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Visit Volcanoes National Park In Rwanda

Visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, evergreen bamboo Forest

Visit Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, the park is best known for mountain gorilla trekking but the park is also rich with many other exotic activities to engage in. This park is part of the Virunga volcanoes which are shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo. This park is an evergreen bamboo forest with grassland areas, swamp, and heath in other areas.

The mountain gorillas are the prime attraction in volcanoes national park with gorilla trekking happening all year round. Birding is the next best thing to do in this park after mountain gorilla tracking and golden monkey trekking.

Overview
Attractions
When To Visit
How To Get There
Where To Stay

Overview of  Volcanoes National Park

Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath.

Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Karisimbi, the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura.

Wildlife And Birding

Mountain gorilla tracking is the most popular activity in Volcanoes National Park; the park is home to mountain gorillas. However, the most important activity after gorilla tracking is a visit to the habituated family of the golden monkey, hike to Dian Fossey’s former camp and grave on the forested slopes of Karisoke, and overnight hike to the highest point of the summit of Karisimbi.

Wildlife:

Volcanoes national park is home to golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), elephants, black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus).

Birding:

The park also harbors about 200 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori mountains and the Virungas. Birding is the next best thing to do in this park after mountain gorilla tracking and golden monkey trekking. Some of the species to look out for include, Grauer’s rush warbler, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double –collared Sunbird, handsome francolin, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, and Archer’s ground robin.

Visiting Rwanda for gorilla tracking can be done all year round. The best time to travel to Rwanda is during the drier seasons, periods between December to early March and June to September. December to March is a long dry season for Rwanda, with temperatures going up to 29 degrees Celsius for some days while the months of March – Mid May, July to September, on the other hand, are regarded as the rainy season in the country.

Overall Rwanda has good weather throughout the year but the dry season is more preferable.

How To Get There:

By road:

Volcanoes National Park is located in a small village called Musanze previously well-known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport.  

By air:

The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2 hrs and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek. 

Where To Stay: 

Luxury:

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

This lodge is located in the immediate region of Kinigi, situated on community land at the foothill of the Virunga with a beautiful view of the volcanoes hills. Accommodation consists of 8 stone cottages, 2 suites, and a 14-bed family suite, all spread out across the grassy slopes and well-spaced offering good privacy. The lodge has two veranda areas that present scenic views of the Virungas.

The luxurious and well-equipped rooms combine ethnically influenced décor good for country house feel with three fireplaces, a tea/coffee making facility, mini bar, a bedroom, dressing room, a large bathroom, and 24-hour electricity. 

Moderate (Mid-range):

Le Bambou Gorilla Village

Midrange safari accommodation located in the vicinity of Volcanoes National Park, accommodation is in large stone cottages with firm big beds, private balcony, en-suite hot shower, and a tidy collection of furniture including a wardrobe and a writing desk. Equipped with furnished reception, bar, and dining area.

The food is good, & the staff is very helpful and cooperative. Guests are provided with the most luxurious furnishing and lofty quality service.

Budget:

Bushokoro Lodge

Situated about 500m from hotel La Palme, the lodge has four large clean tiled rooms with big beds & en-suite hot shower, a restaurant, and a bar.

Reasons To Visit Volcanoes NP
Trip Ideas
Things To Do
Tourist Tips

8 Top Leading Reasons Why You Should Visit Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Volcanoes national park offers travelers with a variety of tourist attractions and activities, which together make a complete Rwanda safari package.

 a) Trekking Mountain Gorillas

An up-close encounter with the world’s endangered mountain gorillas is reviewed as the best wildlife experience in the world. Volcanoes national park is home to 10 habituated mountain gorilla families available for trekking every day. Also, gorilla hiking in volcanoes is less demanding compared to other gorilla habitats, which make it more interesting.

Read more about the reasons why you should visit this park.

Suggestions and trip ideas for your safari

There are other interesting hiking trails here. Before or after your visit to the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park;

  • A guided walk into the mountains can be good for acclimatisation. It also allows you to spend more time looking at the other wildlife in the forest and to gain a better understanding of the overall ecosystem.
  • One of the more popular routes is to the tomb of Dian Fossey and the Karisoke Research Centre she established, which takes a couple of hours of fairly steep walking.
  • Another beautiful option is a day hike to the crater lake on Mount Bisoke.
  • Several other primates have made Volcanoes National Park their home too and it’s possible to track two troops of habituated golden monkeys, a totally different experience to gorilla tracking. Golden monkeys tend to inhabit the bamboo forests on the lower slopes, so the walk to reach them is relatively easy. Again, once you find them, you’ll have just an hour in their presence. They’re fast-moving little creatures, and very entertaining as they constantly swing through the bamboo or chase each other in circles all around you. They’re also very pretty, with shiny reddish-gold backs that blend in perfectly with the golden bamboo.
  • A visit to one of the cultural centres in the area to gain an insight into local life and traditions is not only very interesting but also benefits the local communities and deters them from engaging in negative activities like poaching. Two very good examples are the SACOLA Cultural Centre, with excellent traditional Intore dancing, and Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, both near Kinigi.

