About a 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali City, in northwestern part of Rwanda; a beautiful tiny landlocked country in the continent of Africa is one of the most gifted tropical jungles of Africa – Volcanoes national park. The undulating hills and vegetation cover makes this park one of the most stunning destinations on earth.
Volcanoes National Park is one of the premier gorilla trekking destinations in the world. It sprawls through an approximately 160 sq.km land, covered by a misty rain forest and five of the eight mountains which make up the Virunga network of mountains, sprawling through Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda.
These mountains are; Mount. Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, Muhabura and Karisimbi. The park neighbors Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Volcanoes National park was a research destination by a famous Primatologist – Dian Fossey, who dedicated her life and time researching, rescuing and protecting mountain gorillas, which were on the verge of disappearance due to poaching and hunting. The experience at Volcanoes n/park can be discovered in some pieces of her work as portrayed in the film “Gorillas in the Mist”.
This is one of the very first national parks to be established in the continent of Africa. In 1925, a small portion of the park was gazetted to protect endangered mountain gorillas and it included Mountain Karisimbi, Mikeno and Bisoke. In 1929, the park was further expanded to a greater portion of northern Rwanda, the then Belgian – Congo as Albert National park, managed by the Belgian colonial powers who were governing both territories. About 700 hectares of the land was cleared for farming activities and human settlements in 1958 and also for pyrethrum growing between the years of 1969 to 1973.
Forward to 1994, Rwanda Genocide begins and the park is turned into a battlefield bringing all activities to a halt, as tourism was stopped and the research centre abandoned, not until 1999, when activities resumed as the place was then safe and under well – established management.
The park is a unique paradise with variety of flora and fauna; marshes, swamps, small lakes, amazing mountains, meadows, secondary thickets and mammals such as; spotted hyenas, bush bucks, some forest elephants and black-fronted duiker among others; primates such as the rare mountain gorillas (Gorilla Beringei Beringei); Golden Monkeys (Cercopithecus) and so much more. Statistics show a figure of about 178 unique recorded bird species, about 17 subspecies endemic to the Rwenzori Mountains and Virunga.
The park is safe and open for tourists; both local and international from the first to last day of the year. Gates open very early in the morning and close late in the evening. There are expert park rangers, porters and security guides. Rains in this tropical forest are unpredictable; though what is clear is that from June to October and from late December to March are relatively dry, whereas April, May and December receive plenty of rain. The good thing is that the rains don’t last for so long, as after its sun shines.
Getting to Volcanoes National Park.
The only way of accessing Volcanoes national park is by getting there and registering at the park gate, from where the permission is granted. Gorilla and golden monkey trekking are the prime safari activities here, thus those visiting their relatives are expected to present a valid trekking permit for verification. Only those aged 15 years and above, sickness free and with passion for primates are allowed to visit mountain gorillas. Falsification of documents is highly prohibited and attracts a harsh penalty.
Rwanda gorilla trekking permits cost 1500 USD per person per day. Except under the condition that you have arrived at the park and are unfit for trekking; the Trekking fee is non-refundable or negotiable.
Visit Volcanoes National Park during your honey money, business trip, summer & winter break, school study trip, weekend escape, research, family vacation or primate trip among others.
What to do in Volcanoes National Park?
Gorilla trekking is a lifetime activity which allows one to get close encounter with the rarest and most sought-after creatures on earth; mountain gorillas found in the continent of Africa. Gorillas don’t live in captivity and have adapted to only high altitude areas. Primatologists suggest man and gorillas have a common ancestry and about 95% similar DNA.
Volcanoes National Park has about 300 individual mountain gorillas and 11 habituated gorillas families open for trekking, namely; Hirwa family, Amahoro group, Sabyinyo group, Kwitonda gorilla group, Susa A group, Ugenda group, Titus group, Group 13, Susa B group, Umubano group and Bwenge gorilla family among others. These are the gorilla families in Rwanda.
