Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) Rwanda

volcanoes national park

Volcanoes National Park is the prime tourist destination of Rwanda which is famous for the Mountain Gorillas and the magnificent Virunga Mountains.

Located in the northern district of Musanze, Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) is the oldest park in Africa established in 1925. The park covers Rwanda’s part of the incredible Virunga massif which spans into the neighboring countries including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It is thus contiguous with parks Virunga of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda.

Volcanoes National Park is a hotbed of biodiversity, protecting an array of wildlife a lot of which is unique to the park and the region. The park altitude ranges from 2400m to 4507m the peak of mountain Karisimbi. Rising through the different zones of habitats, a lot of plant and wildlife is met. The Bamboo Zone (2400m – 2800m) has most of the animals such as the Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, Bushbuck, Forest Elephants, Duikers, Spotted Hyenas, Buffaloes, Giant Forest Hog, Bushpig. Advancing through the other zones – Hagenia Hyepericum, Sub-Alpine and Alpine, less animals and birds are encountered but rare plants are found such as the endemic Giant Lobelia and Groundsel.

Key attractions in and near Volcanoes National Park

Volcano Mountains

virunga volcanoes

Volcanoes National Park covers 5 of the 8 main volcanoes in the Virunga Mountain range chain. Muhavura and Gahinga are shared on the Uganda border, Sabinyo stands at the meeting point of all three countries (Rwanda, Uganda, DR Congo), and Bisoke and Karisimbi are shared on the DR Congo border. The Volcanoes are covered with lush mountain vegetation which harbors plenty of life including Mountains Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, Forest Elephants, Buffaloes, several endemic birds, rare plants and orchids.

The volcanoes are wonderful for hiking adventures that will treat you to breathtaking scenery, encounter with plenty of wildlife and sights of enormous crater lakes. The most popular Volcano hike is the Mt. Bisoke Crater Lake Hike (3711m), which is a one day hike just like Mgahinga and Mhavura. Mt. Karisimbi which is the highest of the Volcanoes (4507m) and 11th in Africa requires a 2 day hike. Karisimbi receives snow during June, July and August. Only Mt. Sabinyo is unavailable for hiking due to many craters which render it dangerous. There is however a hiking trail from the Ugandan side.

Mountain Gorillas

The Mountain Gorillas are the prime attractions of Volcanoes National Park. The park has a third of the roughly 800 Mountains Gorillas remaining in the world. 10 groups of Mountain Gorillas have been habituated for the famous Gorilla tracking experience in Rwanda.

Dian Fossey Tomb Trail

Dian Fossey is famous primatologist and research that dedicated her life to the conservation of the Mountains Gorillas and these endangered species survived because of her works. During her work she faced obstacles that ultimately brought about her death. She was buried near to the Gorillas at her research center located in the park. A trail to her tomb is 1 and 45 minutes hike from the base of Mt. Bisoke. Though challenging, the hike offers a wonderful nature encounter including orchids, birds, and occasional mountain Gorillas.

Golden Monkeys

Golden Monkeys are striking primates and are unique to the Virunga massif. They inhabit the lower zones of the mountains where mostly bamboo vegetation occurs. Two large troops with over 100 individuals each have been habituated for Golden Monkey tracking in Rwanda. This adventure is a great add on to any activity in Volcanoes National Park especially because it is an easy trek and also there is no restriction on age and number of travelers. For photographers, these monkeys are incredibly beautiful and photogenic, and they love flash!

Communities (Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village)

The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village located in Kinigi near the park offices is an organization consisting of locals from near the park, many of whom are former poachers in the park. The cultural village offers an opportunity to visitors to experience Rwanda’s traditional way of life. Activities that you join in with the community include Grinding millet and Sorghum on a local grinding stone which is then mingled to make food, cycle on a wooden bicycle, shoot arrows with the Batwa people who not long ago were inhabitants of the forests in the park and leaved a life of hunting and gathering, listen to village elders explain their traditions and practices and so much more. You shall also be treated to a traditional dance performance by the Intore dancers

Birdlife

With more than 200 species of birds Volcanoes National Park is recognized as one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) of Rwanda. The mountain forests and lakes near the park harbor a number of Albertine Rift endemics and several beautiful species. Some of the key species include the Grauer’s Swamp-warbler.

Twin Lakes – Burera and Ruhondo

The Twin Lakes Burera and Ruhondo are located near the foothills of Mt. Muhavura, near the Rwanda border with Uganda. Often bypassed by most travelers heading to Volcanoes National Park, the lakes a wonderful to stopover at a viewpoint to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the lake and striking backdrop of the volcanoes. Travelers can also adventure on the lakes by taking a canoe ride and visiting some of the islands on the lakes, enjoy the mountain scenery and spot wildlife such as birds. Travelers can also go fishing on the lakes with the local fishermen using the traditional fishing methods.

Caves

The caves stretching over 10km were formed millions of years ago by lava flow from the Volcanic eruptions. There are over 52 caves in the Northern Province with 15.2k of cave passages. Musanze Cave (2km long) is the most popular for the caving adventures.

Accessing the park

The park is located in the Northern Province, Musanze District. It is easily accessible by road from Kigali the Capital City and International Airport with two and half hours of drive on a well paved (tarmac) road. Air transport is also available by way of Helicopter from the Airport to Musanze which takes less than 30 minutes flight and exposes to remarkable aerial views of the lush rolling hills and Virunga mountain chain.

Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park

Budget: Kinigi Guest House

Moderate: Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge

Luxury: Sabinyo Silverback Lodge, Virunga Lodge

Top Tours of Volcanoes National Park

2 Days Gorilla Tracking

2 Days Bisoke Crater Lake Hike

3 Days Gorillas and Golden Monkeys

4 Days Volcanoes National Park Adventure

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