Musanze caves in Rwanda : Exploring the Musanze caves in Rwanda is one of the latest additions on the menu for potential tourists going to Rwanda. When the activity was first launched in 2014, about 400 visitors were received within the first two months of the caves existence which is a great testament to Rwanda’s ability to market and attract tourists. Increased tourism activities in Rwanda have been of great economic benefit to country. Sites like the Musanze caves allow locals in particular to showcase and sell their art crafts to tourists passing by their communities. Apart from the art crafts, the locals can also demonstrate traditional way of living, cultures and rich history whenever an opportunity presents itself.
The Musanze caves are one of the top tourist attractions in Musanze town. Musanze is arguably the most visited part of Rwanda because its location in one of the most naturally beautiful places in Africa. The Volcanoes National Park is found in Musanze District offering opportunities for activities like gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking, visiting the grave of Dian Fossey, Mountain Hiking and canoeing lakes like Ruhondo among many others. The Musanze caves were significant during the ancient times as they were used by the local Kinyarwanda tribes as the venue for crowning their new kings. More recently, the caves were made famous as a shelter for thousands of refugees who had escaped the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Visitors to the caves are welcomed by beautiful green scenery surrounding the cave and especially on the top. The caves offer great views of the wider Virunga ranges which include volcanoes like Karisimbi, Muhabura and Gahinga.
The caves are generally cold and quiet on the inside with streams of water slowly flowing out of the rock ceiling and down the rocky walls to holes underneath the cave floor. It’s usually takes between one to two hours to complete exploring the caves. The caves consist of complex and numerous tunnels, many of which are home to thousands of bats. The bats can be seen hanging on the cave walls that have been darkened by smoke that has been partly trapped by the numerous cobwebs for thousands of years. Exploring the cave involves manoeuvring though a two kilometre dark tunnel that consists of hardened rocks. There is complete silence inside the caves that is only interrupted by whispers, flying bats and echoes from human voices far away. One will need a strong torch/light, helmet, gloves, boots and a head cap to navigate through the various tunnels during the one to two-hour trail.
After touring the Musanze caves, visitors can go for a cultural experience with one of local tribes living near the caves. While with the locals in their homes or communal centers, visitors will learn the art of making hunting tools like bows and arrows, weaving the “Agaseke” basket using fingers, brewing local beer (known as “Ugwagwa”) using bananas, constructing beehives using local material and harvesting/producing honey. The ever cheerful locals can also demonstrate how to use plants, soil and even cow dung to produce nice art pieces.
Although touring the Musanze caves is one of the top things to do while on a Rwanda safari. Visiting the caves is best done after completing the other major activities like mountain hiking and gorilla trekking. Visiting the Musanze caves alongside wildlife or hiking tours makes for a truly memorable safari in Rwanda, Musanze caves in Rwanda .
Information to consider while planning to visit and explore the Musanze caves
Visits to the caves are done throughout the year and at a fee of $55. This fee excludes accommodation, transportation and other costs. You do not need to be in great shape to go and explore the Musanze caves. Anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can take part in exploring the caves.
The Musanze cave complex and passage ways are composed of rough terrain with hard solid sharp rocks, dripping water, bat droppings and mud filled sections. In order to stay safe and have a comfortable caving adventure, you need to consider packing protecting caving gear like helmets, head caps, gloves, knee caps, boots and flash lights. The equipment can be acquired at the Rwanda Tourism Board offices in Musanze. Try to move with drinking water. Eating while in the cave may not be necessary but water is a must.
Taking exceptional photos inside the cave isn’t easy considering the darkness. The best places to take photos are at the very top of the caves which have beautiful scenery and green cover.
Other tourist attractions in Musanze – Rwanda
Gorilla tracking at the Volcanoes National Park – The key attraction of Musanze is the Volcanoes National park. The park is 130 square kilometres large and home to the endangered mountain gorilla. The most popular activity is gorilla trekking. Unfortunately, it is an expensive venture with a gorilla permits in Rwanda costing a cool $1,500. The Volcanoes national park is one of the only four national parks where mountain gorillas can be found. Gorilla permits can be acquired from the Rwanda Development board website or by visiting one of their offices. If you find the price of permits beyond your budget, then you can choose to track the primates from Bwindi or Mgahinga national parks in Uganda. The gorilla parks are next to each other only separated by human borders.
