“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rain forest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
This 160km² national park protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains. It consists of a range of six extinct Virunga volcanoes which straddles Rwanda’s border with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is part of a contiguous 433km² Virunga parks.
On the bamboo and rain forest –covered slopes of the volcanoes are some of the last remaining sanctuaries of the mountain gorilla, which was studied in depth first by George Schaller and more recently by Dian Fossey who spent over 18 years in wild with these giant apes in the slopes of Bisoke, she habituated them to human contact and they can be tracked safely in their natural habitat. However her work was put to an end when she was murdered by poachers in 1985 that she had made her self very unpopular. Without her persistent efforts to have poaching stamped out and the work of committed locals since her death, there is possibly wouldn’t be any gorillas remaining in Rwanda.
Her work made Volcanoes National Park Rwanda very popular as very many tourists leave their residence to come and spend at least one or two days in the wild with these apes. A film was released gorillas in the mist makes fascinating reading, it’s better to pick up a copy or watch this film before coming to Rwanda as it gives you an insight on what you will find in the forest. Volcanoes national park receives visitors daily who come purposely to track gorillas and also enjoy other activities at the park.
The Volcanoes National Park Rwanda is located in Ruhengeri Musanze district just about 2-3 hours drive on a clear weather condition from Kigali Rwanda’s capital and its largest city.
Why Visit Rwanda
The Volcanoes National Park is the most popular tourism destination in Rwanda. A bright morning in Rwanda means a lot if you are heading out to Volcanoes national park to look into the pensive eyes of the mountain gorillas, a great ape only found in only three countries in the world. The park is famed for its easier gorilla treks! Apart from gorilla trekking there are many other adventures that you can enjoy in PNV. Some of the main highlights of this park are;
- Mountain gorilla tracking,
- Golden monkey tracking
- Visit to Dian Fossey tomb,
- Volcano hikes and
- cultural heritage
An exhilarating Rwanda gorilla trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and littered with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest canopy, the magnificent peaks are glimpsed, easily accessible and among the highest in Africa, beckoning an ascent.
The bustling market town of Ruhengeri has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow – is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area. Also within easy day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses, including the newly renovated hotel Gorilla’s Nest. Visitors could also base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali and – with an early start – head to the Volcanoes National Park and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
Things to Do in the Volcanoes National Park
There are lots of things to do in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. From popular gorilla treks within the bamboo forests to impressive hikes to the Virunga Volcanoes, you have plenty of activities to choose from while on holiday in Rwanda. Here are the major adventure activities to engage in during your trip;
Gorilla trekking is Volcanoes National Park’s most enjoyed safari experience. During gorilla trekking, tourists immerse themselves into the forest to look for already habituated gorilla group families. Interestingly, Volcanoes Park alone has 12 habituated gorilla groups for tourists to visit. The gorilla groups to track in this park include the Karisimbi/Susa B, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Hirwa, Susa A, Sabyinyo, Umubano, Amahoro, and others.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park commences at 8:00 am after a briefing from the park official while at Kinigi offices. Visitors can take 2-6 hours in the forest while looking for mountain gorillas, and once they are found, strictly one hour will be for you to observe their behaviors and taking photos. A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs USD1500 per person and the tour operator who organizes your gorilla tour can still assist make booking of the permits on your behalf.
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkey tracking is Volcanoes Park’s second most enjoyed primate adventure. This offers nature lovers a lifetime opportunity to explore golden monkeys in the wild and their daily behaviors. Tracking golden monkeys begins in the morning and visitors search for already habituated troops and a long search takes between 2 and 4 hours inclusive of one hour of a magical encounter.
Birds to keep an eye on birding tour in Volcanoes Park Rwanda include Albertine rift endemic and forest species. The birds to sight during the birding include the red-faced woodland warblers, Archer’s ground robin, Rwenzori turacos, collared apalis, Rwenzori turacos, strange weaver, Rwenzori batis, dusky crimson-wing and more.
Volcano hiking in the Volcanoes National Park is best done on the volcanoes in Muhabura, Bisoke, Karisimbi and Gahinga. Muhabura volcano rises at an elevation of 4127 and hiking to its summits takes between 6 and 8 hours. Mount Gahinga rises at an altitude of 3474 and offers amazing views of the surrounding and swamp caldera. Karisimbi volcano is 4507m is the highest peak of the 8 Virunga volcanoes and it is hiked in Volcanoes Park. Sabyinyo (3645m) is shared by Uganda, Congo and Rwanda, but it can be hiked while in Mgahinga National Park.
Going on a Safari in Volcanoes National Park
For travelers who want to enjoy and discover Volcanoes National Park in depth, a safari of 3–5 days would be a great adventure. Due to variety of attractions, it may not seem like a long time. Most tourists to the park spend a minimum of 1-3 days exploring the park mountain gorillas, golden monkey, Ibywachu cultural village, taking an excursion to the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhundo as well as paying tribute to the famous iron lady in conseravtion, the late Dian Fossey. But if time permits don’t leave the park without embarking on the pleasing volcano hike to one of the living volcanoes in the Virunga region.
There are so many hills, mountains, and trees in volcanoes national park, all beautiful and different from one another giving your eyes a million directions and concentration becomes hard. However, the best thing to do while here is to concentrate on one angle after the other and at the end of the day all your needs will be suited. Thousands look forward to amazing Rwanda holidays and always endure the slow pace of time and days after placing in their trip booking until the right time and day for their dream adventure.
Interestingly, one only touches reality by settling down in the beautiful well conserved primate forest “volcanoes national park” and relax within for a few days spending nights close to the home of the lovely primates. Indeed it’s a good choice for exclusive wildlife adventure and reputable life time Africa trip experience across the globe.
