How Well Do You Know Kinigi, Rwanda’s Tourism Hub?
A trip to Kinigi, outside the main Musanze town in northern Rwanda, makes you interact with nature. Musanze itself has established a reputation as Rwanda’s tourism hub for many reasons. However, for most tourists who come to Rwanda, Kinigi’s mountain gorillas are always on their bucket-list.
When looking for outdoor activities, the place to be is definitely the Volcanoes National Park. This, according to tour operators, is home to a variety of wildlife that include the mountain gorillas. Furthermore, preserved within the Volcanoes National Park are the three Virunga Volcanoes: Sabinyo, Bisoke and Karisimbi. These are part of the eight volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif which straddles Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda.
According to Ferdinand Ndamiyabo, a tour guide with Thousand Hills Tours, the main tourist attractions in Kinigi includes: gorilla tracking, golden monkey tracking, nature walk, as well as hiking Bisoke, Karisimbi, Muhabura and Gahinga mountains.
Ndamiyabo adds that most of the tourists who visit Kinigi come specifically for tracking the gorillas, though he is quick to add that Kinigi itself has so much to offer apart from the mountain gorillas.
“These primates have been extensively marketed as the main attractions of Rwanda’s tourism industry. However, visiting Kinigi itself and seeing what nature provides, together with the cultural activities carried out within the area, is going to introduce you to what more Rwanda has to offer,” says Ndamiyabo.
Amos Tega, also a guide working with the same tour firm, says the move by the Rwandan government through the Rwanda Development Board (RDD) to increase gorilla trekking fees from $750 to $1500 eventually is going to be a blessing in disguise since this is a prudent move to protect the mountain gorillas, which have become the flagship of the country’s tourism industry.
“Without the gorillas, Rwanda tourism industry naturally will not stand on its feet. Many tourists to Rwanda come just to see the primates in their natural habitat though Rwanda has so much to offer like bird watching and cultural tourism. However, hiking the gorilla fee by the government was a long-term investment to preserve these species and within two to three years, we are going to see what the policy makers at RDB foresaw,” says Tega.
Tega adds that now is the time for Rwanda diversify its marketing strategy, saying Kinigi itself has so much to offer for adventure tourists who just “want to experience the other side of Rwanda”.
Greg Bakunzi, the managing director of Amahoro Tours and founder of Red Rocks Rwanda, a cultural exchange center based in Nyakinama village, mentions some of the things tourists can enjoy for free in Musanze and Kinigi in particular, including excursion to the Twin Lakes, hike to the waterfalls of Musanze, walk to the local villages, enjoying scintillating music and dance by the evergreen Intore dancers and a visit to local community projects such as local arts and crafts markets and schools.
“Although those events are free of charge, it shouldn’t stop you from making a donation to the community depending on how much you’re satisfied,” says Bakunzi.
The tour operator adds that among the most recognizable tourism attractions in Kinigi is visiting the Musanze caves and the Dian Fossey Tomb.
According to Remarkable Rwanda (Tembera U Rwanda) website, a move by RDB to promote domestic tourism, the 1.25-mile long Musanze caves are located just outside of the town they share a name with, and are only a 90-minute drive from Kigali. With an enormous opening (and an equally huge number of bats resident inside), the greenery outside spilling over into the twilight within makes for a fantastic photo opportunity. Caves were used as a shelter during wartime for many centuries leading right up into the modern era, and as such, it’s an important site to local people. Thus, out of respect for the area’s residents, access is limited to guided visits.
Bakunzi says visiting the Dian Fossey Tomb in Kinigi is among the most sought after safari activities which is carried out when visiting Volcanoes National Park for a gorilla trip. The walk to the tomb also affords good views of forest hogs, forest elephants, a variety of primates and bird species.