Running on almost 100km along the Congolese border, Kivu is one of the string of ‘inland seas’ that submerge much of the Albertine Rift floor north of Zambia and south of the Sudan. With a surface area of 2,200sq km, Kivu is not comparable in extent to the most expansive of the Albertine Rift lakes, Tanganyika and Albert, but a maximum depth of 480m and total water content of 333sq km place it among the 20 deepest and 20 most voluminous freshwater bodies in the world. It is also very beautiful, with its deep blue water hemmed in by steeply terraced escarpments containing several peaks and the northern shore overlooked by the smoking outline of volcanic Nyiragongo.
Kivu supports a somewhat impoverished fauna by comparison with other Rift Valley lakes of similar size. This is thought to be due to the unusually high level of local volcanic activity. The geological record suggests that the release of methane trapped below the lake’s surface has resulted in regular mass extinctions every few thousand years. As a result, fewer than 30 fish species are known from the lake, and while this does include 16 endemics, it pales by comparison with the many hundreds of species recorded from Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika.
Volcanic activity and/or high methane levels probably also explain the complete absence of hippo and croc from the lake. The rumoured absence of bilharzia from Kivu is strongly contradicted by anecdotal reports from expatriates, so anybody who swims in the lake should assume they have been exposed to the disease.
With its attractively irregular shoreline lined by verdant slopes and sandy beaches, Kivu has long served as a popular weekend getaway for residents of this otherwise landlocked country. There are three main resorts towns on the Rwandan lakeshore, of which Gisenyi, the most northerly, has far and away the best and most varied tourist facilities, thanks partly to its proximity to the popular Volcanoes National Park. Further south, Kibuye has the advantage of being far closer to Kigali, and it is also now served but a good quality lakeshore hotel, while Cyangugu can easily be visited in conjunction with Nyungwe National Park and Butare, but it currently lacks accommodation approaching international standards.

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