Musanze is a city nearest to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, its other, old name is Ruhengeri – both describe the exact same town. It takes just over 2 hours to get there from Kigali. Musanze is the capital and most important town in the Northern Province of Rwanda. Although most tourists 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.
The most popular activity is gorilla trekking safari done on long or short period of days. Unfortunately, it is an expensive venture with a gorilla permit in Rwanda costing a cool $1500. Trekking starts at 7:30 am with a briefing from one of the park rangers. After the briefing, participants are assigned one of the ten habituated gorilla families.
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. 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.
Visit 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, tranquillity and at the foot of the Virunga volcanoes. 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.
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 call as the Musanze caves. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. You can continue and visit Nkotsi Village. Also known as Muko, Nkotsi Village is found in the south-western part of Musanze. It is an excellent place to go for a cultural tour and experience the life of people in rural Rwanda.
Visit the IbyI’wacu Cultural Village: The IbyI’wacu Cultural village (Now known as the gorilla Guardians 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 become a leading cultural centre in Rwanda.
Visit Restaurants: 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 Rwandan coffee. For the best chicken dishes, salads, burgers, pizzas and pasta taken with fresh juice, you might want to visit Migano Café.
Five Volcanoes Boutique is one of the affordable deluxe lodges in Musanze town. It is built close to the Volcanoes National Park offices overlooking mount Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabyinyo. The rooms are excellent with freshly used bedding. Food is great and served by very friendly staff. These staff will go out of their way to make your stay memorable including cleaning your mud-filled shoes each time you return from gorilla safari exploring in park.
Bisate lodge is built close to the gates of the Volcanoes National park in Rwanda – right at the front of Mount Bisoke. The lodge offers breath-taking scenery of the park, mountains and countryside. It is one of the most expensive luxury lodges in Rwanda and the Musanze area. Though expensive, you pay for unmatched services, great food and very high quality facilities. The rooms were designed to look like carefully crafted birds’ nests but with high quality bathrooms and beds which are said to be the most comfortable in the area.
La Locanda: This Italian accommodation facility is built very close to the city Centre. The facility has beautiful gardens, comfortable beds and clean bathrooms. They are known for making some of the best pizza in Musanze. The quality of breakfast here rivals even the major luxury hotels. La Locanda is a favourite meeting place for the Expatriate community living in the Musanze area and tourists on a safari at the Volcanoes National Park.
Virunga lodge is another luxury lodge in Musanze. It is run by Volcanoes Safaris and built close to the starting point for gorilla trekking and other park activities. The cottages are made with grass thatched roofs and stone paths. Every room is self-contained and with a fireplace for warmth considering the area sits on high altitude.
Red Rocks Rwanda: This is an excellent accommodation facility for the backpacker and travelers on a budget. The facility is located outside the city with excellent views of the volcanoes and twin lakes. Red Rocks is known for its innovative evening campfire-centered range of activities. During these evenings, food and drinks are served by the campfire to give guests a memorable evening after activities in the park.
Sabyinyo Wilderness Lodge: This is also a luxury lodge built close to the Volcanoes National Park offices. It is managed by Wilderness Camp – a company that owns many other similar luxury lodges in East Africa. The lodge offers a peaceful and romantic atmosphere for luxury gorilla travelers and set on the slopes of the volcanoes National Park.