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Overland Travel Around Lake Victoria, Africa

I recently circumvented Lake Victoria by land in two weeks. From seeing mountain gorillas in Rwanda, to doing a photo tour of Lake Buyonyi by motorbike, and SUP boarding on the Nile River, it was an epic solo travel adventure!

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Another beautiful sunset over Lake Victoria (taken from Mwanza)

Full disclosure: I don’t actually recommend doing this itinerary in two weeks. It is extremely fast paced and overland travel in Africa can be very tiresome.

BUT if you are short on time like I was, this itinerary is certainly feasible, and it is definitely an adventure. I have listed below the itinerary I took, but as I said, I do recommend spreading this out if you have the luxury of time.

Overland Travel Around Lake Victoria, Africa:

Day 1: Getting from Mwanza, Tanzania to Kigali, Rwanda 

As most of you know by now, I am based in Mwanza, Tanzania. Though there are plenty of fun things to do around ‘Rock City’, I had to renew my visa and felt the itch to get away for a bit.

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Take the 5:30 AM bus from Mwanza to Kigali; you will arrive around 7:00-8:00 PM. I split my time between Moji hostel and an Airbnb in the quiet and clean Kimihurura neighbourhood.

If you are new to Airbnb, take advantage of $25 OFF your first booking with this link

My time in Kigali was pretty chill because I was sick, so definitely adjust these days to suit your interests.

Day 2: Explore Kigali’s History

Take a slow morning to recover and enjoy some of Rwanda’s finest coffee. Rwanda is known for its amazing coffee production, and some great places to try some are Question, Bourbon Coffee or Inzora. While you are in town, this is a good time to get yourself a SIM card if needed (I used the MTN network — the SIM card is 1000 RWF and a 1-week internet package for 1GB per day is 5000 RWF).

Next, head over to the Rwanda Genocide Museum to learn more about the events that occurred around the country in 1994. The museum is free (with a suggested donation) and is a very powerful and emotional experience. I highly recommend it to start your time in Rwanda to get a better understanding of the historical and modern-day context and appreciate just how far this country has come. You can also go to hotel Hôtel des Mille Collines, which was where the infamous movie ‘Hotel Rwanda’ was filmed.

The Kimi neighbourhood has tons of amazing restaurants and I finished my day with an Ethiopian meal and coffee at Lalibela.

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Day 3: Explore Kigali’s Food Scene 

I started this day switching from my hostel to a nearby Airbnb, but I recommend taking this morning to hike Mt. Kigali. This is something I really wished that I had time to do!

Rwanda also offers some pretty epic lunch buffets, where locals, expats and travellers alike come to graze on plentiful vegetarian and meat options for just 3,500 RWF. I tried Africa taste in Kimi for lunch and had a huge plate of beans, rice, potatoes, spinach, and salad. You can also try Sundowners for lunch!

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I had a virtual meeting scheduled this afternoon, so I headed to Cocoabean café to get wifi and try some fresh passionfruit juice. Cocobean has a great roof top patio and pool to lounge around.

For dinner, I took a moto to Meze Fresh for a vegan mango chili burrito bowl and returned to my Airbnb to relax. If I hadn’t been sick, I would have checked out the nightlife and suggest you do too!

Day 4: Explore Kigali’s Culture

Take a 10:00 walking tour or cooking class with the Kigali Women’s Centre. The women’s centre is an NGO which works towards gender equity through providing skills training and employment to local women. They operate as a social enterprise and sell tailored goods through their centre to tourists, as well as offering their tours and classes.

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I did the walking tour with two lovely guides, who took me through the Nyamirambo neighbourhood. We stopped through the women’s centre sewing studio, a neighbourhood hair salon, a milk bar and nearby market stalls. I learned how to make isombe a national dish (YUM) and was taught some Kanyarwanda phrases.

We ended the tour at a local woman’s home for some lunch (which the cooking class had made). We had matoke (plantains), beans, isombe, Irish potatoes, cassava and sodas. The tour is 15,000 RWF and lunch is 3,000 RWF. The tour ends back at the women’s centre where you can purchase souvenirs from their shop — some of the items are SO cute, I wish I had the foresight to get some as Christmas gifts.

