Volcanoes national park is the most known Rwanda protected national park; the park covers an area of about 160sqkm of tropical forest and bamboo trees. The park was first gazette in 1929 during the Belgian colonial times and it was then named as Albert National park, however, it was confirmed to remain a national park after the Rwanda independence to protect the Mountain gorillas that were facing the threat of destruction as a result of poaching and deforestation. Volcanoes national park is known as the oldest national park in Africa. The park is just about two hours’ drive from the capital Kigali to Kinigi park headquarters in Ruhengeri the capital city of Musanze district located in the northwestern part of the country near the edge with the Virunga national park of DRC and Mgahinga gorilla forest national park in Uganda, Musanze lies near the twin lakes of Burera and Lake Ruhondo. The park is known as being part of the Virunga Mountains, which is part of the six extinct and three active volcanoes situated in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo.
Volcanoes national park is majorly known for housing the rare gorilla specie known as mountain gorillas which is the major tourist activity in done in Rwanda over 80% of travelers to Rwanda came majorly to track these giants in their natural habitat. Few countries host these endangered apes the other two are Uganda and the democratic republic of Congo, however Rwanda is known as the best gorilla safari destination as its also known for hosting the highest percentage of these apes over 380 out of an estimated 900 individuals live only in this area (volcanoes national park), and its known as the best striking sighting area for these remaining mountain gorillas.
Mountain gorillas were studied in deepness first by George Schaller who was a primatologist however his work was continued by a prominent primatologist and a researcher known as Dian Fossey. She spent over 18 years in wild in a group of these giant apes in the slopes of Bisoke. She studied and habituated the behaviors of these endangered apes to human standards that made meeting them in their natural habitat very possible without any harm caused to human. However her work was put to an end when she was assassinated by poachers whom she had made herself very her popular, she was against their poaching habits, she was killed in 1985. She was buried in Karisimbi research center near her gorilla friend digit and many other gorillas that were killed by poachers. Without her determined efforts to have poaching stamped out and the work of committed locals and the government since her death, there is possibly wouldn’t be any gorillas remaining in Rwanda. Her work was filmier in a film ‘’gorillas in the mist’’ which is a must read for any traveler to Rwanda for gorilla tracking, it gives you an insight on what you will find in the forest.
Not only mountain gorillas that inhabit volcanoes national park, the park is also a home to the rare golden monkey, mammal species like spotted hyena, buffaloes, elephant, black fronted duiker, and bushbuck. For birders volcanoes N.P is known as a birders paradise with over 250 species of birds including 29 endemics to Rwenzori Mountains and the Virunga’s, it’s also a home to six extinct and three active volcanoes situated in Rwanda, Uganda and DRC.
What to do at the park
- Gorilla trekking
This is without no doubt the most sought after tourist activity to many travelers who make it to this park and it’s rated by many visitors as the major highlight of their trip to Africa. Mountain gorillas are known as the second close relative of man after the chimpanzee which shares almost 98% of human genes. Gorilla tracking activities are conducted every day at the park in a group of only 8 members how are allowed per group to see these apes. Volcanoes national park have 10 habituated gorilla families and two gorilla families for research purpose. This means that 88 members can see these apes every day in a group of a ranger guide who is responsible to take you through the wild. Tracking activities begins very early in the morning after a short report at the park headquarters where park wardens fill you with necessary information about the all process of gorilla tracking and also gets you assigned to a gorilla family to visit and also the ranger guide. Always weak and old trekkers are assigned to easy to find gorilla family and the well physically fit and young 25 to 35 are given some challenging gorilla families, although this is not a guarantee since they are wild animals they are difficult to predict. The easy to find gorilla group may turn to be the difficult and vice versa, hence this makes the whole, process more exciting. The guides can generally find the gorillas within one to 8 hours of starting out. The time you spend in the forest is often involves a lot of exhausting effort climbing through dense vegetation up steep, muddy hillsides some times to more than 400ms is really exhausting so a reasonable degree of fitness is highly recommended. Also don’t forget to come with trekking gears like strong pairs of walking shoes, long sleeved shirts or blouses, walking sticks, bottled water and sometimes packed lunch. And since tracking is done in rain tropical forest It subjects to rain a lot at any time, so a runny jacket is a must pack, with a water proof bag. However you will forget all the troubles you have encounter during the search and utilize the one hour you are allowed to stay with these giant apes. An encounter with a male silver-back will be a magnificent experience you’ve never met in your entire life. These apes look aggressive despite their size, but they’re the most peaceful animals more than you can expect.
Gorilla permits are issued at the RDB in Kigali Rwanda’s capital and largest city or in Kinigi at the park headquarters. It’s always advised to book through a well registered Rwanda tour company or a tour operator as they have easy access of gorilla permits than booking individually. Ounce you book with a tour company, you find everything booked for you and if you are an independent traveler you are encouraged to pay earlier where possible or contact the QRTPN tourist office in kigali. Gorilla permits are on a very high demand, they are subjected to get finished so early and they are brought on first come first served basis so the earlier your pay your gorilla permit the better to avoid disappointment. Children under 15 years of age are not permitted to track.
Fees for Rwanda gorilla trekking permit costs USD750 per person per trekking, however this fee include park entry fees, and a ranger guide fee. In case you need a porter, you can request one on an extra fee, if you’re happy with the services provided tipping is allowed. You can tip between 5 to 10 USD each depending on the quality of the service at the end.
