Musanze Cave

Useful Information

Location: Musanze District. Southwest of Ruhengeri on the Ruhengeri-Gisenyi-Highway.
Classification: SpeleologyBlister cave
Light: torches provided.
Dimension: L=2,000 m.
Guided tours:
Bibliography: John Giblin (2008): New Work on the Later Archaeology of Rwanda 2006 to 2007: A Preliminary Fieldwork Report, Nyame Akuma, No 60, June 2008
Address: Musanze Cave.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1975 four caves surveyed by Belgian cavers.
1977 cave with 4.5 km length explored and surveyed by Spanish cavers.
2003/2004 20 more caves explored by international caving team.
2013 opened to the public.


Musanze Cave is named after the district where it is located, the Musanze District. It was developed for tourism in 2013 by the Rwanda Development Board's (RDB) Tourism and Conservation Department. There are trails, stone staircases and railings, but no electric light. Visitors are equipped with helmets, rain coats, gum boots, and hand lamps. Most of this is probably for show, to make the visit more interesting. The mandatory safety briefing by the guides is definitely a good thing.

Musanze Cave is a rather young lava cave in the Albertine Rift Valley. The volcanism started here with the Cretaceous 65 Million years ago, and is still going on. The cave was formed by a lava flow from the Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes. It has a huge, 10 m high, entrance portal and a length of two kilometers. Multiple roof collapses, which are common for lava caves, make a total of 31 entrances.

However, this is not the average lava tube, it is a much rarer type of cave called Explainblister cave. Volcanic gas bubbles or blisters were collecting in solidifying lava and so the blisters solidified and became caves. The cave is a series of huge oval chambers, many of them connected, but not all of them. The result is actually a number of caves which all together are called Musanze Cave.

Some of the Musanze Caves contain the remains of early human inhabitation. Two caves were excavated in 1983 by Van Noten. He called them Akameru and Cyinkomane, names which seem to be forgotten now, as all caves are called Musanze Cave. Between 2006 and 2007 John Giblin from the University College London excavated Musanze II, III and IV. The caves had extremely good bone preservation and produced large quantities of decorated ceramics and a range of metal objects. The dating is not very good, but there is a single radiocarbon date for the earliest occupation around AD 875±95, so the found remains are from the Iron Age.

The cave was the site of a massacre during the genocide, so locals considered it a tomb and were not very happy about tourists visiting the cave. We do not know how the government convinced them about the necessarity of a tourist cave. But obviously it produces jobs, especially if the amount of visitor is high enough, so many locals are welcoming the development.