The Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda is one of the top destinations where travelers can meet the endangered mountain gorillas eye to eye in the wild. Located in northern Rwanda, this is the ultimate destination for travelers seeking gorilla trekking in Africa. Most visitors taking Rwanda safaris do not miss the opportunity to have a glance with the celebrities of the forests. This guide is intended to serve as a resource for those looking to gorilla watching in Rwanda. Use this guide to plan an amazing adventure to meet the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills.
About the Park
The Volcanoes National Park is located in Musanze Town (former Ruhengeri) in northern Rwanda. It lies in the Virunga Region and two other gorilla parks; Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda and the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This park was part of Africa’s oldest national park; the Virunga National Park when Rwanda was still a colony of Belgium. This is the reason why some guidebooks report it as one of the oldest national parks in Africa.
The Volcanoes National Park is part of a contiguous 433km² Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park, which protects the DRC and Ugandan sectors of the Virunga respectively.
Currently, the three National Parks are managed separately today by the respective governments. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the park boundaries for the protection of the gorillas.
Ranging in altitude from 2400km to 4507, the Volcanoes National Park is conquered by the setting of volcanoes. This chain of steep, all free standing mountains linked by fertile saddles which were formed by solidified lava flows, is one of the most stirring and memorable sights in East Africa.
The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was closed in April 1994 because of the genocide. Later in 1995, it was re-opened for gorilla visits by the new government. By then, the visitors were low since the country had just recovered from political tensions of the civil war. Gorilla tourism finally recovered and since July 1999, the number of tourists visiting the Virungas had increased rapidly.
The easiest way to reach Volcanoes Park is through Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri. You can easily travel by public transport from Kigali.
If you are thinking of a day trek to the gorillas, you can access the park from Gisenyi or Kigali. You need to be at the ORTPN office in Kinigi, by the park entrance. Please note that public transport isn’t a reliable option if you are thinking of a day visit.
Things to See in Volcanoes National Park
There are many things to see in Volcanoes National Park. The most famous attraction that makes visitors to continuously travel to Rwanda are the mountain gorillas. There are as few as 1000 mountain gorillas left in the while world. Almost a third of these apes roam within the Volcanoes National Park.
The park is a favorite destination for gorilla trekking safaris in Africa. Thousands of tourists travel to the Virunga to see the mountain gorillas. Meeting the great apes is a privilege since gorilla tourism is highly regulated so that the gorillas can be protected for not only the present generation but also the future generation.
Watching the gorillas for one hour up-close and unhindered has become the highlight of most safaris to Rwanda. This once in a lifetime experience cannot be done elsewhere besides in Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Why Visit the Gorillas?
First, one should never expect to find mountain gorillas in a zoo anywhere in the world. You can only see them in the wild as in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda.
There are presently 10 habituated gorilla families that tourists can visit in Volcanoes National Park. These include the largest mountain gorilla group ever reported in the whole world. Some of the gorilla groups include the Susa Group, the Sabinyo Group, Amohoro Groups, Agasha Group, the Kwitonda Group, the Umubano Group, the Bwenye Group, Hirwa Group, Karisimbi Group and the Ugenda Group.
Gorilla tracking involves moving long distances, passing through thick vegetation and small paths which are at times muddy during the rainy season. To enjoy that one hour in the presence of the gorillas, you must be well prepared for the trip. You should know these before booking your next gorilla trek;
The mountain gorillas of Rwanda are found in the higher altitude Virunga Volcanoes in Volcanoes National Park. The 10 different gorilla groups that are open for visitation require various levels of physical fitness therefore visitors must be realistic about their own physical fitness. If you have physical limitations such as a heart related complication it is important not to hike into the forest. You can take into consideration into opting for accessible tourism where porters at an extra cost can carry you into and out of the forest.
The gorilla families you will be visiting in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park are habituated for tourist visits. This means they are used to the presence of humans and will go about with their daily routine while you are observing them in the wild. Before the trek, you will be briefed about gorilla rules and regulations that need to be strictly followed while in the presence of the gorillas. Such rules are for your safety as well as the safety of the gorillas.
Rain might make it a bit more difficult to pass through but it is good to move along at a pace that is right for you. You should carry enough water so that you stay hydrated during the trip. You need drink plenty of water along the way.
Use the assistance of a porter to carry your daypack and make your trek a bit easier.
For every traveler, a gorilla group is just right for you to visit. Always inform your guide about your level of fitness so that you can be allotted a hike that best suits you.
When to Visit Volcanoes National Park
The weather and climate found in the Volcanoes National Park tends to be very wet. The dry season is from June to September and from December to February. These are the high season months and the demand for the gorilla permits is very high. You must book the gorilla permit well in advance.
Please note that at times you have early morning rains and afternoon thunderstorms and showers.
Gorilla tracking is year around and people flock from around the world 12 months of the year for gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda.
Currently, the cost of a gorilla permit is US$1500 per person in Rwanda. Though this seems to be expensive, it is not just an arbitrary figure since the money received from gorilla visits is used in conservation as well as in support of the local communities. Today the locals have realized that gorilla tourism is beneficial. Gorilla tourism has brought significant changes to the communities and it has dramatically reduced poaching of any kind in Volcanoes National Park.