Volcanoes national park Rwanda’s most attractive protected park, located in Ruhengeri Musanze district in the northwestern region of Rwanda. It is near the edge with the Virunga national park in the Democratic republic of Congo and Mgahinga gorilla forest national park in Uganda.
It is part of the Virunga Mountains, which is a range of six extinct. And three active volcanoes situated in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo. The park reached in just about 2 hours’ drive from Kigali Rwanda’s capital and largest city. Its easy access can enable one to track gorillas within one day and after transfer back to Kigali/ accommodation/at the airport for a departure flight back home on the same day.
The park covers an area of about 160sqkm and regarded as the oldest national park in Africa. Gazetted in 1929 during the Belgian colonial times and it was then named Albert National park and extended into DRC. It was confirmed to remain a national park after the Rwanda independence to protect the Mountain gorillas. That were facing the threat of extinction as a result of poaching and encroachment on by the locals who were trying to settle and extend in the region for settlement and farming purposes.
The park is a destination in Rwanda one of the three countries that houses the rare mountain gorillas. The other two being Uganda and the democratic republic of Congo. However Rwanda is regarded as the best safari destination for gorilla tracking as Rwanda gorillas are a little easier to track than that of Uganda and DR. Congo. Rwanda houses almost a half of the world’s gorilla’s population. Tracking mountain gorillas is according to us. One of the absolute highlights of the journey anywhere in Africa. The delight and excitement when meeting these gentle giants cannot be explained.
George Schaller in 1960s and more recently an American zoologist Dian Fossy 1967. Studied the behaviors of mountain gorillas to human standard for over a period of 20 years. Dian Fossy established her research base at a place between Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes. That was yet to be known as Karisoke research center. She fought hard against poachers and fronted the campaign of mobilizing resources against poaching activists. However her work was put to an end in 1985 when she was killed by the said poachers. Whom she had made herself very unpopular.
She was buried at the research center next to the grave of her favorite gorilla called Digit. And many other gorillas that had died due to disease or sneers set by poachers. Without her persistent efforts to have poaching stamped out and the work of committed locals since her death. There possibly wouldn’t be any gorillas remaining in Rwanda, and Rwanda could not be much known in terms of tourism as it is today.
Volcanoes national park is not only a place for tracking mountain gorillas. But also a home to other primate species like the golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti). They are also regarded as endangered, the park also houses mammal species like spotted hyena, buffaloes, elephant, black fronted duiker, and bushbuck can also be seen. It also hosts over 250 species of birds including at 29 endemics to Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas.
Tracking gorillas in the volcanoes mountain or bamboo forest is regarded as a magical experience. You will never forget in life. Mountain gorillas are the second close relative of man sharing almost 95% of human DNA make up, they are interesting to watch in their nature habitat.
Tracking mountain gorillas begins very early in the morning after reporting at the park headquarters. To receive a short briefing from the park officials on safety measures and what to expect during gorilla tracking. You are reminded to carry your passport and your gorilla permit. In order to verify that you are the right owner of the permit. You will get assigned to a gorilla group and only 8 members are allowed to track per gorilla family.
Rwanda is blessed with 11 habituated gorilla groups which are ready to receive visitors daily. Which means that 88 members get gorilla permits daily in Rwanda. Each person is assigned to the group he/she fits, for example those age 45 years and above. And those who are less fit are assigned to easy to find’ gorilla families. Which do not wander far away from the trail heads.
And those who are physically fit may be given a specific group. Like the susa gorilla family which can take half to full day to be located. However you should note that given the fact that gorillas are wild animals. It is not a guarantee that they must be near or easy to find. The one you may consider easy may turn to be the difficult and those you may consider difficult can be seen easier on a specific day. So this makes the total experience very interesting and difficult to predict.
You are also remained to come with tracking gears like gloves, trekking boots/shoes, rain jacket. Since it can rain at any time, walking stick if necessary, bottled water and sometimes packed lunch since a trek to meet the gorillas may take long time. Once you meet these giants you expect to stay with them for only one hour. While studying their behaviors as well as taking photography and also imitating their calls.
To be among the 8 members allowed to track in each gorilla group, you have to possess a gorilla permit. Which cost $750 per person per tracking and you are advised to book your Permit earlier in advance at least 2 to 5 months. Especially during Rwanda’s high season of June – September and December to February and permits are booked on first come first served basis the earlier the better to avoid disappointments. We do not encourage you to book a gorilla permit yourself since us adventure Rwanda safaris among other reliable tour operators. Can book for you a gorilla permit without any extra charge. A 3 Day gorilla trekking safari is the best itinerary you can have for your gorilla tour in Rwanda.
