Canoeing the Mukungwa River Near Musanze

As a Canadian I grew up with a canoe in the backyard (a little stereotype for you) and we’d often take it out on the waterways around Lake Ontario. It was old and huge and getting in and out was slightly terrifying but I have lots of great memories of floating peacefully in our trusty canoe. So I was pretty excited when Kingfisher Journeys imported four canoes to start running trips near Musanze.

Kingfisher Journeys is one of Rwanda’s most innovative and exciting tour companies, introducing kayaking and canoeing trips to some of the country’s beautiful waterways. They opened their ‘doors’ back in November 2015 with kayaking trips on Lake Kivu and, as of June 2016 have expanded to canoeing trips on the Mukungwa River near Musanze. I love businesses that try something totally new and push the tourist industry forward with a completely new activity and Kingfisher Journeys are a great business offering exciting trips that add to the list of things to do in Rwanda. They’re even working on an epic 11 day kayaking trip that will run the length of Lake Kivu!

But back to canoeing… we decided to drive up to Musanze in the morning, do the afternoon canoe trip, and then we stayed at the Ruhondo Beach Resort which is a beautiful place but it’s about 30 minutes outside of Musanze plus another 20 minute boat ride so if you’re pressed for time you might want to stay somewhere in Musanze itself. If you’re looking for a relaxing escape from Kigali, a canoe trip plus an overnight in Musanze is a perfect little getaway. The drive isn’t too long, the trip is about as zen as it gets, and there are some great options for a nice night in Musanze in the shadow of the volcanoes.

Our afternoon canoe trip started with a 2pm pickup at Hotel Muhabura which is right on Musanze’s main road. If you arrive early enough this place looks like a nice spot for lunch. We were met by our guide Sandrine and then driven about 20 minutes to the river to start our trip. After some short instruction on paddling techniques and some safety info, we clamored down the bank of the river (not a difficult descent but Kingfisher Journeys are planning to add stairs soon) into our canoes. We were two to a canoe with Sandrine paddling alongside us in her own boat.

The canoeing itself takes around three hours so make sure to come prepared with a full belly and some sunscreen. The section of river they’ve chosen is flat and meandering. It’s very relaxed with a couple of small sections of white water excitement built in. Mostly you’ll be paddling gently and taking in the beautiful surroundings. It’s great to drift by as people go about their day-to-day activities beyond the sugar cane, bamboo, and other crops. Canoeing down the river is a wonderful way to see the area at water level and we saw lots of birds up close (36 different bird species have been counted so far) and I hear that there are also otters though were weren’t lucky enough to see them on our trip. You’ll be happy to hear there there are no crocs or hippos in this area.

Sandrine is a great lover of the outdoors and she’ll answer all of your questions about the area. She’s got such an interesting story involving taking a training programme in Australia for outdoor activities and guiding and it’s really great that she and Kingfisher Journeys have found each other as she’s the perfect person to lead these trips. She’ll snap photos along the way so you can leave your camera at home if you don’t want to risk it getting wet. Dry bags are provided though and it was easy to pull our phones or cameras out along the trip. The afternoon light was stunning on the day we went and we got some very nice shots, especially when the volcanoes loomed in the background.

Canoeing is leisurely enough not to tire you out too much and no experience is required so it would make a great addition to gorilla trekking or a hiking trip in the Musanze area. If you’ll be in Musanze for a trek, I’d recommend booking a canoeing trip for the afternoon the day before. Leave for Musanze in the morning, grab lunch, and then hop onto an afternoon trip that runs from around 2 to 5pm. The paddling is nice and relaxing and your body won’t hate you the next day so you’ll be ready to chase some gorillas!

We did the trip as the main attraction and it’s totally worth the journey up to Musanze. If you’re planning a weekend in Gisenyi you could even stop in Musanze on the way for a bit of paddling fun, and then continue the at 1.5 hours to Gisenyi afterward. Since Musanze is only about 2 hours from Kigali, canoeing could also be done as a day trip. Restaurants in Musanze can take awhile for food so consider grabbing a packed lunch from Turambe Shoppe to take with you to eat before you go canoeing or stop at Sina Gerard (the rest stop about 45 minutes outside of Kigali) for brochettes and potatoes on the way up.

At $35 , the canoeing trip already starts out as a very affordable half day outing but Kingfisher Journeys also offer generous discounts for students, East African citizens and residents, groups (for five or more people), and guests at a selection of hotels. Check out their discounts page for all of the details. Another nice touch is that any discount applies to the entire booking, even if only one person applies.

I love being on the water and Kingfisher Journeys really have added something special to everyone living or passing through Rwanda. I haven’t tried kayaking yet but I’m looking forward to giving it a go and the next time I’m in Gisenyi, they also have paddle boards. Check out their video for a sneak peek of what’s in store and if you want to book, all of the details are below. Canoeing is number two on Trip Advisor for things to do in Musanze (behind those sexy gorillas) and I can totally recommend it too!

Phone: 0783 811 918

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