Rwanda is one of the smallest states in continental Africa, it's roughly the size of Lombardy. Although small, it is extraordinarily beautiful. Known as 'the land of a thousand hills', cycling in Rwanda is tough, but thankfully the wonderful views make it all worth it.
In 1994, Rwanda was shaken by a horrific genocide that's thought to have claimed over a million lives. Today everything has changed, its revival is seen in the natural landscapes, incredible villages and in the eyes of the curious Rwandan people who warmly welcome us. The idea of flying to the centre of Africa was born from a craving for a real adventure and to experience new things. Doing it by bike was the best way for us to do this.
A land full of emotions
The surfaces of Rwanda constantly change. We ride stretches of dirt roads that wind through small villages, singletrack trails along the shores of Lake Kivu, and spectacular asphalt roads that ebb and flow between tea plantations and rainforests. We expected Rwanda to be dry and dusty, but in fact, it's green, lively and one of the most welcoming places we have ever visited. Visiting during the shorter dry season added to the greenery, and we think it's the best time to go – if you don't mind getting wet from time to time. The landscape is more verdant, the temperatures are milder, and the roads are less dusty.
The people of Rwanda
Another surprise we found in Rwanda is how densely populated it is. People line almost every road we were on as schools, houses, farms and villages spread out along the road. Most people walk or cycle to go about their daily lives, so even when we left the villages, the streets were still full of people, bustling with activity.
All we have to do is stop for a moment in a place that seems deserted and within a minute we're among curious faces, who stopped what they were doing to come and us. The friendly, warm and respectful interactions with the Rwandan people adds to the experience of the trip. If this bothers you, Rwanda is not for you.
In the small villages we pass through along the way, the children chase us running and cheering as if we're racing for the national team. The excitement stops every time we were overtaken by a bicycle without gears, loaded with 20 kilograms of corn or potatoes or other incredibly large and heavy packs.
Not too keen on planning, we set off without a properly planned route. Instead, we have a simple itinerary to follow with key locations and dividing the stages based on the availability of accommodation.
This is why, having left the capital Kigali, after an hour's ride we find ourselves figuring out how to cross the Nyabaraongo River and end up take the road that divides the Burera and Ruhondo Lakes. Finding a way to cross the immense river, by evening we arrive in Ruhengeri, the second largest city in Rwanda. On day four we ride the Congo Nile Trail, a stretch of dirt roads and single tracks along the lakeshore, winding through small villages, banana farms, and coffee plantations, where the only supply options are the small bazaars encountered along the way. Fruit, local food and hot Coca-Cola is our daily fuel.
On day five we decide to drive up the Kivu belt road, nicknamed the most spectacular road in Rwanda. This stretch of about 200 km offers the best asphalt in the country and even a passage through the rainforest of the Nyungwe National Park. On day six, we reach the Karongi district and stay at L'Esperance Children Village, a facility set up to house children orphaned after the genocide, which has now become a vocational training school housing some 200 teenage students. On day seven, we cross the park for about 60 km. The Nyungwe National Park is one of the best preserved mountain rainforests in Africa. After leaving the forest and reaching the town of Nyanza, we face the remaining two days of travel to return to Kigali and prepare for our flight back to Italy.
Rwanda is a safe country, a beautiful country for cycling. It is a mountainous place with many hills, so be prepared and train hard. Not too hot, not too humid, with incredible paved and unpaved roads and a welcome from the people beyond imagination. You will not be disappointed.