- Golden monkey tracking
These are also known as endangered species of primate just like the mountain gorillas, tracking activities are carried out in the volcano forest national park. Golden monkey are regarded as the beautiful primate on earth and they are fabulous fan to watch when jumping from one tree to another. Not like mountain gorillas which can sit in one place for a while, these primate apes like jumping from tree to tree in the bamboo forest towards the base of the volcanoes, Kabatwa and Karisimbi. So photography is sometimes very difficult and a first shot camera is highly recommended. There are two habituated golden monkey group that are available to reach by visitors every day and estimates have that their about 90 individuals at the park. Same as mountain gorillas, tracking begins very early in the morning after reporting at the park headquarters before 7:30am to receive short briefings about the whole process of tracking as well as assigned to the ranger guide. After, you will follow the ranger guide deep into the forest to begin the search of these primates. Golden tracking time is unpredictable however it can from 1-8 hours as meeting them depends on where they spent their last night from, so some levels of fitness is needed since the search may involve passing through the muddy and steeply slopes. Ounce they are meet you strictly allowed only one hour with them. Golden monkey tracking fee is $100 per person per tracking.
- Tour Dian Fossy graves
This is also another memorable tour in the volcanoes national park. Many travelers to this park can’t leave minus a tour to the tombs of Dian Fossy. Diane Fossy was a prominent primatologist and a researcher who carried out research on the behaviors of endangered mountain gorillas for a period of over 18 years. She fought tooth and nail to stamp out poaching of these endangered apes in Rwanda and she carried out her research in the volcanoes national park in the Karisimbi Mountain where she conducted most of her research. She made Rwanda very popular after habituating these apes to human standards that they can de tracked safely in their natural habitat without any harm caused to human. Her work was come to an end when she was killed by said poachers who 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 buried takes about one to one and half hours. During the walks one is privileged to come across several species of animals like forest elephant, giant forest hogs, primate species plus various bird species. You will be given relative information from the guide about her work; she was so enthusiastic and left a legacy that exists even today. You will find a house where she was buried next to the grave of her beloved gorilla called Digit and other mountain gorillas either killed by poachers or suffered death or other reasons.
- Iby’Iwacu village tour:
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.
- Bird viewing:
Rwanda is known as a bird’s paradise, so bird lovers are fortunate to come across several species of birds. Volcanoes national park is one of the best spotting area for birds over 250 species of bird live only to this area and over 29 are endemic to this park only. Birding safaris are conducted at any time either in the morning, afternoon or in the evening and on any safari activity to this park, you can’t fail to spot some birds. The park has very many experienced birders who will take you through the all process. Here are Some of the bird species expected to see at the park including the Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Batis, 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, among many others.
- Mount trekking
For those who are physically fit the park provide a challenging hike to volcano mountains it can go from 1-10 days depending on the travelers fitness climb the Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo,
- Trekking the volcanoes
The park provides striking trekking opportunities to the Climbing Gahinga (3474m) Muhabura(4127m) is, Bisoke(3711m), Karisimbi(4507m) and Sabyinyo(3634m) mountains. The trek range from several hours to two days depending on which volcanoes you chose to climb. Guides are readily at any available to take you through the all process and porters are also available although for hire from the park headquarters, but no tents provided, there are basic huts on the mountain. The climbs pass through some remarkable changes of vegetation, ranging from thick forest of bamboo, giant lobelia or hagenia on to alpine meadows. If the weather is favorable you rewarded with some amazing views over the mountain chain. Finding yourself at the top of one of these mountains is considered awesome. At the lower slopes you can spot various species of primates, birds and mammal species like the giant forest hogs, warthogs among many others. Hiking is an interesting activity however you are recommended to be physically fit in order to manage the activity, come with your trekking gears, or you can hire them at the park headquarters.
Places to stay
The park has a variety of accommodation within and outside the park ranging from budget to up-market accommodation. You’re always advised to inquire from your travel agent or tour company working on your safari to Rwanda they will advise you on which accommodation to use either budget, mid-range or luxury accommodation depending on your budget. The following are some of the accommodation many travelers to this park us
- Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge
This is amid- range type of accommodation located right on the border of Volcanoes National park in Kinigi, this lodge has a nice view and it has over 9 self-contained rooms suitable to every traveler to the park,
- La Palme hotel
The lodge can be reached in just about 10 km from the famous park volcanoes national park and its just about 30 km to drive to the nearest lakes Burera and Ruhondo Lakes, the lodge offers the best to travelers, it has both local and foreign dishes. Many travels on mid-range accommodation use this lodge.
- The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
This is a luxury accommodation located just about 10 minutes’ drive to Volcanoes National Park in Ruhengeri Musanze district. It was majorly built to provide gorilla tracking and other activities which the park provides. Many travelers on a luxury safari sleep here
- Hotel Muhabura;
Many travelers to volcanoes national park can also be accommodated under this hotel, its located within the heart of Muhabura in Ruhengeri which is close Volcanos National Park the home of mountain gorillas, so you can sleep here and the following day drive very early to the park headquarters in kinigi for briefing before its7:00 am. The hotel offers a perfect climate for any tourist.
The Guest House is located just about 11 km from Ruhengeri city located in the eastern north of Rwanda. It is the cozy gateway to the majestic beauty of the volcanic mountain range, the natural habitat.
- The Gorilla Volcano Hotel
This is one of the new modern hotel located in Musanze the gateway to Volcanoes Park; the hotel has a unique character and pleasant atmosphere favorable for travelers.
- Amahoro Guest House
This is just about 20 meters from the lodge to the park headquarters in kinigi, from the main road turn off at the Silverback Hotel or the Rwanda Commercial Bank in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.