Things To Do (Activities)

Gorilla Trekking: 

Mountain gorilla trekking is a squint wildlife experience in the Virunga; these vast animals weigh three times the weight as well as the average man. Mountain gorillas have no tails, shorter arms, and dense black hair than lowland cousins, Gorillas are visited on a daily basis than any other wild animal, and they are fascinating animals to the extent that some try to interact with their visitors, often approaching them and greeting them as they walk past.

It is very important for trackers to pack lunch, mineral water, and cameras are highly recommended for the trek. The hike usually takes one to four hours depending on which group you are tracking. Usually, visitors spend one hour with the gorillas and it is prohibited to smoke or eat in their presence.

Golden Monkey Tracking:

A beautiful Monkey with bright rufous-red on the back, cheek & tail, has black legs, crown and tip of the tail, pale patch around the nose and the mouth. Golden monkeys are widely spread in the forests of northwest Rwanda and southwest Uganda, these monkeys stay in the bamboo forest and they are naturally shy animals.

Birding (Watching birds):

Approximately 200 bird species have been recorded at Volcanoes National Park; among the great marvelous birds commonly seen are the dusky crimson wing, Ruwenzori turaco, strange weaver, ground robin, francolins, red-faced woodland warbler, Ruwenzori double collared sunbird, and the Archer’s ground robin.

Hiking:

Hiking the Volcanoes National Park is the best offer to assorted tourists, ascending the Karisimbi is a good activity for trekkers. Another alternative is to climb Mount Visoke to its remarkable crater lake.

Hiking to Diane Fossey, an American researcher who began her research in Kabara in Congo and later moved to Rwanda where she built her camp on the saddle between two Virunga volcanoes. Diane stayed with the Gorillas for 18 years in Rwanda; she was mentored and inspired by Louis Leakey and Jane Goodall respectively.

On this trek, tourists are able to see buffaloes, monkeys, and warthogs that live inside the forest, the trek usually takes three hours. Camp guides will show you around and traveler will be able to see Diane Fossey’s grave, the hut in which she lived for so many years as she did her research on mountain gorillas, and Digit’s grave, one of her favorite gorilla which was murdered by a poacher.

Mountain Hiking Adventures:

Hike Mount Bisoke that stands at 3,711m above sea level, which is topped by a beautiful crater lake, hiking Bisoke requires travelers who are physically fit due to the high advancement and length of the climb.

Hike Mount Karisimbi is the second highest peak in the Virunga ranges, which takes two days and one night. On the top of the volcano, travelers enjoy remarkable views of the other five volcanoes and the scenic twin lakes.

Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village:

Iby’iwac means treasure our home of home and heritage situated next to the car park at the trailhead of the Sabyinyo group ad group thirteen, the award-winning venture was founded in 2004. The village offers a busy agenda that lasts for about two hours. At the village, travelers experience amazing cultural dances, traditional meals, and drinks such as Banana beer and juice for those who may decide to have an overnight stay at the village.

Ngezi Lake Trail:

Ngezi is a scenic and shallow Crater Lake at the foot of Mount Bisoke in Volcanoes National park, the trail usually takes 4 hours to-and-fro accompanied by a park ranger, along the trail you can see various monkeys and birds.

This trail gives you the tang of the Virunga Volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park.

Plastic bags:

Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda, and visitors will be asked to dispose of them on arrival at the airport, including those carrying duty-free purchases. In supermarkets, brown paper bags are provided. Furthermore, the Ministry of Environment is pushing for measures that reduce single-use plastics including straws, water bottles, and cups.

Umuganda:

The morning of the last Saturday of every month is Umuganda or community service. This initiative was introduced by the Rwandan Government to get the entire population to devote time to their local community by cleaning the streets, cutting grass verges, repairing dirt roads, etc.. International visitors are not required to participate, but some tour operators are able to organize opportunities for tourists to participate in Umuganda. Please note that during these community service days, shops and public transport are closed during morning hours.  

