Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park also known as Parc National des Volcans is located in North-west Rwanda and is famously known as the home to the endangered Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda. The diverse national park covers an area of 160 square kilometers and borders Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla national park in Uganda. The park also protects part of the Virunga ranges that are shared by three countries and on a clear day you can see the mountain peaks from the Kinigi park headquarters.
Volcanoes national park has a rich and diverse ecosystem and is the best place to do the Mountain Gorilla Trek in Rwanda. Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is arguably the most popular tourist activity at the park and second to that is the golden monkey trekking adventure that brings one closer to the active golden monkeys, an Albertine Rift endemic primate specie. In addition to being the base for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Volcanoes national park is a historical landmark of Rwanda as it hosts the Dian Fossey Tomb. Dian Fossey was a primatologist who is recognized internationally for the ground breaking work she did towards the conservation of the gorillas in Volcanoes National park and is commended for saving the gorillas from extinction. The park was the very first national park to be created in Africa.
Wildlife in Volcanoes National Park
The most sought after wildlife species in Volcanoes national park are the mountain gorillas and the golden monkeys. Visitors to the park usually combine gorilla trekking and golden monkey trekking while on their Rwanda Safari. Other wildlife that is resident to the park include forest elephants, buffalo, spotted hyena, giant forest hog, bush buck, bush pig, black-fronted duiker and other small predators. The other wildlife species are rare sightings and often not observed while in the park.
Below is more information about the two most popular wildlife species in the park;
Mountain Gorillas live in groups of 6-20 individuals that are led by a dominant adult male known as the Silver back, the silver back is generally larger in size and has silver grey hair on its back. Gorilla’s main diet consists of herbaceous vegetation and fruits that’s why while on a gorilla trek in Rwanda one will often see the gorillas feeding on fruits and green leaves.Gorillas move within the forest in search of food to eat and feed their infants. The movement is determined by the location of the mountain gorilla groups, mountain gorilla groups living in lower altitude areas in Volcanoes national park move less as they tend to have an abundance of fruits and herbaceous vegetation. However mountain gorillas in high altitude locations have to move more and longer distances in search of food to eat so as one treks depending on the gorilla family you visit, you will notice movement depending on where the gorillas nested the previous night. Volcanoes national park is home to about 400 mountain gorillas which make up a third of the world’s remaining gorilla population of 1000 individuals.
Golden monkeys are primate species with golden fur on their backs and a fascinating face. Golden monkeys exist in groups of up to 30 individuals and there are 2 habituated troops of golden monkeys in Volcanoes national park. One group is in the bamboo forest of Mt. Sabyinyo and the other group is on the slopes of Mt. Karisimbi which are both part of the Virunga Mountain Ranges. Both groups are open to visitors and available to visit in accordance to the park guide lines. Golden monkeys are endangered mammals and have been listed as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. Volcanoes national park has recorded increase in the population of the golden monkeys with a total of about 4,620 individuals.
Birds of Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
The national park boasts of 180 species of birds 17 of which are Albertine rift endemics making it rich in avifauna. Volcanoes national park is also an Important Bird Area (IBA) that has been explored by several ornithologists and is worth adding as a destination while on a Rwanda Birding Safari. A birding safari to Volcanoes national park involves birding in Musanze, Buhanga forest, Rugezi swamp (IBA) which hosts the Grauer’s Rush Warbler and birding in the park’s forest habitats. Birds to look out for include Rwenzori Turaco, Collared Apalis, Red-faced Woodland Warbler, Archer’s Ground Robin, Handsome Francolin, Dusky Crimson Wing, Strange weavers, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Kivu Ground Thrush, African Green Broadbill, Lagden’s Bushshrike, Rwenzori Hill babbler, Rwenzori double collared Sunbird, Masked Mountain Apalis, Rwenzori Batis, Scarlet-chested Sunbirds. White-tailed Blue-Flycatchers, Red-billed Fire-finches, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eaters, White-browed Robin-chat, Spotted Eagle-owl, Spot-flanked barbets, Double-toothed barbet, Gabar Goshawk, European Honey-buzzard and Grey woodpeckers among others.
Vegetation and Altitude of Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes national park is at an altitude of around 1,600m to an altitude of 4,500m at Virunga ranges. The park has several vegetation types that vary in line with the altitude. At lower elevations (2,400m-2,500m) there is montane forest, as you go higher (2,500m-3,200m) you find a zone of bamboo and at 4,000m there is afro-alpine vegetation that consists of thicket grassland and heath. The park has other vegetation types that include herbaceous climbers, montane bogs, evergreen bushland, and giant lobelias. All the vegetation types make up the greater eco-system of Volcanoes national park and provide habitats for the wildlife in the park.
