We were actually the only guests midweek in August but lake Kivu is a weekend hangout, I think, so I am sure it was different after we left! The service is a bit slow, not unusual in Africa, but the food is good and the staff really friendly and helpful. The pool is overflown by hunting kites and the garden full of colourful small birds and the odd sea eagle. The lake is gorgeous - check for the fruit bats in the palms nearby - and the locals friendly. Spacious rooms are not full of character but it's definitely worth the $110 per night.
Beach Road, Gisenyi, Rwanda
Google map: bit.ly/oQixqW
This small hotel is a 10 minute tough slog from the Place de l'Unite National in what is actually a middle class neighbourhood, despite the dusty look. The young staff, led by John, are really friendly while John himself is a bit of a star with his links to the likes of Amahoro Tours for gorilla trekking etc. The food takes a while but is decent and the views across the valley are lovely. All this for $55 a night!
Lake Kivu, a volcanic lake, lies on the border between Rwandan (east) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (West). The city of Gisenyi lies just on the border and from there you can get fantastic view Rwanda’s famous volcanoes and the DRC on the other side of the lake. This is also a great area for those who like water sports as you can rent small boats to go on the lake. For bird lovers, Lake Kivu is a treasure: you will see a very large variety of birds, including multicoloured humming birds, macaws, African Grey Crowned Cranes and the magnificent Rockefeller’s Sunbird. For the more adventures ones, go across the border into Goma (DRC) for a day. It is a very different sight - imagine UN peacekeepers, Red Cross trucks and ruins - compared to the peaceful atmosphere of Gisenyi but it is an inspiring experience nonetheless. Or you can just lie on the small beach and enjoy the sun.
One tip, if you want a fantastic view of the lake take a car, motorbike or small taxi-bus to Rubona, home of Bralirwa breweries and the main harbour to Gisenyi (it lies of a six kilometres away from Gisenyi town centre). First enjoy the scenic route then stop at the Brewery and walk around towards the water. This little bay area is much more peaceful then Gisenyi. You are away from the fancy hotels and gated houses around the lake (they sometimes make it difficult to go next to the water). Look at the small fishing pirogues, enjoy an African tea and caramelized pineapple at one of the few small hotel/cafes there (such as Paradis Malahide, B.P 535, Rubona, Gisenyi) and just contemplate the lake, the fauna and flora for a couple of hours. There are supposed to be hot springs in the area as well. Some tourists have managed to find them, others not. Locals had no idea what we were talking about.
three and half hours from Kigali by bus.
Google map: tinyurl.com/32nwbqj
Though they originally wanted $90 USD a night, when we showed them that the Lonely Planet 2009 guidebook said they only charge $46, they matched the price. From the moment we walked in the door to the time we left, we felt like they were trying to hussle us. The cable TV they advertise is actually one channel and it wasn’t in English. They advertised Wifi, and it worked, but only sitting behind the reception desk. And every request – from an extra towel to a fan (also advertised) for the room - was a major burden to them. After three months on the road in East Africa, the Okapi gets the award for the worst value.
BP 1775 Kigali, Kigali, Rwanda
Well-located in the town centre to walk around the markets and museum, and close to the spaciously gardened embassies.
A bit dated but a nice pool and secluded grounds. Service is good and the Panorama restaurant on top has great views over the relatively quiet and modest town centre.
Try to get a garden-facing room as the others are a bit noisy. Inevitably full of challenging history.
In the old town centre on one of the '1000 hills', 30 minutes' taxi from airport. www.millecollines.net/
As well as the over visited mountain gorillas at Virunga Volcanoes on the Uganda/Congo border, which are magical, there's Africa’s largest unspoilt and beautiful mountain forest at Nyungwe, with gruelling treks with local guides to see all manner of wildlife including marauding chimps.
1970s Belgian hotel architecture, with a nice garden and pool right in the centre of Kigalli, redolent with its recent history as a refuge in the genocide. The rooftop restaurant has fabulous views of the city, very good food and service and is reasonably priced
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