Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Welcome to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
This was Gazetted in 1925 to protect the endangered Mountain Gorillas. It was the first National Park in Africa, covering a total size of 12,500 Hactares. The park is located 2hrs from Kigali to the Northwest of Rwanda.
“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 rain-forest – the Virungas”. Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, 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 gorilla 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 colorful 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.
What to See and Do in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
The Virungas with five peaks-Karisimbi (4507M), Bisoke (3711M), Sabyinyo (3634M), Gahinga (3474M) and Muhabura (4127M).
The endangered mountain Gorillas.
Groups of Mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Among the three national parks in Rwanda, it is only in Volcanoes national park that you can see mountain gorillas. Rwanda Development Board has put aside some gorillas for research and others for tourism purpose. Today, there are 10 amazing gorilla families that have been habituated for trekking by tourists. Each of these families is visited by a group of a maximum of 8 people. You’ll enjoy the trek differently depending on which family to be visited. The mountain gorilla groups are; Susa (Susa A), Amahoro, Karismbi, Sabinyo, Umabona, Ugenda, Kwitonda, Hirwa, Bwengye and Group 13.
Susa family (Susa A)
This is the biggest gorilla group and the most interesting to visit. It is the group that Dian Fossey first used for research when she was in Rwanda. Susa gorilla group is quiet challenging to trek because of its distant location. It is often sighted on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and rangers will first find out about their location before advising trekkers to search for it. If it has moved to a very distant area, you will be advised not to trek for it. However, if you happen to spot it, you’ll have the best experience of the activity. There were 42 members before it split, and there are currently 33 gorillas. from the time the gorilla mother-Nyabitondore gave birth to twins (Impano and Byishimo), this has been one of the most interesting and famous gorilla families to visit.
Sabinyo gorilla family
The group was formed after the death of the dominant silverback that had been leading Group 13. It has the biggest silverback of all the gorillas in the back. Sabinyo group is fond of roaming around the slopes of Mount Sabinyo and this makes it easy for visitors to find it. Mebers here are relatively fewer, 13 members with 2 silverbacks.
This group is also known as Agashya gorilla family. It got its initial name group 13 because the family started with 13 members under the leadership of a silverback known as Nyakarima who was later over powered by Agashya hence the current name of the group. Nyakarima and Agashya went into a brutal fight at the end of which Agashya won and took over the Nyakirima’s group. He immediately shifted the group to a different location to stay safe from the loser. The size of the group has been increasing as members from other groups join. It currently has about 25 members with one silverback. Agashya group also lives on the slopes of Mount Sabinyo and can as well easily be spotted if they have not moved long distances.
Karisimbi family (Susa B)
This group is referred to as Susa B because it broke up from the initial Susa A and also referred to as Karisimbi because of residing on the upper slopes of Mount Karisimbi. The volcano is 4507m high. This group is a good one to trek for tourists that are much interested in hiking since you have to climb to the higher slopes to find these primates. You may be advised not to trek for this group if rangers find out that is has moved to very distant locations on the mountain.
Amahoro is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “peace”. The group was named Amahoro because of the peaceful nature of the members of the group. Even the dominant male silverback-Ubumwe is a peaceful and humble gorilla and this makes it easy for other silverbacks to steal his members to their groups. Most members have been lost to Umubano gorilla group led by Charles. Amahoro group resides on the slopes of Mount Visoke and often moves to the upper slopes making it one of the difficult groups to trek. The group currently has 17 members; Ubumwe, 5 juvenile gorillas, 5 adult males, 2 black backs and 4 babies.
In Kinyarwanda, Umubano means neighborliness. This group was initially part of Amahoro group. It comprises of 11 members; Charles the silverback leader, a sub-adult male, 3 adult females and 6 babies. It was formed when Charles separated from the initial group because he couldn’t submit to a silverback (Ubumwe) that had just taken on leadership after the death of their former leader. Because of occasional fights arising from failure of submission, Charles decided to move with 2 female gorillas from Amahoro to form his own group-Ubumano. When the two silverbacks Charle and Ubumwe meet, they do not fight.
Hirwa means “lucky one” in Kinyarwanda. One of the lucky things it names is the twins that the group has. Hirwa group is the newest and was formed by members that broke up from Group 13 and Sabinyo family. Later on more gorillas joined the group and today the group adds up to 16 members. This group is easy to trek because it lives on the slopes of Mt. Sabinyo.
