VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK, RWANDA
About the attractions in the Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda is best known for mountain gorilla trekking but the park is also rich with many other exotic activities for one to take on. 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. Because of the high altitude it is generally cold, especially early morning and the evenings, you are advised to carry a light sweater for these times. The park is located only 2 hours from Kigali in the north of Rwanda.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
Depending on what your travel interests are, this park is notably an all year round safari destination. Before embarking on actual trip to this park, you need to take note of both the dry and wet season. The dry/sunny season is always regarded as perfect for visitors to explore about the park and this starts from June to September and then the second one starts from December to February and this is usually a short dry season. This season is advantageous in that the habitat remains relatively dry thus making it easier for one to trek through the thick jungles especially while on gorilla trek.
However, given the nature of this park, you have to expect rains at anytime of the day and this means that you have to pack appropriately and don’t forget your rain jacket and waterproof hiking boots. Other key items that you should include in your packing list are gardening gloves, insect repellent, first aid kit, long sleeved shirt or T-shirt, camera, sunscreen and many more.
During the dry season, temperatures range from 25 to 27 degrees Celsius and at night, they range from 14-15 degrees Celsius. The wet/rainy season starts from March to May and this is usually the longest wet season and the short one begins from October to November. While most travelers are left to think that this season is unfavorable, in reality it is one of the best in one way or another a fact that it is season when there is plenty of forage for wildlife species to depend on and this makes it easier for visitors to spot them at the park compared to the dry season when there is food scarcity and they are forced to move to far distances in search of what to eat.
Getting to Volcanoes National Park
This park is situated within Musanze village formerly called Ruhengeri and can be reached by public means of transport or organize your vacation with one of the recognized tour operators.
Visitors can set off from Gisenyi or Kigali capital or from the Kigali Airport. It is 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali to Kinigi which is the park’s headquarters. Due to its close proximity to capital city, it is undeniably the most accessible gorilla safari destination.
What to do while on tour in Volcanoes National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking
Ranked one of the most sought after adventures, gorilla tracking in Rwanda is only conducted in Volcanoes National Park. This lifetime experience starts at Kinigi park headquarters early in the morning with briefing from one of the park officials who takes you through dos and don’ts to be observed while in the jungles. Like other gorilla destinations, only 8 visitors are allowed to track one of the 10 habituated groups in this park.
After briefing and assigning you a gorilla family to track, you will be accompanied by well trained and experienced guides and trackers who will take you through the entire tracking exercise. The habituated groups for visitor experiences while on safari in this park include the Susa A and B group, Sabinyo, Kwitonda, Agashya, Ugenda, Bwenge, Amahoro, Umubano and Hirwa. Each of these gorilla families have different stories that are worth sharing with visitors and so reward travel endeavors with unique experiences.
A trek to see a group of Great Apes in the wild at this park involves hiking through the thick vegetation, steep slopes and it lasts for about 1-8 hours but this depends on your hiking speed, location of gorilla family assigned to you, nature of the habitat and others. This also requires you to ensure that you have packed appropriately and among other key items that shouldn’t miss in your packing list include waterproof hiking boots, bottle of water, energy giving snacks, long sleeved shirts, hiking stick-you can find one at the park headquarters, first aid kit, insect repellent a mention but a few.
To be part of this captivating experience, you need $1500 to secure your permit in Rwanda and you can book one through ground tour operator or through Rwanda Development Board. Note that, the demand for these permits is high and you need to make your booking as early as possible to avoid disappointments. Up on getting your gorilla family, you will have an hour of magical encounter with its members, take photos as many as you can, explore their behavior and body gestures most of which will be explained and interpreted to you by the guide.
Golden monkey trekking
This is undoubtedly the second exciting and lovely primate adventure this park has in offer for world’s primate enthusiasts on safari in Africa. It offers tourists opportunity to strike their imaginations with the striking golden monkeys while in their habitat. For this amazing experience, two families have been habituated and tracked each day in Volcanoes National Park.
