If you live in Kigali, chances are sooner or later you will find yourself in Musanze, the city located on the foothills of the Virunga massif. Even if you are not there to see the celebrated mountain gorillas (but if it is within your budget, go for it!) there are other activities to enjoy in this laid-back town and its beautiful green surroundings. Why not spend a few days being a tourist in your own country?
Musanze – formerly known as Ruhengeri, a name that is still widely used – is the most important town in Rwanda’s Northern Province and serves as the area’s administrative, commercial and service capital. It is a town with plenty of charm set in a beautiful countryside. So here are a few suggestions for things to do.
Cycle and take a boat trip on Twin Lakes
Why not spend an afternoon or morning exploring Lake Burera and Lake Ruhonda?
Both lakes are just a short, beautiful drive from Musanze into Burera District. These so-called ‘Twin Lakes” offer an out-of-this-world tranquility, great opportunities for birding and stunning views of the surrounding volcanoes, most notably the Muhabura peak.
The lakes were formed by a volcanic eruption in the Virunga massif and the water of the lakes sparkle in an emerald-green hue.
If you enjoy some exercise, you can book a guided cycling tour to the lakes starting in Musanze town, which will take around 4 hours: cycle up, spend time at the lake swimming and enjoying the views and cycle back to town.
You can also ask a local boatman to take you around the lake and stop at one of the islands for a picture. A boat trip will cost Rwf 18,500 (US $21) per person and will take 1-3 hours depending on your pace. While you are on the water, learn all about the traditional fishing techniques used by local fishermen. The cycling tour costs Rwf 62,000 (US$70) per person including the guide.
For enquiries, call Steven from Red Rocks Rwanda 0789254315
- Twin Lakes
Burera District, Rwanda ? by @noemimonu |
courtesy of @rwandalicious
Immerse yourself at the Gorilla Guardians Iby’iwacu cultural village
This cultural village started as a social project to rehabilitate poachers and give them an alternative source of income.
Many tourists stop by here after their gorilla trek, but it is also a fun family trip. Take your kids to enjoy an encounter with the villagers who give an impression of pre-colonial Rwanda. There is a replica of a royal palace, a demonstration of the rituals of the medicine man, or you can learn to brew and taste urwagwa banana beer, watch traditional Intore dancing and drumbeats, and try your hand at bow and arrow shooting. The village is also known for its artistic mud-house paintings.
A day visit to Gorilla Guardians costs RwF31,000 (US$35) per person. This includes all activities at the village and a community walk in the village to visit village elders, women, and children and other community projects. An overnight stay at the Village costs Rwf 62,000 (US$70) per person per night including breakfast, lunch and dinner and all village activities.
For further enquiries call Gorilla Guardians at 0788352009
Braving the bats in the Musanze Caves
The Musanze caves were formed by lava flowing underground and have been used as shelter in times of war throughout Rwanda’s history.
The wide opening of the main cave, the mysterious light fall and the lush, green surroundings make for a very “Instagrammable” tourist attraction. Going in, wearing a protective helmet and gloves, you need a torch to follow the myriad of stairways, corridors and footpaths but it is exciting to experience the darkness for a moment by switching off the light. Brace yourself if you are afraid of bats because there is a large bat colony living in the cathedral-like entrance space.
The caves are a 30-minute drive from Musanze town. The minimum age for entry is 12 years. A 2.5-hour guided tour costs Rwf 4,000 for Rwandan/East African citizens, US$30 for foreign residents and US$50 for foreigners.
Tickets can be booked and paid online directly through Irembo.
- Walking into Musanze caves
photo courtesy of Plaisir Muzogeye
Marvel at the mysterious Buhanga Eco-park
Buhanga Eco-Park is the sacred forest where in the past, the Kings of Rwanda would come to be ordained after various rituals and ceremonies.
The kings and princes would travel in their carriages from the Royal Palace in Nyanza to the forest that was named after the first King of Rwanda, to bathe in the spring water and to be blessed by the elders of the tribes.
Today, the forest offers numerous trails along the traditional ritual sites. Visitors pass ditches, caves, and boulders and your guide will tell the stories and myths related to each site. One highlight is the ‘three-in-one tree‘, where three large trees have grown as to form a single tree. This tree is called the Inyabutatu, and it represents the harmony of the three different ethnic groups in Rwanda who served under the same king.
The park is open every day from 8am to 6pm. You can book a one-day pass (or a pass that includes picnic and camping) via Irembo: Rwf 3,000 (US $3.38) for Rwandans (Rwf 2,000 students/children); US$60 for foreigners, $30 for foreign residents living in Rwanda, and $25 for East African residents.
- Entrance to the sacred Buhanga forest
courtesy of Government of Rwanda (GoR)
Enjoy the countryside on a Mukungwa River canoe trip
If you are feeling a bit adventurous, you can take a guided a canoe trip down the river Mukungwa, close to Musanze.
It is a good way to spend a relaxing time in the Rwandan countryside and these trips are suitable for families with children from seven years and older. There are no hippos or crocs in this river, and the river offers great birding experiences. If you are lucky you may even encounter otters.
The 4-hour trip costs Rwf 21,000 (US$24) for Rwandans, US$32 for foreign residents, US$40 for foreigners and there are discounts available for NGOs or volunteers. The price includes transfer from central Musanze to the river and back, buoyancy aids, a qualified guide and you will receive photos taken with a waterproof camera afterwards.
For enquiries, contact Kingfisher Journeys 0783811918
- Canoeing down Mukungwa River
courtesy of guengasa
Tracking the Golden Monkey
With most attention understandably focused on the mountain gorilla, one would almost forget that Rwanda is also home to the critically-endangered Golden Monkey.
These playful monkeys live in big groups of up to fifty members and are the only other primates living in the gorilla’s habitat. Two groups can be tracked, one on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and one in the bamboo forest on Mount Sabinyo. Departure starts from Kinigi every day and the trek takes about half-a-day, depending on the proximity of the group. The minimum age is 12 years and permits can be pre-booked online or obtained at the Volcanoes National Park.
The price of a permit is Rwf 4,000 for Rwandan/East African citizens, US$65 for foreign residents and US$100 for foreigners. Permits include park entry and an escort by an armed ranger guide and can be booked and paid in advance online through Irembo.
- The endangered golden monkeys
courtesy of Volcanoes National Park
Did you bring your binoculars? There are several excellent locations for bird-watching around Musanze.
Well-known birding areas in the vicinity are Volcanoes National Park, the Twin Lakes, the areas along the Mukungwa and Mpenge rivers and the rarely visited Rugezi Swamp, a wetland with reed and papyrus marshes with many endemic bird species including the endangered Grauer’s swamp-warbler.
If you want to know more about birding locations and what species to expect in Rwanda, contact the Birdlife International affiliate l’Association pour la Conservation de la Nature au Rwanda (ACNR).
- The Great Blue Turaco
courtesy of Yetu Guide
Ilse Lasschuijt works as a writer, editor and copywriter based in Kigali, Rwanda with an interest in a travel, tech and (life)-style.