Travellers' Tales: Bikepacking Rwanda

William Tucker carries his bike over rough terrain
Less weight = easier exploring
William Tucker explored this equatorial African country on his mountain bike

Glancing over at my GPS watch, I saw it read 36mph. My front tyre was a blur, humming as I sped downhill, Rwanda’s green forests parting around me.

I’d arrived in Rwanda two weeks before, crossing by bus from Uganda. My objective was to complete the little-known Congo Nile Trail: 150 miles along the beautiful shore of Lake Kivu. I was travelling as lightly as possible: no panniers, just a 25-litre backpack with a 2-litre hydration bladder and a few essentials.

The trail starts in Giseyni in the western province of Rwanda. With the lake on my right, navigation was straightforward as I headed south to Kamembe, passing through fishing villages living off the harvest of the lake. The hilly road was a dirt track, the only traffic the occasional motorbike and people walking to and from market. The locals were welcoming – my fancy full-suspension 29er with dropper post popular with local children keen to demonstrate their English.

Bike first-aid kit, human first-aid kit, camera, one change of clothes, and an up-to-date map; it all went in one 25L pack

Rwanda wakes early, about 5:30am, and so did I. I abandoned mileage goals and average speeds and simply set an objective town for each day. Despite being the dry season, I was never uncomfortably hot; Lake Kivu provided a cooling breeze. And I could always head down past banana and coffee plantations for a cooling swim.

My overnight accommodation in Kinunu on day two will stay with me: a white sand lakeside beach, palm trees, and fantastic local food. At the halfway point, Kibuye, the trail turns to pristine tarmac. But car ownership is low in Rwanda and the countryside is very cycle friendly.

After five days, I reached the trail’s end and took a ferry back to Giseyni, where I planned to explore further in this incredible country.