Volcanoes National Park

The Birunga massif in the north of Rwanda, with five magnificent volcanoes, including Karisimbi with the highest peak of 4,507 meters. The ‘ Volcano National Park Rwanda’ is located on the common border of Rwanda, Congo and Uganda where Dian Fossey studied about 600 gorillas in Rwanda for many years.


The park was turned into the base for the American naturalist for Dian Fossey’s research on mountain gorillas. She arrived in Rwanda in 1967 and set started the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. Since that time she spent most of her time with the gorillas in the park, and is widely known for her famous work of saving the mountain gorillas in Rwanda from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community.

She was later murdered by unknown assailants while 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 near her research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life for remembrance of her work.

In 1992 Rwandan Civil War turned Volcanoes National Park in to a battlefield and a central point for warriors. Diana Fossy’s gorilla research centre was closed during that time and all visitors were refused from accessing the place as well as gorilla safaris. It was until 1999 when all safari destinations in Rwanda were open offering confirming that Rwanda was safari for tourists.

Flora and fauna in Volcano Park
Due to large altitudinal range, there is Vegetation variation in the park that is the lower forest Montane has turned into farming. Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, especially on the more humid slopes of the west and south part of the park, is Hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests in Africa with 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.

Volcano Park is commonly known for being a habitat to the beringei beringei gorillas and it’s the major tourist attraction in the park. A part from the gorillas safaris other wildlife attraction in the park are golden monkey safaris, hynas, buffaloes, black-fronted duiker and a few elephant but rarely seen. Birders also stand a chance of seeing some birds species since there are about 178 bird species recorded to be in the bird and some a migrants

Virunga Massif

The National Volcano Park is a primary forest lying on a chain of 5 volcanoes that encourage you do an excursion. The chain is extended to the Congo-Nile Crete separating two important large basins of Africa. Created in 1925 with the aim of protecting mountain gorillas, it was the first National Park in Africa and covers an area of 12,500 hectares. The five volcanoes situated in Rwanda are:

  •     Karisimbi : 4 507 m
  •     Muhabura : 4 127 m
  •     Bisoke : 3 711 m
  •     Sabyinyo : 3 634 m
  •     Gahinga : 3 474 m
  •     Mikeno : 4 437 m
  •     Nyiragongo : 3 470 m
  •     Nyamuragira : 3 058 m

Activities in Volcanoes National Park

Although gorilla trekking is the dominant activity in the volcanoes national park, there are several other incredible activities to choose from for potential visitors. Visitors may be spoiled for choice and wish they had more time to complete all the activities in the Volcanoes National Park.  The major attractions include gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, visiting the grave of Dian Fossey, mountain hiking, touring the lakes Ruhondo and Burera.

Mountain Gorilla Tracking:

The Volcanoes National Park is one of the four national parks where mountain gorillas can be sighted. The others are Virunga in Congo, Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. There is a high chance of seeing gorillas in Mgahinga. There are twelve habituated gorilla groups that are available for tracking under the guidance of experienced and motivated rangers.

It is important to be in good shape before embarking on an activity that can prove demanding depending on the gorilla group you are assigned. Trackers can hire the services of a porter to help with extra luggage at a cost of about 15USD. Read our article about gorilla trekking for the disabled for more about porters. A gorilla permits in Rwanda cost 1500USD with part of it going to the local communities and infrastructural developments around the park. The Permits can be obtained directly from the Rwanda Development Board or more conveniently through the services of a tour operator. The dress code during gorilla trekking consists of long sleeve shirts and trousers, hand gloves, rain jackets and hiking shoes.

Golden monkey tracking: Tracking golden monkeys has gained popularity over the years and is now second only to watching the gorillas. Spotting the endangered monkeys feed, groom and swing from one bamboo tree. A group can consist of nearly 100 individuals and is usually led by a dominant male. Golden Monkey tracking can be done before or after gorilla trekking. Tracking the Golden Monkeys is less strenuous than the gorillas because they don’t go to high altitudes in search of fresh food like the gorillas. They prefer to feed on the Bamboo shoots that grow at the base of the volcanoes. Golden monkey permits don’t need to be booked in advance like that of the gorillas but we recommended early booking just in case.

Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

It’s estimated that out of the 1000 mountain gorillas living in the three countries Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic republic of Congo, Rwanda has more than 300 of them in volcanoes National park. Today mountain gorilla numbers are estimated to have gone high due to several newborn baby gorillas that Rwanda names every year during the Kwita Izina ceremony alongside the great conservation effort which Rwanda fronts in the world of nature and wildlife.

If you planning for a gorilla trekking safari, Rwanda should be your choice for an interesting gorilla tracking safari. Don’t look at its gorilla permit price of $1500 but the experience is worthy every effort and cost. Rwanda gorilla tracking tours are always the best with several incredible moments and memories to carry home any time of the year no matter when you chose to visit. Beyond doubt Rwanda’s largest tourist population is of wild mountain gorilla trek. Therefore why not experience Rwanda by trekking through the misty jungle of volcanoes national park in the eyes of the local rangers, guides and porters.

One hour duration with these beautiful apes is truly once a life time experience and if combined with golden monkey trek and a visit to Nyungwe forest a home to chimpanzees and colobus monkeys, it becomes very exclusive. Don’t forget that its only in Rwanda where the treks are less physically demanding and many have experienced this after tracking gorillas in Rwanda and one of the other countries.

Besides volcanoes National park is sited just 2.5 hours drive from Kigali city Rwanda’s capital on a decent road surrounded by incredible views of hills and farm lands. No need for long drive preparations because you get to the lodge fresh and relaxed. For those looking for clear primate viewing platform or better visibility still Rwanda does best here because it has moderate plants and shrubs making photography and observation of mountain gorillas the finest. The bamboo trees that fill up the forest are less obstructive and very conducive for gorilla safari encounters. Even the parks natural beauty is one of the main things you notice as soon as arrive at volcanoes National Park.

Rwanda culture and locals are also another wonderful travel aspect one should explore while in the country and get informed about the country’s history trend and the present. Unless if culture exploration isn’t your thing but Iby’wachu cultural village is one of the Rwanda must visits for great cultural fun and adventure. Still some tourists proceed to other nice leisure grounds like Lake Kivu for water spots and captivating hill and island views .Sunset and sunrise can make you get lost in natural beauty for a few minutes. Tourists around the lake keep around the lake waiting for sunset and sunrise moments something you shouldn’t miss out if around. Its also good to spend some time in Kigali city Rwanda’ s capital and check out the Kigali Memorial Centre a moving testimonial of the 1994 Rwanda genocide and also discover the growing cleanest city with a positive outlook.

The volcano park is characterized by the oldest mountain gorilla families living in a very splendid world and very attractive to the visitors. There are twelve gorilla families that have been habituated for gorilla visits:

  • Groupe Sabyinyo
  • Groupe Amahoro
  • Groupe Susa
  • Groupe 13
  • Groupe Kwitonda
  • Groupe umubano
  • Groupe Hirwa

You can visit mountain gorillas or go on the following excursions:

  • Visiting the tomb of the researcher DIAN FOSSEY TOMB’s RESEARCH CENTER.
  • Climbing Volcano Karisimbi and Bisoke
  • Visiting Musanze cave
  • Lakes Burera-Ruhondo tour
  • Visiting monkeys
  • Discovering the ecosystem of four types of vegetation including low altitude bamboos.

Several tour companies organizes tours to the National Volcano Park. The request for visit is generally simple. But visiting mountain gorillas depends on whether you have the authorization issued by ORTNP, which demand is very high. The booking is normally done in advance, and payment must be made at least six month earlier.

For the tour, you need take the following items with you:

  • shoes appropriate to a long excursion
  • a rain coat, a hat and gloves.
  • long-sleeved clothes and long trousers.
  • enough drinking water
  • a camera and films but a flash is not allowed
  • a light bag