Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is the oldest national park in Africa in that it was gazetted in 1925 mainly to protect and conserve the endangered mountain gorillas. The park is also known as Parc National Des Volcans in French and its located in Kinigi a small village called Musanze which was previously known as Ruhengeri northwestern part of Rwanda. Volcanoes park Rwanda is part of the great Virunga Conservation Area bordering Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. Volcanoes park covers a total area of 160 kilometers squared and is known for various biodiversity including the five volcanic mountains out of the nine Virunga mountains, vegetation types, endangered mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, animal species like elephants, buffaloes, bushbucks, giant forest hogs, bird species among others.
Attractions in Volcanoes National Park
- Mountain gorillas: Volcanoes national park is a home of the endangered mountain gorillas which are also the most popular attractions in the park. The park contained over 14 habituated gorilla families available to trekking on daily basis including Susa family, Amahoro, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Agastya, Umubano, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Ugenda, Pablo, Titus, Igisha, Isimbi, and Muhoza family.
- Golden monkeys: Golden monkeys are unique species in Volcanoes national park and also the second attraction in the park after gorillas. Golden monkeys are endangered primates that live in groups of over 50 individuals and feed on bamboo, fruits, leaves among others. Golden monkey trekking in Volcanoes is the second most done activity in the park that gives visitors extraordinary experiences.
- Birds: This national park is also known as a birders paradise in that it harbors over 300 bird species some of which are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Bird watching in Volcanoes is done in the bamboo, alpine, grassland, bushland vegetation among others where you will be able to view different bird species such as African green broadbill, Kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori Batis, red-faced woodland warbler, paradise flycatcher, long-crested eagle, grey throated tit, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, strange weaver, handsome francolin among others.
- Mountains: Volcanoes harbors 5 of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes namely mount Muhabura which is 4127 meters above the sea level, Mount Gahinga which is 3474 meters above the sea level, Mount Sabyinyo which is 3634 meters above the sea level, Mount Bisoke which is 3711 meters above the sea level and Mount Karisimbi which is 4507 meters above the sea level.
- Muzanze caves: Musanze caves are situated in the park and resulted due to volcanic eruption. Musanze caves are found underground in a cliff which is large enough for human beings to enter and are 2 kilometers long with walkways and stairs which take you inside.
- Dian Fossey Research Centre: Dian Fossey Research Centre is a research institute that was set up by the primatologist Dian Fossey to provide protection for the endangered mountain gorillas in Volcanoes national park. At the Research Centre, you will be able to see the grave of Dian Fossey and others for the gorillas.
Activities done in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking: Gorilla trekking is the most popular activity in Volcanoes national park. Gorilla trekking is an exciting activity where visitors above the age of fifteen years move into the forest in search of the endangered mountain gorillas and once found spend one hour with the gorillas in their natural habitat. Gorilla trekking activity starts with a briefing in the morning about the expectations and rules to follow while trekking in the jungle at the park headquarters in Kinigi. After the briefing you will be grouped into 8 people according to your interests and physical fitness, you will be allocated a park guide and then start trekking. Gorilla trekking takes about 2 to 7 hours depending on the location of the gorillas because they like to move from one place to another in search of food.
The park is a home of over 15 habituated gorilla families where one family called Hirwa migrated to Mgahinga national park in Uganda in October 2019 leaving them 14 Gorilla groups. Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes national park allows a maximum of 8 people to trek each habituated gorilla family and once found visitors are slowed to spend one hour with the gorillas learning more about their behaviors, habitat, taking photos among others which gives them extraordinary gorilla trekking experiences on their safari.
Golden monkey trekking: Golden monkey trekking in Volcanoes is the second-best done activity in the park after gorilla trekking. Golden monkey trekking starts with a briefing at the park headquarters and later start trekking with the park guides in the jungle. Golden monkeys trekking takes a short period of time compared to gorilla trekking in that the golden monkeys are usually found at the foothills of Volcanoes national park in the bamboo vegetation. The park harbors about two habituated golden monkey groups that live in groups of above 50 individuals. Once the golden monkeys are found visitors will be able to spend one hour with them as they watch them feed, play, take photos among others
Bird watching: Volcanoes national park is also a birders paradise in that it harbors over 300 bird species with about 16 bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift. Bird watching in volcanoes national park starts in the morning with a briefing and together with a birding guide and together with a birding guide you will move into the jungle in spot different bird species including red-faced woodland warbler, handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori Batis, strange weaver, dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, collared Apalis, archer’s ground robin, paradise flycatcher, long-crested eagle, African marsh harrier, common moorhen, white tailed blue flycatcher among others.
