A dramatic chain of seven volcanoes, this park is the definitive place to track the rare and captivating mountain gorillas. Forming a natural border with the DRC and Uganda, the area is one of the most beautiful in Africa. Dian Fossey’s account of her years with the gorillas and her battle with poachers and government officials, is detailed in Gorillas in the Mist, a must-read before coming here. There is no habitat more evocative of the gorillas than the densely forested slopes of the Virunga volcanoes.
The park covers over 120 sq km
How to get there
The easiest way of reaching Volcanoes Park is Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri, which can easily be reached on public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali on the day you track. You need to be at the ORTPN office in Kinigi, by the park entrance, by 07.00, but this isn’t a reliable option incase you are using public transport. There is no public transport between Musanze and the park headquarters at Kinigi.
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+)
Volcanoes National Park compiled in 1980 a total of 180 species. About 15 previously recorded species were noted during a 2004 biodiversity survey, but it is possible that several other forest specialists have gone astray since 1980. A local specie is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s rush warbler, while at least 16 Albertine Rift endemic are present, including handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori batis, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s ground robin.
Parc National Des Volcans not only harbors Mountain gorillas but also rare and IUCN listed endangered Golden Monkey species. They are beautiful creatures with orange bodies and glossy back legs and head. They spend much time in the bamboo zone eating bamboo shoots, living in groups of up 40, they chirp and twitter all the time as they forage through the park vegetation.
The bustling market town of Ruhengeri has a memorable setting at the base of the Virungas. On the outskirts of town, the natural bridge at Musanze - a solidified lava flow - is a fascinating relic of the volcanic activity that shaped this scenic area. Also within easy day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the seldom visited but lovely Lakes Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of reasonably-priced small hotels and guest houses, including the newly renovated hotel Gorilla’s Nest. Visitors could also base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali and - with an early start - head to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting 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 wonderful animals.
At the park, this activity still remains the most popular , with a total of up to 40 permits issued daily, eight for each of the five habituated troops. But Volcanoes National Park is not just about gorilla tracking, it has other activities like trekking, hiking which are now well organized, from a two-day ascent of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of crater later, but the most exciting innovation is that tourists can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.
This trek involves a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters to the trailhead than a 10-minute stroll to the park boundary. From here, the climb through the forest takes from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on your fitness and how often you stop to enjoy the scenery, while the plunge takes 1-2 hours. All arrangements for these activities can be made through the ORTPN offices, whether in Kigali, Musanze or Kinigi (incase you want to pay by MasterCard it can be done in Kigali). Note that all hikes depart from the park headquarters at Kinigi at round 07.30 (check-in-time 07.00), the same departure time as for gorilla tracking, which means that visitors can undertake only one activity per day within the park.