Volcanoes National Parks

Volcanoes National Park, also known as Parc National des Volcans in French and Pariki y’lgihugu y’ibirunga in native Kinyarwanda, the park is found on the north-western province of Rwanda in a small town known as Musanze. This park is apparently the oldest national park in the entire African continent and harbors the endangered Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda that are always available for gorilla safari tours for those who would love to carry out gorilla tracking in Rwanda.

Volcanoes National Park borders Virunga National Park in DRC and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in south-western Uganda. Besides its huge population of Mountain Gorillas, this park also harbors the endangered Golden Monkeys, a primate species that apparently offers the best diverse tourism activity within the national park.

Volcanoes National Park is best known for mountain gorilla trekking but the park is also rich with many other exotic activities for Africa safaris and wildlife safaris. The park is part of the Virunga volcanoes which are shared between Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, the park is an evergreen bamboo forest with grassland areas, swamps, and health in other areas.

The park also shelters five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains which are; Mount Karisimbi, Mount Bisoke, Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga and Mount Sabyinyo covering over 160 square kilometers of the rain forest and bamboo, this park also acted as a base for America zoologist Dian Fossey’s- A lady who turned out to be so passionate about Gorilla conservation that her works still live on till today.

The prime attraction of the park are the endangered mountain gorilla with a lot other mammals that also inhabit its plains. Some of these mammals include: golden monkeys, buffaloes, black-fronted duiker, hyenas then bushbucks. A few reports also clam that a small number of elephants can be found at the park but on very rare occasions. The bird life spans of over 178 bird species, with about 12 of the main species and 15 of the subspecies being endemic to the Virunga conservation area and the great Ruwenzori Mountains. Several activities are run by the Rwanda Development Board for tourists on a Rwanda safari tour with the main one being gorilla trekking. Other activities however include Golden Monkey tracking, twin lakes visit, mountaineering, visiting Dian Fossey’s tomb, touring Iby’Iwacu cultural village plus a few community visits.

Gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park

There are several gorilla families in volcanoes national park, with some habituated for gorilla safari tour and others for research, whereas others are not habituated. To track gorillas, you need to purchase a gorilla permit through your tour operator with specific dates before embarking on this fulfilling bucket Rwanda safari experience. Each gorilla group is given a name depending on different circumstances and is lead by a silverback. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback, he must ‘steal’ some females from an existing group in order to form his own family.

Amahoro gorilla group – Amahoro means “peaceful” and is led by the calm Ubumwe. The group mainly resides uphill which requires you to endure a steep climb to eventually come into its territory but as always, the climb is worth it.

Hirwa gorilla group emerged from different existing gorilla families including Group 13, Susa and Sabyinyo. Munyinya the silverback after leaving Susa with 2 females got others along the way and eventually formed a group.

Sabyinyo gorilla group is lead by Guhonda, named after one of the volcanoes – Mt Sabyinyo. The members within this family are generally fewer but is an impressive family. This group is closest to the park headquarters, if you are weary of tracking long distances; this is the group to request if available.

Kwitonda gorilla group is led by silverback Kwitonda and the name is translated “humble one”. This gorilla group migrated from Democratic Republic of Congo and settled ‘permanently’ in Rwanda. It is moderately difficult to trek because it ranges far in the upper slopes of Mt Muhabura.

Group 13 / Agashya gorilla group had only 13 members during habituation hence its name. Currently it has a membership of approximately 25 members and is led by silverback Agashya which explains the name change.

Umubano gorilla group is led by silverback Charles who broke off from Amahoro gorilla group with some females to form Umubano. The name Umubano is translated ‘living together’.

Ugenda gorilla group was named after its unique behavior of roaming from place to place around the Karisimbi area, come ready to hike this volcano as you follow this gorilla group.

Susa (A) gorilla group is the largest gorilla group in the park with 41 gorillas and is the group which was studied by Dian Fossey. The group is known for having the rare twins named Byishimo and Impano. This family ranges in the high mountains making it difficult to trek, but rewards you with its size on sighting it.

Karisimbi / Susa – B gorilla group split from the original Susa (A) group and has 2 silverbacks. This group is one of the hardest to trek, residing on the upper slopes of Mt Karisimbi. It is best for seasoned hikers who enjoy the hiking experience as much as sighting the gorillas.

Titus gorilla group was named after silverback Titus which was born during the days of Dian Fossey’ research at Karisoke.

Bwenge gorilla group was formed by silverback Bwenge after breaking away with females from other groups. Bwenge is translated ‘Wisdom’. The group occupies mainly the slopes between Karisimbi and Bisoke mountains.

