Volcanoes National Park, Gorillas’ World
Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park
The Virungas are much more than just the home of the endangered Mountain Gorilla,Trekking through the Volcanoes National Park in far northwest Rwanda, visitors will find a tapestry of sensory delights. The visitor in the rainforest can hear the calls of birds and monkeys, and through the forest see the peaks of the ancient volcanoes alongside the evergreen and bamboo forest, grassland, swamp and heath.
Volcanoes National Park was established in 1925 being the first park to be gazetted in Africa with an aim of protecting Mountain gorillas. Also known as the Parc Nationale des Volcanos, the park is located to the north west of Rwanda sheltering the Rwandan section of the entire Virunga Volcanoes that comprise of 8 mountains shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo including the Karisimbi, Gahinga, Sabyinyo, Muhabura and Bisoke that form the Virunga massif.
Rwanda’s biggest tourism attraction is its gorilla population in Volcanoes National Park.The park was initially a small area around three of the volcanoes that was gazetted as a protected zone to safeguard the region’s fast-dwindling Mountain gorilla population and eventually divided into two parkswhen Rwanda and the Congo gained independence.
American zoologist Dian Fossey was instrumental at spearheading the campaign to protect the endangered giant gentle creatures against continued poaching. Tourism in the area has grown significantly since 2005, when renewed efforts were put into drawing visitors to the area and today, the park is home to a stunningly varied eco-system, as well as mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, spotted hyena, buffalo, elephant, bushbuck, duiker and over 170 bird species.
Volcanoes National Park is very rich in fauna and flora though the park is commonly known for its Mountain Gorillas though there is variety of other mammals found in the park including golden monkeys, buffaloes, spotted hyenas, black-fronted duiker and bushbucks with a few elephants spotted around the park. Among these mammals, approximately 170 bird species also live in the park of which 13 species and 16 sub species are restricted in range to mountains of Virunga and Rwenzori including Archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson-wing, the francolins, red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, collared apalis and strange weaver.
Volcanoes National Park is perched on a mountainous landscape and as a result features verdant vegetation that varies according to the raising altitude thus rendering it habitat for the most sought mountain gorillas with 10 groups of habituated gorillas dedicated for tracking and the 2 gorilla groups for research.
Activities in Volcanoes National Park
There is a variety of activities to be enjoyed in Volcanoes National Park with the most popular being Gorilla Trekking. The rest of the activities include Golden Monkey Trekking, climbing Karisimbi, a visit to the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo then visiting Dian Fossey’s tomb at Karisoke Research Center.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla Trekking is the climax of all safaris to Rwanda, Mountain gorillas only exist in three countries in the world. Volcanoes National Park is a habitant to the critically endangered gorillas along Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Congo’s Virunga National Park which altogether support a population of 1000 mountain gorillas.
Volcanoes National Park has 12 gorilla groups, with two set aside for research that is Pablos Shida and Beetsme and 10 habituated gorilla families set aside for tourism including; Susa A, Susa B, Amahoro, Umubano, Guhonda, Group 13, Kwitonda, Hirwa, Ugenda and Bwenge.
Gorilla Trekking begins at Kinigi Park Headquarters where briefing is done at 8am by the Park rangers who assign the travellers which gorilla family they’ll be tracking and thereafter driven to the trail head to begin trekking which may last 2 to 8 hours with one hour of direct encounter with the mountain gorillas.
A gorilla trekking permit costs USD 1500 which must be paid for and obtained prior the day of tracking since only 80 permits are offered per day
Golden Monkey Tracking
Volcanoes National Park also supports the endangered Golden Monkeys besides the Mountain Gorillas. Golden Monkeys are found only in the Virunga Volcanoes foothills and one of the best place to track them. Since they have become habituated in the Park.
Golden Monkey Tracking has become a popular activity as it is an amazing experience that show cases the attractive primates that derive their name from magical golden patch on their back as they thrive in the Virunga massif and the Gishwati in Rwanda on the global scale in the Bamboo zone of the park.
Karisoke Research Center
Dian Fossey’s research Camp and Grave site Hike, this 3 hour hike is for those who have seen to visit the graves of her beloved Gorillas and her final resting place among them. There are also the ruins of her former Karisoke Research Center and home that she referred to as a mausoleum. The hike itself is quite scenic and wildlife, monkeys, birds are often observed along the trail.
