Volcanoes National Park – home of mountain gorillas is also known as Par Nationale des Volcans. Volcanoes National Park is one of the famous travel destinations in Africa and the most visited destination in Rwanda renowned for being home to the endangered Mountain Gorillas.
Volcanoes National Park is the best gorilla trekking destination in the world with 12 habituated mountain gorilla families open for gorilla trekking.
Volcanoes National Park is located in Northwest region of Rwanda, the park is part of the Great Virunga Conservation Area comprising of other gorilla destinations such as Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Volcanoes National Park lies in the Virunga Volcanoes range stretching around 5 of 8 Virunga Volcanoes namely Mount Karisimbi, Mount Bisoke, Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabinyo covering an area of 160 square kilometers.
Volcanoes National Park encompasses of evergreen bamboo forest, open grasslands and swamp terrain.
History of Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park as a protected area was established in 1925 primarily to protect the endangered mountain gorillas, in 1929 the boundaries of the park were extended to cover the sections of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo to cover an area of over 8,090 square kilometers and was given a name of Albert National Park.
The park was under the management of the Belgian Colonial Government who were the colonial masters of Rwanda and Burundi by then, when Rwanda was granted its independence. Its side of the park was separated to form what is presently known as Volcanoes National Park.
In years later, Volcanoes National Park became a center for Dian Fossey – an American primatologist for her research about mountain gorillas and their conservation. During her research works, she set up a research station between the Karisimbi and Bisoke Volcanoes and named it Karisoke Research Center.
Sadly, Dian Fossey was killed at the center by unknown people who are said to be the former poachers in 1985.
Attractions in Volcanoes National Park
Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is the only home for the endangered mountain gorillas in Rwanda and among the only 4 gorilla parks in the world where mountain gorillas live freely in their natural habitat. The forest covered volcanoes of Volcanoes National Park host a huge population of mountain gorillas including wild and habituated mountain gorillas recorded to be over 480 individuals, habituated mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park were taken through a habituation process through which they were made friendly to human presence.
Habituated mountain gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park include
- Susa Gorilla Group (Susa A Family)
- Karisimbi Gorilla Group (Susa-B)
- Sabyinyo Gorilla Group
- Amahoro Gorilla Group
- Umubano Gorilla Group
- Agashya Gorilla Group
- Kwitonda Gorilla Group
- Hirwa Gorilla Group
- Bwenge Family Group
- Ugenda Gorilla Family
Golden Monkeys in Volcanoes National Park
Golden monkeys are rare and endangered primate species only found in the Virunga Massif areas including Volcanoes National Park and Virunga National Park, olive baboons are beautiful primates with patches of golden color on their backs and they live in the Bamboo Zone in Volcanoes National Park.
There are only 2 habituated troops in Volcanoes National Park.
Birdlife in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is listed among the Important Birding Areas in Rwanda with over 178 bird species including 13 species and 16 subspecies which are endemic to Virunga and Rwenzori Mountains which make the park a paradise of bird watchers.
Bird species found in Volcanoes National Park include Brown woodland warbler, Brown-necked parrot, Doherty’s bush-shrike, Dusky crimsonwing, Dusky turtle dove, Grauer’s swamp warbler, Handsome francolin, Lagden’s bush-shrike, African long-eared owl, Archer’s robin-chat, Red-faced woodland warbler, Ruwenzori apalis, Ruwenzori batis, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, Ruwenzori nightjar, Ruwenzori turaco, Scarlet-tufted sunbird, strange weaver among others.
Volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park stretches around 5 Virunga volcanoes which are part of the Virunga volcanoes chain made up of 8 volcanoes, these volcanoes include
- Karisimbi Mountain (4507m) – the highest of the eight Virunga Volcanoes
- Muhabura (4127m)
- Bisoke (3711)
- Sabyinyo (3634m)
- Gahinga (3474)
These 5 Volcanoes are covered by beautiful vegetation and the peaks have lakes such as Lake Ngezi.
Tourist activities to do in Volcanoes National Park
The remarkable gorilla trekking is the main safari activity in Volcanoes National Park, this life changing activity is one of the greatest wildlife encounters in the world offering visitors a chance to have a face-to-face encounter with the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Rwanda as a country has favorable climate throughout the year making it possible to do gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park throughout the year, this activity starts early as 08:00 am in the morning with briefing at the park’s headquarters in Kinigi.
