Volcanoes National Park spreads along the Virunga Mountains. The mountains consist of eight volcanoes, which are shared by Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. This corner of northwestern Rwanda offers each tourist an astounding traveling experience, as here is the one place where conservation, culture, and adventure overlap. Of primary focus is the mountain gorilla, as many people come here to engage in trekking activities. The stunning slopes of Virunga volcanoes will make the experience gratifying and unforgettable. In the proximity of the national park, there’s Iby’lwacu Cultural village. We could say that it’s similar to a living museum, featuring the real life of the locals, their traditions, and customs. After taking the time to visit the village, you’ll see everything from a different perspective. You’ll be enticed by the Park, and the memory of the Rwandan people will become precious to you.
- +Gorilla trekking
- +Tour of the lakes and caves
- +The presence of the golden monkey
- +Musanze town market
- +A visit to the local village Iby’Iwacu
- +A birdwatcher’s haven
- +Summit opportunities for the most adventurous
About Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park features five legendary volcanos – Karisimbi, which is the highest peak (4507), Bisoke (Visoke), Gahinga (Mgahinga), Sabinyo, and Muhabura (Muhavura). All volcanos are mesmerizing, making the national park one of the most memorable ones in Africa. The primary highlight that draws millions of tourists here on a regular basis is, by all means, the remarkable presence of the mountain gorillas.
You can live the unique experience of a face-to-face encounter with these intelligent animals. However, the park has so much more to offer besides that. The rare golden monkeys dwell on the park’s premises as well, a population which has been habituated for human contact. The Virungas also provide the adventurous traveler with plentiful trekking opportunities, ranging in difficulty.
Not only is the national park home to the rare mountain gorilla, but it also encompasses a vibrant collage of montane ecosystems, consisting of open grassland, evergreen and bamboo forests, heath and swamps. A trek in such a location is nothing less than spectacular; it provides one with thrilling views of the volcanos. When the trail enters the park, you are there – in the dark heart of the rainforest – immersed in the astounding African wildlife ecosystem. The lively, chattering birds, together with the golden monkey, and, of course, the rare gorillas, elephants and buffalos – the distinctive species of wildlife brought together in the same spot will make you relish a unique experience.
Iby’Iwacu, as previously mentioned, is a village located just outside the park. Travelers may witness some of the traditional rituals that are typical of their culture, rituals that date since the ancient Rwandan kingdom. Old traditions of hospitality and honor run deep here – if you take the time to get acquainted with the Rwandan people, you’ll discover their real character.
Volcanoes National Park is situated in a small village, known as Musanze. The village is accessible by public transport, from the airport. Other available routes include those from Kigali and Gisenyi. The drive to the National Park lasts about two hours.
When to Go & Weather
March – May; October – November – these months are acknowledged as the rainy season. Gorilla trekking is not recommended during these months. Nonetheless, if you intend on appreciating the luxurious vegetation, and the mixture of ecosystems, the rainy season is more suitable.
June – September; December – February – during the dry season, animal sightings are common, which makes it be the most crowded tourist season. Hence, the prices tend to be typically higher than usual.
All in all, tourists can visit Volcanos National Park all-year-round. However, the answer to the question – “when to go” – is a complex one, depending on each person’s interests. One thing that you should bear in mind is that, if you are interested in trekking activities, during the rainy season, the roads become mainly inaccessible. On that account, the ideal timing for Gorilla trekking is the dry season, when the temperatures may reach 29 degrees during the day.
The Volcanoes National Park is literally located in the heart of Africa. Hence, being fractionally south the Equator, Rwanda’s high altitude ensures overall pleasant weather, which is typical for the tropical highland climate. Nonetheless, this kind of environment implies plenty of rain as well. Temperatures can vary a lot, being influenced by altitude, and the month of the year – to some extent. Nonetheless, the average temperature in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital is that of 21 Celsius degrees. More information on the weather is further available here: https://weather.com/weather/today/l/-1.51,29.49.
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Covering nearly 160 square km of northern Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is recognized as the earliest national park in Africa. Initially, the area consisted of Visoke, Mikeno and Karisimi volcanoes. These volcanoes were gazetted for protecting the mountain Gorillas. At the moment, they are in danger of extinction, due to poaching activities.
