Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

A Complete Guide to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

About Volcanoes National Park – Volcanoes National Park (also known as Parc National des Volcans) is arguably the best place in the world to observe the critically endangered mountain gorilla. This is where Dian Fossey started the habituation of these gentle giants decades ago. Other activities in the park include golden monkey trekking, a hike to Diane Fossey’s former camp, and the more strenuous volcano summit.

Volcanoes National Park is a national park in northwestern Rwanda. The National Park is perhaps known as the home of the rare primate species, the mountain gorillas. The park stretches on a total land area of 160 square kilometers that spans on the large rainforest that encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains.  The park harbors the Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo. Volcanoes National Park is part of the large Virunga ecosystem that stretches in three countries of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The National Park is bordered by Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.

The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Mikeno, intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. Volcanoes National Park is one of the oldest parks in Africa and perhaps the first to be created in Africa in 1929.

History

The park was first gazetted in 1925, as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno, intended to protect the gorillas from poachers. It was the very first National Park to be created in Africa. Subsequently, in 1929, the borders of the park were extended further into Rwanda and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park, a huge area of 8090 km2, run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both colonies. In 1958, 700 hectares of the park were cleared for a human settlement.

Between 1969 and 1973, 1,050 hectares of the park were cleared to grow pyrethrum.

Map showing the location of Volcanoes National Park

Map showing the location of Volcanoes National Park

The park later became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. From then on she spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. Fossey’s life later was portrayed on the big screen in the film Gorillas in the Mist, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.

The Volcanoes National Park became a battlefield during the Rwandan Civil War, with the park headquarters being attacked in 1992. The research centre was abandoned, and all tourist activities (including visiting the gorillas) were stopped. They did not resume again until 1999 when the area was deemed to be safe and under control. There have been occasional infiltrations by Rwandan rebels from the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda in subsequent years, but these are always stopped quickly by the Rwandan army and there is thought to be no threat to tourism in the park.

The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) runs several activities for tourists, including

  • Gorilla visits – as of January 2015, there are ten habituated gorilla groups open to tourists, allowing for a total of 80 permits per day. Each permit costs $1500. Tourists report at the park head office by 7:00 for a pre-tracking briefing. Once tourists meet the gorillas they spend an hour with them.
  • Golden monkey visits.
  • Climbing of Karisimbi volcano – this is a two-day trek with overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800 m.
  • Climbing of Bisoke volcano – one day.
  • Tour of the lakes and caves.
  • Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey.
  • Iby’Iwacu cultural village tour

The majority of revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving the wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and (around 10%) to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park.

Things to do at Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla Trekking:

Volcanoes National Park is home to the most endangered mountain gorillas with about 18 gorilla families found here. 12 of the 18 gorilla families are open for trekking and the other 6 are reserved for research purposes.

Gorilla trekking is a major highlight of the park and allows visitors to move into the forest in search of the habituated gorilla families and usually, when they are found, visitors are allowed to spend one hour with them watching them in their natural habitat. Here you can have a great opportunity to learn more about the mountain gorillas and their behavior in their natural habitat.

Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park usually takes between 2 to 4 hours depending on the direction and how far they might have moved in search of their food.

Golden Monkey trekking

Volcanoes National Park is also famous for habituating the Golden monkeys. Trekking golden monkeys are the second-best activity in the park. Two Golden monkey families live in the National Park that is available for trekking on daily basis. The trekking usually takes 1 to 4 hours depending on the direction and how far they might have moved.

Volcanic Climbing

the Virunga Mountains span three countries, 5 of which are found in Rwanda. Hiking is thus guaranteed in the country on the mountains such as Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhavura Mgahinga, and Sabinyo.

Community tour

A community tour in Rwanda is such a wonderful experience that any traveler shouldn’t miss. Rwanda’s local people are welcoming and their culture is really amazing. On your tour, you will visit the Iwacu cultural village where you can learn more about the local people’s lifestyle, way of living, visit the king’s house and enjoy their traditional dances like the Encore dance.

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