In the briefing, visitors are taken through the rules and regulations to follow during the gorilla trekking and in groups of 8 people you are assigned a gorilla family to trek. Gorilla trekking starts from various starting points depending on the gorilla family you are trekking, the trek lasts about 2-8 hours depending on the movement of the gorillas and their feeding range.
Upon locating the gorillas, visitors are allowed to stay in the presence of the gorillas for one hour while keeping a distance of 7 meters from the gorillas.
Golden Monkey Trekking
Golden monkey trekking is another amazing primate activity in Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda, golden monkeys are rare and endangered species with only 2 troops with over 100 members each in the forests of Volcanoes National Park.
Golden monkey trekking in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda start as early as 07:00 am with briefing at the park’s headquarters about the rules and regulations to follow. Golden monkey trekking has no group limit as golden monkeys are more friendly and playful, you will find the golden monkeys in the bamboo forests and seeing them face to face is a sensational experience as you will watch the golden monkeys jumping from one branch to another and take amazing pictures.
Volcanoes National Park is a great birding haven ranked among the top 3 destinations in Rwanda, the park hosts over 178 bird species including species which are limited to the mountains of Virunga and Rwenzori mountains.
Bird watching in the forests of Volcanoes National Park offers visitors an opportunity to spot colorful bird species such as Rwenzori turaco, Archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson-wing, francolins, red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, strange weaver, Rwenzori batis and collared apalis among others. Remember to carry a pair of good binoculars, a birder’s guide among others.
Mountain climbing / hiking is an adventurous activity to do in Volcanoes National Park, the park is dominated by 5 Volcanoes of Virunga Volcanoes range that is Karisimbi Volcano, Sabyinyo Volcanoes, Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Bisoke.
Hiking Mount Karisimbi
At 4,507 meters above the sea level, Mount Karisimbi is the highest volcano in the Virunga range and the 5th volcano in Africa situated along the border of Rwanda and DR. Congo on the western Rift Valley.
Mount Karisimbi is known as “Amasimbi” in local Kinyarwanda meaning “white shell” as reference to the white – capped summit on the Volcano.
Climbing Mount Karisimbi takes 2 days of climbing for the whole experience with a night of camping at ¾ of the whole hike, from the top of the Volcano you are rewarded with views of the whole Rwanda.
Hiking Mount Bisoke
Hiking Mount Bisoke takes only one day and the whole hike takes 8 hours to reach the top where you will enjoy scenic views of the crater and 2 hours of descending down.
Visiting Dian Fossey’s Tomb
Dian Fossey is famous American primatologist who worked towards the conservation and carried research on mountain gorillas, during her research she set up a research center in between Karisimbi and Bisoke and named it Karisioke Research Center.
Unfortunately, she was murdered in 1985 by unknown group of people said to be poachers who never really appreciated her work towards the conservation of Mountain gorillas. She was buried next to her friend Digit in the forest of Volcanoes National Park, visiting Dian Fossey Tomb offers an insight into her life in the forest and towards the conservation of mountain gorillas.
Guided Community Walks
Guided Community walks in Volcanoes National Park are done in Iby’Iwacu Village also known as The Gorilla Guardian’s Village – an initiative by local people who were formerly involved in poaching of gorillas and now they have put their effort in conservation of mountain gorillas.
During your visit, you will be entertained by local dances and drama, learn about the traditional lifestyle of the local people, join in the crowning of the King or Queen, taste local cuisines among others.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park lies in a short drive of 2 hours from Kigali City the capital of Rwanda, in Kinigi, Musaze in the Northern Province of Rwanda. This makes the park to easily be accessed by road.
There are also chartered and domestic flight to Volcanoes National Park offered by Akagera Aviation.
Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park has a wide range of accommodation options ranging from luxury, midrange to budget options, these accommodations include
- Bisate Lodge
- Kwitonda Lodge
- Virunga lodge
- Sabyinyo silverback lodge
- One & Only Gorilla Nest
- Le bambou gorilla lodge
- Mountain gorilla view lodge
- Kinigi guesthouse
- Muhabura hotel
- Garden place hotel