Kayaking in Rwanda

Rwanda isn’t what you’d call a top destination for kayaking. Paddling here doesn’t offer the kind of jaw-dropping scenery and thrilling river runs that attract serious kayakers. “It’s more for people looking for a different, more active way to see Rwanda,” says Steve Venton, founder of Kingfisher safaris, who work with our adventure travel specialists Pioneer Expeditions to offer kayaking tours. “It allows you to get more involved – really get under the surface of a place you’re visiting.”
Rwanda is full of surprises, if you slow down enough to see them. Travel through the country by car alone and you’ll miss the morning birdsong drift over your lakeside campsite, or the chance to listen to local fishermen singing songs in their dying language. It’s also very safe, making it an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to really get off the beaten track for the first time and try a more adventurous way of travelling.
In fact, tourism is well-established in Rwanda, trips are well-organised and roads, although a little rough, link up all the places you’ll go. “It’s a bit like Spain was 10 years ago where occasionally something might not go quite right,” explains Steve, “but you’ll be met on arrival in a decent modern car and if any breakdowns happen then there’s always a plan B.” He adds: “People will just need to be a bit patient.”

Our top Lake and river kayaking Holiday

Rwanda kayaking holiday and gorilla safari

Rwanda kayaking holiday and gorilla safari

A unique kayaking adventure on Lake Kivu

From £5696 10 days ex flights
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Where to go kayaking in Rwanda

Rwanda, land of a thousand hills, is also home to Africa’s eighth largest lake, Kivu. Its clean, clear water – free from hippos and crocs – is a safe and spectacular location for kayakers to try their first paddle strokes.
Elsewhere in the country there’s a constant hustle and bustle, but here, where very little development has been allowed, you’ll immediately notice the peace and quiet. All the better for hearing the birdsong of the many different and exotic species that live around the lake – from the colourful kingfisher and southern red bishop, to the African spoonbill, sacred ibis and magnificent grey crowned crane. Paddle among the lake’s islands and you might also see the wake of an otter as it slips into the water, perhaps spot a non-venomous snake or come across a colony of thousands of fruit bats.
It’s a rare opportunity to spend several days kayaking with highly qualified guides; few other organisations on the continent offer the same experience. It will just be you and your small group, out on this immense island-dotted lake, listening to the songs of fishermen as they haul in their evening catch by the light of their gas lit lanterns.

Your guides

Steve Venton is an experienced kayaking coach who has paddled on rivers and seas across four continents. After first arriving in Rwanda, he was surprised to learn that there were no activities based at Lake Kivu: “The people here had never even seen a kayak. No one was taking advantage of the beautiful scenery.”

Since then, Steve has trained three local kayaking guides and helped them qualify as the world’s first non-UK leaders with British Canoeing, the UK’s national governing body for paddle sports. As a result, travellers can be confident that their trip meets the highest safety standards, and that their money is providing much-needed income in parts of Rwanda that wouldn’t normally profit from tourism.

Kayaking is a very low impact way to travel, and Steve is keen to stress the environmental benefit that it brings to the area. Like many parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, illegal logging in Rwanda has resulted in large-scale deforestation and wildlife, even on protected land.

“That is where I feel tourism can play a really important role. By bringing opportunities to remote communities, we are seeking to help raise the standard of living for these local people so that they can begin to afford to use gas or other fuels for cooking. We’re still too small to make a significant difference yet, however, as we grow, it’s my intention to intervene with projects that enhance and protect the forests by supporting and working with local people, not only in the national parks but I hope in many other places around Rwanda too.”

Practicalities

Kayaking is a unique way to experience Rwanda and, as currently only Steve and his team offer this opportunity, your tour can be tailor made to perfectly match the abilities and interests of your group. Your time on the water will likely be part of a larger experience of the country’s culture and wildlife; canopy walks through the treetops of bird and primate filled forests, tracking the hoots and screams of chimpanzees, or guided treks in search of mountain gorillas.
Typically you might spend three days paddling, staying in small guest houses overnight with the chance to camp under the stars on an uninhabited island. You’ll see communities out in their dugout canoes and picnic on the shore of the lake.
Conditions on the lake tend to be calm but, before stepping into your boat, you’ll have a brief introduction so you know what to do if you do capsize. Even if you do fall in, the surface temperature of the lake is a toasty 24°C and, thanks to geothermal activity, the water only gets warmer the deeper you go.
Paddling for several hours will come easier to travellers who have a bit of upper body strength, but you don’t need to have previous kayaking experience. “It’s very easy going,” says Steve. “You might come off the water and feel a bit achy or sore around the shoulders but it’s not hard stuff.”
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Rwanda Government] [Topbox: Rwanda Government] [Lake Kivuh: Serrah Galos] [Galaxy from Rwanda: travelmag.com]
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