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South Kivu – A Hidden Gem in the DRC

Bukavu in South Kivu

Where is South Kivu?

The province of South Kivu lies in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), bordering North Kivu and Maniema. It has a population of approximately 5.7 million inhabitants according to a census held in 2015. The capital city is Bukavu, and most speak Swahili and French.

South Kivu is a hidden gem that doesn’t get visited by many. Most make a beeline for Goma, one of the most famous cities in the country. South Kivu offers many of the same activities- but you can do them with fewer travellers around. This region encompasses spectacular mountain ranges and lush rainforest, as well as many lively towns and villages. Here are some things you can do while visiting this fascinating part of the world:

  • Sail on Lake Kivu. Travel during the day or night around this vast lake that borders Rwanda.
  • Take a trip to Idjwi Island. The second largest lake island in Africa.
  • See Kahuzi Biega National Park. Home to Lwiro waterfalls, mountain trails and many endangered species.
  • Visit the Lwiro Primates Sanctuary. You can visit a rehabilitation centre for Chimpanzees, Brazza Monkeys, Owl-faced Monkeys and other primate species.
  • City Walks. Explore the beauty of Bukavu with a tour of the local area.

1. Sail on Lake Kivu

speed boat with DRC flag in south kivu

If heading to South Kivu from Goma and you want to bypass the bad roads, then enjoy a scenic ride across Lake Kivu. Lake Kivu lies in the heart of the DRC and part of it is in neighbouring Rwanda. Boating on the lake is amazing; shooting over the water with massive hills all around you. If you are in a hurry, you can get to Bukavu using a speedboat.

There are many companies that offer this trip, but I used Ihusi Express. The trip takes around 4 hours and costs USD $50 per person when I went in March 2022. Depending on the day, there are 2 to 3 trips in either direction. If this does not cater to your needs, the overnight boat ride is also a great option.

Again there is more than one company that offers this service. The trip takes about 12 hours and they all leave at around 6 pm. I took the Emmanuel 4, which has four classes.
Emmanuel boat lake kivu
As of March 2022, the prices in US dollars were:  
  • $5 for the 4th class
  • $10 for 3rd class
  • $17 for 2nd class
  • $27 for 1st class
Please check prices before going, the price I got originally had increased to the ones above.
Suggested Reading: Goma: The Best Thing to Do on Your Trip

2. Idjwi Island

Idwji island pineapple seller, south kivu

In the middle of Lake Kivu, on the largest island in South Kivu, you’ll find Idjwi Island. The island is home to an estimated 300,000 people. On Idjwi Island, there is no motorized transport; people get around either by motorcycle or on foot.

The islanders live in harmony with nature and practice plantation agriculture for subsistence living.  They grow pineapples, raise turkeys, and produce delicious Arabica coffee and fish in Lake Kivu.

Idjwi Island is a beautiful place to visit and stay. The island has a variety of lodges where you can stay, but you have to take the Ihusi Express to get there! You could also find out if your lodge offers a ferry service. Ihusi boating company offers a drop-off service as they travel between Goma and Bukavu.

3. Kahuzi Biega National Park

Lowland gorilla in Kahuzi

If you’re looking for an adventure, look no further than Kahuzi-Biega National Park, a South Kivu World Heritage site. This park has it all: volcanoes, gorillas, and diverse wildlife.  The park is named after two extinct volcanoes: Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega. It is home to many different types of animals and plants—it even has a waterfall that’s over 300 feet high! The Tchibati Falls was not open for visitors when I went, so check before trying to go.

But what makes this park so special? It’s home to one of the largest populations of eastern lowland gorillas, also known as Grauer’s gorillas. They are the largest subspecies of gorillas and can be found throughout the park in their natural habitat.  These gorillas live in family groups with one Silverback, females and children.  This is one characteristic of this species, in contrast with the highland gorillas.  Highland gorillas (found in Virunga) can have more than one adult male in a family group.DRC Lowland gorilla

It’s an incredible experience to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures. The guides will tell you all about the habits and behaviours of these gorillas as well as teach you about their conservation efforts.

Gorilla trekking is one of the most exciting ways to experience nature at its best. It allows you to get close to these incredible animals while observing them in their natural habitat without causing any harm or stress to them.

It’s an experience unlike any other – one that will stay with you forever!

4. Lwiro Primates Sanctuary

Lwiro chimp in sanctuaryIf you love primates, I highly recommend a trip to Lwiro Sanctuary in South Kivu, DRC. You can take a tour with one of their expert guides, who will tell you all about each of the animals that call Lwiro home. Not only do they provide a safe haven for chimpanzees and other animals that have been victims of the pet trade or poaching, but they also help educate people about the importance of conservation.

The sanctuary’s goal is to rehabilitate and release the primates so they can return to the wild. But they also provide a home for those that cannot be released back into their natural habitat—either because they are too old or cannot survive on their own due to injuries sustained by their captors.

two blue monkeys at lwiro sanctuary, south kivu

On the grounds, you can also find a museum nestled a short drive away. It is home to a collection of specimens from various mammals found within South Kivu as well as some plants indigenous only to this region which makes it both fun, educational and informative!

Lwiro is an excellent add-on if going to Kahuzi Biega.  The sanctuary is only 4km away. Find out more information on the work that they do at the Lwiro Primates Rehabilitation Centre.

5. South Kivu City Walk

view of buhavu from garale

When you’re looking for a city that’s bustling, colourful, and filled with life, Bukavu is the place to be. The city is known for its art deco architecture and beautiful views of Lake Kivu.  There is something for everyone!

The city can be considered a “City of Contrasts” because it has so many different sides to it. One can see the most picturesque views of the city from a boat or on one of the hills overlooking the city. I was amazed to see the houses stacked on top of each other. There are no roads for cars to drive through in this area but rather stairs for people to climb up and around the buildings. The buildings have a variety of colours on them, making them a little more interesting to look at.

saint pierre cathedral south kivu

You can visit one of the many art deco styled buildings around town that were built during Belgian colonial rule. If you want a more interactive experience in Bukavu, you can go on a tour of the city. A City Walk is an enjoyable way to learn about the local area and culture. You will be able to see the beauty of Bukavu’s sights, including the Cathédrale Notre Dame de la Paix de Bukavu and views of the lake.

You can also try some local cuisine like Mashanza, Ugali, Sambaza or any grilled meat dish. Mashanza is a cheese-like food that resembles cottage cheese, it is well known in the South Kivu province. Ugali is a transplant from East Africa made from pounded cassava or corn.  Finally, Sambaza is a sardine-like fish caught in Lake Kivu. chicken meal with ugali and greens

There are many things to see and do in South Kivu. If you ever visit this section of the country, go visit!

Zahari Travel facilitated this trip, they have a partnership with Congo Tourism Gate for trips within the DRC.

Further reading: Planning Your Vacations: How To Do It

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