In the Northwest of Rwanda, one comes across the Volcanoes National Park, a section of Virunga Mountains composed of five mountains that are part of the total 8 mountains making up the Virunga conservation area. This is shared by three countries and these include Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Also known as Parc National de Vulcans in French, consists of volcanic mountains which are Mount Karisimbi the highest of all, and Mountains Gahinga, Sabyinyo, Muhabura, and Bisoke. The Park is a popular destination for trekking our cousins the endangered Mountain Gorillas. Virunga mountain range areas are a habitat for mountain gorillas and therefore the other areas in which we can find these species are Mgahinga and Virunga National Parks located in Uganda and D.R. Congo respectively but are all within the Virunga region.

Visit the Dian Fossey Grave

Diane Fossey, a celebrated primatologist carried out her research in the Karisoke Research Center at Mount Karisimbi located within the park and therefore one of the first gorilla groups made available for trekking was located in Volcanoes National Park. She spent over 18 years since 1967 researching and studying mountain gorillas, this involved studying their behavior and seeing if they could be around humans which turned out to be the successful gorilla trekking excursions carried out today.

Even after her death, she was laid to rest at Mount. Karisimbi and therefore tourists visiting the park can always pay tribute to her. The movie “Gorillas in the Mist” was shot within the park and the feature gorillas are one of the gorillas that were trained by Diane Fossey.

Volcanoes National Park is a conservation area whose major aim is to conserve the mountain gorillas and the vegetation cover within it. Several conservation measures have been put in place like no littering in the park, few people are allowed to visit the gorillas daily to prevent them from easily contracting diseases and also guards have been deployed to protect the park from encroachers and poachers. It was also declared as a UNESCO World Heritage site to support the conservation measures.

The Park has diverse vegetation cover consisting of Hypericum located at the low altitude areas of the park, sub-alpine vegetation in areas above 3300 meters, Afro Alpine vegetation covers the high-altitude areas above 4000 meters and it consists of short shrubs and bamboo shoots.

Besides the mountain gorillas, there are diverse animal species consisting of golden monkeys, chimpanzees, buffaloes, hyenas, duikers, waterbucks, antelopes, elephants, leopards, reptiles, and a variety of bird species.

Activities and attractions within Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla Trekking

This is one of the few locations in the world where these gigantic primates can be met and therefore one of the most popular destinations for gorilla trekking in the world. The gorilla groups are only visited by 8 members per day. With over 12 groups currently available in the park, there are only 96 gorilla permits available and these go for $1500 per person.  Gorilla groups are like families headed by a male-dominant silverback, they consist of 10 -30 members, though some gorillas at times get to live in solitary before joining or creating a group.

Gorilla trekking is always started in the morning and commences with a briefing that introduces you to what gorillas are and what makes them special. You are also given guidelines on how to behave once you meet them.

The difficulty of gorilla trekking depends on where the gorilla group is located. The activity takes about 6 hours and it requires being physically prepared as it involves climbing to high altitude areas. You also need good hiking boots, raincoats, long clothing, cameras to capture good moments, and energy foods to keep you going. You could always hire potters to help you carry your luggage and walking sticks for support during the navigation.

Trekking Golden Monkeys

Golden monkey trekking is another popular activity second to gorilla trekking. Unlike gorilla trekking, monkeys live within trees in low-altitude areas, and therefore getting to them is not a challenge. This activity involves visiting the monkey areas and trekking through the trails leading towards them where you will see them jumping from one tree to another.

Bird watching

A variety of bird species thrive within the vegetation cover of Volcanoes National Park, this activity can be combined with any other activity that involves walking through the park like hiking and it is mostly enjoyed by bird lovers.

Hiking Mountains Karisimbi and Bisoke

Mount Bisoke and Karisimbi are dormant and extinct mountains found in Volcanoes, a hike to any of these mountain peaks is rewarding with beautiful sceneries, such as the crater lake at Mount Bisoke, the snowcapped peak of Mount Rwenzori, Mount Nyiragongo in Congo. During the Karisimbi hike, you can visit Diane Fossey’s tomb. Mount Bisoke is easier to climb compared to Mount Karisimbi which has a rougher terrain. 

Hiking Mt. Muhabura

At 4127 meters, navigating through Mount Muhabura, the third highest mountain among the eight Virunga Mountains is an adventurous experience as one passes through the steep slopes and fauna. None experienced hikers can easily climb this mountain.

What is the best time to visit Volcanoes National Park?

Visiting the park is possible all year through though the dry seasons offer better experiences since you won’t be disturbed by the rains, unlike occasional rains that happen during the wet season. Therefore, months between June and September which are dry periods are ideal for visiting the park since during that time the paths are dry as opposed to the wet season when they are muddy and slippery.

How to get to Volcanoes National Park?

Volcanoes National Park can be accessed by both air and road through Kigali airport or a 3-hour drive covering about 70 miles to Musanze town which is close to the park.

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