To the north lies the volcanoes national park, which protects the Rwandan portion of the virunga mountains, a trans frontier conservation area that includes protected areas in Uganda and the DRC and forms a complex of mostly dormant volcanoes, it includes Rwanda’s highest point, mount karisimbi (4,507 m), and the two active volcanoes, mount Nyirangongo and mount Nyamuragira. The large exclusive forest and a hideaway for mountain gorillas in the remote setting in northern Rwanda is one of the most extraordinary parks in east Africa.
Explore the Volcanoes National Park
This national park boasts almost 100 bird species but is more famous for being home to world’s last remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Although visited predominantly for the mountain gorillas, there are several other tourism sites and opportunities in the park and surrounding area. There is a chance to climb to the mount Bisoke’s beautiful crater lake or even the hike to the summit of the Karisimbi mountain, the 5th highest mountain of Africa.
The often neglected twin lakes Burera and Ruhondo and the nearby Rugezi swamp are recognized for their excellent water birding opportunities. With in the area there are a number of community based tourism tours on offer, for example: visiting villages, agric-production plants, an ethno botany tour or even a group of local fishermen using traditional methods, or simply sit back and take in the breath taking scenery of the area.
Parc National Des Volcans is renowned for its six (6) Virungas; the only habitat to the endangered mountain Gorilla. The Parc is protected and managed by the Rwandan office fro tourism and National parks (ORTPN) and this conservation area has contributed to the main safaris to Rwanda.
Similar to chimpanzee tracking, tourists on a gorilla trekking activity are allowed to spend an hour watching these apes performing their daily activities, resting, playing, gathering food and feeding. It is your golden opportunity to shoot a picture of the amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
Following the well-maintained network of nature trails, we will take you through the forest, encountering creepers, hanging vines, colorful giant lobelia and misty bamboo. Regularly, golden monkeys among other mammals will be seen swinging from one branch to another whereas buffaloes and Duikers will cross your path at the time when you least expect it.
When you travel to Rwanda, access to Parc National Des Volcans is via Ruhengeri town; a one and a half hours drive from Kigali city, the country’s capital. Gorilla trackers organize and hire cars for private transportation on their gorilla tour from Ruhengeri; the last stop over town adjacent to the park boundaries and proceed to the headquarters and follow the tracking trails on foot.
You need to have reliable transport from Musanze to the park head quarters since public means are never available unless you can miss out your day’s trek. It’s good to hire a tax directly from Kigali for a day or use tour operators to organize your One Day Gorilla Trek in order to avoid hassles and stress before your life time adventure.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Just 2 hours drive from Kigali, Rwanda’s Volcanoes National park welcomes you in a small village called Musanze which was formerly known as Ruhengeri a passionate spot for every traveler to Africa. One can do gorilla tracking in just a day from Kigali and still drive back though waking up early is one of the main rules for the day’s gorilla trek since you should be at the park headquarters of ORTPN in Kinigi for briefing by 7.30 am.
Most travelers to Rwanda visit the country in order to experience the life time amazing experience Gorilla tracking in volcano forest an activity which attracts thousands every year from different corners of the world. Gorilla trackers seek excitement in the wild forest which opens up every day with a morning briefing from the park ranger guides.
Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park
There are lots of things to do on a safari in the Volcanoes National Park.
- Gorilla trekking,
- Golden monkey tracking,
- Hiking Karisimbi volcano & Mount Bisoke
- Visiting Dian Fossey
- Visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera,
- Visit the Iby’Iwacu cultural village Tour, and Musanze cave visit
These are some of the breathtaking activities within the park that you can combine with the unforgettable Rwanda gorilla trek within the park.
Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park is arguably the most visited wildlife conservation site in Rwanda. Each year thousands of international visitors go to the park to see mountain gorillas alongside other popular activities. The park has 10 habituated gorilla groups and only 8 people may track a particular group in a day. Gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park starts with a briefing at 7am from the park office. From there visitors are taken out to track different gorilla groups in the company of armed Rangers. Gorilla trekking is one of the most unforgettable experiences while visiting Africa.
Golden Monkey Tracking: Rwanda is one of the last strongholds for golden monkeys. These beautiful monkeys thrive in the Virunga ranges (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) and in Kahuzi Biega National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Golden monkeys are endangered and because of that are highly protected. Although eagles are their natural prey, humans are their greatest threat. Tourist love golden monkeys because of their beautiful gold coats, playful nature and endangered status. Golden Monkey tracking in Rwanda starts with a briefing at 7:30am. It is less tiring than gorilla trekking because the monkeys don’t move too far off in the forest.
Gorilla Guardians Village: Formerly Known as the Ibyiwacu Cultural Village, the Centre was founded by Edwin Sabuhoro (a former warden at the Volcanoes National Park) to showcase all that is great about the Kinyarwanda Culture while also providing employment for ex-poachers. Visitors are first taken for a tour of the Centre before settling down to watch cultural dances. While at the Gorilla Guardians village, visitors can also learn how to prepare local food or hunt like the Batwa people. You may be invited to wear traditional royal clothes and experience what it was like to be a cultural leader.
