Volcanoes National Park

Also known as Parc Natinaol des Volcans in French and Pariki y’lgihugu y’lbirunga in native Kinyarwanda, Volcanoes National Park is suited far northwestern Rwanda in a small town formerly known as Ruhengeri(Musanze). It covers 160 km2 (62 sq. mi) of rainforest and encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains namely Sabyinyo, Gahinga, Bisoke and Muhabura. It borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

Volcanoes national park is located in the larger exploding Virunga volcanic region that expands into DR Congo and Uganda. It is one of the three only habitats mountain gorillas on planet and the only possible destination for mountain gorilla trekking expeditions in Rwanda. The rainforests are at a higher altitude and temperatures are generally lowest in the African region.

Vegetation varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within the park. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500m to 3200m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, mainly on the more humid slopes in the south and west, is hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests of Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation from 3500 to 4200 m is characterized by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also occur, but their total area is relatively small.

Volcanoes national park is a rich ecosystem, a habitat with vibrant and unique mammal species. Mountain gorillas and golden monkeys are the most recognized than other wildlife species. There is high mammal presence in the park, though harder to spot because of the hilly and rugged terrain in a thick and enclosed rainforest. There are signs that indeed show buffaloes, forest elephants, spotted hyenas, bushbucks, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, spotted hyenas, duikers, vervet and colobus monkeys among others.

The park is on the edge where the West African rainforests meet the East African savannas. It is a region where the Virunga volcano region meets the great East African rift. Lake Kivu is just a few kilometers close. All these factors are a magnet that attracts birds into an area and play an important role in the bird presence in the volcanoes. Volcanoes national park is a habitat to more than 200 recorded bird species, an ideal place to spot a number of Albertine rift endemic bird species. Species to look out for include Rwenzori batis, handsome francolin, Archers ground robin, collared apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, African Green Broadbill, Lagden’s Bush-shrike, and Kivu Ground Thrush.

What to do in Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla Trekking

Volcanoes national park is famously known for the mountain gorilla trekking expeditions. Mountain gorilla trekking is the best wilderness adventure activity on the African continent that gets travelers more personal than ever to wildlife.

The activity is adventurous, exciting, fun and educative. Rwanda has 12 families available for gorilla trekking.

Gorilla trekking starts with a briefing from the ranger guides at the park headquarters where you join all the people looking to do a gorilla trek. After this, you are allocated different gorilla family to trek and a ranger guide to lead you. Some of the families are near the briefing area and other groups require driving a distance before the start of the hike. The gorilla trekking process in the park is quite interesting as you will get to see a number of attractions including the different bird species, the golden monkeys among other species.

In the park, you will get to the bamboo trees where the gorillas are found, see the behavior of the gentle giants while in the wild like their feeding patterns as infants suckling the breasts of their mothers. You will also see them eating the bamboo trees which is quite an exhilarating experience to come in contact with the primates, which you will see in an hour you get to spend with the gorillas, photography, can also be carried out to keep exciting memories of your experience with the gentle giants.

 

Bird Watching

Volcanoes national park is an Important Bird Area which is home to over 200 bird species, 12 of which are endemics. Birding is the next best thing to do in this park after mountain gorilla trekking. There are at least 16 Albertine Rift endemic are present, including Rwenzori Batis, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double collared Sunbird, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s ground robin.

 

Golden Monkey Trekking

Golden monkey trekking is yet another most done activity in Volcanoes national park which attract thousands of travelers into this jungle. Golden monkeys are endangered species and an endemic species of the Albertine rift, living and only existing in this area. It’s only in Volcanoes Wanda and Mgahinga gorilla national parks that travelers can see golden monkeys in their natural habitats.

Golden Monkeys are much more playful than the gorillas so expect to see them swing from one tree branch to another. You will spot their brightly yellow colored bodies in this bamboo forest in the volcanoes national park. You will also attend a briefing ahead to this activity and enter the forest and trek an easier trail than that of mountain gorillas.

 

Volcano climbing

Besides wildlife, Volcanoes national park is a home to a number of the Virunga Mountains. While in the park, you can hike Mt Sabinyo, Mt Muhabura, Mt Bisoke and Mt Gahinga on a one-day experience.

