Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s tourism hub for the variety of tourist activities that can be done in the park. Volcanoes National Park is located in Musanze in the northern province of Rwanda and it sits on a total area of 160 square kilometers. The park makes part of the Virunga Conservation Area together with Virunga National Park of Congo and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park that are protected areas for the endangered mountain gorillas.
Volcanoes National Park was established in 1925 to protect the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. The park has five of the eight lush volcanoes say Mount Karisimbi which stands at 4507 meters above sea level, Mount Muhabura at 4127 meters, Mount Gahinga at 3474 meters, Sabinyo at 3634 meters and Bisoke at 3711 meters above sea level, all of which feature white-capped peaks, wonderful rainforests and bamboo vegetation on their slopes with small serene lakes as well. Volcanoes National Park has the second highest mountain gorilla population after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
With the arrival of Dian Fossey in the Volcanoes National Park in 1967 for research that saw the establishment of the Karisoke Research Centre, the park was further publicized. Dian Fossey, however, saw the need for the conservation of mountain gorillas as there were a lot of killings due to poaching and animal trafficking that were taking place in the park. This saw a reduction of poaching but it was from then that her troubles started and led to her murder in 1985. Her conservation efforts attracted greater funding for the gorilla conservation programs that have ensured the survival of these giant gentle primates even after her death.
Asides from hosting about 30% of the remaining mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park also inhabits the beautiful golden monkeys that feed on the bamboo shoots and other vegetation covers that is found on the lower altitude. Chimpanzees, a number of other primates and large mammals like forest elephants, buffaloes, leopards, forest hogs and so much more can all be found in the park. Bird species are also in abundance with about 200 various species all roaming the park like the Rwenzori Turaco.
Wildlife alone is not justice enough to Volcanoes National Park that has a number of other attractions to offer. The park’s mountainous landscape, green forest cover, lakes and a number of little rivers also make the park a beauty to behold.
Activities in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking is the most sought after activity in Volcanoes National Park but a number of other activities that tourists can take part in are all available. Some activities like mountain gorilla tracking require prior booking but all the others can be done as long as you are in the park. Below are some of the activities that tourists can do while in the park;
Mountain Gorilla trekking
Mountain gorilla trekking is an activity that sees travelers hiking lush vegetation cover to search for endangered mountain gorillas. Mountain gorilla trekking takes place in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and three other national parks in both the Congo and Uganda as mentioned earlier. Volcanoes National Park has 10 habituated mountain gorilla groups available for trekking with the guidance and protection of experienced and professional rangers. The gorilla groups include Hirwa which migrated to Uganda in 2019 but is expected back, Karisimbi gorilla group, Titus, Amahoro, Susa, Kwitonda, Agashya, Umubano, and Sabinyo gorilla groups all of which are fully habituated. Mountain gorilla trekking is quite strenuous depending on the location of the gorilla group one is trekking.
Mountain gorilla trekking requires one to first book a gorilla trekking permit from the Rwanda Development Board or through a trusted tour company. Details of a traveler’s passport is what is usually required to purchase a gorilla permit which costs $1,500 in Rwanda. 3-4 months in advance of booking is what is required to be guaranteed of one’s spot.
Mountain gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park often stars as early as 7 am with a brief at the park headquarters of Kinigi by the rangers. Rules and guidelines are clearly stated by the rangers for travelers’ own safety and conservation of the mountain gorillas. Groups of 8 are then formed and allocated gorilla groups to track. Upon encountering mountain gorillas, travelers are allowed only one hour with them in which time pictures and videos can be taken. The gorilla trekking experience in the Volcanoes can take from 30 minutes to 5 hours or more depending on the mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorilla trekking for seniors and persons with limited mobility is also possible. Just contact a trusted tour operator to help you with putting together a gorilla trekking safari for you, irrespective of your age and ability- just do it well in advance. Persons below the age of 15 are however not allowed to go gorilla trekking. Travelers are also advised to carry gorilla tracking essentials for a successful gorilla trekking safari experience in Volcanoes National Park.
Golden monkey Tracking
Golden monkeys are a rear sight and they can be seen in Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Golden monkey trekking is second to gorilla trekking as they too are endangered primates. Having an opportunity of sighting these golden monkeys jumping from one bamboo tree to another making a lot of noise as they feed and groom is a must-do activity while in Volcanoes National Park. Golden monkeys feed on bamboo shoots that grow at the slopes of the volcanoes and they live in groups of up to 100 individuals and are usually led by a dominant male.
The availability of a number of volcanoes in the park make mountain hiking a must do. The views on any of the volcanoes are wonderful and amazingly scenic that they make the long climb worth a try. Irrespective of the which volcano you choose to hike, be sure of having sights of the other four volcanoes in the park. During the hike, be sure to chance to see other primates like mountain gorillas and wildlife. Birders should also have a keen eye to view some of the park’s birds.
Volcanoes National Park is one of the three Important Birding Areas in Rwanda. With over 200 bird species, be rest assured that you will see a number of them with the help of a professional bird guide that will lead you to the right spots and help you spot a number of them especially the endemics of the Albertine Rift. Remember to carry your binoculars.
Visiting Dian Fossey tombs
Dian Fossey is a great primatologist with whose help thousands if not millions of tourists have been able to encounter her treasure, the mountain gorillas. It was due to her research and conservation effort that Volcanoes National Park, in particular, got to be known to the whole world. The movie ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ was actually shot from this very park that she had made her home for about 18 years before her murder. Hiking to visit the Dian Fossey tombs will give travelers a chance to walk in her footsteps and learn more about her work and conservation efforts that saw poaching greatly reduce in the park. Travelers hiking to her former home and current tomb will experience her determination and passion she had for these mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey was actually buried next to her gorilla friend Digit along with about 20 other gorillas killed by poachers and other factors.
Visiting Musanze caves
These caves are formed underground and have a space that can allow human to access it freely. They are formed as a result of volcanic eruptions given that there are many volcanoes in the park, this explains their existence. People can go and relax from there.
Visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera is another activity that tourists can take part in especially after a long hike to the mountains, gorilla trekking or golden monkey tracking. They are the best place to spend a lovely afternoon either picnicking or on a boat cruise through the deep waters during which you will be rewarded with beautiful sights, birds and waterfalls.
The Iby’Iwacu cultural encounter will also give travelers a chance to learn of the locals’ way of life and take part in their local activities and also have the locals share their rich heritage and culture that defines them and differentiates them from the other Rwanda locals.
Volcanoes National Park can be visited all throughout the year but travelers are most encouraged to visit during the dry months of June-October and mid-December to February during which time the roads are more passable and the vegetation is not so overgrown. Whereas the other months are considered wet, it should be noted that it could still rain during the dry season given that the park is a rainforest after all.
Volcanoes National Park is easily accessed from Kigali as it takes only a two hours’ drive to reach Musanze town, the location of the park. Travelers can access the park from Kigali or Gisenyi to the park headquarters of Kinigi if you’re doing a one-day gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park safari or to your accommodation in the park from where you can do your activities as per your itinerary.
Volcanoes National Park has a lot to offer apart from gorilla trekking that the park is best known for. Take time to plan out a perfect travel plan or itinerary with a trusted tour operator who will go all the way to have you have the best experience in Volcanoes National Park.