Situated in the north western region of Rwanda and founded by a very prominent primate activist called Dian Fossey, Volcanoes National park is strategically located overlooking the vast Virunga National park in Democratic Republic of Congo in the wet while in the North East is Mgahinga National Park Uganda. These expand towards the tremendous great Virunga Mountains that include thick green rain forest vegetation occupying its inclines consisting of bamboo, swamps, heath, open grasslands which act as habitats to various wildlife species like the rare golden monkey, 178 vibrant species of birds, populations of buffalo, elephants, black fronted duikers, spotted hyenas and bush bucks etc. These are continuously relocating and enjoying their habitat through grazing, feeding, resting, etc. Different activities are carried out in the park which include Gorilla trekking, birding watching, golden monkey tracking, hiking and nature walks, caving, volcano climbing.
Activities at Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is carried out at Volcanoes National Park which is situated in the northern part of Rwanda and covers a big part of the Virunga Massif that is 2300-4500 meters. The park inhabits about 480 species of the endangered Mountain Gorillas with different groups that were habituated and conserved for future prospects like education, research and tourism. Trekking starts at around 7:00-8:00 am till 6:00 pm and a maximum of only eight people is authorized to track per an hour on a daily basis. Gorilla tracking permits cost $750 per person. The park consists of 10 habituated mountain Gorilla Families with different attributes and characteristics depending on their specific habitats and movement. These include; Susa group, Umubano, Ugenda, Sabinyo, Hirwa, Karisimbi, Amahoro, Bwengye, Kwitonda and Group 13 “Agasha group”.
The Best Time to go for Gorilla Trekking at Volcanoes National Park.
For one to enjoy tracking gorillas at Volcanoes National Park, they should visit Rwanda during the dry season in the months of December to March which is the lengthiest dry period with about 29 degrees Celsius while from March to May, July to September the country will be experiencing the rainy season. Rwanda has appropriate weather conditions annually with the dry season being more favorable since it is more easy and cheaper to track gorillas. The landscape during this period is very fine to comfortable to support the movement of the guests/visitors.
Birding in Volcanoes National Park takes place in the Albertine Rift with dense forest vegetation and mountains which make it easy for the birds to live. There are more than 700 species of birds living in this area of which 27 are regional endermics and also in the wetlands and lakes. Some of the species include the shoebill stork, rare acacia and papyrus species like the Red-faced Barbet, Bennett’s Woodpecker, Papyrus Gonolek, White-headed, Black and familiar Chats, Carruther's and Tabora Cisticolas, White-winged and Broad-tailed, Warblers and Miombo Wren-Warblers, Handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco, Mountain Sooty Boubou, Rwenzori Batis, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Archer’s Robin-chat, Rwenzori Hill Babbler, Grauer's Rush, Neumann’s and Grauer's Warbles, Masked Mountain Apalis, Stripe-breasted Tit and Strange Weaver, a full range of Rwenzori double-collared, purple-throated, blue-headed and regal Sunbirds.
The other bird species here are the White-bellied robin-chat, Doherty’s and Lagden's bush-shrikes, White-tailed Blue Flycatcher, Great Blue Turaco, Barred long-tailed cuckoo and White-bellied crested flycatcher. At dusk, you will have an opportunity to spot the Rwenzori Nightjar and the Albertine Owl as well as the Congo Bay-owl. Around the Nyarutarama Lake near the Golf Course in Kigali you will spot the African Reed Warbler, Great Sedge Warbler, Winding Cisticola, Common Waxbill, Grey-backed Fiscal, Tropical Boubou, Red-rumped, Mosque swallows, African Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Stork, Great White Pelican, Common Moorhens, Grosbeak Weaver, Grey Heron, Yellow-backed (Black-headed) Weavers, and the Pied Kingfisher.
Golden Monkey Tracking
Golden monkey tracking in Volcanoes national park begins at 7:00 am in the morning and there are two golden monkey troops of approximately 80 members that are available for tracking by visitors in the park. Golden monkeys in the park inhabit the bamboo vegetation found at the bottom of the volcanoes where they have been habituated to enable them interact freely with humans as well as researchers. A small group of people are accepted to track these primates in an hour. They are very interactive mammals which play and jump with in the trees. The whole activity is a spectacular experience despite the fact that photography is challenging.
Hiking and Nature Walks
Ngezi Lake Trail
The Ngezi Lake trail is the shortest hike one could take on and involves trailing to a small scenic shallow crater lake found at the base of Mount Visoke in Volcanoes National Park. This hike takes 3-4 hours in company of a skilled ranger who will guide you while moving through the thick forest while spotting various species of birds as well as the rare monkeys.