The group got its name from the late silverback leader who died in 2012 at the age of 40. Just like the meaning of his name, the silverback was a “humble one” during his days. He was succeeded by Akarevuro. This is the second largest group with about 28 members. It migrated from the DRCongo inhabited areas between Mount Sabinyo and Mount Gahinga.
Bwengye means “wisdom”. The group is led by a silverback named Bwengye who separated from his initial group to form this group in 2007. It has 11 members including the silverback leader who is popular because of his great wisdom. Bwenye group faced a big challenge of losing 6 infants. It was a difficult time for the group. This is one of the groups to trek, it lives on the slopes of Karisoke volcano.
This group has 11 members living on the slopes of mount Karisimbi. Ugenda means “being on the move” and it was named so because of its frequent movements.
Other animals including the rare golden monkeys, Cape buffalo, black fronted duiker; a profusion of bird life including the Ruwenzori turaco, and beautiful francolins. In the vicinity the beautiful lakes Burera and Ruhundo.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: Bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+).
Between Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes lies lakes Ngezi, Nyirambubu, Gasindikira and Muraro. Crater lake is at the peak of Bisoke. Visit to the lakes can be organized by Jungle Safaris Uganda.
High altitude makes it generally cold, especially during the evenings. Gorilla racking in PVN is possible all the year round.
Tourist Activities in Volcanoes National Park
- Visit to the grave of Dian Forsey and her gorilla Digit. A visit to the tomb of Dian Fossey and the nearby gorilla cemetery is a memorable experience. There is a two – three hour climb through the forest to get to the site and then the plunge down takes between one – two hours depending on how many times you stop to admire the forest scenery and observe the abundant wildlife of the park.
- Mountain Gorilla Tracking (Most popular) A gorilla trek can range from 1 to 4 hours trekking through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or along the forest. Each enchanting trek is unique as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. 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 majestic primates.
- Climbing Karisimbi Mountain (2 days)
- Climbing Mountain Bisoke 1 day. The upward climb is approximately two hours, but the view from the top is breathtaking and the beautiful crater lakes situated at the summit of the Volcano definitely makes it worth it.
- Visits to lakes Burera and Ruhondo.
- Cave exploration; visit Musanze cave and the natural bridge.
- Tracking the Golden Monkey. Guided early morning walks are available to observe a fully habituated group of Golden monkeys (Cercopithecus Mitis Kandti). This monkey is a subspecies of the widespread Sykes Monkey, also known as the “Blue Monkey” and is endemic to the high altitude forests of the national park. The monkeys are playful and inquisitive and often spend their time leaping from bamboo branches or frolicking on the forest floor.
- day excursions to lake Karago
- Excursion to lake Kivu.
Important Visitor Information
It should be noted that golden monkey tracking is undertaken in the morning from ORTPN Kinigi/ Ruhengeri office. Two families of the golden monkeys are open for tracking ; Kabatwa at the base of Sabyinyo and Musanga at the base of Karisimbi. Those wishing to track specific mountain gorilla families are advised to book in advance
A special event that happens in the park annually is Kwita Izina, the baby gorilla naming ceremony. This much celebrated event takes place every year in June.
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Cruise down the River Nile on a boat tour and marvel at Murchison Falls, go Chimpanzee in Kibale Forest and gorilla trekking Bwindi National Park, gaze upon the only wild rhinos in Uganda at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, enjoy game, track golden monkeys in Volcanoes crowned with a Kigali City Tour
Encounter game safaris and gorilla trekking tours in Uganda, Rwanda & Congo in Volcanoes & Virunga National Park and then hike Nyiragongo volcano trekking tours.
Take advantage of the short drive to the gorillas in this Rwanda Gorilla Trip - a drive of approximately 2.5 hours from Kigali City to Volcanoes park where the Rwanda gorillas are found. The gorilla park Volcanoes Park is easily accessible because of the good roads.
Rwanda and Congo Wildlife Safari 7 days will start from Kigali International Airport to Volcanoes National Park to Nyungwe National Park to Lake Kivu to Virunga National Park and you will be dropped off at your hotel at Kigali International Airport