Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park has over the years gained fame due to the fact that it is one of only three habitats of the large, hairy and strong Mountain Gorillas, in the world. It is because of this reason that Gorilla Trekking Safaris to this destination, are becoming a tremendously fast rising tourism activity in Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park is one of the 3 national parks that Rwanda proudly boasts of.  It is also referred to as ‘Parc National des Volcans’ in the French language. The national park is located in the Musanze town, in the northwestern province of Rwanda. The national park is blessed with a number of bird and plant species. It is also one of the habitats that is home to the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas in the world; the others being in Virunga National Park in DRC and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda.

Volcanoes National Park borders Virunga National Park in DRC and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It encompasses 5 of the 8 volcanoes of the Virunga volcano region and these include; Mount Karisimbi, Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura, and Mount Bisoke.

Volcanoes National Park was first gazetted as a national park in 1925 and is the oldest national park on the African continent. It was gazetted as a national park in order to protect mountain gorillas from poachers.

In 1929, Volcanoes National Park was extended from Rwanda into Congo. The national park was originally called Albert National Park after King Albert 1. It was managed and run by the Belgian Colonialist government at that time.

Later in 1960s, Volcanoes National Park was divided between Rwanda and the DRC following their gain to Independence. This greatly reduced the park to half size and hence giving rise to the birth of Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Volcanoes National Park covers 160 square kilometers of rain forest and bamboo. It has 178 bird species of which 13 species and 16 subspecies are found in the Virunga Conservation Area and the Rwenzori Mountains respectively.

Volcanoes National Park acted as a base for the American primatologist and conservationist Dian Fossey in 1967. Her scientific research in the park dates back as far as 1966 when she started studying mountain gorilla groups within the park. After her murder, she was buried at a gravesite located within the park.

Volcanoes National Park is home to quite a number of mammal species such as; bushbucks, vervet and white and black colobus monkeys, spotted hyenas, forest elephants, buffaloes and giant hogs amongst others. 

Volcanoes National Park later became a battlefront for the Rwanda civil war in the early 1990s. The genocide war not only greatly affected the lives of people living in Rwanda, but also reduced tourism activities in the area up until 1999.

However, in 2005, the Rwandan Government introduced the baby naming ceremony for baby gorillas called ‘Kwita Iziina’. This was done in a bid to revamp tourism and conservation activities in Volcanoes National Park. The ceremony for naming baby gorillas happens annually and involves the participation of both the local community and tourists as well.

Volcanoes National Park has its Headquarters based in Kinigi which is a small village located in the town of Musanze {former called Ruhengeri}. The park’s headquarters in Kinigi is where trekking permits are issued and also briefing of tourists visiting the national park. It is important to note that tourists intending to carryout gorilla or golden monkey trekking in the park should make a booking for their trekking permits at least 6 months in advance. This is to avoid any inconveniences, especially during the peak season between June and September to guarantee the availability of permits. Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda cost USD 1500 and USD 600 in Uganda.

Attractions in Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park has a number of attractions that tourist can see and these include;

  • Mountain Gorillas: Volcanoes National Park is home to half of the world’s endangered species of mountain gorillas. These unique and yet intriguing animal species gained a lot of popularity after the death of scientist and conservationist Dian Fossey in 1985. She carried out a comprehensive scientific study on mountain gorilla families in the national park. Mountain gorillas stay in family groups that consist of 30 individuals and are led by an adult male called a Silverback. An adult male gorilla can weigh between 136 – 195 kg while an adult female can weigh between 68-113 kg.  Baby gorillas can weigh between 2- 3 kg. Many tourists travel from all parts of the world to Volcanoes National Park in order to have an exciting experience of seeing the habituated mountain gorillas.
  • Dian Fossey Grave Site; Dian Fossey was an American primatologist and conservationist whose scientific study on mountain gorillas contributed a lot towards our understanding of these species and the need for their conservation. Fossey was found dead in her camp in 1985 in Rwanda. She was buried at a gravesite near her favorite gorilla called ‘Digit’. A tour to Volcanoes National Park is not complete without a visit to Dian Fossey’s tomb.
  • Karisoke Research Center: This research center was used as a base by Dian Fossey where she and her team carried out their research work. While at the Karisoke Research Centre, tourists can learn more about Dian and her remarkable contribution to conservation efforts in the national park.
  • Mount Karisimbi: Mount Karisimbi is a stratovolcano that is the highest of all eight volcanoes in the Virunga volcanic realm. It is 4507 meters above sea-level and the 5th highest mountain on the African continent. The mountain has numerous numbers of bird and plant species and is also home to some groups of mountain gorillas. Hiking expeditions on Mount Karisimbi can be booked at Volcanoes National Park. While hiking on the mount, tourists can sight a number of bird and plant species and one a lucky day, hikers may be graced with the presence of mountain gorillas while on your hike.
  • Mount Bisoke: Mount Bisoke is a dormant volcano and it is also one of the eight volcanic mountains in the Virunga volcano field. The mountain sits at the border of Rwanda and DRC with its summit in Rwanda. Mount Bisoke is blessed with a beautiful crater lake at its summit following its last volcano eruption in 1957. Tourists can indulge in an adventurous hike to the mountain’s Crater Lake. Other tourists attractions in Volcanoes National Park include; golden monkeys, Musanze caves, the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera.

