The Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda is one of the top destinations where travelers can meet the endangered mountain gorillas eye to eye in the wild. located in northern Rwanda, this is the ultimate destination for travelers seeking gorilla trekking in Africa. Most visitors taking safaris in Rwanda do not miss the opportunity to have a glance with the celebrities of the forests. This guide has been created to get you prepared with the amazing adventure to meet the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills.
Gorilla trekking is the top tourist activity in this park and the country at large. Mountain Gorillas are indeed rare because they have a very low multiplier effect. Other places with Mountain Gorillas include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park.
The Volcanoes National Park was first gazetted within the Virunga National Park in 1925 thus the first Africa’s national park. Dian Fossey a zoologist conducted research on mountain gorillas at this park right up until she died here. Her work with these grand primates has made Volcanoes National Park synonymous with Gorilla trekking; the most sought-after safari activity in Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park is located north west of Rwanda and is a two-hour drive from Kigali the country’s capital.
About the Park
The Volcanoes National Park is located in Musanze Town (former Ruhengeri) in northern Rwanda. It lies in the Virunga Region and it is bordered by two other gorilla parks; Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda and the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This park was part of Africa’s oledst national park; the Virunga National Park when Rwanda was still a colony of Belgium. This is the reason why some guidebooks report it as one of the oldest national parks in Africa.
The Volcanoes National Park is part of a contiguous 433km² Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park, which protects the DRC and Ugandan sectors of the Virunga respectively.
Currently, the three National Parks are managed separately today by the respective governments. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the gorillas which were already known internationally despite the pressing problem of overpopulation.
Ranging in altitude from 2400km to 4507 the Volcanoes National Park is conquered by the setting of volcanoes. This chain of steep, all free standing mountains linked by fertile saddles which were formed by solidified lava flows, is one of the most stirring and memorable sights in East Africa.
The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide. Later in 1995, it once again reopened to tourism. By then, Gorilla tracking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, since when the number of tourists visiting the Virungas had increased rapidly.
The easiest way of reaching Volcanoes Park is through Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri, which can easily be reached on public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali on the day you track. You need to be at the ORTPN office in Kinigi, by the park entrance, by 07.00, but this isn’t a reliable option in case you are using public transport. There is no public transport between Musanze and the park headquarters at Kinigi.
Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park
There are lots of things to see in Volcanoes National Park. The most famous attraction that makes visitors to continuously travel to Rwanda are the mountain gorillas. There are as few as 1000 mountain gorillas left in the while world. Almost a third of these apes roam within the Volcanoes National Park.
The park is a favorite destination for gorilla tracking. Thousands of tourists travel to the Virunga to see the mountain gorillas. Meeting the great apes is a privilege since gorilla tourism is highly regulated so that the gorillas can be protected for not only the present generation but also the future generation.
Watching the gorillas for one hour up-close and unhindered has become the highlight of most safaris to Rwanda. This once in a lifetime experience cannot be done elsewhere besides in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
With 10 habituated gorilla families, Gorilla trekking is a must-do activity while on Rwanda safari. The world’s dwindling and endangered gorilla population is found in only three countries in the world; the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Among the habituated Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park include Amahoro, Ugenda, Umubano, Karisimbi, Sabinyo, Susa, Hirwa and so on.
Trekkers begin the exercise with briefing at 7:30 am which is followed by a hike up the bamboo terrain of the mountain. There are guides for each group of trekkers to lead you to the habitats of the gorilla families and the maximum number per group of trekkers is 8 people only. Once you have sighted a family of gorillas, you can only spend an hour with them in which you can take photos, make videos and see these grand primates.
Hiking in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is more than just mountain gorillas. Not only is it popular for golden monkey trekking, mountain gorilla tracking or cultural encounters but also for breathtaking volcano hiking experiences. Whereas many visitors mainly come for primate adventures in this protected areas, exploring its remarkable volcanoes is incredibly one of the best experiences you need not to miss in life. This park offers refuge to about five of the eight volcanoes that make up the Great Virunga Massifs which are shared by Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hiking through these volcanoes rewards travel endeavors with the best views of the park itself as well as the surrounding local communities, wildlife and many tourist attractions.
