Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park is located in a small village called Musanze previously well-known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport. The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2 hrs and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek.

Volcanoes national park is a stop centre for all Rwanda gorilla safaris sheltering the highest number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Conservation area. The strategic location of the VNP roughly 2 hours drive from Kigali international airport make it the most accessible gorilla national park in the world. Besides gorillas, Volcanoes National park is a home for golden monkeys, a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects among other creatures which together make a complete Rwanda safari package.

Spanning on a 160 sqkm area in the northern part of Rwanda, Volcanoes national park is part of the great Virunga volcano conservation region spanning to cover Virunga National Park Congo and Mgahinga gorilla national park in Uganda. It was initially a small area around Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes which was gazetted to protect the Mountain gorillas which were facing the threat of extinction as a result of poaching.

Gorilla Trekking Permits at Volcanoes National Park

The Gorilla permit allows you to visit the endangered mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. The Rwanda gorilla permit is sold at $1,500 per person and it guarantees a traveller one hour in the presence of gorillas. Majorly gorilla permits are booked through local tour agents who deposit on them for booking and finally purchase them on behalf of the traveller as the trekking day approaches. Due to the high demand and the strict gorilla conservation regulations in Rwanda, which limit the number of permits to be issued per day, travellers are recommended to make permit bookings at least six months before their trekking date. There are 10 habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and each family is visited by only 8 trekkers per day. This means that Rwanda issues only 80 gorilla permits per day for gorilla trekking.

Despite the fact that Rwanda’s gorilla permit is the most expensive in all the 3 mountain gorilla trekking destinations (at $1,500), the country still attracts the highest number of gorilla trekkers in the region. This is due to a number of factors which give Rwanda an advantage over its neighbours as far as gorilla trekking is concerned. These include a good transport network evidenced by the well tarmacked roads right from the airport to the park. The short distance between the airport and the park which takes just 3 hours of driving is another favourable factor. High quality accommodation facilities with good services and for all categories of travellers which include luxury, midrange and budget facilities also give Rwanda another competitive advantage over Uganda and DR Congo. Guaranteed security in and around Volcanoes National Park is another encouraging factor that attracts thousands of travellers to trek gorillas here. Finally, the gorilla trekking exercise in Volcanoes National Park is less tenacious compared to other trekking destinations like Bwindi which is very hilly and with dense vegetation.

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. Let’s look at the activities in more detail.

Safari Activities to do at Volcanoes National Park

Mountain Gorilla Tracking: The Volcanoes National Park is one of the 4 national parks where mountain gorillas can be sighted. The others are Virunga in Congo, Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda. 10 habituated Rwanda gorilla groups 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 $15. The dress code during gorilla trekking consists of long sleeve shirts and trousers, hand gloves, rain jackets and hiking shoes.

Tracking Golden monkeys: 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 to another costs $100. 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.

Visiting the Tomb of Dian Fossey: Dian Fossey is one of the greatest primatologists of all time. Because of her courage and determination, poaching of animals and particularly mountain gorillas were greatly reduced in the Volcanoes National Park. Without her efforts, mountain gorillas would probably be extinct by now. She is also credited for introducing new ways of making gorillas comfortable around human presence by imitating their sounds and gaining the acceptance/trust of the dominant male. Today hundreds of visitors go to pay homage to this great conservationist by visiting her grave and former Karisoke Research Centre located between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke. The guided hike lasts about 3 hours and costs $75. As one climbs the volcanoes to her former base, they will get to experience what she had to go through, her determination and the passion she had for the gorillas.

Hiking Mount Karisimbi Volcano: Mount Karisimbi is an extinct Volcano that reaches a height of about 4,507m. Hiking Mount Karisimbi is one of the top tourist attractions at Musanze. It is the fifth highest in Africa and thus requires mental and physical preparation in order to ensure the 2-day hike.  The hike involves navigating through thick forests before stopping at an altitude of 3700m for the first stop, rest and overnight.  Hikers than continue hiking the last steep section early in the morning and up to the top of the summit. The summit rewards hikers with great views of the Volcanoes National Park, the whitened snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, Mount Nyiragongo and all the volcanoes within the Virunga region.

Mount Bisoke Hike: Mount Bisoke is an extinct Volcano that forms part of the wider Virunga range of Mountains. It takes 3 hours of driving to reach the foot of the mountain from the capital Kigali. Hiking mount Bisoke takes one day and is relatively easier compared to Karisimbi. However, hikers still need to be reasonably fit to complete the activity. The hiking permit costs $75 and like all activities in the park, everything starts with briefing at the park headquarters before heading out to the starting point. The roads from the park headquarters to the head trail can be muddy with stones and requires a four-wheel drive car. For those with heavy luggage, porters are available for hire at a cost of about $15 at the starting point.

Mount Muhabura Hike: Mount Muhabura is one of the most interesting and adventurous volcanoes to climb while visiting the Volcanoes National Park.  At 4,127m, it is the third highest mountain within the Virunga ranges. The hike starts at a height of 1200m and by the time one reaches the summit, they would have passed through beautiful green forests and marvelled at the other volcanoes within the wider Virunga region.

Visiting the Twin Lakes Ruhondo and Burera: After carrying out one of the major activities like gorilla trekking, one way to relax is to visit the twin Lakes of Ruhondo and Burera. A boat cruise through the deep waters of these two lakes will reward you with beautiful sights of birds and the vast hilly landscape with waterfalls.  Visiting the lake islands gives you time to mingle with the locals to learn about their rich heritage and culture that defines them and makes them different from the other tribes in Rwanda.