Seven Days in Gisenyi

We spent seven days in Gisenyi, a small town in Rwanda on the shores of Lake Kivu. Not because it is an amazing destination, but because we are stuck there three times, waiting.

During our first sojourn, we are waiting for our visit to the Parc National des Volcans to track the mountain gorillas. We have pre-booked our park permits for 2 April, but the speed of our travels has left us with three days to kill in Gisenyi.

The second time, we are waiting to visit the DRC. Our friend Megan’s Congolese visa has not arrived in time, meaning we must wait for two days in Gisenyi.

Finally, we cross back from the DRC back into Gisenyi in the late afternoon and spend the night. The next day, we are ready to depart for the bus station by 7am. The man at the Presbyterian Church guesthouse restaurant asks us with concern, “But you are leaving?” We learn that due to it being Genocide Memorial Day, no public transport is operating until mid-afternoon. The streets are quiet and the bus station is strangely silent and deserted, full of empty waiting vehicles. We spend a few last hours in Gisenyi, waiting.

Our seven days in Gisenyi lead to us having a wealth of tourist information about the town. We imagine what we would write if we were the authors of a guidebook:

Despite its location on the shores of Lake Kivu, Gisenyi doesn’t stand out as a destination on its own. However, it is a pleasant enough place to pass a few days, and given its geographical location, you may find yourself spending some time there, as many people do.

The best cheap sleep is the Presbyterian Church guesthouse aka Bethany Investments (Rfr8,000/10,000 for a self-contained single/double), located in pleasant gardens in the centre of town. If you have money to spend, the Serena Hotel in Gisenyi is waterfront, or head to Rubona (ask for the Bralirwa Brasserie) to stay at Paradis Malahide or the new lovely Hotel des Palmes (US$100/60 for waterfront/up the hill). Taxi-moto fare from Gisenyi to Rubona is about Rfr600; there is also a bus departing every 30 minutes from the bus station for Rfr100. For trips in town (including to the DRC border), taxi-moto fare should be Rfr300.

For local food, the “thing” seems to be buffets: you can enjoy a cheap and filling meal (Rfr1,200/1,500 with/without meat for as much as you can fit on plate) at Bethany Investments, Auberge de Gisenyi, Cafe-Resto Iby’Iwacu (the local haunt of taxi-moto drivers), and various other local hotels. For the Rwandan speciality dish Igisafuliya (chicken, green bananas, potatoes, groundnut sauce), head to Green Turtle (formerly known as Crescendo Bar) with its spacious garden or the (slightly more upscale) restaurant at the Mostej Motel. At both places, be prepared for a significant wait, especially at Green Turtle where food preparation can take up to two hours! For self catering and snacks, the Boulangerie de Gisenyi is a well-stocked supermarket (which also sells chocolate bars for Rfr600!) with a good bakery (the meat pies and chocolate marble cake are recommended).

There is free wireless internet at Gorillas Lake Kivu Hotel (where you can also use the kidney-shaped pool for Rfr4,000) and White Rock Bistro. “Bistro”, as it’s known locally, also has the best food in town (pizzas from Rfr4000 and a selection of well-prepared meat and fish dishes from Rfr6000, including beef filet – they’ll even ask you how you want your steak done!) and a lovely terrace over the Lake with a view of Goma in the distance. For soccer game viewing, head to the Auberge de Gisenyi (for a sociable atmosphere) or Mostej Motel (for a quieter vibe).

Swimming in Lake Kivu is at your own discretion.  Just beware of the methane gas bubbling beneath the surface!

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