Monday, February 27, 2012

A Little R&R on Lake Kivu at Palm Garden Resort

Not far from the town of Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu you will find Palm Garden Resort, a quiet, relaxing oasis with manicured gardens along with comfortable accommodation.  Lake Kivu is considered to be one of Africa’s great lakes, and lies in the Albertine Rift Valley sharing the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The lake is surrounded by hundreds of hills and mountains and the Palm Garden Resort is situated on one of them.

We arrive at Palm Garden Resort and are surrounded by beautiful plants and shrubs.  We follow a path that leads us to the main lodge and restaurant.  It has a very relaxed feel with fishing nets draped from the ceiling and gourd light fixtures hanging between them.  Mountain bikes hang from the back wall, plants are climbing up the columns and brightly colored cloths cover the tables.  There are lounge chairs as well as dining tables so whether you are having a meal or just relaxing, there is a comfortable place to sit.  The area is terraced so no matter where you sit, you can see out through the giant palm trees providing a great panoramic view of Lake Kivu.  The covered open air structure allows the gentle lakeside breezes to flow through and the mood is very relaxing with a mix of classic rock and blues playing in the background.  The bar is fully stocked with local beers, sodas and spirits.  In the evening, the area is softly lit and a fire crackles nearby, which provides for a comfortable gathering place with great ambiance.

Just outside the main lodge, large steps lead down the hill into the garden full of palm trees and rolling green grass.  Off to one side of the large garden and near the lake is our room, a round volcanic stone bungalow with glass paned double doors and windows that look out through the garden and across the lake.  The room décor reminds us that we are on a tropical beach but with an African twist.  Vibrant curtains frame the windows and painted multicolored geometric shapes decorate the closet.  African print lampshades rest on top of clay lamp stands on either side of the king size bed which is truly fit for a king.  The bed has been built quite high off the ground which gives a very palatial feel.   The floor is scattered with mats and underneath the large picture window are gourds of various shapes and sizes.  The décor is simple yet makes a statement.  

The bathroom is stunning.  Whenever I get into a room, I take a quick look around and then head straight for the bathroom; I assume it’s probably a girl thing.  My jaw drops and I say to my husband, “you have to see this!”  Off the side of the bungalow accessed through a door is a large open air bathroom with a shower, toilet and sink.  The large showerhead has great pressure and is nothing short of luxury either for a cool down in the heat of the midday sun or a hot shower under the midnight stars.

Palm Garden Resort offers a number of different accommodation options ranging from bungalows, double and single rooms as well as a campsite which is high up on the hill providing brilliant views.  If you feel like camping closer to the water, you can camp on the sand underneath the shade of palm trees.

Lake Kivu has several species of fish and every night the fishermen take to the lake for a local delicacy "Isambaza".  At dusk fisherman head out to work on the lake, using a system of three large wooden boats spaced several metres apart that are tethered together with makeshift walkways.  The boats are equipped with long poles that extended off the bow and stern of each boat, that suspend lanterns and nets.  The nets are slung below into the water and the Isambaza are attracted to the light from the lanterns dangling above.  In the morning the fisherman paddle their way home singing in rejoice about their catch and hard work.  Their songs also announce to the buyers and brokers to get ready to trade.

We watch as the fishermen of the night head straight to the market landing site and sell to the eager buyers and brokers.  While listening to the singing fisherman, we sit on the grass at the water’s edge under a thatched umbrella sipping Rwandan coffee grown and harvested from the shores of Lake Kivu served in beautiful handmade pottery from a local co-operative.  The waiter came to take our breakfast order however he didn’t have a menu which created some confusion as to what was available for breakfast resulting mostly from a language barrier since we don’t speak French or the local language.  Once he brought a menu, we were able to point and make an order for omelets which came to our garden table quickly accompanied with toast, preserves and juice.  We did notice that this confusion was not a reflection of poor service as many others around us who were able to order in the local language had no problems.  This is a good reason for us to brush up on our French for our next trip there.

Lunch and dinner is a la carte. The menu isn’t overly large but does offer a nice variety and what is on offer is done very well.  We tried several dishes including the goat brochette, beef brochette, chips, steak with mushroom sauce and the whole grilled tilapia which was by far our favorite.  We have eaten whole tilapia many times before, but have never had it prepared like this.  We would go back again just for that dish alone.  The food is grilled over a fire and the resulting flavor is outstanding.  African dishes are also available such as ugali, fufu and the local delicacy Isambaza.  The staff is not always overly attentive however they are never far away and ready to serve, you may just need to ask or give a simple wave to get their attention.

Palm Garden Resort caters for a variety of activities for every level of ambition.  If you are looking to relax and unwind, the thatch umbrellas next to the lake are for you.  The main lodge is also a great place to relax.  We spent an entire afternoon on the lounge chairs enjoying the breeze and the gentle sounds of the music drifting from the speakers while gazing out onto Lake Kivu wondering what mysteries it holds.

For those looking to get out and about to explore the local sites, the resort has a boat that can take you to nearby hot springs which claim to have healing properties however the local people often use it for cooking food.  You can also arrange for scenic trips on the lake to enjoy the abundant bird life in the area.  The Primus brewery is just down the road from the resort within walking distance and offers tours.  

The owner of the lodge is a bike enthusiast and has a great selection of good quality mountain bikes that are available for guests to explore the surrounding area.  The trail head for the newly opened Congo Nile Trail is in Gisenyi, not far from the Palm Garden Resort so if you’re planning to hike or bike the trail, the resort is a great starting point.

