“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”. The great volcanic massif of the Virunga Mountains straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, and encompassing six active and three extinct volcanoes. Much of this is protected as national parks, including the Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) on the Rwanda side, which was made famous by Dian Fossey’s work, and the film Gorillas in the Mist. More than half of the world’s last mountain gorillas live in the Virungas and here about 350 of them stay in the Volcanoes National Park.
The Volcanoes National Park is situated in the far northwest of Rwanda.
Things to See
The Parc des Volcans 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.
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas 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.
The bustling market town of Ruhengeri has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow – is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area. Also within easy day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses, including the newly renovated hotel Gorilla’s Nest. Visitors could also base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali and – with an early start – head to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
Things to Do
Volcanoes National Park is probably the best place for a mountain gorilla trekking in Africa given the quick access to the park from Kigali. A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals. During a gorilla trek, you may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life.
Even without the mountain gorillas, this park would be fascinating. Its altitude ranges from about 2,500m to the peak of Karisimbi, at 4,500m, resulting in extensive bamboo forests, and some of the last remaining afro-montane forest habitat on the planet quite apart from the mountain gorillas, it harbors a spectacular array of rare and endangered animals and plants. There is a variety of other primates, including the endemic golden monkeys. Golden monkey tracking is another interesting wildlife adventure that can be done in the park.
The park also hosts several other wildlife including forest elephants, buffalo, giant forest hogs (Africa’s largest swine), bushpigs, bushbucks, black-fronted duikers, spotted hyenas, and around 200 species of birds. On the higher slopes you’ll find an almost otherworldly habitat of thick moors with endemic giant lobelia and groundsel.
Birds in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is home to about180 bird species in 1980. Close to 15 formerly recorded bird species were eminent during a biodiversity survey conducted in 2004, however it is probable that a number of additional forest specialists have actually gone off track since the year 1980. the Grauer?s rush warbler a vulnerable local bird species living in the swamp, whereas at least sixteen Albertine Rift endemic are also present, among which are the handsome Francolin, Archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson-wing, Rwenzori Turaco, red-faced woodland warbler , Rwenzori double collared sunbird, collared apalis, Rwenzori batis and the strange weaver
Planning a Gorilla Trek in Parc National des Volcans
This interesting activity remains the most prominent in this park, with a sum of close to 40 gorilla permits being issued every day, with 8 assigned to each of the 5 habituated groups. however Volcanoes National Park is not only focuses on gorilla trekking, but also conducts additional activities such as trekking and hiking which today are well organized, varying from 2 day ascent of the impressive Karisimbi to a non tiring nature walk to a group of stunning crater lakes, although the most thrilling innovation is that today tourists can actually visit the habituated groups of the endemic golden monkeys.
- Visit PNV Rwanda – The Ultimate Guide to planning a safari to Volcanoes National Park.