To the north of Rwanda lies the volcanoes national park, which protects the Rwandan portion of the virunga mountains, a trans frontier conservation area that includes protected areas in Uganda and the DRC and forms a complex of mostly dormant volcanoes, it includes Rwanda’s highest point, mount karisimbi (4,507 m), and the two active volcanoes, mount Nyiragongo and mount Nyamuragira.
Spaning Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda are the Virunga Volcanoes Mountains, a dramatic, thickly forested range comprising six extinct and three active volcanoes. It should be noted that more 300 mountain gorillas are protected here – this is around half the world’s existing population – and is the scene for what is often described as Africa’s easiest gorilla trekking.
The park is easily reached from Kigali, it is only 3 hours drive and the journey is very interesting as it moves through the rolling hills of Rwanda.
Why Visit the Volcanoes National Park
“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorilla – and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and littered with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant.
Through gaps in the forest canopy, the magnificent peaks are glimpsed, easily accessible and among the highest in Africa, beckoning an ascent, consisting of 125 km2 of mountain forest and home to the six Virunga Volcanoes and the world famous mountain gorillas.
Protected within the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda, the lushly forested slopes of the mountains form an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is arguably the most poignant and memorable wildlife experience in the world: gorilla trekking.
This national park boasts almost 100 bird species but is more famous for being home to world’s last remaining mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Although visited predominantly for the mountain gorillas, there are several other tourism sites and opportunities in the park and surrounding area. There is a chance to climb to the mount Bisoke’s beautiful crater lake or even the hike to the summit of the Karimbi mountain, the 5th highest mountain of Africa.
The often neglected twin lakes Burera and Ruhondo and the nearby Rugezi swamp are recognized for their excellent water birding opportunities. With in the area there are a number of community based tourism tours on offer, for example: visiting villages, agric-production plants, an ethno botany tour or even a group of local fishermen using traditional methods, or simply sit back and take in the breath taking scenery of the area.
Birds in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park hosts almost 180 bird species in 1980. Close to 15 formerly recorded bird species were eminent during a biodiversity survey conducted in 2004, however it is probable that a number of additional forest specialists have actually gone off track since the year 1980. the Grauer’s rush warbler a vulnerable local bird species living in the swamp, whereas at least sixteen Albertine Rift endemic are also present, among which are the handsome francolin, Archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson-wing, Rwenzori turaco, red-faced woodland warbler , Rwenzori double collared sunbird, collared apalis, Rwenzori batis and the strange weaver.
Things to Do
Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda
This interesting activity today remains the most prominent in this park, with a sum of close to 40 gorilla permits being issued every day, with 8 assigned to each of the 5 habituated groups. however Volcanoes National Park is not only focuses on gorilla tracking, but also conducts additional activities such as trekking and hiking which today are well organized, varying from 2 day ascent of the impressive Karisimbi to a non – tiring nature walk to a group of stunning crater lakes, although the most thrilling innovation is that today tourists can actually visit the habituated groups of the endemic golden monkeys.
Hiking in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda
Fortunately, Hikes today are being offered to the various visitors that come to this park. Climbing the Karisimbi is a 2 day expedition priced at US$150; ORTPN offers guides though trekkers must have appropriate clothing as well as camping equipment. Nonetheless a shorter alternative priced at US$50 is the climb of Mount Visoke all the way to its stunning crater lake found at 3,711 meters; the ascent goes for close to 2 hours. For the less physically fit walks of close to 2 or 3 hours priced at US$30 to the closer crater lakes as well as in the verdant forest are quite enjoyable and in addition will be mostly rewarding to those interested in watching birds.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
The exhilarating climb to the gorilla’s natural habitat of shady bamboo forest offers fantastic views in all directions, before the trackers are immersed in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, alive with the calls of colourful birds and the chattering of rare golden monkey. Nothing can prepare one for the impact of encountering a fully-grown silverback gorilla, up to three times the size of an average man, yet remarkably peaceable and tolerant of human visitors.
The bustling market town of Musanze has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow – is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area. Also within easy day tripping distance of Musanze are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Visitors could also base themselves in Rubavu or Kigali and – with an early start – head to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
Along side Gorilla trekking, tourists can also enjoy other activities like Golden monkey tracking, hike to karisoke research centre to vist the tombs of Dian Fossey -an American primatologist conducted her ground-breaking studies about the behavior of the mountain gorillas. 3 years following her death, Dian Fossey’s work was uncovered to a crowd audience with the launch of “Gorilla in the mist”, a cinematic story of her impressive life filmed right on location within the Volcanoes Park. The “Gorilla in the Mist” attracted international attention to the troubles of the mountain gorillas and created unparalleled awareness in the gorilla-tourism programme which had been launched in the park about 10 years earlier. Back in 1990, the impressive Volcanoes Park was actually the most organized as well as most popular mountain gorilla habitats in the whole of Africa and so gorilla tourism was perhaps the leading earner of Rwanda’s tourist revenue.
After tracking gorillas, tourists can also visit the beautiful twin lakes of Burera and Buhondo for ascenic view and boat ride or take afternoon community walk to nearby places for entertainments and cultural studies.
The Karisimbi is the most elevated mountain on this chain and is situated on Rwanda’s border with Democratic Republic of Congo. traveling eastward, you will find other major peaks in the national park among which are the Visoke on the border of DRC; Sabinyo at the meeting of the DRC, Rwanda and Uganda, and the Gahinga as well as Muhabura on the border of Uganda.