Visit the grave of Dian Fossey grave – This is a full day’s activity and requires the same level of fitness and determination that is required while tracking mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey was a great primatologist and was the first to study mountain gorillas in detail. It was Dian Fossey who discovered how to make mountain gorillas comfortable around human presence hence making gorilla trekking possible. Later on, she realized that research was not enough to protect the gorillas and started fighting poachers (animal traffickers) around the Virunga region. This won her many enemies and her murder is believed to have been carried out by people who were benefiting from poaching and animal trafficking. To pay homage to this great primatologist, you can arrange to visit the grave of Dian Fossey and her former research Centre on the slopes Mountains Karisimbi and Bisoke. The area is remote and on high altitude but you will get a chance to learn a lot about her work with the gorillas and her legacy today. If you are lucky, you might encounter the gorillas and golden monkeys on the slopes of the mountains.
Lake Burera and Ruhondo – These two lakes are close to each other and are often referred to as the twin Lakes of Rwanda. They are located in an area with remarkable scenery, tranquility and at the foot of the Virunga volcanoes. The lakes have a similar natural beauty as lake Bunyonyi, Mulehe and Mutanda in Uganda with great opportunities for birding. The lakes are only 20 minutes’ drive way from Musanze (Ruhengeri) but you can also use a bike to reach there. Once you reach there, you can choose to go for a village walk, canoeing, camping and birding. The common bird species are storks, cormorans, cranes, kingfishers, herons and other water birds. Boats are hired at a small fee to take you to the different islands for amazing photos. Cyuza Island in Lake Burera is particularly excellent for camping. The campsite at the Lake is run by La Paillotte which aims at offering great adventure and comfort to tourists in the Musanze region. The view of the Virunga rangers from this small island is simply amazing for lack of a better word.
Visit Imbazi (A former orphanage and now a museum)
After the horrific Rwanda genocide, the Imbazi orphanage was created to take care of children who had lost their parents. The house belonged to a one Rosamund Carr. Carr opened her doors to the many children who had been left hopeless and homeless. It has now been turned into a small museum and kindergarten. This facility is built in the countryside but only 45 minutes’ drive away from Musanze town. The scenery and views along the way are beautiful more especially the striking Virunga Volcanoes including Mount Nyiragongo, Karisimbi and Mikeno.
Track Golden Monkey – The Golden monkey is one of the cutest and most beautiful primates found in Africa. They feed on tree shoots, leaves and insects. Golden monkeys live in groups that can reach up to 80 individuals. These playful primates are endangered just like mountain gorillas and can only found in three countries – Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. There are two habituated golden monkey groups which are open to tourists in the volcanoes national park. Golden monkey tracking starts with a briefing at 7:30 am after which visitors are led into the bamboo forests to find the group. The monkeys are relatively easier to find compared to mountain gorillas because they live on the lower slopes of the volcanoes. Permits cost $100 and can be booked directly with the Rwanda Development Board or through your tour operator. The price includes park entry and the services of a park Guide, Musanze caves in Rwanda .
City tour – As a small town, a tour on foot is possible and can take about 2 hours. You can start with the city markets to check out the local fabrics and fruits. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International offices are built at the centre of Musanze and worth a visit. This office is known globally for carrying out high quality research on mountain gorillas and other primates. They also support wildlife conservation efforts throughout East and Central Africa. If you finish the tour earlier than expected, you can continue and visit Nkotsi Village. Also known as Muko, Nkotsi Village is found in the southwestern part of Musanze. It is an excellent place to go for a cultural tour and experience the life of people in rural Rwanda.
Visit Restaurants – La Paillote is one of the most popular restaurants in town. It is popular for its Pizzas which are served in a great atmosphere. You can also visit Volcano Lounge along the streets of Musanze for tasty food or to hangout. Isange BF Restaurant on the other hand offers a variety of local as well as international cuisines. Café Crema is popular for home grown Rwandese coffee. For the best chicken dishes, salads, burgers, pizzas and pasta taken with fresh juice, you might want to visit Migano Café.
