Map Of Volcanoes National Park
When Was the Park Established?
The park was first gazetted in 1925 as a small area by the Belgian colonialists with an intention of protecting the gorillas in Rwanda, on Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Mikeno mountains, and in the Belgian Congo from poachers.
In 1929, its borders were extended further to form Albert National Park or Parc National Albert; a very large area of over 8000 km².
After Congo and Rwanda got their independence in 1960 and 1962 respectively, Parc National Albert was divided into two entities; the Rwanda portion was given the name Parc National des Volcans.
In 2008, Rwanda changed one of its official languages from French to English and the park’s name was changed to Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park derives from a chain of five volcanoes that make up this park.
Where is Volcanoes National Park located?
Volcanoes National Park is located in the far northwest of Rwanda. The park is found in the Musanze district in the Northern Province of Rwanda and North West of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.
The distance from Kigali to Volcanoes National Park is about 106 kilometers by road.
The park is situated at an altitude of 1,881-4,202 meters (6,171-13,786 feet) above sea level.
How big is Volcanoes National Park Rwanda?
Volcanoes National Park covers an area of about 160 square kilometers (62 square miles) of rainforest.
The park encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, namely Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo.
Volcanoes National Park Weather & Climate
Volcanoes National Park weather and climate are characterized by rain and mist. Also, the high altitude of this park means that the climate is wet and cold.
The park’s temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. During the day, the temperatures are around (16°C) 61°F and cool off at night to around 6°C (43°F).
Volcanoes National Park’s wide range of altitudes also means a range of climatic conditions. For every 1000m climbed, the temperature drops by about 6.5°C.
What to See/Attractions in The Park
There are a variety of attractions in Volcanoes National Park to see while on your Rwanda safari in and around Volcanoes National Park. These include;
- The endangered Moutain Gorillas, 12 habituated gorilla families
- Rare Golden Monkeys,
- Buffalos, Elephants, Bushpigs, Giant forest hogs, and several antelope species (these are rarely seen),
- More than 200 species of birds, including 16 Albertine Rift Endemics
- The dramatic scenery consists of a chain of free-standing volcanoes, each connected by forested saddles. These include;
- Mount Karisimbi (4507m),
- Mount Muhabura (4,127m),
- Mount Bisoke (3,711m),
- Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m), and
- Mount Gahinga (3,474m).
- The tomb of the legendary primatologist, Diani Fossey
- The beautiful Twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo,
- Musanze caves, and
- People and their communities e.g Gorilla guardian’s village/Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village.
- Volcanoes Montane Forest
Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes Park
Over 604 Mountain gorillas reside in the Virunga Mountains–a triangle where Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda and the eight Virunga volcanoes intersect. Precisely, this is where the mountain gorillas of Rwanda reside.
Mountain gorillas are the earth’s rarest and most majestic creatures. They are very special creatures and before you travel to Rwanda to see them, you should research and learn as much as you can about them. Below are some of the mountain gorilla facts you should know as you plan to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda.
Diana Fossey Tomb in Volcanoes Park
Dian Fossey is the primatologist who transformed the way we see gorillas. Before Fossey’s work, gorillas had an appalling reputation as violent brutes that would kill a human on sight.
Fossey told the world how mountain gorillas live and fought tooth and nail to save them. Her obsession led to her mysterious death.
For those interested in tracing the footsteps of Dian Fossey, her tomb is a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters and then a two or three hours hike through the forest, to above 3,000m altitude.
At the site, you will find the house where Dian Fossey was mysteriously murdered.
A Brief About Dian Fossey
- Born: January 16, 1932, San Francisco, California, United States
- Died: December 26, 1985, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
- Buried: December 31, 1985, at Gorilla Cemetery at Karisoke Research Station
- Cause of death: Murder
- Education: Darwin College, University of Cambridge (1970–1974)
- Books: Gorillas in the Mist
- Parents: George E. Fossey III, Kathryn “Kitty” Fossey
Golden Monkeys in Volcanoes
Volcanoes National Park offers travelers on Rwanda safaris and tours, a unique opportunity to encounter the golden monkeys.
The Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) is a species of Old World monkey found only in the Virunga volcanic mountains of Central Africa and nowhere else in the world.
Like mountain gorillas, golden monkeys can only be found in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
They are considered an endangered species as they only live in the Virungas and come to about 4000 animals in total.
Birds in Volcanoes National Park
Trekking gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is also a great opportunity to see some of the 200 species that reside in the park.
The park host the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s swamp warbler.
Volcanoes National Park also harbors 16 Albertine Rift endemics or birds that are restricted to the Albertine Rift including;
- The dazzling Rwenzori turacos,
- Handsome francolins,
- Rwenzori batis
- Ruwenzori Apalis
- Rwenzori Double-collared sunbirds
- Archer’s robin-chat
- Doherty’s bush-shrike
- Dusky Crimsonwing
- Strange weaver
- Archer’s robin-chat
- Ruwenzori nightjar
The Virunga Mountains in Volcanoes Park
The Virunga Mountains also popularly known as the Virunga Volcanoes range are a chain of eight volcanoes created by violent eruptions in the Albertine Rift region. These ranges consist of eight major volcanoes in Uganda, Congo with five of them located in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.
The name “Virunga” is an English version of the Kinyarwanda word “ibirunga”, which means “volcanoes”. Most of these mountains derived their names from the geographical characteristic of their appearance, they include;
- Mount Karisimbi (4507m)
Mount Karisimbi derived its name from the word ‘amasimbi’ in Kinyarwanda which means “white shell”, referring to the white-capped summit of this volcano.
The mountain stands at 4507meters (14,787 feet) above sea level and it is the highest point in Rwanda, the highest of the eight Virunga Mountains, and the 6th highest point in Africa.
- Mount Muhabura (4,127m)
Muhabura means “The Guide” in Kinyarwanda local language. Mount Muhabura was historically used to aid navigation. This is because the mountain can be seen from many parts of Rwanda and also in Uganda because of its high slopes.
At 4,127 meters (13,540 feet) Muhabura is the 3rd highest of the Virunga massifs.
It is an extinct volcano and a hike to its top offers breathtaking views of the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo.
- Mount Bisoke (3,711m)
Bisoke is a Swahili word that means ‘soaked with water because of a large crater lake on the summit of this mountain.
Mount Bisoke is a dormant volcano and it last erupted in 1957.
Its peak rises to 3,711 meters (12175 feet) above sea level.
The mountain features different types of montane vegetation at different levels varying from bamboo forests, to Hypercom forests.
- Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m)
Sabinyo volcano has its name derived from a local term ‘Iryinyo’ which means “old man’s teeth” in reference to the mountain’s unique summit with peaks that look like an old man’s spaced teeth.
The summit of mount Sabinyo at 3,669 meters (12,037 feet), marks the intersection of the borders of Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda.
- Mount Gahinga (3,474m)
Gahinga means a small pile of stones in the Kinyarwanda. At 3,474 meters (11398 feet) above sea level, this volcano also features a swampy caldera on its peak which is believed to be about 180m wide.
Gahinga & Muhabura Hikes in The Park
Hiking Gahinga (3474m) and Muhabura (4127m) is a two-day trip from Gasiza (US$200 per person including guide).
The first volcano’s summit can be reached after climbing for about four hours along the route that passes through a swampy saddle between the two mountains.
The trek to the top of Muhabura takes about four hours from the saddle. It is also possible to climb these volcanoes separately.
For Gahinga, allow seven to eight hours for the return hike, and a minimum of nine hours for Muhabura.
Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Of Volcanoes
Iby’Iwacu Village is located in Kinigi, close to Volcanoes National Park. It was started by Edwin Sabuhoro when he worked as a warden at Volcanoes national park with a desire to transform the then-notorious poachers into conservationists.