Car Free Day:

Kigali has bimonthly car-free days. On the first and third Sundays of each month, long stretches of main roads are closed to allow cycling, jogging, and other sporting activities between 7 am – 11 am. Everyone is encouraged to participate, and a large open-air exercise class, which anyone can join, is also held. Although road closures may affect travelers coming in and out of Kigali, disruptions are minimal since local drivers usually know alternative routes. 

Gorilla Family In Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park has a total number of about 380 mountain gorillas and 10 habituated gorilla families which are for tourism intentions, a maximum of 8 people can visit each gorilla group per day spending a maximum of one hour each visit.

Susa (A Family)
Sabinyo
Amahoro
Agashya
Bwenge (13 Gorilla Group)

Susa Gorilla Group (Susa A Family)

This group was first studied by famous by the zoologist Diane Fossey on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi. It is comprised of 40 individuals with 3 silverbacks; the second largest group of mountain gorillas in the world. The group is the hardest to trek as it tends to span high in the mountains. Susa group is totally catchy, with gorillas genuinely tumbling the bush and Bamboo forest.

Dian Fossey’s research activities are one of the most preferred gorilla groups by visitors. The name “Susa” in Kinyarwanda was borrowed from the nearby Susa river. The gorilla group initially had 42 members before it broke into two because of a feud. This gorilla family tends to live high up in the mountains and hence the most difficult to track, sometimes taking a whole day.

Park rangers always know their location but on days when they wander too far away, tourists may not be allowed access to them. The famous playful young twins Byishimo and Impano make this gorilla group full of activity and exciting to watch. Then there are Poppy one of the oldest habituated gorillas. If you are adventurous and fit, this might just be the gorilla family for you.

Sabinyo Gorilla Group

This group lies on a gently forested area between Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabinyo, the group consists of 11 individuals and 2 silverbacks. The group is located on a flat to gently sloping, and the trek takes around 40minutes or less, generally the slopes aren’t too intimidating though very slippery after rain. The group is led by the largest and powerful silverback Guhonda and heaviest gorilla ever at 220kg.

Amahoro Gorilla Group

Amahoro which meaning peaceful, this group consists of 17 individuals and 1 silverback. The group was named after its peaceful silverback called Ubumwe.

Agashya Gorilla Group

This group had only 13 individuals with 1 silverback and 12 adult females, but today the group consists of 25 individuals. This group is the dearest to the guides because its silverback is more approachable than those in other groups.

This group was known as “Group 13” and led by Nyakarima before Agashya challenged him to a deadly fight after which he made off with the entire family up the volcano. This complete takeover was the first to be observed by gorilla researchers. After moving as far away as possible from Nyakarima, Agashya continued increasing his family number by stealing members from other groups and taking on loners.

The group leaves near the Sabyinyo gorilla group. Whenever he senses trouble for the group, Agashya gathers all members and flees to his favorite safety spot on top of the volcano. Because of this, the gorilla group can be difficult to track. The group has now grown from 13 to about 25 members.

Bwenge Family Group (13 Gorilla Group)

Bwenge means “wisdom”. Some of the gorilla group members featured in the drama “Gorillas in the Mist”. The group was formed in 2007 by Bwenge the dominant silverback after leaving his group of birth and being joined by female members from other families.

The family contains 11 individuals but reaching them is difficult as they live up a steep and sometimes muddy hill on the slopes of Karisoke Volcano.

Umubano
Hirwa
Kwitonda
Karisimbi (Susa B Family)
Ugenda

Umubano Gorilla Group

Umubano literally meaning live together, the group consists of 11 individuals and 1 silverback. This group was originally a member of the Amahoro group but split after Ubumwe and Charles fought, and later Charles grabbed a few females from Ubumwe and formed his own group.

Hirwa Gorilla Group

This was formed in 2006 by a silverback that had broken away from the Susa group; the group consists of 9 individuals i.e. 1silver back, 3 babies, 3 adult females, and 2 sub-adults females.

Kwitonda Gorilla Group

The group crossed into Uganda from DRC, due to the Congolese civil war, the group stayed in Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and late crossed to Volcanoes National Park. This group consists of 18 individuals led by 1 silverback called Kwitonda which literally means humble.

Karisimbi Gorilla Group (Susa B Family)

This group consists of 15 individuals, the group split from the Susa group because they used to stay in the same region on Mount Karisimbi.

Ugenda Gorilla Family

The Ugenda group lives around the Karisimbi area and contains 11 members including 2 silverbacks. Ugenda means “being on the move” in Kinyarwanda and was used in reference to the roving nature of the group. Because of their wandering habit, tracking them can be very difficult on some days.

