Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park spans on an area of 160 square kilometers (100 square miles) in the far north-west of Rwanda. The Park is part of the great Virunga Volcano Conservation region covering Virunga National Park in Congo and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. It started as a small region around Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes meant to protect the mountain gorillas facing threat of extinction as a result of poaching. The thick forested mountain ranges comprise of six extinct and three active volcanoes each characterised by steep slopes that are blanketed in thick green, tropical rainforest.
Volcanoes National Park is home of 340 rare and endangered mountain gorillas which is half the population of the 780 remaining in the world. It is the easiest park to track mountain gorillas.
There are 10 habituated families of Mountain Gorillas located in the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Volcanoes: the Susa Group, Sabyinyo Group, Amahoro Group, Group Thirteen (Agasha Group), Kwitonda, Umubano, Bwengye, Hirwa, Karinsimbi, and Ugenda. Each family is unique, some families have babies, and others have teenagers, while others may not have many children or may be comprised of more females.
Gorilla trek through Volcanoes National Park vary depending on the gorillas’ movements. In most of the cases, the gorilla families are found within a two-hour trek. Once found, trekkers have an hour to spend with the giant primates, a short duration but it leaves an everlasting impression on those lucky to experience it. Spending time with a family of mountain gorillas is a life-changing experience. It truly is one of the most magical experiences you will ever have in your lifetime.
The experience requires fitness as you will be hiking in humid conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, muddy, mountain tracks. Clothes and shoes should be appropriate for these conditions. It is recommended to dress in the colours of nature – green, grey or brown – so that you blend in with your surroundings. Avoid wearing camouflage as it is illegal for civilians. Do not wear animal print as the gorillas may become alarmed.
Gorilla in the Mist
It was in the Volcanoes National Park that the American primatologist Dr Dian Fossey spent 20 years of her life studying gorillas. She spearheaded the conservation campaign of the endangered mountain gorillas and mobilized resources to fight against poaching in this area. Dian was murdered in 1985 by those opposed to her campaign and she is buried in the park next to the grave of a gorilla she loved called Digit.
The film Gorillas in the Mist acted in 1988 features the life of Dr Dian Fossey as a conservationist and researcher, and how she fought gorilla poachers, ultimately paying the price with her dear life.
In the early 1990s, the Volcanoes National Park was a battlefield for Rwanda’s civil war which led to the Genocide. This paralyzed tourism activities until 1999. In 2005, Rwandan Government introduced Kwita Iziina, an annual baby naming ceremony, as a way to conserve and promote gorilla tourism. This ceremony has greatly helped to increase gorilla population and has boost gorilla tourism.
In addition to mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park is home to golden monkeys, spotted hyena, buffaloes, elephants, black-fronted duiker, and bushbuck.
The park also harbours 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to this region.
It is very necessary you book your gorilla tracking permits well before you make the visit. The permits are in great demand and the Government of Rwanda has limit of the number of people that can visit in a given day. Volcanoes National Park is home to 10 mountain gorilla groups and each group can only have 1 group of 8 people visiting a day for only 1 hour.
Trekkers assemble for briefing at the Kinigi Park Headquarters at 7:00am latest 7:30am. Gorilla tracking time is limited from 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. All visitors are expected back at the camp ground by 7:00 p.m.
Minimum age of gorilla trackers is 15 years.
Best Time to Visit
Visiting Rwanda for gorilla tracking can be done all year round. However, the best time is the dry season, from December to March then from June to September. Mid-March to mid-May is the rainy season and trekking at this time is more demanding than usual. Waterproof clothing is a must and still we suggest your waterproof clothing even during the drier months, as the Equatorial climate is very unpredictable.
Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park can be conveniently combined in an itinerary with other iconic safari destinations such as the Masai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park even beach holiday in Lamu Island or Zanzibar. Browse our recommended tours and safaris or contact us and we will tailor-make a personalized safari itinerary for you.