“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, the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda 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.
The bustling market town of Musanze has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge—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. Musanze town offers a good selection of upper-range and mid- range hotels as well as reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses.
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes of Rwanda offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the national park, immersing trekkers in the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest, 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.
When you travel to Rwanda, access to the Volcanoes National Park is via Ruhengeri town; a one and a half hours drive from Kigali city, the country’s capital. Gorilla trackers organize and hire cars for private transportation on their gorilla tour from Ruhengeri; the last stop over town adjacent to the park boundaries and proceed to the headquarters and follow the tracking trails on foot.
Following the well-maintained network of nature trails, we will take you through the forest, encountering creepers, hanging vines, colorful giant lobelia and misty bamboo. Regularly, golden monkeys among other mammals will be seen swinging from one branch to another whereas buffaloes and Duikers will cross your path at the time when you least expect it.
Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park
These are some of the breathtaking activities within the Volcanoes National Park that you can combine with the unforgettable Rwanda gorilla trek within the park.
- Gorilla trekking,
- Golden monkey tracking,
- Hiking Karisimbi volcano & Mount Bisoke
- Visiting Dian Fossey
- Visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera,
- Visit the Iby’Iwacu cultural village Tour, and Musanze cave visit
Gorilla Trekking in the Volcanoes National Park
The Volcanoes National Park is arguably the most visited wildlife conservation site in Rwanda. Each year thousands of international visitors go to the park to see mountain gorillas alongside other popular activities. The park has 10 habituated gorilla groups and only 8 people may track a particular group in a day. Gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park starts with a briefing at 7am from the park office. From there visitors are taken out to track different gorilla groups in the company of armed Rangers. Gorilla trekking is one of the most unforgettable experiences while visiting Africa.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Rwanda is one of the last strongholds for golden monkeys. These beautiful monkeys thrive in the Virunga ranges (Uganda, Rwanda and Congo) and in Kahuzi Biega National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Golden monkeys are endangered and because of that are highly protected. Although eagles are their natural prey, humans are their greatest threat. Tourist love golden monkeys because of their beautiful gold coats, playful nature and endangered status. Golden Monkey tracking in Rwanda starts with a briefing at 7:30am. It is less tiring than gorilla trekking because the monkeys don’t move too far off in the forest.
Visiting the Dian Fossey Grave
Dian Fossey was a pioneer in gorilla research and conservation with funding from the National Geographic. Fossey studied the behavior of mountain gorillas extensively for 18 years and discovered many things about them including how to habituate them.
Without her findings, what we now know as gorilla trekking and habituation would not be possible. As time went on, Fossey changed focus from research to gorilla conservation in order to protect the primates from extensive poaching. This won her many enemies leading to her death in 1985. Her killers have never been identified to this day.
One of the advantages of signing for the Dian Fossey hike is that you might get lucky and encounter one of the mountain gorilla groups along the trails. After visiting her tomb and former Karisoke Centre, you can also visit the new Karisoke Research Center found in the town of Musanze. This is where the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund offices are also located and where her work continues.
Hiking the Virunga Volcanoes
The Volcanoes National Park is renowned for its six (6) Virungas; the only habitat to the endangered mountain gorillas. The park is protected and managed by the Rwandan Office from Tourism and National parks (ORTPN) and this conservation area has contributed to the main safaris to Rwanda.
Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Just 2 hours drive from Kigali, Volcanoes National park welcomes you in a small village called Musanze which was before known as Ruhengeri a passionate spot for every traveller to Africa. One can do gorilla tracking in just a day from Kigali and still drive back though waking up early is one of the main rules for the day’s gorilla trek since you should be at the park headquarters of ORTPN in Kinigi for briefing by 7.30 am.
You need to have reliable transport from Musanze to the park head quarters since public means are never available unless you can miss out your day’s trek. It’s good to hire a tax directly from Kigali for a day or use tour operators to organize your one day Rwanda Gorilla tour in order to avoid hassles and stress before your life time adventure. The large exclusive forest and a hideaway for mountain gorillas in the remote setting in northern Rwanda is one of the most extraordinary parks in east Africa. This ultimate Rwanda safari adventure is exclusive, romantic and one of the most stunning activities on earth.
Most travellers to Rwanda visit the country in order to experience the life time amazing experience Gorilla tracking in volcano forest an activity which attracts thousands every year from different corners of the world. Gorilla trackers seek excitement in the wild forest which opens up every day with a morning briefing from the park ranger guides.
Similar to chimpanzee tracking, tourists on a gorilla trekking activity are allowed to spend an hour watching these apes performing their daily activities, resting, playing, gathering food and feeding. It is your golden opportunity to shoot a picture of the amazing creatures in their natural habitat.
Tips for a Great Gorilla Trekking Experience
However for any successful Rwanda Gorilla vacation, you need to book a Gorilla permit, Wear rightly for the trek, spend a Night close to the park-book accommodation located close to the park, and also chose weather to track Gorillas during the rainy season or dry season. Gorilla permits in Rwanda cost US$1500 per permit year round both during the low and high season and its claimed to be the most conservation method used to keep different habituated mountain gorilla groups health without being stressed up by humans. The price may look high but the experience is precious. The gorilla park has ten habituated gorilla families all ready for gorilla trackers but only eight tourists are allowed to visit each Gorilla family per day. Rwanda gorilla tours range from 1- 10 days & beyond depending on your convenience and budget. Tour prices vary according to activities and accommodations used, Luxury Gorilla tours appear more expensive compared to budget.
Spend your days thinking about the beauty that surrounds you, from the beautiful hills, lush jungle side by side, impressive mountain, lakes to the exclusive cultural setting of villages. The park gorilla safaris call for visits to other Rwanda attractions like the chimpanzees at Nyungwe forest located in 7 hour distance from Musanze, beach leisure fun at Lake Kivu and other wildlife discoveries at Akagera national park. Sometimes tourists to volcanoes national park drive to other neighboring countries Uganda and Congo for other Gorilla trek and live volcano hikes.
The two Congo volcanoes appear stunning, impressive and too exclusive to most guests to Rwanda and Africa in general. With the hilly setting and green vegetation the endless hilly views of mountains and hills is a perfect retreat for every safari to Rwanda bite for couples, sole or group travel. Rwanda is indeed a great one stop destination and a connecting travel point to Uganda and Congo safaris year round. Itineraries are always suggested either starting or ending in Rwanda though some tourists book cross boarder trips and extended tours to visit multiple destinations in the East Africa Region. Explore the discovered and fill your camera with amazing memories on your passionate trip to Africa any time of the year.