Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Interview: Greg from Red Rocks Hostel

Greg is an entrepreneur with a passion for cultural tourism who operates mainly out of Musanze. I’ve known Greg for many years and I’m always impressed with his businesses and new ideas. For more info on all of his great initiatives, follow along on Facebook.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Greg Bakunzi. I was born in Uganda and moved back to Rwanda in 1994 and settled in Musanze-where I manage a tourism business. I have operated within the local tourism sector for a while now starting out as a tour guide back in 1999 and through commitment and hard work I opened my own business later on in 2007.

How long have you been running Red Rocks Hostel and where did you get the idea to start it?

Red Rocks started off in 2011, it’s a backpacker hostel, campsite, with a cultural center located in a very beautiful village, surrounded by hills with spectacular views of the volcanoes. The center is built on the belief that tourism can benefit the surrounding communities directly. Red Rocks cultural center is the bridge between our community people, several partner projects and the visiting tourists, offering a link between travel and sustainability of the communities that host our visitors, through the exchange of cultural heritage

What can people expect when they choose to stay at Red Rocks?

Well for starters Red Rocks is very different from many of the places in Musanze and will keep you looking forward to returning back once you visit. The food, people, local markets and the great volcanoes mountains will definitely offer a great vacation and you can opt to stay in our tent or simply pitch your own. There is enough space between the tents, ensuring enough privacy. The toilets and showers are in a separate location and there are also toilets and bathrooms in the main building; during the day we have several short community activities to keep you busy.

What other things do you offer at Red Rocks?

During your stay you can choose to visit a nearby women’s village. A very fulfilling moment once you get to meet these women. You will be able to cook together and share a meal there. You will learn as well as share so much during your time with the women directly further more they will show you how to make banana beer. If you have a skill you would like to share with our community members then we welcome you with open arms, and will help you experience a feel of the Nyakinama social life during a village tour or cycling adventure.

Can you tell us more about the cultural experiences people can try when they stay in Ruhengeri (Musanze)?

While in Musanze town you can try the farm-to-dining table tours that are fun and educative involving working on farmlands within the villages. Which is distinctly a unique adventure providing more about the history, customs, and culture of Rwandan farms.

Basket weaving has been a part of Rwandan culture for a long time now Local women from different associations will teach and demonstrate on how the baskets are weaved and show you techniques used create beautiful baskets used to facilitate carrying food and also transporting goods.

How do local people benefit from sharing these experiences?

All our community activities and tours are covered by a small charge that goes back to support the members, the income gained from these tours is meant for the host members from the village. Red Rocks brings under-served communities into the tourism supply chain and supports community development projects that help people help themselves.

Through our work and partners we have launched many projects, which are helping local community members get access to education, health care and sustainable income that honors their traditional way of life.

The goal of Red Rocks is to provide a sustained, reliable source of livelihood for our communities through the tourism industry.

Can you tell us about the annual Cultural Tourism Week?

The annual Cultural tourism week is an adventure experience of the ancient Rwandan lifestyle, tradition and customs and brings together the community and guests as an alternative tourism experience for international visitors seeking an extra thrill beyond the gorillas. In its 7th year running, the Cultural Tourism Week comes runs in parallel to the annual gorilla naming ceremony, Kwita Izina, the Cultural Tourism Week is a forum through which Rwandans reflect on the gains made in conservation efforts and also showcase and partake in the country’s rich cultural heritage. It is also a time we come together to celebrate our success stories

Where did you get the idea to start this event?

Before the cultural tourism week, there wasn’t a platform bringing together community members to learn from each other as well as share knowledge with visiting tourists as well as celebrate in their contribution to cultural tourism, therefore I initiated this cultural week in response to having a platform that connects us as tour operator and the community.

What are some highlights people can expect if they attend?

This year’s edition will include a focus on celebrating conservation through art with community workshops, followed by communal discussions. They will also be a short tour of our Medicinal Botanical Demonstration garden along with our art gallery. Presentations will be lead by a variety of Organizations and public speakers talking about social economic growth, human and biodiversity security and performances honoring African cultural Heritage. During the opening ceremony our guests will have a chance to partake in traditional Rwandan food and drinks. Throughout the week they will be a local display of events and products that reflect the country’s cultural heritage and identity; traditional food and drink, banana beer production, poetry, music, dance and drama, basket weaving and traditional storytelling around a bon fire, among others.

Why have you decided to highlight local culture as a part of your business?

I greatly believe that tourism prospers on the strength of the host communities, with this in mind our local culture supports the tourism sector and by continuing to highlight our heritage and culture we are ensuring its sustainability and cultural conservation, which reflects back in our business model of operation.

How have you seen Ruhengeri develop as a tourist area over the years?

Over the years there’s been tremendous development in the Musanze area which is actually visible through the increase in number of visitors. There is an upgrade in accommodation facilities and the roads; we have also witnessed improvement in the customer service and relations which is crucial to the development of the tourism sector.

What are some other activities you would recommend people try in the area?

The twin lakes are a must do if you happen to be in Musanze, or better still you can indulge in the historical walk through the Buhanga Eco-Park, plus  Mt. Bisoke adventure is one of the most memorable activities in Rwanda. The top of this Volcano has a spectacular crater lake known as Lake Ngezi. It is simply a 6 – hours hike including the 2 hours descending down to the starting point last but not least let’s not forget the famous cave tourism.

What does the future hold for Red Rocks?

In future personally I would like to see other areas in the country deeply committed to establishing community based tourism activities or centers that can be used to empower families and households and among my plans for Red Rocks in the future is we want to become one of the best ecotourism destinations in the region.

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  1. It’s true, I met Greg in 2003 in cyanika. By that time he was still a guide but very knowledgeable and helpful. There were few guides in Rwanda who could speak English. Very friendly and was focused on going to greater heights. There you go!!!!! Congs


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