“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat: wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath. Elsewhere, these great apes are only found in three other national parks in the world; Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park and the Virunga National Park of DR Congo.
Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible park in Africa for travelers looking for a gorilla trekking trip in Africa. Located in Northern Rwanda in a region called Musanze (Ruhengeri), the park is one of the most visited park in Eastern Africa, receiving thousands of travelers looking for a mountain gorilla trekking experience. The park is part of the Virunga region and it is located along the boarder with Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. This corner or northwestern Rwanda is a breath-taking unforgettable place where culture, adventure and conservation intersect.
The park is most famous for hosting the mountain gorillas, a rare sub specie of the gorilla. Nearly a third of the world’s population of the mountain gorillas live in the park. The park has a very long history of conservation, first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Visoke and Mikeno, purposely to protect the mountain gorillas from poachers who were threatening their existence. By 1929 it was extended further to the Belgian Congo to form the Albert National Park, a huge area covering 8090 km². After Congo attaining its independence in 1960 and Rwanda in 1962, the Rwandan government re-gazetted the park as a conservation and tourist area.
The park is also the base for the famous American primatologist Dian Fossey who carried out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. She spent most of her time in Volcanoes National Park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. Unfortunately Dian Fossey was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985 reportedly poachers whom she had spent her life fighting against. She is featured in the popular film Gorillas in the Mist, and she was buried in the park in a grave close to the research center. If you love conservation, you can’t end your trip without taking a hike to the Karisoke Search Centre and support the Dian Fossey Grave.
From 1992 to 1999 the park was tangled in the Rwanda civil war, the research centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities (including visiting the gorillas) were stopped. After restoration of peace and order, the park was reopned in 1999 when the area was deemed to be safe and under control. Since then gorilla tourism is thriving and thousands of travelers have visited the park on gorilla safaris.
Go Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas offers stirring views in all directions, Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and littered with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest canopy, the magnificent peaks are glimpsed, easily accessible and among the highest in Africa, beckoning an ascent.
The bustling market town of Ruhengeri has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow – is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area.
Also within easy day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses, but visitors seeking greater comfort could base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali and – with an early start – head to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
Things to See in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park
Though most travelers visit the park for gorilla trekking, there are lots of other things to do on a Rwanda safari through this national park.
- The park is a home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains including Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo which are covered in both rainforest and bamboo.
- Numerous rivers such as Nyabarongo River flow through the park that support many animal species,
- There are several other animals in the park including large golden monkeys, duiker and buffalo, as well as some 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori mountains and the Virungas.
Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park
There are lots of things to do in Volcanoes National Park and these include;
- Gorilla tracking – the major attraction that pull tourists to the country.
- Golden Monkey tracking – See the golden monkeys in a dense canopy on a hike through the forest
- Dian Fossey Hike – Hike to the grave yard of Dian Fossey, learn about gorilla tourism and conservation at the Karisoke Research Centre. This is a full day activity
- Volcano Hikes – You can a hike on three volcanic mountains that lie within the park
During your visit to the Volcanoes National Park, you can enjoy many experiences/activities and these include;
Golden monkey tracking
Golden monkey trekking is a great chance to interact with the unique golden monkeys while in their natural habitat. These primates reside only in the Virunga Area including Virunga National Park (Congo), Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda) and Mgahinga National Park of Uganda. Rwanda golden monkey tracking permits are issued out to travelers at USD 100 per person.
Gorilla tracking/trekking is the major reason why Rwanda is most visited by tourists on African safari. There are 12 fully habituated families to be tracked in Volcanoes NP Rwanda and on family is visited by a maximum of 8pax. It is a single day adventure and all visitors are allocated park guides to accompany them on a search for gorillas.
Birding in Rwanda allows you identify a number of birds that live in Volcanoes N/Park. These include Rwenzori turacos, black-crowned waxbill, Baglafetch weaver birds, black-crowned waxbill, stonechat, red faced woodland warblers, dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori nightjar, dusky turtle dove, archer’s robin chat, African long-eared owl, Rwenzori batis, grauer’s swamp warblers, and others.
Tour Musanze caves
Musanze caves are iconic attractions in Musanze/Ruhengeri area, located just adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. The cave extends 2km long and is one of the most explored sites after tracking mountain gorillas. The cave holds a special history and date back to 65 million years back. They are typical volcanic creation and make up the list of over 52 caves in the Northern Province of Rwanda.