Gorilla Trekking
Gorilla Trekking Rules
What To Carry For Trekking

Gorilla Trekking

Volcanoes National Park is the Rwandan section of the great volcanic massif called the Virunga Mountains that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the DRC. The massif covers a huge area of over 8,000km², encompassing six active and three extinct volcanoes. Gorillas, of course, pay no heed to borders and are known to cross between the countries, although most habituated groups are to be found in Volcanoes National Park. The massif is home to around half of the world’s precious mountain gorillas – some 400 of them – making Rwanda probably the best place in Africa for a tracking safari.

Volcanoes National Park also has a historic connection with gorilla conservation. It was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey which started in the late 1960s and is evocatively portrayed in the book and film Gorillas in the Mist.

Gorilla Trekking Rules:

Each of the mountain gorilla family is tracked by strictly a group of 8 tourists in a day which means 88 mountain gorilla tracking permits are available every day.
Currently, Rwanda is the number one and most preferred mountain gorilla-tracking destination.

In order to ensure the wellbeing of the mountain gorillas and the tourists, the Rwanda development board put up mountain gorilla tracking rules and guidelines that should be followed and observed by tourists so that they enjoy the exclusive mountain gorilla safaris to the fullest and they include the following

Before The Mountain Gorilla Trekking

  1. Always follow the guide’s instruction because the guides navigate the national park every day and therefore are aware of and understand every part of the forest.
  2. Always keep in the tourist tracking groups especially while in the forest to avoid getting lost.
  3. Avoid making a lot of noise as it can distract the mountain gorilla and other wildlife species in the forest.
  4. Avoid littering any rubbish in the national park.
  5. Do not go for tracking when sick.

During The Mountain Gorilla Trekking

  1. Always keeping a reasonable distance away from the mountain gorillas at least 7 meters.
  2. Not using flash photography while taking photos of the mountain gorillas as it may irritate them.
  3. Minimizing noise until you are at least about 200 meters from the gorillas.
  4. Avoid eating in the presence of the mountain gorillas.
  5. Do not touch the mountain gorillas. When they come towards your way, just remain where you are and avoid direct eye contact with the gorillas.
  6. Do not imitate the mountain gorilla behavior like beating the chest because it might send the wrong message to the mountain gorillas.
  7. Follow your tour guide through the gorilla tracking trails and stick to the group for both your safety, but also so that you can listen to him explain the attractions seen along the way to the mountain gorillas.
  8. DO NOT LITTER! Like in any national park or protected area, you are advised to keep any form of rubbish or garbage on you. If you have a backpack, please put all trash into it, and you can always empty it at a designated point when you return to the briefing point — this a fragile ecotourism site that needs to be kept free of any form of litter.
  9. Should you want to use the toilet, please speak to your guide to advise you accordingly on how to do it ecologically.

Tourists are allowed to be in the presence of the mountain gorillas for strictly one hour, which is intended to minimize the chances of disease, spread from the humans to mountain gorillas. There are high chances of disease spread from humans to the gorillas because about 98%of their DNA is similar to humans.

If the above are observed and well followed by tourists, you can enjoy exclusive and once in a lifetime experiences. Tourists heading for tracking should carry enough drinking water because the hike through the forest is a little strenuous causing a lot of sweat and it is, therefore, wise to keep hydrating (drinking water).

Tourists are also recommended to wear long sleeved shirts and long pants because mountain gorilla tracking is done in the forest with a lot of plant vegetation some of which cause skin irritation when in contact.

Carrying a raincoat or waterproof pant can never be a bad idea because rainfall in volcanoes national park Is highly unpredictable and can therefore occur at any time of the day.

What To Carry For Gorilla Trekking:

  • Trekking boots; should be fitting and above the ankles to protect you from any bush thickets that might pierce you. These will also enable you to navigate over the slippery surfaces with ease.
  • Long-sleeved shirts; these should be simple and smooth as well as covering to protect you from thorns that might pierce you when you touch the branches.
  • A rain Jacket; this will shield/ protect you from rainfall that usually falls almost anytime.
  • Long pants/ trousers; these should not be jeans to enable you to trail through the various paths with ease. In case of any rainfall, these dry up more easily compared to jeans.
  • Gardening woolen gloves; these should be covering, soft, and warm to give you comfort while tracking the primates.
  • A sweater; to warm you up in the evenings.
  • A hat/ cap; to cover and hinder you from the rain.
  • A camera with no flash; this will enable you to take clear photos of the primates for flashes make them uncomfortable hence provoking them.
  • Water backpack bag; this will keep your water for drinking all the time.
  • Woolen socks to wear in the shoes to keep you warm.

Photos