VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

Also popular as Parc National des Volcans in French, Volcanoes National Park is undoubtedly Rwanda’s most famous safari destination in Rwanda. It sits in the Northern Province of Rwanda about 2 to 3 hours away from Kigali. This magical protected area is only 160 square kilometers and also forms part of the vast Virunga Conservancy Area (VCA) which also covers parts of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda and Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It was founded in 1925 which makes it a few oldest parks in Africa and in 1929, its boundaries were enlarged to cover parts of Rwanda and the DRC and it was called the Albert National Park with an area coverage of about 8090 square kilometers. At a time, this park was run by the Belgian Colonial government-the colonial masters of both Rwanda and the DR Congo by then. However, in 1969, its size reduced on the Rwanda side.

Tourist attractions in Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is one of the 4 national parks in Africa and the world where mountain gorillas do thrive. The others include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda and Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

In addition, there are also other species of wildlife including bushbuck, black-fronted duiker buffalo and spotted hyena, golden monkeys, 200 bird species 13 of them and 16 subspecies are endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountain ranges. Being an Important Bird Area, the birds to expect to look out for include the strange weaver, archer’s ground robin chat, dusky crimson wing, red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori Turaco, collared Apalis, the francolins.

Volcanoes National Park largely consists of tropical rainforest and between altitude 2400 and 2500 meters, mainly Neoboutonia forest thrives here. From 2500-3200 meters, there is a bamboo forest which makes up 30% of this conservancy area. From 2600-3600, this area lies within a more humid slopes in the south and west that features mainly hygienic forest-one of the vast forest covers at the park. As you continue to 3500-4200 meters, this area is mainly characterized by lobelia agenda Abyssinia and others while from 4300 to 4500 meters, it is mainly a grassland area. However, a small portion of thicket, marshes, Lakes, meadows do exist here but cover a small area.

It is also home to five of the eight Virunga Volcanoes; Karisimbi (4507 meters), Bisoke (3711 meters), Gahinga (3474 meters), Sabyinyo stands (3634 meters) and Muhabura (4127 meters).

Activities to do in Volcanoes National Park

Mountain gorilla trekking 

Gorilla trekking is one reason why the majority visit Rwanda. Currently, 10 gorilla families have been habituated and readily set for tourism in this park.  They include Agashya, Kwitonda, Susa A, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Ugenda, Umubano, Bwenge, and Hirwa. Each gorilla group rewards travel endeavors with unique experiences and treks normally take about 2 to 6 hours. To trek mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, you need $1500 to secure a gorilla permit.

Golden monkey tracking

In addition to trekking mountain gorillas, you can as well track golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park. This park has some of the habituated groups and your adventure begins with an early morning briefing at Kinigi park headquarters. A trek to see golden monkeys can last you about 4 hours and 1 hour of magical encounter with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Golden monkey permits in Volcanoes National Park cost $100 per person.

Birding

Volcanoes National Park is home to 200 avifaunal species and the birds to look for while on birding tour include the Rwenzori Batis, collared Apalis, archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson wing and many more.

Volcano hike

When it comes to safari experiences, Volcanoes National Park is ideal for hiking adventures. To get the best of hiking experience in this park, you can hike through Karisimbi-4507 meters and features as the highest of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes. A hike through this volcano may take you about two days with the first camp at 3700 meters that also comes with incredible views over Mount Bisoke and the second phase of it takes you to summit and then descend back to where you kick start your adventure. Exploring through this volcano rewards travel endeavors with amazing views over different geographical features, vegetation, and sceneries. Bisoke Volcano-3711 meters and hiking through this volcano can you one day. At its summit, have spectacular views of its crater lake-Lake Ngezi. Visitors on Bisoke volcano hike can combine this adventure with a hike to Lake Ngezi which is about 3 to 4 meters that rewards with amazing sights at montane flora and avifaunal species en-route.

Dian Fossey tomb hike

A hike to Dian Fossey tomb site offers you a great opportunity to explore more about the conservation legacy of Dian Fossey-one of the world’s greatest conservationists. Dian Fossey featured among a few prominent primatologists in the world and she set a research center in Volcanoes National Park in 1967 ‘Karisoke research station’ mainly to help her research work in the park. She conducted her research for about 18 years and she worked tirelessly to safeguard the lives of mountain gorillas. She started the Digit Fund which today works as Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Unfortunately, she was mysteriously murdered and buried near her lovely gorilla-Digit.

Visit to twin lakes

Visit the magical twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera which get you a chance to explore the scenic Russumo waterfalls. You will also have the opportunity to identify some of the bird species like African marsh harrier, stonechat, cinnamon breasted bee-eater, Grey-throated tit, long-crested eagle, common moorhen, and paradise flycatchers.

Musanze cave exploration

Musanze caves are just outside around Musanze district in the northern province of Rwanda. A cave walk to these caves offers you an opportunity to learn more about these historical caves that date about 65 million years that comes with 31 entrances and 2 kilometers long. Exploring these remarkable caves can take you about 2 hours.

Buhanga sacred forest nature walks

Buhanga sacred forest is just outside Volcanoes National Park. It is an incredible forest with unique flora and also endowed with Rwanda’s history and cultures. History has it that monarchical king of Rwanda could bath in this touristic site prior to assuming kingship and as a result, this area featured as a sacred and people never cultivated or cut any tree. Others assert that the forest in most cases changes colors at different seasons which the year.

Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is open to travelers throughout the year. However, it is best to visit it during the dry season, especially if you are interested in trekking mountain gorillas. This begins from June to September and December to February. If you are interested in bird watching then the wet or rainy season is a perfect time for you. It begins from March to May and October to November.

Accommodation options at Volcanoes National Park

The available lodges for your night stay at Volcanoes National Park include

Luxury: Mountain Gorilla View Lodge/Bisate Lodge

Midrange: Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge/La Bambou Gorilla Lodge

Budget: Kinigi Guesthouse/La Plame Hotel/Hotel Muhabura

Getting to Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is in Musanze district, Northern Province of Rwanda. It is about 2 to 3 hours’ drive from Kigali and 4 hours drive from Bwindi National Park or Mgahinga National Park. To get to this park, you need a good 4×4 drive car.