VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) is lying in the Virunga Mountains of East-Central Africa, the world’s most remarkable gorilla trekking destination. This is one of the must-visit African parks if you are targeting to encounter the endangered mountain gorillas in the wild. Whereas mountain gorillas stand out as star attractions, expect to also get blown away by the park’s incredibly breathtaking scenery and biodiversity.

Location

Volcanoes National Park is situated in Musanze (Ruhengeri) region, Northwestern Rwanda, spanning in the Virunga Conservation Areas (VCA). This remarkable conservation area encompasses three National Parks in Africa: Virunga National Park of D.R. Congo, Mgahinga in Rwanda and Volcanoes National Park in the republic of Rwanda.

This park is tucked in the extreme Northwestern corner bordering Uganda and D.R. Cong, expanding up to 160 sq.km. Its geographical position in the Virungas makes it home to five of the Virunga ranges: Bisoke, Gahinga, Karisimbi, Muhabura, and Sabyinyo. These are features formed due to volcanic activity in the Albertine rift and it explains the fact that the park houses a variety of Albertine rift endemic species.

The park’s altitudinal range varies with variation in vegetation zones. Its vegetation variations consist of tropical and bamboo forest dominating the lower areas, the montane forest and afro-alpine shrubs thriving on the higher altitude, grasslands, thickets, marshes and more. Volcanoes National Park was officially created as a park in 1925 and makes it Rwanda’s oldest national park.

The main attractions besides Virunga Volcanoes

Wildlife

Mountain gorillas feature among top attractions in Volcanoes NP but there are also other diverse wildlife species. Within the Volcanoes NP, there survive about 12 habituated families including Bwenge gorilla family, Pablo, Ugenda, Titus, Agashya, Karisimbi (Susa B), Amahoro, Sabyinyo, Kwitonda, Hirwa gorilla group, Umubano family, and Susa A. Additional wildlife in the park include golden monkeys, duikers, spotted hyenas, forest elephants, giant forest hogs, bush bucks, buffaloes and more.

Birds

This protected area is considered among Rwanda’s important birding areas, housing an estimate of about 200 bird species including the Albertine rift endemic species. The existing habitats to the park’s birds include bamboo, grassland, alpine, bush land vegetation and more. The birds to spot include the brown woodland warblers, red-faced woodland warblers, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, scarlet-tufted malachite, Doherty’s bush –shrikes, strange weaver birds, Kivu ground thrush, handsome francolins, Rwenzori batis, grey throated tit, long crested eagle, dusky turtle dove, African long-eared owl, brown-necked parrot, and more.

Tourism Activities to do in this park

Gorilla trekking

Gorilla trekking is the leading safari experience that is offered in Volcanoes National Park. A gorilla trek in this protected area is an incredible opportunity to get up close and personal with the family of mountain gorillas in the wild. A face to face interaction with these large apes in their habitats is such a mind-blowing experience and a normal day search takes 2-6 hours.

There are 12 gorilla family groups that have been fully habituated and opened for tourism in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda with a single family visited by maximum of eight tourists a day. The important items to carry for a gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes NP include waterproof hiking boots, sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts, daypack, long trousers, rain jackets, gardening gloves, insect repellents, and others.

Birding/bird watching

Volcanoes National Park is a treasured birding location in Rwanda, offering birders opportunity to sight a variety of birds. The main bird species thriving in this park include forest and Albertine rift species, including the African long-eared owl, Rwenzori double-collared sunbird, Doherty’s bush-shrike, Archer’s robin chat, Grauer’s swamp warblers, scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird, lagden’s bush shrike, Rwenzori apalis, African long eared owl, brown-necked parrot, Rwenzori turacos, strange weaver bird, and others.

Volcanoes hiking

Volcanoes NP lies within the Virunga Region making it a special home to five Virunga Volcanoes; Muhabura (4127m), Gahinga Volcano (3474m), Karisimbi (4507m), Mt. Bisoke (3711m) and Sabyinyo Volcano (3636m). These volcanoes offer exhilarating mountain climbing experiences to enthusiastic climbers or hikers on Rwanda hiking tour.

Golden monkey trekking

Other than tracking mountain gorillas, you can also undertake golden monkey trekking. This is a special primate adventure that allows you to enjoy up close and personal with golden monkeys in the wild. It is 2 to 4 hours trek through the bamboo forest to search for golden monkeys with guarantee of one hour for you to take photos and learning how they behave.

Dian Fossey tomb trek

Dian Fossey tomb trek is an amazing experience, opportunity for you to have a deep understanding of Dian Fossey and gorilla conservation legacy that she left. Dian Fossey spent a good period of time in the Virungas researching and playing an important role in protecting the then critically endangered mountain gorillas. During her 18 years of research in the Virungas, she established the Karisoke Research Centre and Digit Fund (now runs as Dian Fossey Fund). It was unfortunate that she was mysteriously murdered in 1985 and her body was laid next to her lovely silverback –Digit.

Cave exploration

Cave exploration is one in the adjacent Musanze caves, historical sites also once served as shelter to locals who sought refuge during the 1994 Rwanda genocide. This cave is 2 km long and dates back to over 65 million years. You need 2.5 hours to walk through these caves that feature 31 entrances but have the main entry point.

Cultural encounters

In addition to golden monkey/gorilla trekking, you can also visit the local community (Iby’Iwacu cultural village) to enjoy a cultural tour. This community is comprised of ex-poachers who turned to be conservation players in the area. A cultural visit to Iby’Iwacu village allows you explore the distinct traditions, cultures and get great entertainment from local dances and music performances.

The best time to travel to the park for a holiday

Safaris to Volcanoes National Park can be arranged throughout the year, but the most ideal time is the dry season. The dry season offers excellent gorilla trekking experience and this is perfectly enjoyed in June, July, August, September; December, January to February. There is also a chance to visit the park during the wet or rainy months of the year for any activity and this is from March, April to May; October to November.

Volcanoes National Park safari lodges, hotels and camps

Inside and around Volcanoes NP, there are a variety of lodges to stay in and they include Virunga Lodge, Garden Palace Hotel, Bisate Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Five Volcanoes Hotel, La Palm Hotel, and others.

How to get to the park

Accessing the park by road:

Leave Kigali capital city for Volcanoes National Park which is 2 to 3 hours’ drive or connect from Kabale or Kisoro via Katuna/Chanika border to Ruhengeri. By air: Take the helicopter tour from Kigali International Airport to Ruhengeri.