Golden monkey tracking in VNP
They are endangered primate species and a must tour for guests who come to Rwanda. Golden Monkeys are habituated to make them familiar to human being hence allowing Golden Monkey trekking. They are hosted in bamboo forest and at the foothills of the Virunga National Park. Visitors meet Golden Monkeys with their guide and thereafter, return to your respective accommodation for relaxation, dinner and overnight or proceed to your next destination.
The Volcano Hike VNP
If you have passion to hike, feel free to visit Volcanoes National Park and choose whether to hike Mount Bisoke or Mount Karisimbi. Along this trail are diverse vegetation zones from bamboo, Afro-Montane to savannah. This hike is also known to be one of the most challenging hikes in the Volcanoes National with a snow-capped peak especially in the dry season of June, July and August.
Explore Musanze caves after Gorilla trekking or before. These age-old caves were once used to store food supplies for the kings of Rwanda in times of war. Today, they are quite a scene to behold when visiting the Volcanoes National Park. The cave ceilings are studded with lots of bats whose eyes sparkle when you shine your flashlight to the ceiling. As you move towards the end of the cave and into the daylight, all you will have heard in the midst of the cave’s silence are your footsteps and the thick dew drops hit the cave’s floor. A walk through these caves is literally a walk down memory lane.
Iby’Iwacu Village OR Gorilla Guardians Village
Iby’Iwacu cultural Village is also known as Gorilla Guardians Village. This village is situated near Volcanoes National Park. It’s a quick activity and you can explore the caves and fly out on the same day. Try preparing or even eating the traditional meals and drinks such as banana juice or brew banana beer. For the botanist or medical personnel, try the local herbal medicine grown and brewed fresh from the garden. After your curiosity has been quenched, unwind to the traditional music, dance and folklore by the local people and dance troops.
Why Visit the Gorillas?
First and foremost, one should never expect to find mountain gorillas in a zoo anywhere in the world. You can only see them in the wild as in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
There are presently 10 habituated gorilla families that tourists can visit in Volcanoes National Park. These include the largest mountain gorilla group ever reported in the whole world. Some of the gorilla groups include the Susa Group, the Sabinyo Group, Amahoro Groups, Agasha Group, the Kwitonda Group, the Umubano Group, the Bwenye Group, Hirwa Group, Karisimbi Group and the Ugenda Group.
Gorilla tracking involves moving long distances, passing through thick vegetation and small paths which are at times muddy during the rainy season. To enjoy that one hour in the presence of the gorillas, you must be well prepared for the trip. You should know these before booking your next gorilla trek;
The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are found in the higher altitude Virunga Volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park. The 10 different gorilla groups that are open for visitation require various levels of physical fitness therefore visitors must be realistic about their own physical fitness. If you have physical limitations such as a heart condition, that must be taken into consideration and as a last resort, you can be carried in and out by porters at an extra cost.
The gorilla families groups you will be visiting in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are habituated meaning that they are used to the presence of humans and will go about with their daily routine while you are observing. Before Trekking, you will be briefed about gorilla rules and regulations that need to be strictly followed while in the presence of your Gorilla Group and such rules are for you and the Gorillas well being.
Rain might make it a bit more difficult to pass through but it is good to move along at a pace that is right for you. You should carry enough water so that you stay hydrated during the trip. You need drink plenty of water along the way.
Use the assistance of a porter to carry your day pack and make your trek a bit easier.
For every traveler, there is a gorilla group that is just right for you to visit. Always inform your guide about your level of fitness so that you can be alloted a hike that best suits you.
When to Visit Volcanoes National Park
The weather and climate found in the Volcanoes National Park tends to be very wet. The dry season is from June to September and from December to February. These are the high season months and the demand for the gorilla permits is very high. You must book the gorilla permit well in advance.
Please note that at times you have early morning rains and afternoon thunderstorms and
Gorilla tracking is year around and people flock from around the world 12 months of the year for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
Currently, the cost of a gorilla permit is US$1500 per person in Rwanda. This is not just an arbitrary figure, but the money received from permits is used in conservation and support of local communities who now see gorilla tourism as a benefit. Gorilla tourism has brought significant changes to the communities and it has dramatically reduced poaching of any kind in Volcanoes National Park.