The Parc Nacional Volcans is the highlight of any trip to Rwanda. It remains one of the best places in East Africa to track silverback gorillas, a rare species of ape with characteristic silver hair on the back and hips, and a species which inspired the Hollywood blockbuster Gorillas in the Mist. Gorilla tracking is now the third biggest attraction for visitors to Rwanda, and thanks to the work of renowned zoologists like Dr. Dian Fossey, it is possible to now know more about these incredible mammals than ever before.
Also home to the endangered golden monkey, Parc Nacional Volcans is comprised of five magnificent volcanoes steeped in bamboo and lush rainforest, of which Karisimbi is the tallest, standing at over 4500 meters high. Climbing the volcanoes is often seen as one of the most exhilarating experiences of any trip to Africa, and can be done for an affordable price here.The mountainous and volcanic region of the Virungas is also situated within the park, and is a popular draw for visitors wishing to traverse the stunning landscape, offering various hikes and trails with differing levels of difficulty. Parc Nacional Volcans became a national treasure after Belgian colonists recognized the need to protect the area and its precious endangered species, an idea which came to fruition as early as 1925. The park was reopened for tourism in 1999, after an extensive period of closure during the devastating civil war.
Volcanoes National Park covers 5 of the 8 main volcanoes in the Virunga Mountain range chain. Muhavura and Gahinga are shared on the Uganda border, Sabinyo stands at the meeting point of all three countries (Rwanda, Uganda, DR Congo), and Bisoke and Karisimbi are shared on the DR Congo border. The Volcanoes are covered with lush mountain vegetation which harbors plenty of life including Mountains Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, Forest Elephants, Buffaloes, several endemic birds, rare plants and orchids.
The volcanoes are wonderful for hiking adventures that will treat you to breathtaking scenery, encounter with plenty of wildlife and sights of enormous crater lakes. The most popular Volcano hike is the Mt. Bisoke Crater Lake Hike (3711m), which is a one day hike just like Mgahinga and Mhavura. Mt. Karisimbi which is the highest of the Volcanoes (4507m) and 11th in Africa requires a 2 day hike. Karisimbi receives snow during June, July and August. Only Mt. Sabinyo is unavailable for hiking due to many craters which render it dangerous. There is however a hiking trail from the Ugandan side.
The Mountain Gorillas are the prime attractions of Volcanoes National Park. The park has a third of the roughly 800 Mountains Gorillas remaining in the world. 10 groups of Mountain Gorillas have been habituated for the famous Gorilla tracking experience in Rwanda.
Dian Fossey Tomb Trail
Dian Fossey is famous primatologist and research that dedicated her life to the conservation of the Mountains Gorillas and these endangered species survived because of her works. During her work she faced obstacles that ultimately brought about her death. She was buried near to the Gorillas at her research center located in the park. A trail to her tomb is 1 and 45 minutes hike from the base of Mt. Bisoke. Though challenging, the hike offers a wonderful nature encounter including orchids, birds, and occasional mountain Gorillas.
Golden Monkeys are striking primates and are unique to the Virunga massif. They inhabit the lower zones of the mountains where mostly bamboo vegetation occurs. Two large troops with over 100 individuals each have been habituated for Golden Monkey tracking in Rwanda. This adventure is a great add on to any activity in Volcanoes National Park especially because it is an easy trek and also there is no restriction on age and number of travelers. For photographers, these monkeys are incredibly beautiful and photogenic, and they love flash!
Communities (Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village)
The Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village located in Kinigi near the park offices is an organization consisting of locals from near the park, many of whom are former poachers in the park. The cultural village offers an opportunity to visitors to experience Rwanda’s traditional way of life. Activities that you join in with the community include Grinding millet and Sorghum on a local grinding stone which is then mingled to make food, cycle on a wooden bicycle, shoot arrows with the Batwa people who not long ago were inhabitants of the forests in the park and leaved a life of hunting and gathering, listen to village elders explain their traditions and practices and so much more. You shall also be treated to a traditional dance performance by the Intore dancers
With more than 200 species of birds Volcanoes National Park is recognized as one of the Important Bird Areas (IBA) of Rwanda. The mountain forests and lakes near the park harbor a number of Albertine Rift endemics and several beautiful species. Some of the key species include the Grauer’s Swamp-warbler.
Twin Lakes – Burera and Ruhondo
The Twin Lakes Burera and Ruhondo are located near the foothills of Mt. Muhavura, near the Rwanda border with Uganda. Often bypassed by most travelers heading to Volcanoes National Park, the lakes a wonderful to stopover at a viewpoint to enjoy the breathtaking scenery of the lake and striking backdrop of the volcanoes. Travelers can also adventure on the lakes by taking a canoe ride and visiting some of the islands on the lakes, enjoy the mountain scenery and spot wildlife such as birds. Travelers can also go fishing on the lakes with the local fishermen using the traditional fishing methods.
The caves stretching over 10km were formed millions of years ago by lava flow from the Volcanic eruptions. There are over 52 caves in the Northern Province with 15.2k of cave passages. Musanze Cave (2km long) is the most popular for the caving adventures.
The “Parc National de Volcans” (or PNV as it’s known by locals) lies along the Virunga Mountains, with 8 ancient volcanoes, which are shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences. While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys.
PNV is also one of Rwanda’s conservation epicenters, where many non-profit organizations base their operations. Visitors can pay homage to the legendary scientist and gorilla advocate Dian Fossey with a hike to her tomb or a visit to the Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund that continues her legacy of research and advocacy to this day.
Near the park, the bustling and vibrant markets of Musanze are a place to immerse yourself into everyday Rwandan culture. Go deep into the earth with Musanze’s caves – one of the area’s newest attractions.