On foot and for about 1-6 hours depending on your speed and how far the apes have moved; gorilla trekking is an amazing activity. The ranger guides accompany trekkers through the jungle; right from the point they previously sow the gorillas. A few instructions to have in your mind during the trekking exercise include; keeping your voices low during the search, stand about 7 meters off the gorillas, no touching them, no using flashlights while taking photos, no littering the park, running or even imitating the apes. Mountain gorillas are shy, friendly and gentle; though quiet giant in appearance. Whatever you think you can do in the presence of a stranger is what they can do.
Upon locating these creatures; you will have a maximum of one extra hour with them; taking photos, admiring their solidarity, the mothers’ breasts feeding and the young stars playing. Only 8 people plus a ranger guide and porter are permitted to counter a gorilla family per day.
In Volcanoes National Park, even the disabled can encounter mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
After this activity, you can proceed to hiking Mount Nyiragongo in neighboring Congo
Golden Monkey Trekking.
These are some of the most beautiful and active primates in the world. Golden monkeys have gold-like fur, ever on the tree branches, skipping one tree branch to another. They have tiny body, yet make very sweet echoes and are generally shy. You will need to be fast enough to catch up with the pace if you intend to take great pictures.
Golden monkey trekking is done on foot, for roughly 1-7 hours. It starts with a pre-trekking briefing at the park headquarters by ranger guides who explain the trekking do’s and don’ts, as well as accompanying you to encounter the primates. There are several other primates, birds and plants you will come across during the search.
Guided Nature walks.
Neighboring volcanoes offer some of the best hiking and nature walk experiences one can ever imagine. There are 5 mountains to be hiked on a one and two-day hiking escapade. Mountain Karisimbi and Bisoke top the list, also a great opportunity of encountering variety of breathtaking scenery.
There are designated nature walk trails, with abundance of flora and fauna; thus offering a perfect chance to marvel at Mother Nature.
Having existed for over 600 years, the Musanze cave experience is worth your time and money. A drive from Volcanoes National Park to Musanze cave lasts for about 20 minutes. The cave was at one point used by ancient occupants of the place and as well as a hideout during the 1994 Rwanda civil conflict between the Tutsi and Hutu. Transforming it into a tourism site has seen several tourists have a unique experience and a story to tell.
On arrival at the place; you will be briefed about the experience, and a guide takes you in. There are some colonies of bats inside so no need for fear. Inside the cave is large and dark, but the torches will work. Interesting you have to experience total darkness and silence at one point, as the guide requests all torches to be turned off for about 10 minutes. The cave has some rooms and bats.
Dian Fossey Grave Hike.
In recognition and appreciation of her sacrifice towards the conservation of mountain gorillas, tourists can hike to Dian Fossey graveyard; where she was laid next to her favorite gorilla “Digit” a few meters from her research station – Karisimbi research centre. The hike is easy and chances are that before reaching her graveyard you may spot a variety of primates including the gorillas.
Understanding people’s way of life is a great experience and makes us appreciate and support humanity. Visiting Volcanoes national park enables you to understand the way of life in Rwanda as you may mix and mingle with the local community – enjoy their energetic dances, tasty cuisine and cool weather. Ibyiwachu cultural community is right at the border of this national park, offering thrilling Rwandan cultural encounters. This activity can be done together with gorilla trekking.
This is obviously one of the birding havens in Rwanda. Bird lovers don’t have to look for birds anywhere as Volcanoes national park offers asylum to over 170 unique bird species, of which about 16 subspecies are endemic to the Virunga and mountain Rwenzori areas. Birding is one of the cheapest safari activities in the park.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park has a variety of accommodation facilities, in and outside the park; offering amazing views, lip-smacking meals, comfortable beddings and several amenities. These range from budget to luxury campsites, lodges and homesteads.
The right choice of a destination and timing is always essential for any safari to become unforgettable; Make volcanoes national park a top priority on your bucket list.