In 1929, the park was enlarged into Rwanda, and was given the name Albert National Park, being administered by the Belgian Colonial Authorities. In the 1960s, Congo gained independence, and soon afterward, the park was divided into two. In 1962, after the Rwandan Independence, the new government officially recognized the park as being a conservation area, in spite of the fact that there were stressing overpopulation issues at that time. In 1969, the park was halved. In the years to come, 1050 hectares of the park were directed towards growing pyrethrum.
Later on, Dian Fossey – an American naturalist – initiated her research on the distinct species of gorillas dwelling in the park. She arrived in 1967, and she was the one to assemble Karisoke Research Centre between volcanos Visoke and Karisimbi. She was determined to save the populations of gorillas, which were prone to become extinct. She brought the situation to the attention of international communities. Unfortunately, in 1985, Fossey was killed. It is assumed that the poachers are responsible for that, as she was in open conflict with them.
During the Rwandan Civil War, the Volcanos National Park was a battlefield. In 1992, the park’s headquarters were attacked. As a result, the research center was left unattended, and any tourist activities vanished. Only in 1999 did tourism begin blooming in the area again, when the park was under control and safe. Ever since, the National Park has remained a secure place for enthusiast travelers.
The gorillas are, by all means, the highlight of the Volcanoes National Park. Nonetheless, the Virunga mountains are the proud home of other mammal species as well – the golden monkey, the Buffalo, the spotted hyena, the black-fronted duiker, as well as bushbucks. Elephants may be spotted now and then, but they exist in small number. A birdwatching enthusiast won’t be disappointed when coming to th Volcanoes National Park. It has nearly 178 bird species recorded, and at least 13 of them are endemic and can be met only in Ruwenzori Mountains.
Gorilla trekking can be an exhausting, tiresome endeavor, but nothing compares to encountering one, which makes it a highly rewarding experience. The most adventurous travelers will find it immensely gratifying to climb the volcano peaks. Mount Muhavura is less exhausting and more accessible – the summit altitude reaching 4,127 m.
Even if it weren’t for the mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park would still be a fantastic place. Its elevation varies from 2,500 m to the highest volcano peak – Karisimbi at 4500 m. The result is astonishing – gorgeous bamboo forests and some of the remaining afro-montane habitat in the world. The high slopes will get you to the habitat of endemic groundsel and lobelia as well as the thick moors. 39 percent of the park area is surrounded by forest.
As Volcanoes National Park is one of the most popular parks in Africa, gorilla trekking is a sensitive activity. If it’s not administered as it should, the likelihood of disastrous impacts on the wellbeing of the mammals is imminent. On that account, some steps have been taken. The governments of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo established a gorilla permit, which is far more expensive than another permit. This license is meant to restrict the total number of visitors that come to the park, in this way conserving the unique species.
Simultaneously, only eight permits per gorilla group are allowed a day. This way, the gorillas won’t become overwhelmed because of an abundance of tourists. At the same time, the government has introduced a revenue sharing strategy, for the benefit of the local communities dwelling in the proximity of the park. 20 percent of the revenue collected from gorilla permits is offered to the communities as a method of enhancing the effectiveness of social services and supporting various income generator projects.
- When talking about the National Park, Dian Fossey said that its location in the deep heart of Africa makes one shiver.
- Dance and music are important components that construct the culture of Rwandan people. One can relish participating in such a gathering in Iby’ Iwacu Cultural village. A visit here will make you feel as if you have immersed in a different realm, in a distinct century. Performances vary a lot; they include celebratory dances, traditional songs, humorous dance styles, and characteristic lyrics.
- The locals produce a wide variety of traditional handicrafts that are typical of the Rwandan culture. Ceramics and basketry, as well as contemporary paintings and woodcarvings – these are only some of the most recognized items produced by the locals. Did you know that the unique characteristics of the baskets made them famous in the entire world?
- Kwita Izina is an ageless Rwandan ceremony. In English, it’s translated “to give a name”. It was initiated to celebrate the birth of a new child into a family. The ceremony announces a child’s name. However, for nearly three decades, this ceremony has been performed for celebrating the birth of mountain gorilla babies. In 2005, the tradition became a public ritual, being administered by ORTPN. Two years later, in 2005, this custom was given the name – Kwita Izina, being an exciting, characteristic ceremonial. The event is nothing less than the celebration of the conservation efforts that have been made to save the gorillas for extinction.
- The market town of Musanze is located in a memorable setting, on the low slopes of Virungas. Right on the outskirts of the town, there’s a bridge, which is, in fact, solidified lava – the bridge is the living evidence proving the historical activity of the volcanoes.