in East Africa, people in Rwanda don’t direct anyone like that. English is a problem. Maybe use cops on the roadside. They are friendly than ordinary citizens. Cops will direct you with ease or else get a guide.

Would you recommend any local apps for food, transport or hidden gems in Kigali?
Yes!! Hello food, Jumia food for food delivery at your doorstep.

Yego moto and Safe moto for motorcycles and taxis. But I would advise you to get out of the gate and whistle at the moto. The only thing these apps would help you is if you are not good at bargaining, here the price is set. Remember if you don’t get a set price you will get muzungu price. Don’t ask me what that one is. Smiles……

Good bye till next time.

source: Hear it From Locals

SPECIAL ATTRACTION REVIEW: Heaven on the Lake? Sounds strange!!!!

Yes it is and actually we are here. Just a reminder from our previous blog you can read here Darius Day one on Iliza this time no fatigue, no hunger, no nothing but just smiles all over from me and my twins as I prefer to call them.  They can’t hide the excitement just like father like son and daughter as the saying goes.

Ntwali Darius Young And Ngabo Darius Neumann on pose for a photo on Iliza and One of the Island they visited. Dressed by Top Kids Kigali Store Nyarugenge Market.

Ntwali Darius Young And Ngabo Darius Neumann on pose for a photo on Iliza and One of the Island they visited. Dressed by Top Kids Kigali Store Nyarugenge Market.

Its day three of the Darius’ adventure on Iliza- Heaven on the Lake

Iliza House Boat on Lake Kivu in Rwanda.

We have never done a big boat since the kids were born. We did some small boat tours around East Africa’s smallest lakes like Lake Bunyonyi and the likes. But this type, never!!!

So how was the feeling like this time?

Of course just like everyone they are no exception. But everything was new to us. Sleeping on the boat floating on water was our first time in the whole of our history. To us heaven seems to be a simple or down to the bottom word that anyone can use. I would prefer another word be added in the dictionary for the sake describing Iliza boat and the experience. What would that be? I will come up with one.

Beds

At first sight from the outside its hard to believe what we saw after entering. Saying it’s an in-house boat is an under phrasing and description. It should be called a house on the Lake. If at all, the slogan heaven on the lake had started making sense. Actually a lot of sense. The boat can accommodate the whole family of 6 persons. So to say two parents on the double and four children on the single double deck beds in two different rooms. To Ngabo Darius Neumann and Ntwali Darius Young it was over whelming to sleep while peeping at the lake and night fishermen passing around. Every kid that’s a dream night. To me it was enchanting. All night I heard the voice of sea animals and water flows only.

A luxury double bed on Iliza and Two Decks for children are waiting for you on Iliza House boat in Rwanda.

A luxury double bed on Iliza and Two Decks for children are waiting for you on Iliza House boat in Rwanda.

Seating Room

On Iliza boat there was masses of seating. No issue with where to sit, we moved around naturally. The boat has a big seating space cabin enough for everyone in the family including your dog if need be. We were comfortable the whole time and didn’t feel out of space. A cabin being a perfect place to contain the kids and get some rest if you’ve had a long drive beforehand. Wait a minute, Iliza management has made it a point to include entertainment for you and the kids so that the whole family feels at home. All types of games are there. The seating is much more aeroplane first class style in round sofa set for 6 pax and above.

Ngabo Darius Neumann Picture in Iliza sitting room. Dressed by Top Kids Kigali Store in Nyarugenge Market Rwanda.

Entertainment

There is a lot of entertainment on Iliza boat. Music lovers are sorted out from the rooftop terrace bar and lounge to their seating room and rooms if you want. To my twins as I mentioned that earlier They actually didn’t want to get to bed. All types of toys are stocked in the seating cabin to make them more comfortable and forget all the three months nonstop book life they have been at school or even the other 10 hour, Kampala Kigali stressing road trip. We can’t thank them enough for thinking about my children and mostly my twins. They didn’t want to leave.

Ntwali Darius Young enjoying games onboard Iliza.  Ngabo Darius Neuman show off what she made out of her favourite on Iliza. Dressed by Top Kids Kigali Store in Nyarugenge Market Rwanda.

Ntwali Darius Young enjoying games onboard Iliza.  Ngabo Darius Neuman show off what she made out of her favourite on Iliza. Dressed by Top Kids Kigali Store in Nyarugenge Market Rwanda.

Adventure on the Lake Kivu

Adventure on Iliza is a shock !!! I have always felt dizzy, scared and with a lot of shivers moving down my spine every time I step in a boat, big or small. But this time, Not one little bit. I managed to eat some food and have a coffee And everything was fine. This time not even sitting in the middle as I have always done but rather on the edges with my twins. That’s so mean of myself. I mean sleeping on the hammock with my twins when the boat is moving and connect to the world.

The Darius’s enjoy a ride on Iliza while sleeping in a comfortable Hammock of Iliza. Kids Dressed by Top Kinds Nyarugenge Market in Rwanda.

Of course when we felt like it’s enough of Iliza we had to jump over to the small yellow boats. I just don’t know what had scared the hell out of us to go and even peddle our own. Never had the feeling I got the moment I moved just few meters on our own.  10 minutes later I and my twins felt shocking. Not actually sick, but fairly awful and it was actually flat calm. Not sure what happened but at some point me and my twins felt choppy but the love of adventure was calling all the time. It’s at this point that we felt even immersing ourselves in water and feel the awe of Lake Kivu as we leave our Iliza to wonder around waiting for us.

Kayaking and Canoeing trips are some of the activities Iliza expedition provides. The Darius’s on Iliza small canoes to an Island. Kids dressed by Top Kids Store Kigali Rwanda.

There are many islands on the lake which are good for families especially when you have kids. We visited Napoleon island and from here we did a couple of Photo shoots for the twins. They love posing for pictures. I just spoilt them that way in the last 10 years they have lived on this planet world.

Ngabo Darius Neumann and Ntwali Darius Young pose for a photo in one of the islands in Lake Kivu. Dressed by Top Kids Nyarugenge market store in Rwanda.

Ngabo Darius Neumann and Ntwali Darius Young pose for a photo in one of the islands in Lake Kivu. Dressed by Top Kids Nyarugenge market store in Rwanda.

Food and drinks

The breakfast on Iliza was ok and amazing and reasonably priced. We didn’t feel like we have been robbed which a good start is always. There were quite a lot of options from an A la Carte to snacks and everything in between. There was also someone who was taking care of us in case we needed anything extra off the menu. Her name is Fanny. She smiles all the time you call on her name and listens attentively. And by the way, the captain is also a good cook. Am not a fun of sea food but for the kids it’s their hobby. I enjoyed a lot of good local food from the hills of Karongi including potatoes, bananas greens and some red meat. All in all everything was Yummy !!!!

The Darius’ enjoy local yummy food on Iliza House boat.

I bet even if you are to stay 100 days you would still have enough than you need. The boat has an inbuilt Kitchen so at some point had to hit the Kitchen and prepare coffee of my choice without calling on the waitress or chef. Due to limited space Fanny and Captain Alphonse doubles as the waitress and Chef, Waiter and Captain respectively. What a multi talented team on Iliza. You don’t have to worry about getting off the dock station since all is catered for.

Darius prepares porridge for the young ones inside Iliza’s Kitchen. It’s your choice if you want a meal of your own.

Our story on Iliza continues for Day four and five in our next blog.

Why not share this with a friend now?

Watch Iliza house boat adventure here : https://youtu.be/5foDmvNxymg