Ruhengeri: more than just Gorillas

Everyone knows Ruhengeri’s draw – gorillas! But is that all that is there, or does the town have more to offer? To find out, we set out to explore the city.

Everyone knows Ruhengeri’s draw – gorillas! But is that all that is there, or does the town have more to offer? To find out, we set out to explore the city.

Also known as Musanze, Ruhengeri, in the Northern Province of Rwanda, is in the vicinity of twin lakes, Burera and Ruhondo, just 25 kilometers from the Ugandan boarder. It’s the gateway city to Volcanoes National Park and the famous mountain gorillas in the northwestern part of the country.

At a cost of RWF 1,700, the two hour long bus ride from Kigali to Ruhengeri is an adventure all on its own. The journey is absolutely beautiful, snaking through green hillsides covered in green terrace farms and the horizon marked by numerous volcanoes.

The first thing you notice about Ruhengeri is its sanitation, the uncongested streets and colourful storefronts. If you pick a direction and start wandering off you’ll probably stumble upon a place to drop your bags and crash for the night. Room prices range from the budget-friendly digs near the bus station (RWF 8,000 to 17,000) to the super posh Ishema Hotel with a swimming pool, gym, and wireless internet (RWF 60,000 and up).

The restaurants mirror a large range in price and quality, but the courtyard restaurant at Hotel Urumuli with its comprehensive menu and Hotel Muhabura’s happening bar stand out among the pack.

The sprawling market in town, made up of about 500 traders, is an interesting stop with its crammed stalls offering everything you can imagine. Wandering down the narrow, twisted aisles, chances are you’ll find a few things you didn’t know you absolutely needed.

The local handicraft shops and artisan centers along the main street near the ORTPN tourist office are worth a visit, with such wares as elegant paintings, woodcuts, sculptures, clay jugs, and sandals made out of banana fibre. If this kind of tourism is your cup of tea, day trips to the surrounding villages can also be arranged.

Just two kilometers outside of town, Musanze cave stretches deep into the earth.  The cave was created by a lava flow from the nearby Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes millions of years ago.

At the moment, the bat-filled cave is closed in preparation of the building of a stone path and addition of lights. But it is expected to become a major attraction in the coming months when construction is finished. The cave is also said to have been a dumping site for dead bodies during the 1994 Rwanda Genocide against the Tutsi by its perpetrators.  

Slightly further outside of the town lie the scenic twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo. Pack some lunch and enjoy a picnic by the lakes. Or for scenic views inside of the town, try climbing the hill near the post office for it offers stunning views of the nearby volcanoes.

Ruhengeri is also an excellent base for world-class bird watching opportunities, as well as visiting nearby heritage sites like Buhanga eco-park, which was once the coronation ground of Rwandan kings.

Of course you can never get too far from the main attraction in Ruhengeri: the gorillas. Gorilla statues adorn many of the walls, and the large Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund, named after an American zoologist and gorilla conservationist allegedly murdered by poachers in 1985 in Volcanoes National Park, is also worth swinging by if you get a chance.

For the gorilla-obsessed, you can also spend the night in her old room at Hotel Muhabura for RWF 55,000.

While Ruhengeri will always be best known for gorillas, Rwanda’s fourth largest city has a fair amount to offer in its own right and could make a nice get away for a day or two.

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