Tourist attractions in Musanze – Rwanda
Tourist attractions in Musanze : Musanze is the capital and most important town in the Northern province of Rwanda. It was initially called Ruhengeri but has now been changed since the country adapted a new policy of renaming all of its cities to remove memories of the horrific genocide and also to ease administration. Musanze is where most of the government administrative and commercial services are located and the closest city to the Volcanoes national park offering great views of the Virunga volcanoes. It come across as rather unremarkable when compared to the larger cities and towns in East Africa. Although most tourist come to Musanze (Ruhengeri) to explore the Volcanoes National Park and the mountain gorillas in particular, there is so much to do around this beautiful town and below are some of tourist attractions of Musanze as below;
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 thus Tourist attractions in Musanze.
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.
Explore the Musanze Caves
These caves are over 1 million years old. They were formed during the creation of the volcanoes in the area. Lava spewed out, flowed, cooled at the top and left molten rock moving underneath. The molten rock moving underneath left behind tunnels which are what we now all as the Musanze caves. The caves are a complex group of tunnels some stretching over 20 kilometres. These caves were used as shelter by the kings of Rwanda during war with neighbouring tribes. To explore the Musanze caves, everyone is assigned a torch, helmet and gloves. If you have never experienced true darkness in your life, then switch off the torch for a second or so while at the caves. The Musanze caves are managed by the Rwanda Development board and are found after driving for 30 minutes away from Musanze town. Entrance to the caves costs $50 and the whole activity takes 3 hours at most. Apart from the Musanze caves, there are over 45 other caves that can be explored in the area. Most are run by the Rwanda Development board and remain in their natural start thus Tourist attractions in Musanze.
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.
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 thus Tourist attractions in Musanze.
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.
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 thus Tourist attractions in Musanze.
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.
How to reach Musanze town
It takes about two hours of driving by road through stunning landscape to reach Musanze from the capital Kigali. The roads are of good quality and well maintained. Private cars can be hired for about $50 excluding fuel and a driver. If you are traveling on a tight budget, you can use the public buses from Kigali to Musanze. Bus companies like Kigali Bus Services and Virunga Express have offices at Nyabugogo Bus Station. Remember to buy the ticket just before boarding. If you book in advance, you may not get a good seat or end up standing because the bus would be full to capacity.