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Visiting Idjwi Island in Eastern Congo

Visiting Idjwi Island, views on Lake Kivu and Rwanda

Located between Rwanda in the East and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the west, Idjwi is the second largest lake island in Africa. Floating out in the middle of Lake Kivu, visiting Idjwi Island, a 340 sq km,is one of the must do experience when visiting eastern Congo. Isolated from Congo’s decades of war, as well as missing out on what little development the mainland has seen, Idjwi is a wonderful place to escape the modern world, enjoy nature and the rich island culture. Lodging is available in small guesthouses and the speedboat between Bukavu and Goma stops there on request.

Because its landlocked, Idjwi islands is cut off from the rest of the country.

However, the island has its own way of life, with a rich culture, diverse people whom main occupation is focused on agriculture and fishing.

How to get there?

A speedboat on its way to visiting Idjwi Island

Giving the fact that the Island is landlocked, if you are planning to be visiting Idjwi Island, you will have to be using the waterway.

  1. Using a speedboat: The island is connected by a speed boat to the cities of Goma and Bukavu. Ihusi Ltd runs 3 speed boats which operates from Bukavu to Goma daily. Leaving Goma to Bukavu every day from 7:00 am to 10 am. On demand you can be dropped to Bugarula Port which is halfway to Bukavu at 9:30 am. The same thing applies if you are coming from Bukavu, the speedboats leave every day from 7:00 am to reach Goma 3 hours later. The trip cost 50 USD, you will need 100 USD for a roundtrip ticket

A speedboat to visiting Idjwi Island

2. Using ship: Goma is known for its mesmerizing and beautiful ships made in Goma by local engineers.    The recent one being EMMANUEL 4 which is compared to a 5 stars hotel floating above the water and operating the Goma – Bukavu route daily on majestic Lake Kivu.

Bateau Emmanuel 4 au port de Goma
credit photo: Congo Sauti

The competition is harsh between ferry companies operating between Goma and Idjwi islands. Unlike the speedboat, instead of reaching Idjwi after 1h30’, you arrive in Idwji 3h or 6h later depending on whether you have taken a boat during the day or at night.  Every day, a ship leaves Goma to Idjwi, it can be during the day or during the night. Below are some options:

  • Lac Kivu Express: It leaves Goma to Katana stopping by Idwji every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday to return to Goma passing by Kalehe and Idjwi every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
  • Nyamizi express: It leaves Goma during the day to Idjwi Island every Thursday.
  • Salama ship: They operate every day on the route Goma – Bukavu during the night apart from Wednesdays and every day from Bukavu – Goma apart from Tuesdays.

When requesting a stop to Idjwi Island, you must specify the port where you would like to be dropped. Idjwi island is divided into Idjwi North with Bugarula Port and Idjwi South with Monvu Port. We always drop our customers to Bugarula port in Idjwi North then from there, we can organize visits to Idjwi South using a 4WD car or a motorbike.

Things to do when visiting Idjwi island?

  1. Intercultural exchanges:

    • Banana’s beer production

Indulge in banana beer production to understand the chemistry about the process of brewing a local beer from bananas fruits. If you find the activity interesting enough, you can join the women in squeezing the juice out of the bananas and drink a glass of juice (Optional). Understand how long juice takes to turn into alcohol after adding in sorghum floor. Enjoy the big glass of our local brew. Among other activities they also do basket weaving and with your visit the local community will be proud of this activity and families supported financially.

o	Banana’s beer production Idjwi Island

  • Embark in canoes with women rocking the boat in unison while singing

Centuries before Western explorers set sail with compasses and maps, inhabitant of Idjwi Islands were using the lake swells, stars, and flight patterns of birds to guide them in their canoes. In this experience when visiting Idjwi Island, the women will row the boat while singing traditional songs and longing the beautiful shores of Lake Kivu.

  • Story telling

Historically a clan-based Bahavu society, Idjwi island became a kingdom in the late 18th century (roughly between 1780 and 1840). In 2013, the island was estimated to have a population of 252,000 people, mostly Havus, with a small Pygmy minority. This is a massive increase from the estimated population of 50,000 in 1983. You will hear lots of exciting stories with elders telling the story of Idjwi around the campfire in the evening.

  • Art and pottery activities with pygmies

This activity will give you the opportunity to interact with the first inhabitant of sub-Saharan Africa before the bantu migrate down from the North. The pygmies are the minority on the Island and they live primarily from clay art making.

poetry with pygmies Idjwi Island

  • Explore the King’s Palace when visiting Idjwi Island

The island territory of Idjwi is subdivided into two chiefdoms with two kings: the Rubenga chiefdom in the north and the Ntambuka chiefdom in the south.

  1. Ntambuka chiefdom: You will have the option to visit the King’s palace in the South with the Havu People of Ntambuka. This palace is located 90’ away from Idjwi North (Bugarula) using a slow motorbike. It is a long ride on a hilly relief, but it allows one to explore all the islands by crossing it over. There is a road that can be used but it is not always maintained, one cannot guarantee that the car option will always be available. The visit will include the modernized house of the King, you will encounter with the customs keepers and all the traditional tools used in the Havu culture. A brief history will be given to you about past kings until the actual king Ntambuka Balekage Mihigo II Roger who is currently the monarch of havu people. Please note that he has now been appointed as a national member of parliament and chances are that you will not find him there as he now stays in the capital city of Kinshasa.
  2. Rubenga Chiefdom: This is easy option located in Bugarula where you will be staying. You will have the opportunity to meet the monarch of Rubenga who will bring you through a brief story of his chiefdom. He will also make you visit his cultural museum with an exposition of hundreds if not thousands of Rubenga’s cultural tools.
  3. Swimming

Lake Kivu in which the island is located is a fresh water body that is crocodile free, hippo free and bilharzia free. The water in lake Kivu has a cool temperature and those who would want to cool down especially on a hot day are free to jump in the lake and relax.

There are beautiful beaches along the lakeshores with fine sand where one can relax in the mild sun.

  1. Hiking as you visit the pineapple plantations.

Idjwi is made of lots of hills with great views of freshwater bodies and mountains on the other edge of the Lake, hiking can be combined with a visit of pineapple plantations. Idjwi produces some of the World’s best pineapples.

Hiking as you visit pineapple plantations in Idjwi island

  1. Water trips and cruising

Cruising on Idjwi Island

This can be done on local dugout canoes or using engine boats. Cruising on this freshwater body enables one to discover more when visiting Idjwi Island. Excursion boat rides can be made within a few meters of the lake with an option to have a table set on the boat especially when the water is calm. Relaxing on cruises and water trips on the lake makes one somehow forget about their problems and feel home away from home. You can combine this experience with a visit of local markets to buy some fresh fruits / food and support the local economies in the Village. Depending on the period of the visit and if lucky enough you could experience the full moon as if it was just above the vegetation on the shore of beautiful Lake Kivu.

Visiting Idjwi Island, where to stay?

Hope Land hotel, Idjwi, Bugarula

The island does not offer a wide range of accommodations, our best pick remains Hope Land Guest House. Located at a walkable distance from Bugarula Port, Hope Land is a 3-stars accommodation with 14 rooms costing 60 USD each. Hope Land offers quality service with well-trained staff. The food served is made of local dishes very well made by experienced chef.

Kwafrika Travel do organize groups and individual trips to the Island with the cost ranging from 100 USD to 500 USD per person according to whether you are in a group or a solo traveler.  Please contact us on +243 971 360 705 or write an email to [email protected] to get in touch with one of our travel consultants.

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