Known jokingly as “Napoleon’s hat” for the similarities between its shape and Bonaparte’s unique headgear, Nyamunini Island has become a destination for Rwandese and foreigners alike. Hidden near the eastern shores of Lake Kivu on Rwanda’s shared border with Congo, Nyamunini is home to thousands of fruit bats. As many as 50,000 straw-colored fruit bats of the Eidolon helvum species have their home on the island, the largest colony of this kind in Rwanda.
According to a biodiversity survey by the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, Nyamunini is the most biodiverse of the seven small islands found on Lake Kivu. This may be due in part to a dark past; the haven was set ablaze during the horrific 1994 genocide to kill dozens of fleeing Tutsis, and the subsequent lack of human settlements provided unencroached environmental conditions for plants and animals.
For about $10, you can take a guided tour of Nyamunini and hike winding upward paths under a canopy of bats. When they fly as a group, the bats fill the sky in a truly spectacular vision that includes quite a bit of screeching. Staying on the paths mitigates the possibility of physical contact with bats, so visitors are not permitted to stray off the trail. The Rwanda Wildlife Conservation Association conducts monthly visits to Nyamunini to monitor the bats, and has recommended ecotourism guidelines for tours. The hike takes about 30 minutes depending on speed and stamina, and the island peak offers a striking panorama of Lake Kivu.
Nyamunini is located in the Karongi district, also known as Kibuye, an area famed for its beauty and relaxation. For passport-toting visitors, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a short boat ride away, but tourists are recommended to cross the nearby land border instead.
To reach Nyamunini, tourists can elect to rent a kayak or enter a small motorboat that can ferry them between the island and the mainland for between $15 and $30 (negotiations are up to you). Often, visitors will witness groups of cows swimming between Kivu’s islands, and can visit the neighboring islands to discover other wildlife and beautiful vistas.
Know Before You Go
There is no infrastructure on Nyamunini, so pack lunch and water for your trip. Most motorized boats have a small canopy, but Rwanda’s high altitude increases the sun’s strength, so bring a hat and sunscreen. Bring a light rain jacket if you’re visiting Rwanda in rainy season, which is heavy between late March and May, and light between September and December.
Tours are available year round, but be sure to check on public holidays and during genocide commemoration (April 7 and the week following). Guides will expect a tip from foreign visitors, 2,000 RWF ($2) is average. Wear hiking shoes or sneakers, especially in rainy season. To book boats and tours, speak to the staff at your lodging. If you’re staying in an Air BnB or camping, call ahead to one of the lodging centers and book through them. Rwiza Village is a good place to start when looking to book. Tours are daytime only.