The Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda will leave you stunned with its rich history and large population of rare mountain gorillas.
This treasure, located in the northwestern region of Rwanda, is part of the Virunga Conservation region, which also houses the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park.
The formation of these three national parks was mainly an effort to protect the endangered mountain gorillas.
While the Volcanoes National Park is primarily known as home to these majestic primates, with gorilla trekking as the top activity, its story is quite synonymous with the works of fallen American primatologist Dian Fossey.
Fossey’s stay and work in the park, until the time of her death in 1985, speaks a lot to what keeps bringing tourists to this beautiful part of Africa 36 years later.
Fossey was also a conservationist, and part of her work was scientific studies about mountain gorillas, emphasising how these endangered primates could be protected for posterity.
Talking about Fossey’s work would quickly take the minds of many to her establishment of Karisoke Research Center, among several of her accomplishments.
The research centre, founded in September 1967, was a fortress of her studies in protecting the giant apes.
Fossey’s work, among other factors, is one of the main reasons the park is such a marvel today.
Attractions in the Volcanoes National Park
Famous for housing some of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas, the park is also an embodiment of nature at its best.
With jaw-dropping mountainous landscape, green forests, lakes, rivers, and other wildlife, the word marvellous could be an understatement to some.
And what sort of story is it about the park without mentioning its four impressive volcanoes? Certainly an incomplete one.
The mountains, including Bisoke (3,711m), Karisimbi (4,507m), Gahinga (3,474m), Sabyinyo (3,634m) and Muhabura (4,127m), are a set of quadruplets baring the actual DNA of the park.
Part of the marvel that will meet tourists’ eyes is there.
More interestingly, the park has not one, two, but four different types of vegetation cover.
How astonishing can that be? The variation in altitudes, volcanoes and low areas dictate these different types of vegetation cover.
The wildlife and tourists who step foot in the park can observe Bamboo vegetation on the lower slopes, Hypericum/Hagenia on the higher altitudes, sub-alpine vegetation and Afro Alpine vegetation.
The Bamboo vegetation, especially Bamboo shoots, is food for the mountain gorillas.
This part of the park is home like no other for these giant primates.
However, the park is not only about gorillas. It is also home to the golden monkeys, wild chimpanzees and a plethora of other primates.
These are happy residents of the lower altitude areas in the park.
Suppose you step into the Volcanoes National Park with expectations of only chancing on the gorillas and other similar primates. In that case, you will be shocked to set your eyes on a whole different family of mammals.
Some of these include; forest Elephants, leopards, Duikers, Bush Pigs, Forest Hogs and the Spotted Hyena. More interestingly, with all this wildlife, landscape, nature and vegetation as explained so far, the park is always kept alive and enchanting with music from the various birds roaming the skies above the park.
Birding in the Volcanoes National Park is increasingly becoming popular considering the numerous species found there, top of which are the beautiful Francolins and the Rwenzori Turaco.
Activities in the Volcanoes National Park
It is not a story worth telling if you leave the Volcanoes National Park without engaging in any of the park’s activities.
With gorilla trekking being the signature activity of the park and a favourite for many tourists, there are many other activities worth checking out.
Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey and her Karisoke Research Centre
First on the agenda of many tourists is a hike to the tomb of the famous Dian Fossey.
As indicated earlier, Fossey’s unmatched work in protecting the park and its features and wildlife is enough to earn her such respect.
Even while she is no more, her legend still lives on in the park.
You will want to visit her tomb and former Karisoke Research Centre to pay homage or recognise her dedicated work with mountain gorillas when you listen to her story.
Besides, it will cost you just $75 for a three-hour guided hike to Fossey’s tomb.
Lake Burera and Ruhondo
Away from Fossey’s tomb, tourists will marvel at the many features of the park.
These features indisputably dictate most of the tourist activities there.
Water bodies like the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Burera are picks for many.
These lakes are excellent for relaxation after gorilla trekking or hiking one of the volcanoes.
Here, you can lay loose, busk in the sun or take a boat cruise along the two lakes as you recover from the weariness of the other more hectic activities.
Still talking activities, what is visiting a park with some of the tallest volcanoes without hiking as an activity?
