Volcanoes National Park also known as Parc National de Volcans (PNV) is among the great Virungas which covers an area of over 8,000 km². The park situated in the Northwest of Rwanda at the border of Mgahinga Forest National Park found in Uganda and Virunga National Park found in DR Congo. In 1925, it is when the park firstly gazetted as a small area and as time went on its borders were made larger; hence it is known as Rwanda’s first National Park in Africa.
The endangered mountain gorillas and the golden monkeys made the park home hence this makes it rank among Rwanda’s most popular destinations due to these amazing mighty giants. This park was also the base for the amazing work of the primatologist and zoologist Dian Fossey which she started in the 1960s, here also are five volcanoes of the eight of the Virungas.
As one drives to Volcanoes National Park, there are amazing and scenic landscapes as you drive to the park and when you get there it becomes more thrilling. Another thing about this park is that there was an introduction of the Annual baby naming ceremony of the baby gorillas locally known as “Kwita Iziina” and many visitors visit to observe this ceremony. Apart from the Mountain Gorillas and golden monkeys; the park has other wildlife species like the buffaloes, bushbucks, black-fronted duikers spotted hyenas, elephants. It is also a home to over 178 bird species and around 29 are endemic to the Virungas and Rwenzori mountains.
The park is found in Musanze also known as Ruhengeri a small village approximately a two hour drive in Kigali Rwanda’s capital city. The park headquarters are in Kiningi Village; it is where all trekkers gather for briefings in the mornings before they start to trek gorilla. It is advisable to plan your safari early enough especially to do with the issuing of gorilla permits. A gorilla permit costs $1500. The peak season for Rwanda is from June to September, so if your need is to travel during that time making your bookings early enough, this is to guarantee availability of permits.
How to get there
The park can be accessed by public or private transport from the Airport or Kigali or Gisenyi. A visitor can travel to the park from Kigali and track gorillas on the same day and come back but that requires him/her to be at the headquarters by 7 am, hence you have to be early as you leave Kigali since it’s approximately a 2hours drive to the park. Please mark that there is no public transport to take you from Musanze to Kinigi-the park headquarters.
When to visit
Volcanoes National Park can be visited all year round for Gorilla trekking, though the time between March and May; there are long rains hence makes it difficult to visit areas and do some activities like hikes, gorilla trekking, since the walking trails are hard to walk through.
The best time to visit is the period between June and Mid-September, it is a dry season and this time is best for those interested in climbing the volcanoes, also gorilla trekking can be done at its best during this time. Game viewing also becomes easier during this time. However it is important to carry a rain coat especially if you are going through the forest because it being a rain forest rain is expected at any time; also carry enough water, light boots among others.
From October to November rains fall again though it’s a short season that leads again to a dry season from December to February, during this time tracking primates is slightly hard but activities like bird watching are enjoyed because most trees and plants start flowering which attracts most birds. The nature lovers will enjoy this time taking photographs and sightseeing since the vegetation is lush green together with the amazing blue skies.
Where to stay
There is no worry about where to stay or have meals from since there are many types of accommodation facilities and upon the visitor to choose and book where to stay while on safari. They range from Budget to Luxurious and the meals and staff are just on point.
Some of the luxury lodges include; Virunga lodge, Sabinyo silverback and Gorilla nest lodge. The mid-range lodges are; Mountain gorilla view lodge, La Bamboo lodge etc. Also budget travelers are catered for, the lodges include; Hotel Muhabura, Kiningi guest house, Virunga Hotel among others.
Activities to do while on Volcanoes National Park Safari
Gorilla Tracking in Rwanda
One can never say they have been to Rwanda if they haven’t had a gorilla tracking safari to Volcanoes National Park. It is a thrilling and adventurous activity where one gets to meet gorillas; these are found in Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo. Over 480 Mountain gorillas are found in the Virungas and the remaining number is found in Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable forest.
About 10 mountain gorilla groups are found in Volcanoes, they are habituated and were trained on how to tolerate human beings (their closest relatives) hence that’s why gorilla tracking can be done on a safe basis by visitors. It is a great opportunity as you watch the silver backs, the mothers feed the young ones, the playful juveniles jumping here and there without any worry of being attacked by the gorillas.
As you plan your Gorilla tacking safari keep in mind the seasons; it will help you keep on track especially with the best seasons to tack these mighty giants such us from June to September. Though also between December and February gorillas can be tracked in this park.
For one to track gorillas they need a permit which is at the cost of $1500 in Rwanda. Gorilla tracking doesn’t need a specific skill but requires one to be fit physically because while looking for the gentle giants a few hills are climbed and also some long distance is walked. Remember to carry a waterproof cameras, enough drinking, water snacks, sturdy shoes, long sleeved trouser among other things.