Get to experience the different attitudes and explore the vegetation at different hiking levels of these volcanoes that have bamboo vegetation then transition to Afro montane and savannah grasslands. Travelers to this park therefore have an added advantage of hiking to the top of any Volcano, which reward them with spectacular views of Rwanda’s rolling hills, Kigali city, Virunga volcanoes and local communities. Mt Karisimbi is the most hiked Volcano and the experience is worthy the hike.

 

Visit the Musanze Caves

Do not miss out visiting the Musanze caves on your Rwanda safari to Volcanoes national park. Experienced guides lead you into these caves while telling you the mysteries of the caves, history and all other facts about Rwanda.

 

Visit iby’iwachu Cultural Tour

Rwanda is a small but is a culturally blessed country, so ensure to spare some time to take on a cultural tour at iby’iwachu Cultural center located in the volcanoes national park. Enjoy the Rwandan culture and dances performed by a Rwanda Troupe, get to take part in the ancient way of living and also listen to some folktales at this center.

WhEN TO VISIT Volcanoes National Park

Although volcanoes national park can be visited any time of the year, the best time to visit the park is during the dry season. There are types of weather that you would want to miss to see endangered mountain gorillas. Most travelers prefer drier months of the year because the trails are easily accessed.

The dry season goes from June to mid-September and again from December to February and this is the best time to visit volcanoes national park for those who want to trek gorillas and also do canopy walks because the trails are dry, not sleepery and are easily accessible. However, the volcanoes national park has a tropical rain forest, you are advised to carry a jacket just in case it rains.

Hiking Volcanoes National Park is much easier during dry season and game viewing is clear as most of the animals are near water sources drinking water because it’s a dry season meaning you have chances of seeing these animals converged in one place.

The wet season in volcanoes national park runs from March to May and again from October to November and these are the rainy months in Rwanda. But these does not mean it will rain every day on your safari and if it does rain in Rwanda it rains a few hours and it shines the rest of the day not like unlike counties in west Africa. However, those interested in birding this is their best time to visit Virunga National park because in this season plants are flowering attracting birds.

HOW TO GET To Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park can be accessed from Uganda, Kigali the Capital of Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

From Kigali-Capital of Rwanda

Getting to Volcanoes National Park is so easy to reach within only 2 hours’ drive from the Capital Kigali. Given the short driving distance, road transport is the main transport means and it’s easy to undertake a 1-day gorilla trekking tour. Travels usually involve relishing the cool, quiet, and serene rolling hills before arriving at Kinigi Park Headquarters for the start of your planned tourist activities. Rwanda is a lush, scenic landscape of majestic mountains; the Virunga Volcanoes in the north-west, home to the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas.

 

Getting to Volcanoes National Park by road is an experience that adds even more to the sense of adventure in Rwanda, the journey to Volcanoes goes through beautiful scenery, plantations of tea, colorful roadside fruit markets, different landscapes, and towns.

For the ultimate in luxury safari experiences, we can’t think of anything better than a scenic helicopter flight from Kigali International airport to Musanze airstrip, the airstrip is 25 minutes’ drive to the park headquarters. Rolling hills from the Air. You reckon the greatest view of these amazing hills from an aerial flight though, nearly 30 minutes to Volcanoes, which is totally unforgettable.

 

From Uganda

The park can also be accessed from Uganda by either road or air transport. This implies that one can combine safari to both Uganda and Rwanda, the park is at a distance of 519 kilometers a 9-hour journey from Kampala.

By road, the park can be reached using Kabale-Mbarara road. Drive through Kampala-Mpigi-Masaka-Mbarara-Kabale-Kisoro to Cyanika border where you cross over into Rwanda.

By air, there are many airlines offering scheduled flights from Uganda to Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport. these include Uganda airlines, Rwandair, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian airways among others.

 

From Democratic Republic of Congo

One can either use road or Air transport.

By road, crossing over from Democratic Republic of Congo to Volcanoes national Park takes 8-9 hours covering a distance of 386.2 kilometers, cross over to Uganda from DRC and connect to Volcanoes national park via Ntungamo-Katunguru road.

By air, use a flight from Goma airport to Kigali international Airport or you can cross over to Uganda, get a flight from Entebbe to Kigali International airport, and then connect to the park.

Whatever mode you choose, the experience remains amazing and this is the perfect location from which to experience one of life’s most unforgettable moments trekking and observing the mesmerizing gorillas in one of Africa’s most beautiful homes, evocative settings.