Hey friends! It’s been a minute, but I’m back!
I’ve seen a number of questions recently about where to spend time in Gisenyi- and I’d love to share my experiences! We have stayed there several weeks over the last few years, and I like to think I have a good feel for the place. As always, I’m pretty strict about not recommending something unless I’ve personally had a great experience (thought I do make one exception in this guide), so I’d love to hear the great places you’ve tried, that I haven’t yet!
Gisenyi has become a wonderful place of respite for our family over the last three years- I hope this guide helps it become one for you, too 🙂 Enjoy!
WHERE TO STAY:
My favorite budget option in Gisenyi- also bookable on AirBNB. This is a glamping-meets-ecolodge experience, but the view is amazing and you can’t beat the price. Most of the toilets are composting, but there are flush toilets near the restaraunt- pro tip 😉 The food at Inzu is incredible, and I love their craft cocktails, too. They’ve also done an incredible job removing plastics from the compound and going as green as possible. Inzu isn’t on the water, but just above- there are a number of hotels around that you may be able to pay a day entrance fee to use the beach. Like….
Lake Kivu Serena
A really lovely, higher-end option. I’ve only stayed here once as a birthday treat, but I do recommend it- the pool and beach are the best in Gisenyi, and the breakfast is wonderful, too! Walking distance from tons of restos. They also have lots of rental options- including stand-up paddleboarding, paddle boats, jet skis, kayaks, the works. Super fun with kiddos, and definitely the lux option.
Various Air BNB Options
I’ve stayed at several airBNB options in Gisenyi, all of which were great experiences! There’s a range, from private beach houses to mountaintop villas to a wing of a family’s home in the center of downtown. A great way to craft your own experience of Gisenyi, and save some money! (Ps- use the link above to get $25 in travel credit! You’re welcome!)
WHERE TO EAT:
We like to play the “how many times can we eat at Calafia?” game every time we go to Gisenyi. I wish they’d open up a Kigali branch so I could eat that steak sandwich every week! They have delicious, California-inspired fresh food, craft cocktails, and a lovely playground for kiddos. Every time we go back, the staff greets us like we are family. Hands down, our fave place!
This is a very different vibe from Calafia, but still another of our favorites. One Degree South is a mediterranean beach bar/resto on the beach between town and the Bralirwa district. Their mezze offerings are spectacular. Great for sundowners with friends- highly recommend the baba ghanoush, shawarma platter, and an icy cold mug of Mutzig 🙂
I like Inzu’s food so much, we sometimes just go to eat, even if we are staying somewhere else! Their breakfast/brunch specials are my favorite (the granola parfait and french toast being family faves) but they also have delicious club sandwiches, and even veg/vegan offerings. And you can get a cocktail served in a pineapple, so, come on!
For a little more authentic Kivu experience, head to TamTam, where the specialty is whole griller fish- and it doesn’t get much more fresh! My family loves it and we go once every visit to Gisenyi. They also have great brochettes. Just down from ODS on the road to Bralirwa, this is also a lovely beach bar and is great for sunsets. ( I have no pics because we always go when it’s dark! Eek!)
WHAT TO DO:
Wherever you stay, you’ll find options to take a boat tour around Gisenyi’s waters- typically taking you to the Congo border, out to see the power plant thing way out there, to some hot springs if you want (we’ve never done this part as it gets mixed reviews). Most boats have life jackets and can accommodate a number of people.
Hang out on the beach!
This is a given. Gisenyi is great for looking for sea glass and sunbathing (with copious amounts of sun cream, of course!) We typically avoid the public beach as it’s got a lot of people trying to sell things or get you to do boat rides, and usually opt to stay somewhere with a beach, or pay access to the Serena, which has an immaculate beach.
There are several smaller craft shops around Gisenyi, and while many of the offerings are similar to those you can find in Kigali, there are some unique bits and bobs- lots of Congolese crafts and antiques, textiles, malachite jewelry (possibly fake, I can’t tell), and even some cool metal working. WE always try to take an hour from our trip to peruse and find a unique souvenir.
Fire Night at Calafia
The owners of Calafia are fantastic, community-driven people, and they often host a fire and cocktail hour on Friday nights! A perfect way to kick off the weekend. My favorite cocktail is the Locksmith, but the Lady Baron is a close second 😉
Kingfisher Journeys Excursions
I haven’t actually done any of these myself, but I’ve had so many good reviews of this company from friends that I’m breaking my own rule and recommending it anyway. Kingfishers offers a number of different experiences around Gisenyi, from biking to kayaking. They cater to different levels of experience, too! If you try one, let me know how you like it 🙂
Rentals from the Serena
I mentioned this before, but there’s lots of fun rental options from the Serena- and, sometimes, they will knock a bit off of your beach bill if you get a rental. We loved the paddleboarding!
SOME NOTES ABOUT GISENYI:
Due to the recent horrible boating accident (April 2019) there have been some restrictions on activities in the water, so some things may not be available at the time of writing.
It’s been confirmed to me from a number of sources that there IS schisto/bilharzia in Kivu, so exercise precautions if you’re going to swim! I suggest making a plan with your normal doctor’s guidance 🙂
We definitely recommend sleeping under mosquito nets and vigilantly taking all precautions against mosquitos while in Gisenyi. I also recommend that in Kigali, for what it’s worth!
Hope you’ve enjoyed this, friends! Do share your suggestions with me, too!