Did you know that exclusive great adventures take place in one of the four mountain gorilla parks in the whole world although sited in the same region with the other three mountain gorilla parks of Bwindi forest, Mgahinga national park and Virunga National Park. The park has always hard all sorts of adventures every year for the hikers, gorilla trekkers, birders, nature lovers and cultural fans who lookout for wonderful Africa trip experience in one of their favorite destinations. Most park activities begin in the morning though a few kick off both in morning and afternoon giving chance to those who get to the park in the afternoon to have something to keep them busy and happy.
The park breaks for lunch are breathtaking offering a million views to guests as well as the lovely steep slopes and plains which stretch out into the rain forest and one of Rwanda Pretty Mountain. From the vantage point you can begin to see why Rwanda is referred to as “The Land of Thousand Hills”. Nothing nice and entertaining than heading out to the rain forest before sun rise in search for the mountain gorillas.
The morning cold of mist welcome you to the forest taking you through the brief walk through some farm lands into the deep thick forest following the path of the mountain gorilla movement in the jungle. After a few hours of walking and some looking tired, the lovely silver back apes shows up to wipe away your tiresomeness as it call for all its family members to meet you in the one hour duration given in respect of conservation.
It is only long before the forest opens the silver back progress of being a very great father and head of family but photography and observation confirms it all to the park guests. Mud feels up the walking shoes but one of the most impressive signs for successful mountain gorilla trackers at the end of the day. Looking back after the trek, memories take you back to the jungle forcing you to grab your camera and observe more what exactly happened within the permitted one hour spent with the apes.
There is no crew of how it feels to meet the gentle giant mountain gorilla in the forest because excitement can take you up as soon as one sets eyes on it. Above all visiting Volcanoes National Park is one of Africa’s finest wildlife travel destination that would recommend to all tourists heading out for trips across the Africa continent.
The price of a gorilla permit
With effect from 6th May 2017, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) increased the price of Rwanda Gorilla permits from $750 to $1500 per person. According to Claire Akamanzi the CEO of RDB, the new prices aim at ensuring sustainability of Conservation Initiatives, Intensifying Visitors’ Experience and supporting the development of local communities that live around the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda. This price also has some advantages because tourists who spend a minimum of 3 nights in either Akagera National Park or Nyungwe National Park are offered a 30% discount. Much as it is also assumed to be high, tourists are entitled to several services before tracking including a cup of coffee/tea and free entertainment which are not offered in Uganda and DRC.
Gorilla Families to Visit in Volcanoes National Park
There are ten habituated gorilla groups/families that can be visited for your unforgettable gorilla trekking safari. They include Group 13/Agashya group, Hirwa group, Umubano group, Kwitonda, Susa Group/Susa A group, Sabyinyo gorilla group, Karisimbi group/Susa B, Amahoro Group, Bwenge family and Ugenda group. Each of these ten groups has unique characteristics which makes it different, special and sets it apart from the others. You can choose to visit all of them to explore their unique features.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park can be visited anytime of the year. Any season (dry or wet) can be ideal for gorilla trekking. However the dry season (from early-December to late-January and June to mid-September) is more favorable for this remarkable adventure. Hiking is less arduous in the dry seasons. In This season, the possibility of rainy is greatly reduced and the trails are most likely to be less muddy and slippery. But don’t get your hopes too high because Volcanoes National Park being within a Tropical rain forest makes the possibility of raining higher. Besides that, areas above 2000m above sea level can receive rain anytime of the year. The rainy season (April to May and in November) is not preferred by most tourists because hiking itself can be difficult and the trails can be muddy and slippery.
Recommended Wear and what to carry for Gorilla Trekking
Before you are immersed in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest to watch the Giant Apes that are inhabit the shady bamboo forest, make sure you are prepared for the hike by wearing appropriately. Make sure to wear long trousers and long sleeved shirts. Avoid shorts and short sleeved shirts that will ruin your excitement when you are cut by sharp grasses and tree branches, wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head and eyes respectively from the sunshine. Also wear sturdy waterproof hiking boots with enough grip and ankle support, carry a walking stick that will support you during hiking, a camera is very crucial but avoid the flash cameras, drinking water and snacks are also important, carry a rain jacket whether it is a rainy or dry season and a waterproof backpack is also recommended.
Rules and regulation of gorilla trekking
Gorilla trekking is governed by the following rules; avoid littering while in the jungle, a maximum of 8 person are allowed to visit each gorilla group per day, maintain a distance of 7 meters when with the Mountain gorillas to avoid transmitting human diseases and also do not participate in gorilla trekking if you are sick with cough and flue because the fact that these animals share 98% of their DNA with humans, they can easily catch those diseases. Please avoid spitting within the jungles, avoid unnecessary noise when with the Giant Apes, if you have to cough or sneeze turn your mouth away from the gorillas, maximum time of being with the gorillas is one hour, avoid rapid and unnecessary movements because it can scare/frighten them, avoid direct eye contact and when they charge by beating their chest you have to stand still and avoid direct eye contact as a way of avoiding confrontation.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park
If you wish to spend your night within Kigali, it is not a bad idea but if you desire to be within or around the Park so that you arrive earlier for the adventurous activity, then you can choose from these classic accommodation facilities near Volcanoes National Park. They include Le Palme Hotel, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel and Jack and Hannah Cottages among others.
Therefore, Volcanoes National Park being just a two hours’ drive from Kigali is a perfect location for gorilla trekking safaris. With the classic accommodation facilities and the less tedious tracking conditions in this park, tourists can visit it for a memorable gorilla trekking experience.
For more information about Volcanoes National Park, here are some useful travel resources