The lake is surrounded by different bird species which inhabit this area for example the Grauer’s Swamp-Warbler. While here, you will have beautiful scenic views of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Volcanoes National Park’s elongated green forest as well as the bluffs of the Virunga Volcanoes, Crater Lake, wildlife, birds and monkeys.
Dian Fossey’s Hike:
Dian Fossey devoted her entire lifetime to see that the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas would be preserved/ conserved for future generations. Unfortunately, she was killed after some time and this was due to her dedication of protecting these endangered primates which were oftenly hunted and poached for meat and trade at the time. At Volcanoes National Park one can embark on a hike to Dian Fossey’s graveyard which is located at an altitude of 3000 meters and while here, they will learn a lot about this brave zoologist who gave up her life in order to save the endangered species of Mountain Gorillas. The hike will take about 3 hours from the base to the top. You can also transfer to her scientific research camp called Karisoke located near the park headquarters where you will learn more about her and the lives of these primates. Today, you will find scraps of the camp bestrided in between Mount Visoke and Karisimbi. Permits for the Dian Fossey hike cost $75 per person.
Twin Lakes of Burera -Ruhondo
Stop over to encounter and spot the beautiful lakes of Burera and Ruhondo where you can take on boat cruises in the afternoon/ evening. One can also involve themselves on a three hour hike through the scenic valley to Rusuumo Falls. While at the falls, you will spot a variety of different species of birds as well as the tremendous mysteries of nature and here you will spot birds like the Long-crested Eagle, African Marsh Harrier, Stonechat, Plain Martin, Cinnamon-breasted Bee-eater, White-tailed, Grey-throated Tit, Paradise Flycatchers, Pink-backed Pelican, Common Moorhen. The waterfall trek usually begins in the morning where as exploring the lakes happens in the afternoon in 1½ hours.
Buhanga Sacred Forest Nature Walk
The candid Buhanga Sacred Forest Hill is a destination in Rwanda that is very rich when it comes to the history and various cultures of the Rwandeese. The forest was a place where the Kings of Rwanda went and bathed in the fresh waters ahead of coronation which made it a consecrated ground. All that lived around this place refused to grow plants or cut down trees around this place. It is believed that the forest changes to different measurements, colors according to the season, weather, light etc and while here, you will spot the tall magnificent trees with the beautiful birds of the air as well as the butterflies. The trails through the forest are made of lava stones and the forest is a peaceful place for relaxing the mind.
Exploring the Musanze Caves:
The ancient Musanze Volcanic Caves are among the many caves in or close to Volcanoes National Park Rwanda. These are very big in size which is very amazing since after entering inside, you will feel like you are in a natural cathedral. These offered shelter and refuge to the kings of Rwanda as well as keeping food supplies during the war times. When inside the cave, you will hear nothing other than your own footsteps and drops of water hitting the ground since the silence embodied around the cave is overwhelming which makes the whole adventure more exceptional. Above the cave, you will spot big populations of bats hanging along the ceiling and these are more clearly seen when you shine your light at the ceiling. You will follow a clear path that will lead you to the other side of the cave.
Volcano climbing takes place along Mount Visoke, Mount Muhabura, Mount Karisimbi.
Climbing Mount Visoke/Bisoke)
With a crater lake at the top, Mount Visoke occupies an area that lies both in Democratic Republic of Uganda and Rwanda. The mountain is known to be a perfect volcano by many while at the bottom with about 3700 meters above sea level. Climbing this mountain is quite challenging due to its sharp elevation and vertical tracts along the trails one has to follow so as to get to the top. On your way up, you will pass via several vegetation regions like the Afro-montane zone that includes rare plants like the big lobelias. The process of climbing takes about 3-5 hours in company of skilled guides who will ensure your hike goes on well as expected. You should also carry packed lunch and plenty of bottled water with you for the lengthy hike.
Climbing Mount Muhabura
Mount Muhabura is the second highest peak within Volcanoes National Park situated in the Far East spanning both Rwanda and Uganda. One can use either side of the border to get to the top of the mountain so as to spot the stunning volcanoes of Rwanda, Uganda and DRC at a distance during day. One can swim and walk around the Crater Lake on the Rwandan side. Climbing this mountain is challenging and requires one to put in effort. However, one can take only a day to hike this mountain depending on their capability. You will enjoy the beautiful views of the mountain inclines as well as the vegetation zones that are occupied with thick forest and green bushes an experience that is worth encountering.
Mount Karisimbi Climb
Hiking Mount Karisimbi takes two days to get to the 5th highest snow capped peak at the top. On the first day you will take 6 hours to climb/ hike to the top about 3700 meters and while at night you will set up camps to sleep and rest. The next day, you will proceed to the crest where you will also have an opportunity to spot and encounter beautiful sightings of the relief and vegetation at the top. After finishing, you will descend in about 6 hours.