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The lunch we had after the Women’s Centre walking tour

Unfortunately by this time, my health had taken a turn for the worse. Coincidentally, there is a hospital is right across the street from the women’s centre and I spent my afternoon there getting treated. It turns out I had a bacterial infection and parasitic infection in my stomach – yuck! On the bright side, the care I received was superb (perhaps even better than in Canada).

I ended up in bed for the rest of the afternoon and evening, however my plans were to try Poivre Noir for a nice meal and glass of wine.

Day 5: Kigali to Musanze

You can’t do a trip to Rwanda and not see the Volcanoes National Park! Even if the gorilla trekking is out of your budget (at $1500 it was out of my budget), it is possible to still hike within the park and maybe even see a gorilla too. I did the Dian Fossey hike for $75 and still saw two gorillas on the trail!

The bus from Kigali to Musanze is just 2 hours and costs under 2000 RWF. It runs every half hour from 9:00-5:00 from the Nyabugogo Taxi Park.

Once you get to Musanze, check into your accommodation (I stayed at Amahoro Guest house and highly recommend it) and get sorted for your hike! You will need to hire a 4×4 car to get you to the park, but if you are alone, ask your hotel if anyone else is going that you could split the cost with.

I spent this afternoon sorting out my car hire, permit (though turns out you can just pay in the morning at the park office) and getting snacks for the hike. If you have time, there is a Dian Fossey museum or nearby salt caves you can explore (both are free).

There are tons of food options in Musanze, including dinner buffets under 2000 RWF.

Day 6: Hiking in Volcanoes National Park

You will start your day at the crack of dawn, to get to the park by 7:00 AM. My driver picked me up at 6:20 AM. Since I did the Dian Fossey hike, I paid my $75 USD at the park office and waited at the designated meeting point where I would join up with a hiking guide and other hikers. There is free coffee for you while you wait.

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We saw this beautiful gorilla on the way down the trail

Our hike began around 8:00AM and I finished at roughly 12:30 PM, so I was back in town by 1:30-2:00. I used the rest of the afternoon to check out the Dian Fossey museum and get a celebratory coffee at Crema, a super cute café and relaxed place to hang out after a long morning of hiking.

Some people decide to head back to Kigali this day rather than stay another night in Musanze, but if you are planning to circle around the lake you will be heading North next to cross the border into Uganda.

Day 7: Crossing into Uganda and Getting to Kabale

What started as a direct bus, turned into quite the series of transfers to get to Kabale. If you depart at 5:00AM like I did, you will reach Kabale at 10:30 AM. Kabale is definitely worth a stop, even if you don’t plan on doing any treks. It is so lush and green!

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Exploring the town of Kabale

Check into your accommodation and get a coffee or juice at Café Barista. Hire a boda boda driver to take you down to Buyonyi for the afternoon to take a boat ride or simply take in the views. I hired a driver for 10,000 UGX for approx. 1.5-2 hours (the full details are in my Lake Buyonyi post).

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Lake Buyonyi, Uganda

You can also do gorilla trekking ($650 USD as compared to Rwanda’s $1500 USD) or chimpanzee trekking (~200USD) from Kabale. If you are interested in these opportunities, you will obviously need to extend your time in Kabale by a few days! I decided not to stay longer, since I had already seen chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park.

Day 8: Kabale to Kampala

Take the morning bus to Kampala at 9:30AM (I used Trinity buslines for 30,000 UGX). The bus actually showed up at 10:00AM, but this gave me time to get a coffee, chapatti and a SIM card with data (I went with MTN again — the SIM card is 4000 UGX and 10,000 for 1.5 GB of data).

You will arrive in Kampala to the Trinity bus parking lot around 5:30-6:00pm. I took a boda boda from there to my accommodation which was quite the experience in Kampala’s urban traffic. If you are planning on using motorcycle taxi’s, be sure to secure your bags to your body to avoid theft, wear a helmet and consider using the ‘safe boda‘ app.

I stayed at Bushpig hostel which has a really great outdoor patio with a restaurant and bar. I stayed in the hostel this evening after arriving and had a vegan pizza and a beer.

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Day 9: Exploring Kampala

There is tons to do in Kampala, and it is quite a dream for food and coffee lovers. Check out the Uganda National Mosque for a great view of the entire city, explore the city by motorbike, or do a free walking tour. You can even go inside dictator Idi Amin’s ‘torture chambers’, though for me, I felt this was unnecessary and not something I particularly wanted to see.