Gorilla trekking guidelines

  • Visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7 m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, please do not visit the gorillas.
  • Should you need to cough, cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
  • Viewing time is limited to one hour,
  • Maximum 8 visitors per day per group. When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.
  • Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
  • If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla, and follow your guide’s directions.
  • Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited
  • Do not litter.
  • Do not eat, drink or smoke in the presence of gorillas
  • What to bring for a gorilla trekking safari
  • Wear trousers and long sleeved shirts
  • Sun hut
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Rain jacket
  • Waterproof hiking boots

Wildlife in Volcanoes national park

The most famous inhabitants of volcanoes national park to view on any Africa safari tour are the mountain gorillas. They have successfully placed volcanoes national park and the country at large on the world map, thanks to the work of Dian Fossey and the movie “Gorilla in the Mist”. The park also hosts the beautiful, rare and endangered golden monkeys only found in the Virunga region. Other animals found in the forest include, Forest elephants, buffaloes, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, duikers, spotted hyenas, bush-bucks and several primates.

Birds of Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes national park is home to over 200 bird species with a number of Albertine rift endemics for bird watching safaris. 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.

Golden monkey trekking safaris in Volcanoes national park

Golden monkey trekking takes place in Volcanoes national park once a day in the early morning much like gorilla trekking. You are expected to arrive at the briefing place at the pack headquarters as early as 7 am for briefing about how to behave and relate with these creatures in the wild. You will then be divided into two groups if you are many and start your trek led by the experienced and jolly ranger guides.

Volcanoes national park currently has two habituated troops that are open for Rwanda safari tours. The total number of individuals from both is 80 habituated for Africa tours. Golden monkeys live mostly in the bamboo vegetation because of their lover for bamboo shoots and unlike the mountain gorillas, they are active, which makes the trekking very engaging and interesting but can be difficult. You will be following after them as they hope from one area to another looking for food and therefore you need to be fit.

Mountain hiking in Volcanoes national park

Hiking Mt Bisoke

Mount Bisoke has a remarkable crater lake at the top, which makes hiking this volcano a rewarding adventure and marvelous experienced African safari. The hike takes about 6 hours which includes the time spent descending back down, Just like all activities, hikers meet at the headquarter offices where they listen to a briefing and start the hike with the assigned ranger guide. Your ranger guide is knowledgeable and ready to share the mountain adventures with you. You have access to porters who will help with your luggage at a minimal fee; this is for your own freedom in enjoying the hike but also provides employment to the porters.

Hike Mt Karisimbi

Mt Karisimbi is the highest of the Virunga volcanoes at 4507m above sea level and fifth highest in Africa. It is along the Rwanda and DR Congo border on the western rift valley. It derives its name from ‘amasimbi’ which means “white shell” in Kinyarwanda because of the white-capped summit a result of hail and sleet accumulating. The Karisimbi hike is strenuous but rewarding taking two days for the total journey starting through Bisoke. You have chances of sighting birds, several primates including gorillas on rare occasions and remarkable scenery.

Musanze Caves

Musanze caves are due to volcanic eruption, which formed an underground space large enough for humans to enter. They are two Kilometers long with walkways and stairs that take you to the dark interior of the caves. This activity can be done after your morning gorilla tracking on your Rwanda Gorilla safari.

Dian Fossey tomb tour in Volcanoes national park

Trekking to the Dian Fossey tomb gives you an insight in the life of Dian Fossey and gorilla conservation in the Virunga region. You will learn more about her interest in the gorillas and how over the years gorilla conservation picked on which later led to gorilla tour safaris. Part of the distance, you travel in car until you reach the start of the trail head where you trek for unpredicted time. You have chances of sighting some forest animals like the elephants, buffaloes, forest hogs, and several bird species.

You arrive at Dian Fossey house where she was mysteriously murdered in 1985 and later buried next to Digit her favorite gorilla friend. The gorilla grave yard has about 20 gorillas buried here that were killed either by poachers or by natural causes.

Cultural tours near Volcanoes national park

Iby’Iwacu cultural village tour

Iby’Iwacu cultural village this is an initiative for local people who were formerly involved in poaching of gorillas and are now on the conservation road. Edwin Sabuhoro started the village when he worked as a warden at Volcanoes national park with a desire to transform the then notorious poachers into conservationists. Your visit to this village will continue to expound on conservation efforts and provide a livelihood for many of the community members.

Enjoy an African safari in Rwanda with an experience of the village by taking part in the activities like be crowned a king, or queen for the day in African royalty, learn about the local peoples traditional lifestyles and enjoy the music and dance.

Safari lodges and camps around Volcanoes national park

The places to stay near volcanoes national park range from luxury, mid range to basic establishments. Depending on your interests, most establishments are found in Kinigi, Musanze and some are far from the park headquarters. Listed below are some of the accommodations

  • Virunga lodge
  • Sabyinyo silverback lodge
  • Gorilla volcanoes lodge
  • Le bambou gorilla lodge
  • Mountain gorilla view lodge
  • Le palme hotel
  • Kinigi guesthouse
  • Muhabura hotel
  • Grace place hotel

Access to Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes national park is a 2-3 hours drive from Kigali. It is almost 40 minutes from Uganda border of Cyanika in Kisoro. You can also contract the services of Akagera Aviation to fly by helicopter.