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, 400 visitors were received within the first two months – 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. So what is it like visiting the Musanze caves?
The Musanze caves are located in the northern part of Rwanda in the District of Musanze. 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 maneuvering though a two kilometer 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 in Rwanda, its 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.
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.
Accommodation while touring the Musanze caves
Musanze District receives more international visitors than any other part of Rwanda and hence there is no shortage of accommodation option. There are luxury, mid-range and budget hotels/lodges offering quality services. Let’s look at some of the popular hotels and lodges used while visiting the Musanze caves.
The Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel: The hotel is strategically located near the Ruhengeri airport offering easy access to the Musanze caves and the Volcanoes national park. The hotel has got beautiful gardens while also offering stunning views of Rwanda’s rolling hills. The hotel has both single and double rooms with VIP cottages. Other facilities on offer include air conditioned private rooms, en suit bathrooms, flat screens, a mini bar, steam bath, sauna, swimming pool and free WiFi. The hotel offers airport pickup, enough packing space and a restaurant that serves both local and international cuisines.
Jack Hannah’s Cottages: These luxury cottages are located in Musanze and offer large self contained rooms that can accommodate 4 people. The hotel is located in a quiet serene environment full of long eucalyptus trees and even a golf course that offers opportunities for nature walks. Visitors to these luxury cottages should expect more privacy and great views of the rolling hills and volcanoes national park at a distance. The lodge offers room service 24 hours a day and a dining area supervised by very professional staff. The bathrooms are private with all the necessary toiletries and there is even an open relaxing area and fire place.
Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge: The Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge was built to offer both luxury and mid-range accommodation facilities. Situated in Kinigi, a few kilometers away from the Musanze caves, the lodge presents a natural setting with utmost privacy while catching glimpses of the volcanoes. Other facilities on offer include single, double and triple self contained rooms with free WiFi. The bathrooms are furnished with hair driers and hot showers. There is a shared lounge for relaxation in the later part of the day. Those with children can take them to the children’s play ground or walk around the beautiful gardens. The lodge restaurant offers both local and international meals.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge: This magnificent lodge sits at the foot of Mount Sabinyo and very near the Musanze caves. The 30 beautiful cottages are self-contained and offer a fireplace, bathrooms, slippers, bath robes, a seating area, free WiFi and a private veranda. Outside the rooms, there is a gift shop, a bar and a restaurant serving local and foreign dishes. There are enough parking spaces in the lodge.
Gorilla Volcanoes Hotel: The Gorilla Volcanoes Hotel is located in Musanze and is an ideal place to stay while on a tour of the Musanze caves. The environment around the hotel is quiet and serene. Reaching the Volcanoes National Park takes only 25 minutes of driving from the hotel. The Hotel has 31 spacious air conditioned rooms and offers an amazing outdoor terrace, a conference room, a children’s playground, swimming pool, restaurant and bar. The rooms are self-contained with a shower, bathtub, a flat TV screen, seating area, a coffee machine, a microwave and Free WiFi. There are dedicated staffs on call 24/7.
La Bambou Gorilla Village: This is a four star lodge with mid-range rooms that are built with local material. Because of the natural environment, gardens, beautiful sights of the volcanoes and lush green vegetation, this is a perfect lodge for relaxation. The hotel offers self-contained rooms with free WiFi. The hotel restaurant offers both local and international cuisines, a buffet, continental breakfast and even barbecue. There is also a children’s play ground, a business and conference center. Car and bicycle hire services are available for those interested in exploring the area.
The Garden palace: Is another great accommodation option that is located in the province of Ruhengeri providing great views of the mountains. The well furnished cottages offer 24 hour front desk services, car hire services, a bar, restaurant and a large space for parking. The rooms are spacious with a flat TV screen, bathrooms, showers/ baths and free WiFi.