‘Iby’Iwacu’ means ‘treasure of our home’ or ‘our heritage. The village is committed to showcasing the ways of living, traditional lifestyles, and dances to tourists.
After a fantastic and memorable gorilla trek in Rwanda, the Iby’Iwacu cultural village is the best place to hide, relax and recuperate your mind. You will feel as though you have stepped back in time, to when kings ruled over the kingdom of Rwanda.
During your guided Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village walk, you will also be overwhelmed by the warmth and friendliness of the local folk.
Musanze Caves at Volcanoes Park
Located at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, the caves offer a peek into the geological history of the region, which was created by intense volcanic activity that formed the Albertine Rift Valley some 65 million years ago.
Extending for a length of two kilometers and relatively easy to hike, the underground caverns provide guests with a profound understanding of the origins of the area.
The Rwanda Development Board and Rwanda Defense Forces have provided access to the caves so adventurous holidaymakers can enjoy exploring them.
The floors of the cave are paved, while the trails have stairways and walkways in place to facilitate easy movement.
Activities/What to do in Volcanoes National Park?
- Gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park
- Golden monkey tracking in Volcanoes National Park
- Dian Fossey’s tomb hike in Volcanoes National Park
- Volcano hikes in Volcanoes national park
- Mount Karisimbi hike
- Mount Bisoke hike
- Gahinga and Muhabura Hikes
- Visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village, Volcanoes National Park
- Visiting Musanze Caves at Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Trekking gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is one of the ultimate highlights of a safari to Africa. The thrill attached to first setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is difficult to describe.
These are massive apes, up to 220 kilograms in weight (almost three times as bulky as an average human) and their size is exaggerated by a shaggily luxuriant coat.
Gorillas are incredibly peaceful creatures given their intimidating appearance. In fact, trekking to see them would be a considerably very risky pursuit if they had an aggressive temperament.
More impressive even than the gorillas’ size or their peaceful behavior is their enigmatic attitude to people. It differs greatly from that of other wild animals that visitors often encounter during their African wildlife safaris.
Almost everyone who encounters gorillas on tour in Rwanda experiences an almost mystical sense of recognition.
Gorilla Trekking Rules in Volcanoes Rwanda
Before you visit the gorillas
- People who know that they are harboring potentially airborne diseases such as flu or cold should not trek gorillas (the permit fees will be refunded).
- A maximum of 8 people per group (6 during this period of Coronavirus) are allowed to track one particular gorilla family per day.
- The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is 15 years.
- Always wash your hands when heading into the forest and when out of the forest
On the way to the gorillas
- Please always speak in a low voice in the forest.
- Don’t throw away garbage in the forest.
- Human waste should be buried 30cm deep.
When you are with the Gorillas
- Once encountered, trekkers should not approach the gorillas more closely than 10 meters.
- Flash photography is forbidden since it may cause the gorilla to charge at you.
- It is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorillas.
- Speak in a low voice.
- Don’t feed Gorillas
- If Gorillas charge, follow the instructions from the park rangers.
- Don’t touch the gorillas, they are wild animals.
- If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or germs.
- Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day.
- After the visit, remain silent or speak in a low voice until you reach at least 200 meters away from the gorillas.
What Should I bring for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda?
- Hand sanitizer and face masks
- Sturdy waterproof hiking shoes
- A light long-sleeved shirt and long trousers are essential to avoid stinging nettles and branches. Tuck pants in socks to avoid ants.
- Rain jacket/Poncho
- Gaters or long hiking socks are recommended through the thick bush to avoid those ants up your pants.
- Pack extra socks: Since the Gorillas live on the side of the mountains, the ground is always damp. It is very likely that the pair of socks you are wearing when you start the trek will become wet, either from the conditions or from sweating.
- Don’t forget gardening gloves. This sounds funny but they were handy for grabbing branches for support and pushing those stinging nettles off.
- Floppy hats, bandanas, sunglasses, and lots of sunscreens to protect you from the strong sun.
- Plenty of cold water and hydrating fluids.