Before visitors set out for gorilla tracking; they first meet at the headquarters where they are briefed and given groups in which they would over together while tracking. So every group has 8 people, the park has 10 groups. Groups are assigned to tourist basing on age, fitness and preference by individuals for a particular group. As visitors set out for tracking they are led by skilled ranger guides and scouts. The time spent tracking usually varies hence based own how nearer the gorillas are; kit can take 1 hour or even more like 7 hours.
Coming face to face with the gentle giants is an unforgettable experience; when you meet them you are advised to stay quiet, calm, give them some space, avoid eye contact with them and avoid unnecessary movements; because they might think you want to fight them. Just in case the gorillas charges before you never runaway just stay, stand still and lower your head showing that you submit to it. Enjoy tracking gorillas in Volcanoes today!
Golden Monkey Tracking
Apart from Mountain gorilla tracking this is also one of other activities that are breath taking in Volcanoes. Golden monkeys are fascinating creatures which cannot be missed out while in the park; they are a sub-species of Sykes monkeys famously known as blue monkeys. The park has two habituated groups for tracking with 80 individuals. Just like Gorilla tracking; tracking golden monkeys also starts at 7:00am local time and the permit needed for tracking goes at $100 per person.
These creatures live in bamboo vegetation near the base of Volcanoes; the group that tracks these monkeys dost go beyond 8 people. Tracking can go as long as 4 hours. They are so amazing to watch in the wild though a little hard to photograph since they jump branch to branch. You are also advised to carry enough water, wear a hat, waterproof cameras, insect repellent, drinking water, enough snacks, long sleeved shirts and trousers, walking stick, first aid kit and also a raincoat just in case it rains. Tracking Golden monkeys is one delightful and amazing activity with memorable experiences you cannot miss!
Birding in Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is home to over 200 bird species, so birders are not left to; they also have a great time while in the park. Some birds include; Red faced woodland warbler, Collared Apalis, Rwenzori Turacos, Archer’s ground robin, strange weaver, Handsome Francolin, Dusky crimson wing among others. Anyone on a safari to Rwanda; Volcanoes has to be the on the number one list of your birding spots.
Dian Fossey tomb hike
A hike to Dian Fossey Tomb is among the famous activities in the park. Trekking includes a 30 minute drive from the headquarters of the park in order to access the Karisoke camp from whence hikers have a 10 minute walk to the park boundary. Now from the park boundary trekkers are to walk for another 1 hour and 30 minutes to the research center where the tomb/grave is found.
When you reach the site you will find the house from whence Dian Fossey was murdered from in 1985, you will also see where she was buried peacefully close to her favorite gorilla and about 20 other gorillas that were killed by sudden deaths or by poachers.
The hike needs you to be physically well since there is more of hiking up slopes, and through the forests. In fact it will require a little more patience for you to really enjoy it!
Hikers pay only 75 USD to have this lifetime experience!
Karisimbi Volcano Hike
The Virunga Massif is made up of 7 volcanoes and two of them can be climbed while in Volcanoes National Park. They include; Bisoke and Karisimbi Volcanoes.
A hike to the top of Karisimbi is a rewarding 2 days hike though strenuous but it gives a remarkable experience to the hiker. It takes two days to hike to the top and hiking begins early enough taking around 6 hours to reach the first stopover camp where you will have an overnight from as you plan to complete the hike the next day.
Karisimbi volcano has lots to offer including the various species of birds, great views, vegetation and primates such as gorillas and monkeys since it lies in the Park. There are muddy trails especially when it’s a rainy season.
Also if you have lots of luggage you could hire a porter who charges 20USD per day to help you carry this. Hiking costs 64 USD for the East African Residents and 75 USD for the foreigners. This cost applies to both Bisoke and Karisimbi Volcanoes.
Bisoke Volcano Hike
Bisoke Volcano adventure is amazing as it has a crater lake at its top; so the hike is thrilling and unforgettable. Also 6 hours are required to hike to the top and to descend back to where you start from. Some experience hikers can use only 3 hours to hike; all hikers meet at Kiningi by 7:00am local time and by 8:00am the hike starts. Hikers are led to the top of the volcano by skilled ranger guides, also a hiking gear will be provided.
You can also explore more about Rwanda’s culture while in the park such as a visit to Iby’lwacu cultural village which is situated near Volcanoes National Park. It is a local community project that was started to engage people who were poachers in the protection and conservation of mountain gorillas. So while there you have a chance to talk with the locals, see how they live, make art-crafts, perform traditional dances and songs, dressing code, and engage in cooking locally among other things. You will be welcomed well and no worries of accommodation as they have locally made huts, you will also listen to stories from elders, have a community among other things.
In a nut shell, Volcanoes National Park has lots of attractions and activities hence among the places to visit while on a safari in Rwanda. Other activities include; Forest walks, a visit to the twin lakes i.e. Lake Ruhondo and Bulera which are home to different bird species and Russumo waterfalls. Also you can have a cave exploration such as a visit to Musanze cave which has existed for over 65million years. Visit Volcanoes National Park, make your dream a reality!