Things to do in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is a prime tourist activity that starts at Kinigi Park headquarters. The gorilla trek takes you in to the forest as you anticipate meeting the endangered species. The gorilla trek starts with a briefing from your ranger guide at the park headquarters after which you are transferred to the starting point of your gorilla trek. There are 12 habituated groups of gorillas and only 8 visitors are allowed to visit a gorilla family per day. Once the gorillas are located you are allowed to spend only one hour with them and during this time you can capture your best shot of these endangered species as you watch them in their natural habitat.
Golden Monkey Tracking
The golden monkey trekking in Volcanoes national park is a great way to experience the primates of this park aside from the mountain gorilla trek. The golden monkey trek activity can be added to your safari itinerary in addition to the mountain gorilla trek. The golden monkeys are active monkeys and a beautiful sight to see as they hop around in the forest and feed on bamboo shoots. The golden monkeys offer great photo moments and a unique experience with these primates. Visitors are allowed to spend one hour with them.
Visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village
The Iby’Iwacu cultural visit is a great way to experience the way of the life of the Rwandans as you get a look in to their culture, traditions and norms. The cultural visit can be done after your gorilla trek depending on what time you return. While at the cultural village you will visit the traditional medicine man, a craft center and even be treated to the unique Rwanda traditional dances which you are free to join in.
Diana Fossey Tomb Hike
The Diana Fossey hike is one of the activities around park and the 4 hour hike takes you to where she was buried. Diana Fossey was a researcher who spent a great deal of her life time researching the mountain gorillas and pushing for the conservation and protection of the gorillas.
For travelers looking for adventure, Volcanoes national park offers hiking opportunities with beautiful views. Visitors can choose among 4 main peaks out of the 5 Virunga mountain ranges to hike. The most popular is the Mt. Bisoke hike which can be done in one day; the hike offers breath-taking views of the Crater Lake at the top of Mt.Bisoke. The other volcanoes to hike include Mt.Karisimbi which is a 2 day hike, Mt.Muhavura and Mt.Gahinga.
Bird watching in Volcanoes national park
Bird watching in the park is done with site guides who are well versed with the birds of the area. Birdwatchers have an opportunity to enjoy a great time birding in Rwanda as they explore the different birding hot spot in and around the park that are home to Albertine Rift endemics and forest specials.
Twin Lakes Visit
The visit to Rwanda’s twin lakes is a short yet rewarding trip that takes one to Lake Ruhonda and Lake Burera. The twin lakes offer you breath-taking views from the top and a glimpse in to the beautiful landscape of Rwanda. While here you can capture some great photos!
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
The park has different accommodation options that one can stay at while on their gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda. The accommodation options range from Luxury to mid-range to budget. These include;
Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel – Five Volcanoes is an upmarket lodge facility located in Musanze that features en-suite rooms with clean linen and a cozy interior suitable for a guest to Volcanoes national park. The lodge also features an upstairs restaurant with a stunning view of the Virunga Mountains, a perfect place for a hot lunch after your gorilla trek.
Gorilla Solutions Lodge – This is a mid-range lodge also situated in Musanze and is a few minutes’ walk to the Kinigi park headquarters. The lodge offers amnesties and is a good option for the midrange traveller as it offers a mix of comfort and affordability. The lodge has single rooms, double rooms, twin rooms and a family cottage to cater for families travelling together.
Garden Place Hotel – Garden Place hotel is a budget accommodation located next to the park. The budget hotel features comfortable rooms that have a warm bed, a table, TV and towels. The hotel has a very good and delicious buffet breakfast for its visitors. The hotel works well as a budget option as it is near Volcanoes national park and offers comfortable service for the guest.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
Visitors are welcome to Volcanoes national park throughout the year however the best time to visit the park is during the dry months of the year in Rwanda. The dry months are June, July, August, mid-September, December, January and February, during this time trekking is much easier as the ground is dry and less rains.
The wet months are April, May, October, and November. During this time it is rainy season in Rwanda making the ground wet and slippery however gorilla and golden monkey trekking can still be done during these months, you just have to prepare for a slippery trek.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
The park can be accessed from Kigali by road and the distance from Kigali to the park is 96km.The journey is along a paved road and is just two and a half hours away from Kigali when using a private car. The route is Kigali – Rubavu – Musanze – Kinigi Park headquarters. The drive is a scenic and offers stunning views of the panoramic landscape of Rwanda, tea plantations and the small busy towns along the way that are usually filled with locals busy with the day’s activities.
Volcanoes national park can also be accessed via Uganda. The connection is along a paved road from Kisoro in Uganda crossing at the Cyanika border post and then continuing to Musanze town at the foothills of Volcanoes national park. The distance between Kisoro and Musanze is 40km. The park can also be accessed by taking a flight from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes national park with Akagera Aviation which arranges charter helicopters to the park.
Tours to Volcanoes National Park