Some of the mountains not only require your physical preparation but mental readiness as well.
Hiking Mount Karisimbi is a favourite among travellers.
Mount Karisimbi, being the fifth tallest mountain in Africa, usually takes hikers two days to conquer.
Because it is a two-day hike, tourists usually rest and sleepover at 3700 of the 4507.
The hike then continues to the summit the following day.
Atop the mountain, a view of the snow-white Rwenzori Mountains and forest cover will force a smile on your face, despite the weariness.
Mount Bisoke is another hiking destination.
Slightly shorter than the Karisimbi mountain, Bisoke gives an equally thrilling journey to tourists.
Its salient green forest cover will give you a reason to journey to the top of the mountain in a one-day hike.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Gorilla trekking is arguably the most popular and memorable activity while on a Rwanda safari.
You can’t find mountain gorillas in zoos like other species of gorillas.
You have to track them down in Africa’s remote rain forests.
Perhaps that is what makes the activity such a memorable one.
Besides, like royals, they are not many on the planet.
They are only found in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo.
The level of difficulty of gorilla trekking depends on the particular gorilla group you are tracking.
You have to prepare yourself with everything you need, especially water, because the activity may last longer than expected.
Ensure that you pack clothes that are suitable for the terrain, vegetation and weather.
Tour operators advise that you carry jackets, hiking shoes, long-sleeved shirts and trousers, gloves and raincoats.
Don’t forget to carry cash with you as a tip for porters, rangers, company drivers and hotel staff. You will not be allowed to track the primates without a permit.
In Rwanda, you will need $1500 for the permit, and this can be collected from the Rwanda Development Board or a licensed tour operator that you might have contracted for the escapade.
With this permit, you are good to go for a fantastic 1 day gorilla tour in Rwanda.
Golden Monkey Trekking
There is more to track than just the mountain gorillas.
For the faint-hearted or those who cannot withstand what it takes to do gorilla tracking, tracking golden monkeys will come in handy for you.
The thrill is just as heartwarming and interestingly.
The permit for tracking these smaller primates will cost you $100.
Golden Monkey tracking can quickly be done before or after gorilla trekking.
For a smooth trek, the season within which you travel is quite important.
For tourists, the best time to visit the Volcanoes National Park would be between the dry months of June to September.
From October to November, heavy rainfalls appear hence making the trails and terrain slippery.
Travellers can use public transport from Kigali or Gisenyi to Musanze and then hire a private car to the park headquarters.
The best alternative is to hire a Tour operator in Rwanda who will arrange to pick you up from the Airport and the Park Headquarters in Kinigi, where briefings for the various activities are done.
Accommodation at the Volcanoes National Park
When all the funfair is done, you need to put your body to rest.
Not just to sleep, but to unwind as well.
This means you will sort after top-notch accommodation facilities in and around the park.
Accommodation usually takes the lion’s share of costs and should be considered a priority during the planning stages.
At the Volcanoes National Park, just like many other parks, accommodation facilities fall into three categories – Luxury, Mid-range and low budget facilities.
The choice of which hotel to select depends entirely on a traveller’s budget.
Low budget facilities, however, do not mean zero comforts: Most are self-contained and can offer a level of comfort that will surprise you.
Here are some of the hotels to take into consideration when visiting the Volcanoes National Park.
La Palm Hotel
This lodge offers luxury, mid-range and budget rooms.
It is a three-star hotel with a variety of both local and international dishes.
The hotel bar is stocked with different varieties of wine, soft drinks and beer.
Other services include complimentary airport pickups, free Wi-Fi, a telephone, two conference rooms and an ample parking space.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
This is one of the best luxury accommodation facilities found close to the park offices.
Accessing the lodge is relatively easy because it is just 3km away from the park.
Five Volcanoes Hotel
Another tremendous affordable lodge while visiting the Volcanoes National Park.
With VIP Cottages, Deluxe Double rooms, Family Suites and Standard rooms, the lodge has something for everyone interested in high-quality services. Each room has a fridge and flat-screen TV.
There is also a minibar, a restaurant, laundry services and private parking space.