Volcanoes National Park Overview
Volcanoes National Park is one of Rwanda’s most popular tourist destinations best known for gorilla trekking and golden monkeys tracking. Since reopening in 1999, it has experienced a growing number of visitors each day, thanks in large part to its role as the world’s most popular mountain gorilla sanctuary. With fewer than 700 of this species left, tourists can catch a rare glimpse of the gorillas as they can nowhere else in the world. Be-yond gorillas, however, the park is also able to offer some of the country’s most spectacular scenery and diverse vegetation. It is part of the Virunga Conservation Area and covers more than 125km2, including five extinct volcanoes: Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, Karisimbi and Bisoke. The latter two can be climbed during one or two-day treks.
This park was made famous to be the research base of the late American primatologist Dian Fossey and, subsequently, as the setting for the film Gorillas in the Mist, which continues to uphold its reputation as a destination for unrivaled wildlife encounters.
Tracking the golden monkeys such another thrilling experience that gives an impressive satisfaction on your trip to the beautiful scenery and landscape of Volcanoes National Park. The golden monkeys are exceptional creatures which every traveler should not miss out on his/her Rwanda safari with their a prominent golden fur coat, which uniquely attract many travelers and are so lovely to look at and give an exceptional photography. It is only in Volcanoes Rwanda and Mgahinga gorilla national parks that travelers can see golden monkeys in their natural habitats. Fortunately, golden monkey trekking costs $100 which is relatively cheap compared to gorilla trekking.
Dian Fossey Tomb hike is probably considered to be another exceptiponal way to get the best out of your visit to Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. 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.The walk from the park boundary to the research center where the Dian’s grave is, takes about an hour to 1 hour and a half hours and affords good views of forest hogs, forest elephants, a variety of primates and bird species. This hike involves moving through the forests and hiking up the slopes and therefore requires some relative degree of fitness and patience.
On your visit here, you will find the house from where Dian Fossey was mysteriously killed in 1985 but the more peaceful is the place where she was buried just next to her favorite gorilla friend.
Gorilla trekking is with no doubt one of the main reasons why most travelers visit Rwanda and the Volcanoes national park. The park is a home to 10 habituated gorilla families available for trekking. Also, Volcanoes park covers Rwanda’s share of the great Virunga massif bordering Virunga national park in Congo and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. Travelers to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda are required to buy gorilla permits each costing $1500 for an hour’s interaction. All permits are issued out by Rwanda Development Board but we can reserve them for you in case you want to book ahead of your travel date.
Hiking to the top of Mt Karismbi is one of the key tourism activities you should not miss on your Rwanda safari to Volcanoes National Park. Rising at an elevation of about 4507m above sea level is MT. Karisimbi, a stratovolcano which is the highest of the eight major volcanoes of the Virunga field and the 5th highest in Africa. It strides along the border between Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on the western branch of the African Rift valley. Karisimbi lavas have been dated from 0.24 Ma to 0.010 Ma indicating that the volcano is very young.
Mt. Bisoke Hike takes roughly 6hrs to get to the crater lake peak and this makes it the most frequented summit. The most popular hike in the park is the Diann fossey hike named after the late Dian Fossey who fought and rescued the mountain gorillas from their sure extinction at the cost of her own life. This eye opening and inspirational hike leads to her tomb at an elevation 3,000m and it is higly recommended for conservation enthusiasts.
There are ten groups/families of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park with one set aside for research from which the Kwita Izina baby gorilla naming ceremony are selected. This means, a number of 80 gorilla permits are available each day for tourists going watch gorillas on a single day given that each gorilla family is visited by a group of eight people each day. Gorillas are believed to be not staying in the same spot hence the need to do some tracking before you spend your magical one hour with them. They usually climb higher up the mountain in the dry season, and descend in the wet season, so your tour guide might have a general idea of where the group you are tracking might be during a particular season, but there are no guarantees that you will find them where you expect them to be.
