Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

volcanoes national park

Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) is Rwanda’s most popular national park, mostly known for the famous gorilla trekking in Rwanda. The park is situated in the north of Rwanda in Musanze District, about 96km from Kigali the capital city of Rwanda and can be reached within 2 hours drive on a good paved road.

Historically Volcanoes National Park was part of the first park to be established in Africa in 1925 which covered Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

virunga volcanoes

Volcanoes National Park protects a part of the magnificent Virunga Mountains range which is a chain of 8 volcanoes which are spread along the borders of three neighboring countries; Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. There are 5 of the Virunga volcanoes which span into Rwanda and these make up Volcanoes National Park. The 5 volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park are; Mt. Karisimbi, Mt. Bisoke, Mount Gahinga, Mt. Sabyinyo and Mt. Muhavura. The park is therefore connected with Virunga Park in the Democratic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, which are the other portions of the Virunga Mountains.

Wildlife in Volcanoes National Park

The forested slopes of the volcanoes contain a variety of wildlife such as the mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, buffaloes, forest elephants and duikers among others. The vegetation along the mountains ranges from bamboo at the base of the mountains, to hagenia, through semi alpine and alpine towards the top of the volcanoes.

Mountain gorillas

gorilla in rwanda

The mountain gorillas are the most popular wildlife in the Volcanoes National Park and in Rwanda. The park has close to 400 mountain gorillas which make up a third of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population estimated at about 1000 individuals. Rwanda is also one of the only 3 countries with mountain gorillas. The other countries are Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo who share this unique habitat favorable for the mountain gorillas. The Gorillas are not confined to a single vegetation range but can move throughout the different vegetation ranges from the bottom of the mountains to the top mountains. However during the rainy season the gorillas tend to keep away from the higher elevation as it gets too cold there.

Golden monkeys

Golden Monkey in Rwanda

The golden monkeys are beautiful species of monkeys which are unique to the Virunga Mountains. After the gorillas, they are the next popular wildlife in the park. The monkeys live in the bamboo forests in the base of the mountains where the bamboo shoot makes up most of the diet.

Things to do in Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla trekking

gorilla trekking in rwanda

Gorilla trekking or tracking is the most popular activity done in the park which offers the opportunity to see the mountain gorillas in their natural environment. There are 12 habituated families of the gorillas and not more than 8 people are allowed to track one group in the day’s single session. The slots for the gorilla trek are therefore limited and one should book their gorilla tour in Rwanda well in advance to secure the gorilla trekking permit or ticket for their preferred tour date. The gorillas live in different areas along the mountains and at different altitudes. They are not confined to one location so they can move from place to place. This makes the time taken to find them unpredictable and the trekking difficulty, hence one should prepare for a long and difficult trek. You could find the gorillas in a few minutes of trekking or after several hours. A maximum of 1 hour is allowed to be with the gorillas.

Golden monkey tracking

The golden monkeys have not been as popular as the gorillas but they offer an exciting encounter and the golden monkey trekking adventure is a great addition to the gorilla tour or any other trek in Volcanoes National Park. The monkeys are incredibly beautiful and are very exciting to watch because of their lively character. They are especially great for photography. The golden monkeys live in the bamboo forests at the base of the mountains. The trek is therefore light and short. The monkeys can be found within 30 minutes to 1 hour of trekking and you will be allowed a maximum of 1 hour to watch them.

Volcano hiking

Volcanoes National Park is the prime destination for hiking in Rwanda. The volcanoes are perfect for the outdoors lovers and hiking enthusiasts, providing breathtaking scenery, beautiful crater lakes and an array of rare wildlife including the gorillas. The hikes are done on 4 out of the 5 volcanoes in the park. The only volcano where hiking is not allowed is Mount Sabyinyo because of the sharp ridges and enormous craters which made it dangerous. The most popular one day hike is to the crater lake on the summit of Mount Bisoke. Other day hikes are done on Mount Gahinga and Mount Muhavura. The hike on Mount Karisimbi is 2 days with a night spent camping on the mountain.

Dian Fossey tomb trek

Dian Fossey was a researcher who dedicated her life to researching about the mountain gorillas, advocating for their protection, and especially vehemently fought against poaching in the park which was leading to deaths of gorillas. She operated a research center in the park that was situated between mountains Karisimbi and Bisoke, hence named it Karisoke. Dian Fossey paid the ultimate price and was murdered. She was buried near her research center and among her gorillas. There is a beautiful trail to her tomb and the Karisoke research center. The round trip is about 3 – 4 hours and rewards with wonderful views and encounters of rare plants, orchids, and high chance of seeing gorillas along the trail.

Birding

Volcanoes National Park is one of Rwanda’s Important Birding Areas and features on many birding trips in Rwanda. The park has about 200 species that have been recorded and they include 15 Albertine Rift Endemic species and many mountain specialties.

Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park

The park can be visited all year round but different seasons may give different experiences. Rwanda has two climate seasons in a year, that is, the dry season (April to June & Dec to Feb) when there is less rainfall and more sunshine, and the wet season (March to May & September to November) when there are frequent rains. The dry season is considered the best time for trekking and hiking because the ground is dry and easier to walk. During the wet season the trails are slippery and therefore harder to walk. However the scenery is best during the wet season and can be a good time to visit if you don’t mind the challenges brought about by the rains.

Lodges/hotels near Volcanoes National Park

High end – Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Bisate Lodge

Luxury – Amakoro Songa Loge, The Bishop’s House, Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

Upmarket – 5 Volcanoes Boutique Hotel

Midrange – Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge

Budget – La Locanda, Kinigi Guesthouse

Tours to Volcanoes National Park

2 Days Gorilla Tracking

2 Days Bisoke Crater Lake Hike

3 Days Gorillas and Golden Monkeys

4 Days Volcanoes National Park tour without the gorilla trek

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