- Energy-giving snacks are also good for a quick energy boost.
- A Walking stick can be got at the park headquarters to keep sturdy on the ground.
- Pair binoculars, a camera, and extra batteries are never a bad idea in Africa.
- You need to carry a waterproof bag to protect your camera and a rain jacket.
- Insect repellent with DEET.
- Basic first aid remedies kit for simple illnesses.
- To avoid any potential hassles, carry your passport with you at all times in addition to your gorilla-tracking permit.
Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Permit for Volcanoes
You must have a gorilla trekking permit to trek gorillas in Rwanda. The gorilla permits are obtainable from the Rwanda Tourism Board offices in Kigali or Ruhengeri which is near the park.
You can book your Rwanda gorilla permit either online or via a reputable tour operator. Although you can book the permit on your own, the most convenient method is to use a reliable Rwanda tour operator. Most Rwanda tour operators include a gorilla permit as part of the overall cost of a Rwanda gorilla safari.
How Many Gorilla Trekking Permits are Available in Rwanda Daily?Eight permits gorilla trekking permits are issued per gorilla group per day, (currently 6 during this COVID-19 period). Rwanda has 12 habituated gorillas families for trekking.
When Should I book a Rwanda Gorilla Permit? With only 96 permits (72 during this Coronavirus period) available each day in Rwanda, it is highly recommended to book in advance.
Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda are in high demand.
It is highly recommended to book your permit at least 4-5 months in advance, especially during the peak seasons of December to January and July to August to avoid last-minute inconveniences.
Once your permit is secured, you can then go ahead and organize your transport and overnight accommodation.
How Much are Gorilla Permits in Rwanda? Rwanda gorilla trekking permit fees are as follows;
- US$1500 —Non Residents, East African Residents, East African Citizens, Rwandan Residents, Rwandan Citizens
- 30% Discount (US$ 1,050) on gorilla permits if visiting other Rwanda national parks (Akagera national park, Nyungwe national park) for 3 days and more during the low season of November−May
- 15% discount (US$ 1,275) on conference guests who stay pre & post MICE events to see gorillas
- $15,000 for Private gorilla trekking of an entire group with an exclusive personalized tour guide service
- US$ 30,000 for a minimum of 3 visitors for 3 consecutive days (Behind the scenes)
The fees paid to give you an opportunity to spend one hour with a particular gorilla group after encountering them.
It doesn’t include accommodation, ground transport, or meals. The fee includes park entry, compulsory guides, and guards.
10% of the revenue from the permits is channeled towards local communities, to build schools and health centers, as well as roads.
Also part of the fee the money earned from Rwanda gorilla tourism is used to protect the natural habitats where these endangered animals live.
When to go Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes Rwanda (Best Time to Visit)
Gorilla trekking safaris can be done throughout the year. The hiking itself can be more arduous in the rainy seasons from April – May and in November, but at an altitude of 2000m and more, it can of course rain here at any time of the year.
The most popular times for gorilla tracking are during the drier months, between December and February, and from about June to mid-September.
How To Get to Volcanoes National Park
From Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda it takes about 3 hours to reach the park. A day trip to the gorillas is possible from Kigali and it departs in the wee hours of the morning (4.00 AM)
Accommodation Where to Stay in the Park
There is no accommodation within the national park and overnight camping is forbidden.
However, several lodges catering to all budgets are situated within a few kilometers of Kinigi.
Some of the best lodges in this park per category include:
Luxury Lodges in Virunga National Park Congo
- Bisate Lodge Volcanoes
- Virunga Lodge
- Sabinyo Silverback Lodge
- One &Only Gorilla’s Nest Lodge
- Singita Kwitonda Lodge
- Amakoro Songa Lodge
Midrange lodges in Volcanoes National Park
- Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
- Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge
- Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
- La Palme Hotel
- Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel
- Garden Place Hotel
Budget Lodges in Volcanoes National Park
- Villa Gorilla
- Hotel Muhabura
- Kinigi Guesthouse