Musanze District, found in the Northern Province of Rwanda, is blessed with a wide range of tourist attractions. Volcanoes National Park, which is home to the mountain gorillas, is located there.
Apart from gorilla trekking, the park offers a variety of other exciting activities. However, you don’t need to enter the park to discover everything Musanze has in store. There is so much more outside its boundary line. Below is a highlight of my experiences in Musanze over the years.
Camping on Cyuza Island
My camping experience on this tiny island was out of the ordinary. I slept like a baby and woke up to hit songs from adorable birds. This early morning show is known as the dawn chorus. It is the best alarm clock ever.
Cyuza is located in the middle of Lake Burera. Its campsite is run by La Paillotte, a social enterprise established to cater for the needs of tourists in pursuit of a combination of wild adventure and comfort. From the camp, I was awestruck by the view of the lake, surrounding rolling hills and the Virunga Massif.
Visiting the twin lakes
Lake Burera is seldom known. As a result, a cluster of tourist activities seen around popular lakes was missing. I am not complaining though. The tranquility and peace of mind I found there was exactly what I needed.
About half a kilometer away lies another hidden gem — Lake Ruhondo. The ’Twin Lakes’ moniker is often used to refer to the two neighboring water bodies. Burera’s level is 150 meters higher than her twin sister altitude-wise.
Ntaruka hydroelectricity plant is constructed on the foot of the hill separating the two lakes. There is a pipeline designed to intensify the velocity of the dropping water, which in turn, whirls the turbines to generate electricity. While visiting the two lakes, I learned one or two things about the scientific process of converting kinetic energy into electricity.
Visiting Dian Fossey’s tomb
When I visited Dian Fossey’s tomb, I felt like a monk in a remote pilgrimage site. This is where the legendary primatologist Dian Fossey was laid to rest. She spent the last 18 years of her life living with the critically endangered mountain gorillas while protecting and studying them.
A visit to Dian’s jungle residence and burial site shed light on her legacy and progress made by the Karisoke Research Center. Since Karisimbi trail passes a few steps away, hikers can easily include a stopover at the site while booking their Karisimbi challenge.
Golden monkey trekking
Overshadowed by their gorilla neighbors, the golden monkeys do not get the recognition they deserve. Like their famous cousins, they appear on the list of the endangered species compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The golden monkeys live in large groups. They are often spotted eating bamboo leaves and fruits. They have long golden facial hair and bright orange backs. Limited research has been conducted on these fascinating creatures but the little we know about them shows interesting social dynamics.
Visiting the Gorilla Guardians’ Village
A visit to the Gorilla Guardians’ Village was a great opportunity to learn Rwanda’s rich historical and cultural heritage. I also had an opportunity to interact with former poachers who are now protecting the gorillas. The realization that nature can improve their livelihoods through tourism is behind their transformation.
Formerly known as Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, the site offers an alternative accommodation option for travelers.
Touring Musanze Caves
While in the area, I visited Musanze Caves too. I was guided through an underground dark channel divided into three segments. A lot of work has been done to pave the underground walkway and give the caves a much-needed facelift. Something similar to a cobblestone footpath is built and stairs are shaped to ease climbing up and down the uneven floor.
When volcanic eruptions took place in the Virunga area, discharged lava gushed toward the least resistant directions. As the outer parts of the streaming molten rock eventually cooled and hardened, the inner currents continued to flow unobstructed, leaving behind huge horizontal openings known as lava tubes beneath the elevated ground.
Canoeing along the meandering course of Mukungwa River
When I discovered Mukungwa River, I participated in a thrilling canoeing expedition. As I propeled my canoe down the stream, it left behind a trail of twisting whirlpools.
I was overwhelmed by the excitement of steering my canoe down the stream while learning rowing 101. Despite being preoccupied with this new adventure, I still caught a glimpse of the day-to-day lives of the birds of Mukungwa. I was amazed by their impressive work ethic, attention to detail and resilient spirit. Ever since, I have been paying more attention to their endeavors and each birding experience leaves me speechless.
Visiting Buhanga Eco Park
Elsewhere, I had a history crash course in the mysterious Buhanga Eco Park. This is an isolated forest patch in which coronation of Rwandan kings used to take place. There are four profound sections of historical significance in the forest: the dark cave, the spring, the ditch and the conference podium.
Obviously, there are many trees in the forest but one of them stands out from the crowd. This is the popular three-in-one tree. Three species of trees are intertwined to form one symbolic tree also known as Inyabutatu ya Banyarwanda. It reflects the unity of the three Rwandan ethnic groups.
A few trees in the forest, including the giant Umuvumu, are featured prominently in Rwandan folklore.
Hiking the volcanoes
It is in this district where I was converted into an enthusiastic hiker. Five volcanic mountains are lined up along the park’s northern border. Bisoke and Gahinga hikes are relatively easy but if you are struggling to climb the stairs to the fourth floor, Karisimbi and Muhabura hikes are probably not for you.
Muhabura is not as tall as Karisimbi but its gradient is steeper and rockier. Their summits are usually foggy but, on a good day, hikers enjoy views of breathtaking landscapes in Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC.
My last gorilla trekking outing was in 2015 when I visited the park with a group of Big Brother Africa reality TV show participants. It was a rainy day but we were covered by waterproof gear from head to toe.
We hiked for two hours before we found the Sabyinyo group led by a giant silverback namely Guhonda. We spent an hour observing this family keenly. Guhonda and company were not bothered by our presence. They were busy eating, and occasionally, arguing in their own form of communication.
A lot has been written about the primates from which a substantial amount of dollars is milked. All I can add is that an encounter with these great apes is an experience of a lifetime.
The spring-like weather Musanze people experience all year long encourages participation in hiking, cycling, canoeing and other vigorous outdoor sporting activities. I have had my fair share of calorie-burning engagements in the area but there is so much more.