Volcano Hikes and Climbs
The Park offers visitors some of the best options in Climbing and Hiking up its Volcanoes. There are day-hikes and climbs and also an overnight hike on Mountain Karisimbi which is a snow-capped Volcano in Rwanda. The Mountain Karisimbi climb is a real challenge and often one is pelleted by rain snow and has to deal with ice on the ground.
5 out of the 8 mountains in the Virunga massif are found in Volcanoes National Park and these include the famous Karisimbi Mountain (4507m) which is also the highest of the entire eight mountain chain, Muhabura (4127m), Bisoke (3711), Sabyinyo (3634m) along with Gahinga (3474).
Volcanoes National Park is a habitant to over 178 bird species of which 13 species of these and 16 sub species limited to the mountains of Rwenzori and Virunga massif. The range of birds that thrive in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda include the Archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson-wing, the francolins, red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, collared apalis and strange weaver. The Park offers a rewarding birding experience for bird lovers.
Lake Ngezi is located on Mount Bisoke and appears a small crater lake that is at 11km stretch from the summit of the Bisoke Mountain and the hike to the lake lasts 3 – 4 hours with sights of beautiful mountain flora and birds en route. While at the lake, you enjoy the impressive views of the neighboring DR Congo and you will be accompanied by the ranger for protection and guidance
Bulera and Ruhondo appear as twin lakes because they adjoin one another and the walk to the twin lakes presents magical views of the lakes and the beautiful sights of Russumo falls as you encounter the locals paddling the canoes and others riding their wooden boats on these lakes as they fish. Along the trail on the walk you will enjoy impressive bird views like Long crested Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Stonechat, Grey-throated tit, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater, Common Moorhen and Paradise Fly catchers.
Nature walks in Buhanga Sacred forest
The Buhanga Sacred forest presents an impressive nature walking experience exploring the small forest of Buhanga outside the Volcanoes Park boundaries. The forest presents a rich historical and cultural encounter of the traditional Rwanda where monarchical Kings of Rwanda would bath in this forest before assuming Kingship and as a result the forest was considered sacred and people could not cultivate it or cut any tree from it and the walkways are impressively designed by lava stone.
Musaze Caves are historical caves situated outside the Volcanoes National Park. The caves are 65 million years old and feature 31 entrances and over 2km long inside. These caves were created from the flow of Basalt Layers of lava that flowed from Volcanic Mountains of Sabyinyo and Bisoke. The caves walk takes about 2 hours and it’s done under the protection from the Rwanda Soldiers. These caves were used as refigium for the Rwandan Royals during the times of war in traditional Rwanda and as a store for the supplies and most importantly they sheltered many people during the genocide time in 1994.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park range from budget to Midrange to the upmarket establishment so the choice of the accommodation depends on how much the client is willing to spend and their travel budget.
- Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge: A luxury establishment located in Musanze district close to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi. Sabyinyo lodge is situated at the foothill of the Virunga ranges comprising of a wonderful view of the Volcanoes rolling hills and the surrounding countryside.
- Mountain Gorillas’ Nest lodge: Also known as Jack Hannah’s Cottages is a luxury lodge located northern Rwanda’s Musanze district nestled in a forest of Eucalyptus trees with beautiful views of Rwanda’s hills and slopes of the Volcanoes national park.
- Mountain Gorilla View Lodge: Is located in Musanze district northern Rwanda neighboring Volcanoes National Park. The lodge is located on the foothills of the Mount Sabinyo and is about 15 minutes from Kinigi Park Headquarters
- Le Bambou Gorilla Village: This is midrange safari accommodation situated in Northern Province of Rwanda near Volcanoes National park. Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge has an unrivaled reputation for relaxation and is a home away home.
- Kinigi Guesthouse: This is a midrange establishment situated in Kinigi district only 11 Km from Ruhengeri City at the bottom of Sabyinyo volcanic mountain with an altitude of 4,480 m.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park.
The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2 hours from the airport and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek since it’s very accessible.The Park is located in a small village called Musanze previously well-known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the Airport. You will be required to arrive at the headquarters in Kinigi by 7:00 am.
Climate and when to visit Volcanoes National Park
Although the park offers trekking experiences throughout the year, the best time to travel is during the drier seasons, which calls between December and March, and June to September each year. This is the best time to spot the gorillas and it makes for better hiking, since the forest floor is not saturated with constant rain. However, it is a good rule of thumb to pack waterproof hiking gear whenever you visit as the weather around the equator is notoriously unpredictable.
Located: Northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Best Time to Go:
Jan to February and June to September
June to September (Peak time for Rwanda)
Size: 160 km2
Altitude: 2,500m to the peak of Karisimbi, at 4,500m