Activities in Volcanoes National Park

There are many fun, adventurous and memorable activities that tourists can engage in and these include;

  • Gorilla Trekking: Tourist can track mountain gorillas in Volcanoes Park at a fee of USD 1500. Gorilla trekking can be done all year round depending on when tourists book; however, the best time to trek gorillas is between June and September when its peak season. Gorilla trekking permits must be acquired by all tourists who want to trek and trekking can only be done by adults aged 18 and above. Tracking activities begin at 7 am at the park’s headquarters in Kinigi, hence visitors are advised to keep time.
  • Golden Monkey Trekking: Volcanoes National Park has two habituated groups of Golden monkeys that tourists can visit. Both these groups comprise 80 members and tracking activities also commence at 7 am. Permits for golden monkey trekking cost USD 100 and this price cuts across Rwanda and Uganda.
  • Volcano Climbing: This activity consists of hiking expeditions on either Mount Karisimbi or Mount Bisoke. Tourists embarking on a hiking trip on Mount Karisimbi can enjoy pleasurable sights like a bird, wildlife like mountain gorillas and forest elephants, and insect species. While tourists hiking mount Bisoke can view attractions such as the Crater Lake on the mountain’s summit.
  • Hike to Dian Fossey Grave Site: Tourists visiting Volcanoes National Park can enjoy a hike to Dian Fossey’s tomb and also pay a visit to Karisoke Research Centre; both located within the park. Please do refer to our article on Dian Fossey for more information.
  • Caving: Whilst visiting Volcanoes National Park, visitors can also pay to go on a hike to Musanze Caves that are located within the national park. These caves were created as a result of volcanic eruption about 65 million years ago. Musanze caves were opened to the general public and tourists in 2013 by the Rwanda Development Board. The lushly and green rocked caves run for about 2km and are home to cave bats. Tourists visiting the caves are provided with equipment like; gloves, knee caps, boots, face mask, helmet and head cap.
  • Cultural tour: One cannot visit Volcanoes National Park without visiting the nearby local communities. Tourist on a cultural tour can pay a visit to the Ibyiwacu community village where you can interact with the local people, be entertained by the local intore dance group and take a walk around the village. Guests are also taken through the cultural history of the village as well as the process of making local banana brew.
Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park

Accommodation in Volcanoes

There is a wide variety of accommodation facilities that tourists visiting Volcanoes National Park can choose from. These include;

  • Bisate Lodge: The lodge was constructed on an eroded volcanic creator and has 6 en-suite rooms. It is a luxurious lodge that can accommodate a maximum of 12 guests. The lodge offers services such as; free Wi-Fi, restaurant, well-stocked bar and walks to the surrounding local communities.
  • Virunga Lodge: The Lodge is located in Kinigi and is an hours’ drive to the park’s headquarters. The Lodge offers its guests stunning views of lakes Burera and Ruhondo. It also offers guests with activities such as; nature walks, music and entertainment from the local Indore dance group, spa massages amongst others.
  • Sabyinyo silverback Lodge: This lodge is Rwanda’s first ever community-owned Lodge. It is located close to Volcanoes National Park and has a sister Lodge in Kenya. The Sabyinyo silverback Lodge is a luxurious Lodge that offers its guests with amenities like; spa treatments, fitness club given its well-equipped gym, free Wi-Fi and indoor dining.
  • Other accommodation facilities near Volcanoes National Park Include; Mountain gorilla view, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Kinigi guesthouse and Gorilla Volcanoes Lodge.

Getting there

The Park can be accessed by road from Gisenyi town or Kigali City. The drive to Volcanoes National Park is 2 hours hence making it a convenient option for tourists to do gorilla trekking and return to Kigali on the same day.

Bearing all this in mind, a tourist planning a visit to Volcanoes National Park can always have a wide range of activities to engage in and have a memorable experience while on safari to the park.

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