These endangered primates live mostly within the bamboo vegetation. Permits for this adventure costs $100 per visitor. Unlike mountain gorillas, golden monkeys are very shy and one needs to be very sharp while taking photos as they can jump from one tree to another. But this behavior has been reduced a fact that they have been habituated.
With over 200 bird species that thrive at this park, bird lovers on safari in Rwanda don’t have to be worried about which tourist site to visit to spot out the most amazing avian species. 13 and 16 of these species are a sub species that are restricted to only the Virunga and Rwenzori Mountain range making this park a few rare destinations any bird enthusiast should pay a visit to while on safari in Rwanda.
While on birding tour at this park, the notable birds for you to spot out include dusky crimson wing, archer’s ground robin, Rwenzori Turaco, Francolins, red faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori batis, collared apalis, strange weaver a mention but a few. If you are interested in this amazing experience, don’t forget your binoculars, camera and notebook or even guide book.
Mountain Climbing / Hiking
Besides primate adventures and bird watching, Volcanoes National Park is also ideal for mountain climbing a fact that it offers refuge to five of the eight Great Virunga Mountains. For life changing mountain climbing or hiking adventures at this park, the notable volcanoes that you shouldn’t miss to hike through include Karisimbi Volcano which stretches for about 4507 meters and features as the highest of all the volcanoes that make up the Great Virunga Massif and in Africa, it is the sixth.
Hiking through this mountain is remarkable a fact that it rewards you with spectacular views. Bisoke Mountain is another lovely place that you need not to miss to explore while on hiking tour in Rwanda. It is perfect for those of who are looking for easy to hike mountains. This volcano stands at altitude of about 3711 meters and a day is enough for you to realize your dreams. It rewards hikers with dramatic views of the surrounding areas including Ngezi Crater Lake.
Buhanga Sacred Forest Nature Walks
Just outside Volcanoes National Park lies Buhanga Sacred Forest. If you are a nature lover, count it a must to visit for rewarding nature walking experience. While on nature walk, expect not just to explore its floral species but also more about its cultural and historical significance. You will be told lots of stories including that about the monarchical king who used to bath in this forest prior assuming his kingship that made it to be called a sacred forest. Locals on other hand believe that this forest keeps changing colors depending on the season.
Musanze Cave Exploration
For cultural enthusiasts, don’t miss to pay a visit to explore the remarkable historical and cultural caves. They date 65 million years ago and have 31 entrances and cover a distance of 2 kilometers. The hike through these caves lasts for 2 hours and you need $50 for you to be part of this experience. Historically, they played a significant role a fact that they offered refuge to the Rwanda’s Royals at a time of war and served as a store for supplies. Equally, most people also hid in these caves at the time of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Dian Fossey Tomb Hike
A hike to Dian Fossey grave is a great opportunity for you to learn more about one of the world’s prominent primatologists-Dian Fossey. She played a significant role towards Great Apes’ protection and conservation that today, the world boasts of their existence in the wild. She set up Karisoke research center to aid her research and conservation work in Volcanoes National Park and initiated the Digit Fund which after the death of her beloved silverback-Digit. The Digit fund later became Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International which continued with Dian Fossey’s work. She was mysteriously murdered in 1985 and she was buried within Karisoke Research center and next to Digit. Hiking to this site is a remarkable experience and one way in which visitors can learn more about her significant conservation work. To be part of this life changing adventure, you need $75.
Where to spend a night while on safari in Volcanoes National Park
Like any safari destination, visitor experience can only be complete when there are accommodation facilities and the available options in this protected area range from luxury to budget. If you are interested in luxurious accommodation, the available options include Mount Gorilla View Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge; midrange accommodation facilities at this park include Hotel La Palme and for budget travelers, you can make your choice between Muhabura Hotel and Kinigi Guesthouse.
In conclusion, Volcanoes National Park has a wide range of tourist attractions and activities for visitors on safari in Rwanda to enjoy. Amazingly, it is one of the 4 parks in the world where the rare mountain gorillas live in the wild