Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is one of the 4 most spectacular national parks in which visitors on a Rwanda safari should consider a must-visit. It is situated in Northwestern Rwanda, about 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali capital city and it was established in 1925 mainly to protect the endangered mountain gorillas. However, today the park is home to more than mountain gorillas. It sits in an area of 160sq.km, approximately 62sq.mi, consisting of rainforest and hosting 5 of the 8 volcanoes that make up the Virunga Massif.
The 5 volcanoes include Muhabura (4127m), Bisoke (3711m), Karisimbi (4507m), Sabyinyo (3634m) and Gahinga (3474m). Volcanoes National Park lies at the border with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Southwestern Uganda and Virunga National Park in Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) thus making up a part of the extensive Virunga Conservation Area (VCA).
History of Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park holds a unique history that visitors can explore. Originally, the park was established in 1925 making it one of the oldest parks in Africa and covered areas of Mikeno, Bisoke, and Karisimbi. Its establishment was primarily to safeguard mountain gorillas from poachers or illegal hunters. In 1929, its borders extended to cover part of Rwanda and the DRC to make the Albert National Park. At the time, it covered an area of about 8090sq.kms and it was managed by the Belgian colonial masters.
Around 1958, about 700hectares of this protected area were cleared for human settlement and between 1969 and 1973, over 1050 hectares were designated for pyrethrum cultivation. It is from Volcanoes National Park also known as Parc National Des Volcans that Dian Fossey-one of the greatest scientists and primatologists conducted her research on gorillas for over 18 years before she was mysteriously murdered in 1985.
Wildlife in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park prides itself as a home to unique wildlife species and most importantly, visitors have an opportunity to see mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, antelopes (black-fronted duikers, bushbucks), spotted hyenas, buffaloes, forest elephants, black and white colobus monkeys, bush pigs and many more.
Bird species in Volcanoes National Park
Birders on Rwanda safari in Volcanoes National Park have the opportunity to explore over 200 different bird species. Birding tours in Volcanoes National Park involves identifying red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori doubled collared sunbird, collared Apalis, strange weaver, francolins, paradise flycatcher, dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori Turaco, archer’s ground robin, common moorhen long-crested eagle, grey throated tit.
- Vegetation in Volcanoes National Park
A visit to Volcanoes National Park isn’t about tracking mountain gorillas or golden monkeys but also for one to explore its unique vegetation which varies according to the altitude. Between 4300 and 4500m, it is mainly the grassland, between 3500 and 4200m is comprised of Lobelia Hagenia Abyssinia, between 2600 and 3600m is comprised of Hagenia Forest and bamboo forest is found between 2500 and 3200m.
Activities to do in Volcanoes National Park
- Gorilla trekking
Most visitors in Volcanoes National Park seek to track mountain gorillas. A small section of an estimated 1063 mountain gorillas remaining is said to be confined within this park. About 10 gorilla groups have been habituated for visitors to trek namely Susa A, Karisimbi, Agashya, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Hirwa-although this moved to Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Uganda and Umubano. To trek mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, a valid gorilla permit is a must-have and each permit costs $1500. You can secure your gorilla permit in advance with the reservation team at Mega Wild Safaris or directly with Rwanda Development Board.
- Golden monkey tracking
On a safari in Volcanoes National Park, if one doesn’t see mountain gorillas then they’ll have a glimpse of the golden monkeys. Golden monkey tracking is one of the best primate experiences visitors on Rwanda safari can engage in Volcanoes Park. One can book golden monkey permits in Rwanda at US dollars 100.
Bird watching in Volcanoes Park offers birders opportunity to identify the variety of bird species including red-faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori doubled collared sunbird, collared Apalis, strange weaver, francolins, paradise flycatcher, dusky crimson wing, Rwenzori Turaco, archer’s ground robin, common moorhen long-crested eagle, grey throated tit.
Volcano hiking in Volcanoes Park allows hikers to explore the beautiful volcanoes like Bisoke and Karisimbi.
- Dian Fossey tomb hike
Hiking to Dian Fossey’s tomb site gives hikers insights into Dian Fossey conservation legacy. She is credited for her tireless efforts to save mountain gorillas in the Virunga Region and founded the Karisoke research station to help her research work. She also launched the Digit Fund which now runs as Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
Visit the Twin Lakes
One can embark on a nature walk and have the opportunity to visit the stunning Twin Lakes-Lake Burera and Ruhondo. One will also have a chance to enjoy the exceptional view of Russumo falls and identify distinct bird species including cinnamon breasted bee-eaters, paradise flycatchers, grey throated tit, African marsh harrier to mention but a few.
Nature lovers on Rwanda safari in Volcanoes Park also pay a visit to Buhanga sacred forest for nature walks. This forest holds a unique history and culture of Rwanda which is worth exploring.
Visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village
To have authentic African experiences, a visit to Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village should be a must and one won’t leave the same. At Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, one will have a chance to enjoy the unique dances, music performances and explore distinct traditions, lifestyles of Rwandans.
- Musanze cave exploration
Musanze caves are found within the Musanze district and they date 65 million years back. They hold a unique history and consist of 31 entry points. These caves extend about 2kms and visitors can take about 2 hours.
- Best time to visit Volcanoes Park
Volcanoes Park is strategically located and has favorable weather and climatic conditions making it an all-year-round destination. But the dry months starting June, July, August, September and December, January, February are considered ideal for gorilla trekking, golden monkey tracking. March, April, May, and October, November are the best months for birding in Volcanoes Park.
- How to get to Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes Park lies within the Musanze district, Northern Province of Rwanda. It is accessible within 2-3 hours’ drive from Kigali capital city in a good 4×4 safari vehicle. From Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, one can reach Volcanoes Park within 4 hours by road.
In conclusion, Volcanoes Park is one of the most stunning national parks in Africa that you should consider visiting not only for mountain gorilla trekking but also for you to catch a glimpse at the variety of species including golden monkeys, birds and many more.