Travel

One Hour in Rwanda: Relax, Swim and Heal in the Waters of Lake Kivu

 

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Lake Kivu, one of the deepest lakes in the world, lies on the border between Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda
Rwanda

In Lake Kivu, near the town of Gisenyi, visitors can fish, travel to the lake’s islands or enjoy massage therapy at natural hot springs. The town is a short ride across the border from Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.

GISENYI, RWANDA — It’s a quiet Saturday on the shores of Lake Kivu in Gisenyi, a town in Rubavu district in Rwanda’s Western Province. Water from the lake laps at the shore. Birds chirp from tree branches above. There’s a gentle breeze. People walk, cheerful, along an asphalt road bordered with flowers and palm trees.

Weekends are a chance to escape the stress of daily life, and many people find this escape on the beach. Here, at Lake Kivu, a public beach, people of all ages, races and social and economic backgrounds meet at the water’s edge to swim, play sports or simply relax. Some walk barefoot in the sand. Others sit by the side of the lake, swinging their feet in the water while enjoying the sun’s soft rays on their skin.

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In Gisenyi, a town in the Rubavu district of Rwanda’s Western Province, a half bridge that leads into the waters of Lake Kivu is a place where people enjoy sitting, taking in the view and diving.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Aline Kacunga, 23, of Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, says she crossed the border to relax on the beach with her friends.

“I love swimming; it’s my favorite hobby,” Kacunga says. “I love diving from this bridge. I am sure I cannot hit my head against rocks during a dive, because the lake has a sandy bottom.”

Lake Kivu is on the border of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s a freshwater lake — free of crocodiles and sharks — and boasts a number of islands, including one of the largest inland islands on the African continent, ldjwi.

The small town of Gisenyi is a 25-minute drive from the city of Goma. The town is an idyllic place to escape from city life, because it has hotels, bars and restaurants nestled on the edge of Lake Kivu.

Lake Kivu Serena Hotel, Palm Garden, Inzozi Beach Hotel, Paradise Malahide Hotel and New Tam-Tam Bikini Bar & Restaurant, for example, provide access to private beaches and arrange activities like fishing, canoeing, kayaking and boat rides for their guests.

“I’m a Tanzanian,” says Jessica Imani, 24, a tourist in Gisenyi. “My friends and I are staying here for a week. We appreciate the great hospitality here and enjoy a free gift of fresh air. It’s our lovely place to relish food and drinks, and we love savoring the local specialty food known as sambaza.” Sambaza is a small fish, often compared with sardines.

One of the most popular tours is a trip by canoe or boat to the many islands on Lake Kivu. A tourist can hire a locally made canoe for 1,000 Rwandan francs ($1.20) or a group tour for 700 Rwandan francs (84 cents).

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Jessica Imani, 24, is beside a tour boat on the shore of Lake Kivu. She traveled to Gisenyi from Tanzania.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Beautiful sand and clear water are two of the appeals of Lake Kivu. People come to enjoy nature, relax and swim.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Residents draw water from the lake for distribution. Drinking water is scarce in the area, and Lake Kivu functions as a source.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Eric Habimana is a taxi boat driver. For those traveling to villages around the lake, taking a taxi boat is one of the quickest modes of transportation.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

The hot springs, known as Amashyuza, are on the eastern shore of Lake Kivu. To reach the springs, people walk or motorbike along this path.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Hot water from the Amashyuza flows into Lake Kivu. In order for people to soak in the springs, a pool, which retains some of the water, was made with sandbags.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

One of the most common reasons that people travel to Amashyuza is for healing. Body aches and pains, as well as rheumatism, are among the ailments of the hot springs visitors.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Fishermen launch into the water for their daily catch.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

For many of the area’s residents, fishing is a way of life.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

On shore, the wives of fishermen sell sambaza, small fish, on the roadside.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

They also clean and prepare the freshly caught fish for their customers.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Fishermen go about their business as the sun sets on the waters of Lake Kivu.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Thermal hot springs, locally known as Amashyuza, are on the eastern shore of Lake Kivu. For Gisenyi residents, the springs harbor not only mysteries but also miracles. The hot waters come from deep inside Earth’s core and in certain areas reach temperatures of 72 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit).

In the cooler parts of the springs, where visitors are permitted to soak, the water functions as a natural remedy for health problems, including the flu and rheumatic diseases, while boosting the immune system.

For many Gisenyi residents, the appeal of Lake Kivu is also an opportunity to make a living in the tourism industry.

A variety of services are available in Gisenyi and throughout other parts of the lake. Massages, for example, are a highlight at Amashyuza.

Thacien Habimana, a 28-year-old massage therapist at the hot springs, says he was born in a village near Lake Kivu and used to fish and canoe often.

“I had no chance to go to school, and living near Lake Kivu was a godsend to me because I had no choice but to depend on this lake for my means of livelihood,” Habimna says.

For a full-body massage, visitors pay 500 Rwandan francs (60 cents); the price for a hand and leg massage is 200 Rwandan francs (20 cents).

“I suffered from muscle swelling and soreness,” says Devotha Kampogo, a 53-year-old woman who uses the waters to treat rheumatism. “But since I’ve started enjoying a massage in hot thermal spring waters, I’d say my condition has improved dramatically.”

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For the residents around Lake Kivu, days begin and end with the water. For fishermen, taxi boats and those working in the hospitality industry, the lake provides a living. For visitors, it provides a chance to relax and enjoy good company and a spectacular view.

Janviere Uwimana, GPJ Rwanda

Visit Gisenyi and Lake Kivu
The closest airport to Gisenyi is Goma International Airport in Democratic Republic of Congo. It is a little more than a 10-minute drive from the airport to town and requires crossing the border into Rwanda. For additional information, call +250 252 57 65 14 or email [email protected]

Ndayaho Sylvestre, GPJ, translated the article from French.

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