The Musanze caves in Rwanda offer in-depth understanding of geological history and development of the earth. Located in the volcanic region of Rwanda where different lava flow layers dating from 65 million years ago created the Albertine Rift Valley, the caves are two kilometers long underneath.
The caving activity in these caves is fairly new and started only late last year. They are not yet very popular, but part of it can also be blamed on very little promotion. I stumbled upon on this when I reached the reception of Volcanoes National Park a little late for any activity within the park. I had seen a signboard on the way and when I asked them about it they said they organize caving as well :)
This was not my first caving experience, but it was certainly the most formal one - with full caving gear into a cave full of wild migratory bats. The first time I tried caving was in Meghalaya way back in 2006, and since then never had an opportunity. Unfortunately no images survive from my first experience and I never shared about it on the blog as well.
Anyway, as soon as I was told that I could do caving in the first half of the day, I got super excited and immediately said the fee (USD 30). I was introduced to my guide Mr D, who also became my good friend and gave me company and tips of the next few days that I was in the town of Musanze. I asked him if he needed any help and he simply asked me to walk around, take pictures and wait. The reception is quite scenically located on the foothills of Volcanoes National Park and you can see the most beautiful volcano, Mount Sabyinyo, right behind it. Its so beautiful that I could stare at it for hours...
Anyway within an hour we were ready to leave. It took all this time as they had to charge a number of lights that we had to use within the cave. When I had a look at all the gear we had to carry, I was super impressed and even more excited to go into the caves. Usually one needs a vehicle to go to the caves, but since I had come there on a bike taxi, they graciously offered me a ride in a Park safari vehicle - which is generally used for conservation work and never used by the tourists. I guess, since I was alone and had become friends with the soldiers, they were open to giving me a free ride :)
After a drive of about 30 minutes we were near the entrance of the cave. We dressed up before going down into the darkness and it added to the excitement. I was given the following:
The caves at Musanze are popular with the bats of neighboring countries, namely Uganda and Tanzania, and there are many varieties of bats there, including the exotic fruit bats.
The cave is actually quite long, though we could only do a short stretch of it which took us about an hour. There is, of course, no light inside the cave and you have to use the head light on the helmet almost all the time. This is good for you, but sharp light disturbs the bats and make quite a bit of noise. Its great when you switch off all the lights inside and stand quietly, the bats also calm down and go silent. You can even feel them flying quite close to you - the winds flapping, strange bat stench and so on.
The last bit of the cave is also the most beautiful. The image at top is from at the end. On the insistence of my guide, I also made this short video about the place. He wanted me to make it so that I can share it with my family and convince them to come to Rwanda for their next vacation :)
His real name was Diogene, but he preferred Mr D :) He was my guide to the caves but we quickly became friends, chatting up about Rwanda and India. He also took me to the coolest places in Musanze, lent me his jacket for the trek and called up every evening to ask me about my day!
I took this portrait at a nice and old French cafe in town where we had our lunch after Caving.
The caves became prominent during the genocide in 1994. It was used by hapless residents fleeing their killers to hide and save themselves. Many of them lived here for months and made it their home. It must have been quite tough living here - no light, little food and lots of bats. A new walkway is in place now, but back then it was only rocks and uneven terrain. As per my guide, many of those who hid here actually survived.
1. If you are in Musanze, you can take a bike taxi to the Reception of Volcanoes National Park. No prior booking is required. The taxi will cost you FRw 2000.
2. A jeep or car is preferred as you can dump all the caving equipment there
3. Caving takes about an hour and it not at all tough - its an experience for everyone :)
4. You can carry water and food, but you can't have it inside the cave
5. Cameras are generally useless, unless you intend to use a tripod and take long exposure shots