Visiting Dian Fossey Grave: Dian Fossey was a pioneer in gorilla research and conservation with funding from the National Geographic. Fossey studied the behavior of mountain gorillas extensively for 18 years and discovered many things about them including how to habituate them.
Without her findings, what we now know as gorilla trekking and habituation would not be possible. As time went on, Fossey changed focus from research to gorilla conservation in order to protect the primates from extensive poaching. This won her many enemies leading to her death in 1985. Her killers have never been identified to this day.
After tracking gorillas, many choose to pay homage to her by visiting her former research center and tomb. Both sites are located on the slopes of mount Karisimbi and Bisoke. Getting to the tomb requires some level of fitness because it involves hiking up the mountains. You also need to prepare to deal with muddy trails especially during the wet season. The Dian Fossey Hike permit costs $80 per person. One of the advantages of signing for the Dian Fossey hike is that you might get lucky and encounter one of the mountain gorilla groups along the trails. After visiting her tomb and former Karisoke Centre, you can also visit the new Karisoke Research Center found in the town of Musanze. This is where the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund offices are also located and where her work continues.
Musanze Caves: These ancient caves are found in Musanze district, outside the Volcanoes National Park. The caves were opened to tourism in 2013 after undergoing rehabilitation which involved building staircases and paved trails/paths. The Musanze caves are about 2 kilometers long and where formed from lava flows over 60 million years ago – Around the time when the East African Rift Valley was formed. There are about 32 entrances with the main entrance about 10 kilometers wide. The Musanze caves are a popular attraction for those interested in geology or adventure. The bat-filled caves were once hiding grounds for the Batwa pygmies and other tribal groups in the area.
Lake Burera and Ruhondo: These beautiful twin lakes are found around the Volcanoes National Park. Most tourists visit the lake in the afternoon/evening hours and after completing activities within the park – like gorilla trekking. The lush landscape is home to birds and an amazing plant collection. One can go for nature walks, canoeing, birding, camping or visiting the local fishermen. Honeymooners and couples will find the beautiful scenery very calming and refreshing especially after completing tiring activities at the Volcanoes National Park.
Hiking Mount Karisimbi: Rising over 4,500 meters high, Mount Karisimbi is one of the tallest mountains in Africa. The mountain is found in the Volcanoes National Park and is one of the 8 volcanoes found within the wider Virunga ranges in Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. Hiking Mount Karisimbi takes two days. Though challenging, the hike rewards participants with beautiful views of the Virunga ranges, the lava-spewing Nyiragongo volcano, national parks in Uganda and Congo. Hiking mount Karisimbi is usually combing with gorilla and golden monkey trekking in the Volcanoes National Park.
Climbing Mount Bisoke: It takes only one day to get to the summit and back. Getting to the summit rewards hikers with an opportunity to explore a giant crater and also gaze at the other Virunga volcanoes and the volcanoes National Park. If you are lucky, you might encounter a gorilla or golden monkey group as you climb the lower slopes of the mountain.
Plan Your Rwanda Safari
However for any successful Rwanda Gorilla vacation, you need to do the following;
- Book a gorilla permit in advance
- Wear rightly for the trek,
- Spend a night close to the park
- Book accommodation located close to the park,
Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost US$1500 per permit year round both during the low and high season. Despite the high price, the money earned from the gorilla permit is aimed at promoting the conservation of the mountain gorillas. Gorilla Watching is restricted to only one hour and this is aimed at reducing the stress that can be caused by humans. The price may look high but the experience is precious .The park has twelve habituated gorilla families that are all ready for gorilla trackers. The number of visitors allowed to visit each gorilla family is regulated and only eight visitors can visit a habituated family.
Rwanda gorilla tours range from 1 to10 days and journey plans can be made depending on your convenience and budget. Tour prices vary according to activities and accommodations used. Trips range from luxury gorilla tours that appear more expensive to budget treks.
Spend your days thinking about the beauty that surrounds you, from the beautiful hills, lush jungle side by side, impressive mountain, lakes to the exclusive cultural setting of villages.
Most trips to Volcanoes National Park can be combined with visits to other Rwanda attractions like;
- the chimpanzees at Nyungwe forest located in 7 hour distance from musanze,
- Beach leisure fun at Lake Kivu
- Wildlife safaris in the Akagera national park.
In most cases tourists who visit Volcanoes National Park are always impressed and may feel drive to other neighboring countries Uganda and Congo. For other destinations where gorilla trekking is conducted, it is important to book combined gorilla safari treks in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda, as well as the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) .
The Virunga volcanoes appear to be stunning, impressive and too exclusive to most tourists to the region. With the hilly setting and green vegetation the endless hilly views of mountains and hills is a perfect retreat for every Africa safari be it for couples, solo travel or group travel.
Indeed Rwanda is a great one stop destination and a connecting travel point to Uganda and Congo year round. Itineraries are always suggested either starting or ending in Rwanda for most tourists who book cross border trips and extended tours to visit multiple destinations in the East Africa Region.