Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park or Parc Nationale Des Volcans

Volcanoes National Park, also known as Parc National des Volcans was gazetted in 1925 purposely to protect the Rwanda Mountain Gorillas and was the first National Park in Africa. Just an hour and half drive from Kigali, the park covers an area of Area of 130 km² (2,500 Hectares) in the northwestern Rwanda areas of Ruhengeri and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park on the Ugandan side. The park is well-known as a place of safety for the mountain gorillas. Five out of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains including Karisimbi (4507M), Bisoke (3711M), Muhabura (4127M), Gahinga (3474M) and Sabyinyo (3634M) are found in the park.

The park was the base for Dian Fossey, an illustrious primatologist who once wrote about it saying, “In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat, are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”.

Found in the far northwest of Rwanda, Parc des Volcans protects the sharp slopes of this wonderful virunga mountain range – home of the rare mountain gorillas and the rich variety of montane ecosystems, which hold close evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and moorland. At an altitude of 2,400 m – 4,507 m, Parc des Volcans annual rainfall stand at 1,975 mm (the high at 3030 m, with a noticeable decline to the west and mean annual temperature at 9.6 °C.

A stimulating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virungas offers breathtaking views in all directions. Swiftly, the trek enters the national park, availing to trekkers the strange closeness of the rainforest, active with the calls of colourful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, and besieged with fresh spoor of the mountains’ elusive populations of buffalo and elephant. Through gaps in the forest shelter, the superlative peaks are glimpsed, effortlessly reachable and among the highest in Africa, beckoning an ascent.
The busy market town of Ruhengeri has an impressive location at the bottom of the Virungas. On the outside edge of the town, the natural bridge at Musanze – a solidified lava flow, is a fascinating leftover of the volcanic activity that shaped this beautiful area. Also within simple day tripping distance of Ruhengeri are the infrequently visited but attractive Lakes; Burera, Ruhondo and Karago. Ruhengeri offers a good selection of low-priced small hotels and guest houses, including the Gorilla’s Nest Hotel. Visitors could also base themselves in Gisenyi or Kigali, with an early launch visit to the Parc des Volcans and Ruhengeri as a day trip.

Parc National des Volcans Animal Life

Parc National des Volcans is most excellently famous for the tracking of Mountain Gorillas which are in 7 families which include, Amahoro group (15), Hirwa group (12), Umubano group (7), Sabinyo group (10), Susa group (35), Group 13 (21), Kwitonda group (10). Other tourist activities are; Golden monkey tracking, Karisimbi Volcano climbing, Climbing of Bisoke volcano, Tour of Lake Burera and Ruhondo, exploration of Musanze cave and the natural bridge and vvisiting the tomb of Dian Fossey, a distinguished primatologist.

Rwanda Gorilla Groups:

There are currently SEVEN groups habituated to visitors in Rwanda.

(a) Amahoro group – 15 individuals located on the Visoke volcano.
(b) Hirwa group – 12 individuals located on the Sabinyo volcano.
(c) Umubano group – 7 individuals located on the Visoke volcano.
(d) Sabinyo group – 10 individuals located between the Sabinyo and Visoke volcanoes.
(e) Susa group – 35 individuals located high on the Karisimbi volcano (long and strenuous hike).
(f) Group 13 – 21 individuals located on the Sabinyo volcano.
(g) Kwitonda group – 10 individuals located on the Sabinyo volcano, sometimes in Democratic Republic of Congo and thus off-limits.

Only the Park Authorities will assign which gorilla group you will visit.

Parc National des Volcans has other mammals that consist of, the golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). Some elephants are reported to in the park, even though these are now very rare. The park has 178 recorded bird species including the Ruwenzori turaco and the gorgeous francolins. Out of the 178 species, at least 13 species and 16 subspecies are common in the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.

The Park Vegetation

Parc National des Volcans plant life varies significantly due to the huge altitudinal range within the park, with some lower montane forest which is now for the most part gone farming. Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, largely on the more humid slopes in the south and west, 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 symbolized by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m, grassland comes about. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also appear save for their total area that is comparatively small.

Parc National des Volcans Tourism Activities

The park has a number of activities for tourists and these include.

1. Gorilla Tracking, Gorilla permits are booked in advance and tracking starts at 07:00 Hrs at ORTPN Kinigi office.
2. Golden monkey tracking, the two families of the golden monkeys are open for tracking; Kabatwa at the base of Sabyinyo and Musanga at the base of Karisimbi and tracking starts in the morning from ORTPN Kinigi/Ruhengeri office
3. Karisimbi Volcano climbing, this is a two day trip with overnight camping at an elevation of 3,800 m.
4. Climbing of Bisoke volcano, this is a one day exercise.
5. Tour of the lakes, which are Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo.
6. Cave exploration involving an excursion to Musanze cave and the natural bridge
7. Climbing Karisimbi for 2 days.
8. Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey, a celebrated and distinguished primatologist.

Away from Ruhengeri and volcanoes, one can have a half day excursion to Lake Karago or a half day excursion to Lake Kivu and return contentedly for overnight once trekking is finished in time.

There is an exceptional occasion code-named Kwita Izina, the Baby Gorilla Naming Ceremony which takes place every year in the month of June in Rwanda. The event is uniquely was introduced in 2005 with the aim of creating awareness for the conservation of the endangered mountain Gorillas. The ceremony gets thousands of international, regional and local visitors to its Virunga mountain ranges to visit the endangered mountain gorillas. For decades, international conservation organizations, donors and concerned individuals have made substantial resources available to the gorilla conservation cause and continue to do so. Each year the new born gorillas are celebrated in an exciting event at the foot of the Virunga Mountains.

Much of the revenues from tourism activities at the park go towards maintaining the park and conserving the wildlife. The balance goes to government and about 10% to local projects in the area to uplift the welfare of the people.

One can have overnight and dinner at Kinigi Guest House, Gorilla Nest, Muhabura Hotel and Hotels in Gisenyi.