Hike one of the Volcanoes – There are five volcanoes that can be explored while in Ruhengeri. They include Karisimbi, Bisoke, Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabinyo. Karisimbi takes two days to complete while Muhabura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga have starting points in Uganda. Hiking Mount Bisoke is much cheaper than Karisimbi and takes only a day. The slowest hikers may take 5 hours climbing and 3 hours descending from the summit. The reward for climbing 3,711 meters to the summit are beautiful views of the crater lake and the other volcanoes in the park. Ensure that you are in good physical shape and that you have the right gear especially during the rainy season. Mount Bisoke permits cost $75. If you’re coming from Kigali, you might need to hire a car and driver to take you to the starting point, Musanze caves in Rwanda .
Visit the Iby’iwacu Cultural Village – The Iby’iwacu Cultural village is where all that there is to know about Rwandan culture and the different tribes are showcased. It was started as project to help former poachers benefit from tourism as an alternative source of income but has grown to include many other offerings. Most tourists who go to visit the Volcanoes national park stop at the Village for a cultural experience before departing the country. Most of the exhibits show how a Rwandan homestead looked like before the arrival of colonialism. You will see ancient huts, spears, bows and arrows. There is a local medicine man at the Centre who is always willing to demonstrate how normal ailments can be cured using natural solutions. A replica of a royal palace as well as a royal regalia can also be seen in one of the sections. After touring different parts of the Village, Visitors can go and watch traditional dance performances and learn how to play local music instruments (drums and flutes). Local beer is also available for those who are inquisitive about traditional beer. The Iby’iwacu Cultural village is the perfect place to buy local souvenir. If you want to visit an art gallery close to the main street, then you should check out the Inshuti Arts and Culture Center.
Canoeing at the Mukungwa River – This meandering river is located outside the town of Musanze. It is an excellent place for relaxation and adventure. Driving to and from the river lets you explore and check out the countryside and local people. The river is also an excellent birding spot in Rwanda. The activity takes about 4 hours and costs $40. This prices include a knowledgeable local guide and transport. Carry with you a good camera in order to take good photos of the river and countryside.
Visit the Buhanga Eco-Park – This park is named after the first King of Rwanda. It is found in the sacred Buhanga forest where the Kings of Rwanda would be crowned after undergoing various ceremonies and rituals. The chosen king would be taken to the forest in a carriage all the way from the Royal palace in Nyanza. On reaching the forest, he would be showered in the spring water and then seek the blessings of the elders and gods. The facility has been redesigned with more trails to allow visitors explore all the caves, ditches and boulders. While on a guided tour, you can learn about the history and myths surrounding the place. A key attraction of the park are three trees that have grown to form one known as “Inyabutatu”. These trees symbolize the three different tribes in Rwanda that were united under one King. The Buhanga Eco-Park is opened every day of the week from morning till late in the evening and costs $30 to enter for international visitors. With that amount, you can set up camp or have a picnic with family in the beautiful gardens.
Support the Handspun Hope Women’s Center – Visiting this Centre offers an opportunity to learn about how a group of about 120 talented women have used their skills to become self-reliant. The women create organic yarn after undergoing several processes and using spinning wheels among other hand tools. The women keep their own Merino sheep and use fleece for the yarn project. The yarn is dyed using eucalyptus leaves, cosmos petals and onion skins among many other local plant materials. The final products are sold both locally and internationally. To support the women, you can purchase one of their products which now include blankets, hats and of course yarn.
Birding – Avid birders should not be bored while in Musanze. There are several places where one can go and see some of Rwanda’s resident birds. The best place of course is within the Volcanoes National Park but one can come back satisfied even at river Mpenge, river Mukungwa, the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. Rugezi Swamp is arguably the best place for birding in Musanze. This vast marshland is home to over 100 species including the Grauer’s swamp-warbler. You will also find species that are endemic to the Albertine rift. Ensure that you move with a good binocular because finding a quality one around Ruhengeri is not easy.