Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes. It lies on the border between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, and is in the Albertine (western) Rift, a part of the Great Rift Valley. Lake Kivu empties into the Ruzizi River, which flows southwards into Lake Tanganyika.
The lake covers a total surface area of some 2,700 km2 (1,040 sq mi) and stands at a height of 1,460 metres (4,790 ft) above sea level. Some 1 370 km2 or 58% of the lake's waters lie within DRC borders. The lake bed sits upon a rift valley that is slowly being pulled apart, causing volcanic activity in the area, and making it particularly deep: its maximum depth of 480 m (1,575 ft) is ranked fifteenth in the world. The lake is surrounded by majestic mountains.
The world's tenth-largest inland island, Idjwi, lies in Lake Kivu, as does the tiny island of Tshegera, which also lies within the boundaries of Virunga National Park; while settlements on its shore include Bukavu, Kabare, Kalehe, Sake and Goma in Congo and Rubavu, Kibuye and Cyangugu in Rwanda.
Native fish include species of Barbus, Clarias, and Haplochromis, as well as Nile Tilapia. Limnothrissa miodon, one of two species known as the Tanganyika sardine, was introduced in 1959 and formed the basis of a new pelagic zone fishery. In the early 1990s, the number of fishers on the lake was 6,563, of which 3,027 were associated with the pelagic fishery and 3,536 with the traditional fishery. Widespread armed conflict in the surrounding region from the mid-1990s resulted in a decline in the fisheries harvest.
The three main cities on the Rwanda coastline of Lake Kivu are:
Cyangugu, a port at the southernmost end of the lake has grown up around the border crossing into the Congo. It’s pretty run-down, with a few faded colonial buildings. From the rather shabby Hotel Du Lac Kivu is so close to the border that you can virtually jump across to the DRC from your bedroom window. The Peace Guesthouse, run by nuns, on a hill overlooking the town is a lovely spot and a nice place to stay.
Kibuye, half-way up the lake is much more of a town. It’s about a five-hour drive from Nyungwe, or six from Cyangugu, over unmade dusty roads, but its well worth it for an incredibly scenic drive which enables you to get a full picture of rural-life Rwandan style. It’s hilly and cultivated wherever possible; not only tea plantations but tiny fields and terraces of beans, rice, bananas, cassava, potatoes and coffee. There are lots of tiny brickworks, and, when you look down at the lakeside, one can see traders bringing goods to sell or exchange from other parts of the lake.
Kibuye itself is the prettiest of the lakeside towns, with a bit of a beach, but apart from the lake, there is not a lot to see.You can take a boat out on the lake and explore some of the many tiny islands.
There’s a haunting genocide memorial – a church on the hill above the lake where more than 4000 Tutsis took shelter and were massacred.
Kibuye Guesthouse occupies a prime spot by the towns only postage-stamp sized beach, but at time of writing it is closed, looking for a new owner. That leaves the Centre Bethanie, run by priests.
Rubavu is a somewhat faded lakeside resort and a border crossing point into the Congo. The shore is lined with crumbling colonial villas. It is now enjoying a renaissance as it boasts its first international standard hotel, the recently-opened Kivu Serena.
Getting there involves either another long lakside drive, about four hours up from Kibuye on dirt roads, or, if you are on a group tour, there is often a ferry service from Kibuye across the lake. If you do go by road, that’s another fascinating drive with plenty of excitement.
There is more to see and do in Rubavu. Take a boat on the lake, visit the Imbabazi Orphanage, take a drive into the remnants of ancient Gishwati Forest, or, when the border is open, cross into the Congo to visit the town of Goma, site of the volcanic eruption in 2002.