Dian Fossey Research Centre
Dian Fossey was a primatologist who was protecting the primates especially the mountain gorillas because they were becoming extinct due to poaching. The Dian Fossey Research Centre is located between Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi and visitors who want to visit the Research Centre and also see her grave take a 3 to 5 hours hike to the Research Centre.
Mountain Climbing: Volcanoes national park is a home of 5 volcanic mountains out of the 8 Virunga Mountains and they include Mount Bisoke, Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Karisimbi, Mount Gahinga, and mount Muhabura.
- Mount Bisoke. This is a dormant volcanic mountain that is 3,711 meters above the sea level. Mount Bisoke is situated in both the Democratic Republic of Congo and Volcanoes national park. Climbing Mount Bisoke takes about 4 to 6 hours and you will be able to pass through the Afro Montane vegetation and Mount Bisoke harbors a beautiful crater lake on top, Mount Mikeno in the Democratic Republic of Congo, gorillas in the forest among others.
- Mount Muhabura, Mount Muhabura is the second highest peak in Volcanoes national park which is 4,127 meters above the sea level. Mount Muhabura is shared by both Rwanda and Uganda and can be climbed on either side. The hike takes about 6 to 8 hours and on top of Mount Muhabura, you will find a crater lake have spectacular views of the landscapes, twin lakes namely Burera and Ruhondo.
- Mount Karisimbi, this is the highest volcano in Virunga volcano mountains which is 4507metres above sea level and the 5th highest in Africa, therefore, it sometimes receives snow due to its location near the equator. It’s more difficult and challenging to hike Mount Karisimbi hence recommended for good hikers who like long hikes because it takes a full day and camping on top which makes it a 2-day adventure safari with camping.
- Mount Gahinga, Mount Gahinga is 3,474m above sea level hence the shortest volcanic mountain in Volcanoes national park which favors the lazy hikers. Mount Gahinga is a dormant volcano shared by Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda and Volcanoes national park.
- Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Sabyingo is 3,634 m above the sea level and is lies between Mgahinga gorilla national park and Volcanoes national park, therefore, you can hike from either side. After hiking Mount Sabyinyo you will be standing in three countries that is Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on top of the peak.
Cultural encounter: During the cultural encounter you will visit Ibyi’wacu cultural group which is found outside Volcanoes national park in Musanze village. Ibyi’wacu cultural village offers community walks to the visitors where they will engage in various activities like making beer from bananas, learning how to prepare local dishes, learn hunting skills, weaving mats, visit the traditional homesteads, cultural dances among others. The group offers performances and entertainments to the visitors in the form of dances, drama, music, storytelling among others. You will also be able to visit the king’s palace where you will see how the ancient kings ruled, visit traditional healers who used to heal different diseases using herbs, visit Batwa the pygmies who used to live in the forest before it was gazetted as a national park among others. The Ibyi’wacu cultural tour will help you to learn more about Rwanda cultures hence giving you interesting experience on your safari in volcanoes national park.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes national park can be visited anytime throughout the year though the best time to visit is during the dry season in the months of June to September and December to February. The dry season is also known as the peak season and during this time Volcanoes national park receives less rainfall which makes many activities successful such as gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, and mountain climbing because of the trail passable and not is muddy and slippery like during the wet/rainy season. The wet season is also known as the low season in the months of March to May and October to November when the forest receives heavy rainfall which makes trekking difficult. However, the wet season is an ideal season for bird watching in the park because there will be plenty of fruits and food for the birds, therefore, the bird lovers will be able to view different bird species plus the migratory birds.
How to get to Volcanoes National park
Volcanoes national park is located in the northwestern part of Rwanda and can be accessed by road and air transport means.
- Air transport, when going to Volcanoes national park you will fly to Kigali international airport and then connect to Kinigi park headquarters by road which takes about 2 hours’ drive.
- Road transport, Volcanoes national park can be accessed from Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda in case you want to experience gorilla trekking in Uganda and gorilla trekking in Rwanda. When accessing volcanoes national park from Uganda you will drive from Bwindi Impenetrable forest national park via the Cyanika border to the park headquarters in Kinigi which takes about 3 to 4 hours’ drive.
Volcanoes national park is the most visited national park in Rwanda due to the exciting attractions like the mountain gorillas, golden monkeys among others which give visitors breathtaking and unforgettable experiences while on a Rwanda Safari Tour.