The Musanze caves are the latest addition to the tourism sites in Rwanda and so far they have shown potential of becoming a huge tourism attraction.
Our visit to the caves began at the park headquarters in Kinigi where we met our tour guide, the young, energetic and jolly Bernice Iwacu.
The caves that were formed as a result of volcanic activities nearly 65 million years ago are among the Albertine Rift Valley. The Caves are two kilometers long underneath, with 31 entrances and are the most visited among 52 surveyed caves in the Northern Province.
The journey to Musanze caves is not confusing at all – unless someone has a problem reading road signs – because the signs are dotted along the road. The road can be rather bumpy since it’s a dirt road and lined with many big stones and some rocks.
Near the caves, there were kids playing soccer, others were riding tires whereas girls skipped the rope. Once we got there, we were asked to put on protective gear, a touch helmet, gloves and a nose and mouth cover. We also found tour guides armed with guns for protection. There was also a sign at the entrance “any caving activity must be guided.” Information available on the Rwanda Development Board website says the caves were organized in collaboration with Ministry of Defense Reserve Forces.
Iwacu explained that the caves are 2 km long; they were formed from lava basaltic layers from the Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes that consist of the Albertine Rift valley. The entrance is big and once someone gets inside, it is pitch black but with the aid of a torch helmet, we were able to go through the caves. The walking paths are clearly made although one always has a feeling that a rock might fall or the ground might collapse.
As it is with most caves, Musanze caves have other rooms within, which is the reason the tour guided asked us not to get diverted from the guided route. The tour can take almost 2 hours but since we arrived late, we did over 1 hour.
Walking through the caves, we saw bats hanging upside down and different wild plants had grown on the walls.
Water also drips through the overhanging walls.
We also witnessed some personal properties which suggested that locals frequent the place.
Iwacu told us that the caves were used as a hiding place during the Genocide against the Tutsi. Visiting the caves gives a different tourism experience compared to mountain climbing, gorilla trekking and bird watching.
The darkness makes it difficult to be able to describe the place but the experience of switching off the lights and standing in total darkness is magical.