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I started my day by having breakfast at the hostel (Bushpig’s breakfast is free and is a proper meal catered by their restaurant) and then a soy latte at Café Javis while doing some work. I checked out the Acacia mall, found an ATM, and later had wine on the hostel patio with new friends.

After traveling at such a fast-pace and being sick, this day was a rest day for me so I truly wish I had more time to explore Kampala — be sure to extend this itinerary here if you have the time.

Day 10: Kampala to Jinja

I booked a tent at the Nile River Explorer’s camp in Jinja which offers a complimentary shuttle from Kampala to Jinja (and vice versa) and the bus came for me promptly at 7:15 AM. It was a breath of fresh air to be on an organized shuttle service and “switch my brain off”.

In Jinja you can try world-renowned white-water rafting, stand up paddle boarding, kayaking, bicycling and even a sunset river cruise. I arrived at the campsite by 10:00ish and relaxed for a little while enjoying the river views.

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Around noon, I rented a SUP board for 2 hours and paddled around on the Nile. This was one of my favourite parts of the trip; it was so serene!

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I opted for the open-bar sunset river cruise, which departed at 4:45 PM and returned at 7:00 PM. I even took a beer “to-go” and relocated to the campsite’s lounge area to hang out.

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Again, Jinja is another place I would have liked to stay longer, so I would recommend extending your time there if you can.

Day 11: Jinja to Kisumu, Kenya

Getting to Kisumu from Jinja is fairly straight forward. A direct coach bus operated by Easy bus leaves Kampala at 6:30AM and arrives in Jinja around 8:30 (but it is advised to go to the bus stop by 8:00).

There is no proper bus station, so you will report to the bus stand at the side of the road at the main roundabout. There is no Easybus stall, so if you don’t already have your ticket, ask one of the other bus operators to contact Easy bus for you to ensure they actually stop for you at the side of the road. They will try to sell you a ticket, but it is cheaper to buy it on the bus (as they add a commission). The bus ticket is 44,000 UGX from Kampala to Kisumu, but they were charging 58,000 so I paid on the bus (1000 Kenyan shillings or 40,000 UGX).

You will arrive at the Easy bus office in Kisumu at 2:30 pm. The main bus station is approx. 100m away and a grocery store is on the way if you need anything. I took a bike from here to look for a hotel, and ended up at the Riversand hotel in the centre of town on Accra St. in Kammas (Rooms go for 1500 Ksh per night/ 0729020500). The owners and staff were super helpful, but the hotel was quite noisy at night.

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For dinner and sunset, I headed to the Dunga camp where I enjoyed a glass of wine, took in the sun setting over Lake Victoria and even saw some hippos in the water! I didn’t explore accommodation options here, but it looked like a great place to stay. For a safe and reliable boda boda driver, I used Eric, who was recommended by my hotel (0728773705).

lake victoria Africa

Day 12: Kisumu to Mwanza

This day was a complete travel day as there is no direct route from Kisumu to Mwanza. Essentially your options are taking two coach buses (Kisumu to Nairobi and Nairobi to Mwanza) or taking a series of matatus and shared cars, followed by a coach bus straight down the coast line to Mwanza. I opted for the latter and ended up in Mwanza by 6:00 PM; it was great to be home!

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Another sunset on Lake Victoria from Mwanza

Overall

Overall, traveling around Lake Victoria was fast paced, jam packed and a great adventure for the books! I proved it is 100% possible to circle the lake on public transport by land, and it is 100% safe to do so as a solo female traveller.

As I mentioned above, if you have the luxury of time, I would recommend doing this route much slower. If I didn’t have to be back in Mwanza on a particular date, I would have extended my time in Rwanda to see more of the country, and definitely stayed longer in Kampala and Jinja!

If you are heading to Southern Africa, be sure to check out my backpacking Africa guide (overland from Cape Town to Mwanza)

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Janis said:
Amazing trip! So much detail for solo travelers! Thanks Steph!
October 27, 2018 at 12:08 pm
Denae said:
This opened my eyes to somewhere in the world I’d never learned much about! I loved seeing it through your pictures!
October 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm
Emma BDL said:
What an amazing location and what a stunning array of photos! Loved this.
October 26, 2018 at 10:40 am