These are the gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park:
On your visit to the Volcanoes National Park, have an encounter with the cultural setup of Rwandan people at the Ibyiwacu cultural village, one of the key features that make Rwanda safaris exceptionally amazing and very satisfying. Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village gives you a rare chance to meet local people, in their environment, with a taste of our culture and traditions. The cultural village started as a response to gorilla poaching which was carried out by some members of the community and was on the increase in-spite of the park recruiting more rangers for the protection of the mountain gorillas.
Be genuinely welcomed by the community as a special visitor while they proudly present to you aspects of their traditions and beliefs. The only way to get to know people, is getting close and interacting with local people, and taking part in their daily activities and most of all with them.
Iby’Iwacu cultural village gives you a chance to meet local people, in their environment, learning and experiencing their culture, traditions, and day-to-day lives. You have opportunities for being at the cultural village and or visiting their homes and experiences life in a Rwandan home. There is no better way to understand and learn about a country than interacting with its people.
Some of the activities offered by Iby’Iwacu cultural village include, community walks, traditional dances and music, visit a traditional healer, local school, a local banana brewing process, hunting /techniques, methods and stories from Batwa, artisans and craft making by women, men and children, etc.
Volcanoes National Park is located in a small village called Musanze previously well-known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport. The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2 hrs and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek. You will be required to arrive at the headquarters of ORTPN in Kinigi, at the park entrance, by 7:00 am, therefore, if you hope to trek gorillas for one day, you have to wake up very early for your journey so that you are on time. However, there isn’t any public transport from Musanze to the headquarters of the park at Kinigi.
The places to stay near volcanoes national park range from luxury, upmarket, mid range to basic establishments. Depending on your interests, most establishments are found in Kinigi, Musanze and some as far as an hour from the park headquarters. Listed below are some of the accommodations.
The luxury hotels for the big spenders that include; Sabyinyo silverback, the Virunga lodge or the gorilla nest Lodge.
The mid-range lodges include; La bamboo lodge, mountain gorilla view lodge, and among the budget lodges , these include; Kinigi guest house, Hotel Muhabura, the Virunga Hotel and many more.
Definitely a trip to volcanoes National park will be more than you can expect. You will see many primates and many other wildlife species and vegetation cover and many more. Just outside the communities, there are some fantastic communities that are very helpful most especially the cultural tours and the community visits.
You can visit the volcanoes national park for gorilla trekking at any time of the year though it would be good if you considered the seasons like from Mach to May, it’s a long rainy season and this means that this time of the year doesn’t favour those that are intending to visit places like volcanoes for gorillas and chimpanzees and other forest activities since the rain is very heavy and insistent , and gorilla trekking becomes so challenging as the tracking trails are not easy and you may not be able to see many wildlife species as you would do in the dry season.
From June to Mid-September.
This is a dry period and it’s a good time of the year to visit Rwanda especially those who want to visit the Virunga Mountain region for tourism purposes like gorilla tracking. This is the best time for gorilla trekking since it will be a dry season in the rain forests where the chimps and the gorillas stay but you can also carry a rain coat and the boots since it might rain any time. During the dry season, hiking is so easier and this works for those in favour of those that want to hike in Rwanda. Game viewing is so easy in these months since the animals always come by the water sources to slake their thirst since water is scarce in some parts of the park. This also means that you will know where to find the animals during the game viewing process.
From October to November
This is also one of the month rainy season and its short and after this, there is the dry season that comes from December to February. In this short season, the trekking of the primates can be done though can be a bit tough. Also this is the best time for bird watching since around this time, most of the smaller plants and the trees are flowering which helps in attracting many birds. You are advised to book a birding safari and this starts towards the end of the rainy season. The photographers can use this particular time to take pictures because there are a lot of flowers that are so thriving. Here the vegetation is all green and the skies are so blue which offers a great background for the photographs.