Palm Garden Resort is only a few kilometers from the DRC border and outdoor enthusiasts may want to take the opportunity to hike Nyiragongo volcano, one of the most active volcanoes in Africa with a lava lake in the summit crater.  If a big hike, isn’t something you are interested in you can still experience Nyiragongo in a different way.  On a clear night you can walk to the top of the hill near the resort and see the glow from the lava lake.  Unfortunately the weather conditions did not allow for this during our visit.
Palm Garden Resort is one of the easiest going places that we have ever stayed.  Everything about the place is relaxing and comfortable with friendly staff and great food.  For your next holiday consider this tropical paradise that is sure to melt your tension and stress away while enjoying the heart of Africa.

Getting There
Palm Garden Resort is easily accessible from Kigali by either road (2 ½ to 3 hour drive) or by air (30 minute flight) as well as from Volcanoes National Park (1 hour drive), so whether you are looking for a weekend getaway or a place to relax after seeing the gorillas, you don’t have far to travel to get to Palm Garden Resort.

Booking Information
+250 788306830 / +250 788834800 or

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mud Bath Lake Edward Style

While visiting Ishasha, the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park we ventured to the Lake Edward Flats, an opportunity best taken during the dry season.  The area is known to birders as there are numerous species that can be checked off your list in a very short amount of time.  As the name suggests it's flat and scattered about are several mud wallows with buffalo lazing in them.  What surprised us most was how unwilling the buffalo were to move as we approached.  I suppose it was hot and they were cool and comfortable.   We explored the area thoroughly, repeatedly stopping and scanning for the Shoebill, which continued to elude us.  What we were about to experience ranks high on the list of animal encounters in Africa for both of us.  The sun was setting and it was time that we should be moving on to get back to our camp before darkness was upon us.  As we were driving through the flats, we drove towards a mud wallow, which appeared to be just that, a mud wallow but as we came closer it exploded and gave both of us a fright.  What we saw, neither of us could believe.  A Cape Buffalo who had been almost fully submerged in the mud was standing next to his vacated premises staring at us wondering why we disturbed his mud bath.  We have never seen anything like it, the thick gray mud clinging to nearly every inch of his body.  His annoyance grew and he decided to run off in anger.  Unfortunately for him there was nowhere to hide.  As he ran as fast as he could through the flats we marvelled at this massive creature that was camouflaged in a mud bath, if he hadn't gotten annoyed we would have never known he was there.  Africa never ceases to amaze us!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Grass isn't Greener - It's Brown!

It wasn't long ago that most of Kampala was tired of the rain, we were all waterlogged, soggy and dreaming of that big yellow ball in the sky to shine it's little heart out.  Well, be careful what you wish for!  Kampala has been experiencing day after day of sunshine and high temperatures for nearly six weeks and is now hoping and praying for rain.  After over four weeks, today the city experienced a light shower.  It probably wasn't the heavy downpour that most people were hoping for but hopefully it was enough to moisten the plants and subdue the dust for a short while.  For those reading this sitting in cold climates, the hot sunny days may seem like a dream come true but really, the grass isn't's brown!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Crayfish from Lake Bunyonyi

In south western Uganda between Kibale and Kisori lies one of the deepest lakes in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi.  Its name means "the place of many little birds".  It doesn't take long to realize that this a suitable name for the place, however it was not the birds that got us excited about our visit there, but something that lives in the lake.  Lake Bunyonyi is one of the few places in Uganda where freshwater crayfish live.

We took the opportunity to enjoy the local fare and after visiting a fisherman we had a bucket full of live crayfish who were headed straight for a large steaming pot.  After cooking them, we piled them on some newspaper and began peeling and eating.  Their meat was so tender and delicious and during the gourmet experience, there was very little conversation between us.  Those little morsels of freshwater crayfish meat were a highlight and we know exactly what we will be dining on during our next visit to Lake Bunyonyi.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lake Kivu - Rwanda

Considered to be one of Africa's Great Lakes, Lake Kivu lies in the Albertine Rift Valley on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The lake is surrounded by mountains lies in a rift valley that is being pulled apart making the lake one of the deepest in Africa.

We stayed in the small lakeside resort town of Gisenyi, a very relaxed and laid back town approximately three hours drive from Rwanda's capital Kigali.  Gisenyi is a trading hub between Goma in the DRC and Gisenyi in Rwanda and boats can be seen all day crossing the lake with fresh produce heading for the markets.

Lake Kivu has several fish species of fish and every night fisherman take to the lake for the local delicacy "Isambaza" a small fish introduced to the lake, more widely known as the Tanganika sardine which are cooked and eaten whole.  We witnessed as fisherman went out on their boats at dusk using a system of three large wooden boats connected together with walkways between them.  Large poles extend off the bow and stern which support nets that catch the fish and lanterns attract the fish.  In the morning the fisherman paddle back to shore singing in rejoice for their catch and offload them at the lakeside market from where they are sold to eager buyers.

Recently Lake Kivu was found to contain high levels of dissolved methane gas at depths of 300 metres and beyond.  Initially the gas was harvested for energy on a small scale but is now being extracted on a large scale using offshore barge platforms which will boost energy development for Rwanda and long term, will allow them to sell it to neighboring countries.

Lake Kivu is a tropical paradise that offers so many beach side resorts that are sure to melt your tension and stress while enjoying the heart of Africa.