Just like mountain gorillas, golden monkey are also listed as endangered and they are tracked in the volcanoes national park. There are two habituated golden monkeys troops that are available for visiting by tourists and there about 80 members at the park. Tracking begins very early in the morning at 7:00am after reporting at the park headquarters. To receive a short briefing from the park officials about the dos and don’ts. While with these elusive monkeys. After the ranger guide will head you to the forest to begin the activity. Golden monkeys most of the time live in the bamboo vegetation. Towards the base of the volcanoes that’s kabatwa or karisimbi. Just like gorillas, golden monkey tracking time is unpredictable . It can go from 30 minutes to eight hours so a reasonable degree of fitness is needed. As well as tracking gears like sturdy pair of walking shoes or boots.
These creatures are fabulous fun to watch, they are active creatures and jump from tree to tree. Which is really very interesting. Although not like gorillas, golden monkeys are a little difficult to photograph. You are only allowed to stay with them for only one hour observing their behaviors. As well as taking as many photos as you can (a flash camera is not allowed) the number of people to track golden is not limited a fee of $100 per person is charged to meet these beautiful apes in their natural habitat.
If you’re among those interested in learning more about the African way of life, volcanoes national park offers this activity. You will be fortunate to have a visit to Iby’Iwacu village in the northern province Kinigi Musanze district of Rwanda to share with the local people. Life style and also test their local food. This Cultural Village is much dedicated at showcasing the ways of living, traditional lifestyles and dances to tourists. They will entertain you through their cultural dance and music and they will also pass you through their interesting stories about traditional medicine from a local traditional heal, their historical background about how they have managed to live in the area for over 50,000 year. And if interested take part in their activities like cooking, dancing and singing . Don’t miss community walk, it’s so interesting.
For any gorilla safari in the volcanoes national park don’t miss to visit a grave yard of Diane Fossy who was a prominent primatologist. Who carried out research on the behaviors of mountain gorillas for a period of over 20years. Until when she was murdered in 1885 by poachers whom she had made herself very unpopular.
The trek involves a 30 minutes’ drive from the park headquarters to the trail. Head to access the Karisoke research camp where visitors walk for 10 minutes to the park boundary. From the park headquarters to the research centers where she was killed takes about 1-1and half hours. And the walk provide an opportunity to come across several species of animals like forest elephant, giant forest hogs. A variety of primate species and various species of birds. Ounce you reach at the site you will learn more about Diane Fossy. Who was so dedicated and left a legacy that exists even today. Without her, mountain gorillas would not be hard of in Rwanda.
You will find a house where she was buried at the research center next to the grave of her favorite gorilla. Called Digit and about 20 other mountain gorillas either killed by poachers or suffered death for other reasons. The hike to the Dian Fossy is somehow tough as it involves passing through the forest and slopes so a relative degree of fitness is needed and it is regarded as a full day activity.
Rwanda known as a bird paradise out of about 1450 species of birds that live in the country, volcanoes national park only a home to over 250 species of birds including at 29 endemics to Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas giving a good platform for bird lovers to enjoy watching plenty of them. On any activity at the park you can’t miss seeing several species of birds. Birding takes place either in the morning or in the evening and the park has kin bird watchers who are not only experienced but also passionate in the field.
Some of the bird species expected to see include the Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-chat, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Grauer’s Rush, Neumann’s and Grauer’s Warbles, Masked Mountain Apalis, Stripe-breasted Tit and Strange Weaver, and a full range of Rwenzori double-collared, purple-throated, blue-headed, the list is endless.
for those who are physically fit the park provide a challenging hike to volcanoe mountains goes from 1-10 days depending on the travelers fitness climb the Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo,
When visiting Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, there are several accommodation options available to enhance your experience of gorilla trekking and exploring the park. Here are some popular choices:
This luxury lodge offers stunning views of the surrounding volcanic peaks and is located near the park’s headquarters. Bisate Lodge provides spacious villas with private decks, a main lodge with a restaurant and bar, a spa, and a fitness center. It offers a unique and immersive experience, combining luxury with conservation.
Nestled at the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge provides comfortable accommodation with stunning views. The lodge offers cottages with fireplaces, a main lodge with a restaurant and bar, and a community center that supports local initiatives. Known for its warm hospitality and close proximity to the park entrance.
Located on a ridge with panoramic views of the Virunga Volcanoes and twin lakes, Virunga Lodge offers luxury accommodation. It features spacious bandas (cabins) with private terraces, a restaurant, a bar, and a lounge area. The lodge also offers activities such as gorilla trekking, birdwatching, and visits to local communities.
Situated just a few minutes’ drive from the park entrance, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge provides comfortable and affordable accommodation. It offers spacious cottages with en-suite bathrooms, a restaurant, a bar, and a cozy fireplace in the main lodge. The lodge also arranges gorilla trekking permits and other activities.
For a budget-friendly option, Kinigi Guesthouse specifically located near the park’s entrance. It offers simple but comfortable rooms with shared bathrooms. The guesthouse provides meals and is an ideal choice for those looking for affordable accommodation close to the gorilla trekking starting point.