The Volcanoes National Park is a stunning conservation area located in the northwestern part of Rwanda. The park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area, a region that includes national parks in Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including the endangered mountain gorilla, which is one of the main attractions for visitors to the park.
In this comprehensive beginner’s guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to plan a visit to the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda, the favorite destination for gorilla watching in Africa;
The easiest way to get to Volcanoes National Park is to fly into Kigali International Airport, the main airport in Rwanda. From there, it’s a two-hour drive to the park headquarters in Musanze, which is the nearest town to the park.
There are several ways to get from Kigali to Musanze, including hiring a private car for self drive, taking a taxi, or using public transport. The most popular option is to hire a private car, either through a tour operator or by booking a taxi in advance. The journey takes about two hours, and the roads are generally in good condition.
If you want to go on a gorilla trek into the Volcanoes Park, you’ll need to obtain a permit. Gorilla permits are limited, and they are issued on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s important to book your permit well in advance, as they can sell out quickly, especially during peak season.
Permits cost $1,500 per person, and they can be obtained through the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) or through a tour operator. When booking your permit, you’ll need to provide your passport details and the date you want to go on your trek.
There are several lodges and guesthouses near the park that cater to tourists. Most of the lodges are located in Musanze, which is the nearest town to the park. Some popular options include Virunga Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, and Gorilla Mountain View Lodge.
The lodges vary in price and comfort, so it’s important to do your research and choose a lodge that fits your budget and preferences. Many of the lodges offer all-inclusive packages that include meals, drinks, and gorilla trek permits.
Gorilla trekking is the main attraction at Volcanoes National Park, and it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. The park is home to several habituated gorilla families, which means that they are used to the presence of humans and are not aggressive.
The gorilla trek starts early in the morning, and you’ll need to arrive at the park headquarters by 7:00 am. You’ll be assigned to a gorilla family, and your guide will take you on a hike through the forest to find them. The length of the hike can vary, depending on where the gorillas are located, but it can take anywhere from 1-4 hours.
Once you find the gorilla family, you’ll have one hour to observe them and take photos. It’s important to remember that the gorillas are wild animals, and you must follow the rules and guidelines set by the park authorities to ensure their safety and wellbeing.
During the gorilla trek, you’ll need to wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, sturdy hiking boots, and a backpack with plenty of water and snacks. You may also want to bring a rain jacket or poncho, as the weather can be unpredictable in the rainforest.
In addition to gorilla trekking and hiking, the Volcanoes National Park offers visitors a range of other activities to enjoy during their visit. These activities provide a chance to experience the park’s natural and cultural wonders in different ways. These include:
Golden Monkey Trekking
Golden monkey tracking is a popular activity in the Volcanoes Park. To participate, you need to obtain a permit from the Rwanda Development Board, which can be purchased online or through a tour operator. It’s advisable to book in advance as permits are limited.
The Volcanoes National Park hiking trails take visitors through bamboo forests, open grasslands, and steep hillsides, with stunning views of the surrounding scenery. The park is home to the endangered mountain gorillas, and many visitors combine gorilla trekking with hiking for a complete wildlife experience. Visitors to the park should be in good physical condition, as some of the hikes can be challenging due to the high altitude.
However, the rewards of hiking in the Virunga Volcanoes are well worth the effort, as visitors are treated to breathtaking views and a chance to connect with nature in one of Africa’s most beautiful national parks.
Visitors to the park can take a cultural visit to local villages such as the Iby’iwacu Cultural Village to learn about the traditions and daily life of the local communities. During the visit, visitors can witness traditional dance performances, participate in craft-making workshops, and learn about the history and customs of the Rwandan people.
The Volcanoes National Park offers excellent bird watching opportunities, with over 170 bird species recorded in the park. Birders can spot species such as the Rwenzori turaco, dusky crimson wing, and the African olive pigeon.
The park’s diverse habitats, including bamboo forests and open grasslands, provide a home for a wide range of birdlife, making it a must-visit destination for bird enthusiasts.
Tips for Visiting Volcanoes National Park
Below are some tips that will help you make the best out of your visit into the Rwandan Volcanoes;
Packing appropriately for a visit to the park is essential for a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Visitors should bring appropriate clothing for the climate, comfortable and sturdy hiking shoes, and necessary equipment such as a backpack, sunscreen, and insect repellent.
Packing light is recommended, and visitors should also bring a reusable water bottle and any necessary medications.
Hire a porter
Hiring a porter can make trekking and hiking easier and more enjoyable. Porters can carry equipment and supplies, making the trekking experience more comfortable for visitors.
Additionally, hiring a porter can support the local community, as many porters are from nearby villages and rely on this work for their livelihood.
Follow the rules
Following the rules and regulations of the park is crucial for the safety of visitors and the preservation of the park’s natural environment. Visitors should adhere to the designated trails and stay a safe distance from the wildlife, including mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Additionally, visitors should not litter or disturb the park’s flora and fauna, and should respect the local culture and traditions.
Respect the wildlife
Respecting wildlife is important for their protection and the safety of visitors. Visitors should maintain a safe distance from the animals, especially the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Flash photography is also prohibited as it can cause distress to the animals. Visitors should follow the guidance of their guide and avoid any behavior that could harm or disturb the wildlife.
Hire a reputable tour operator
Hiring a reputable tour operator for your visit can enhance the visitor’s experience and ensure their safety. A reputable operator will have knowledgeable guides, provide necessary equipment, and ensure compliance with park regulations.
They can also arrange accommodation, transportation, and other activities, allowing visitors to focus on enjoying their trip.
In conclusion, the Volcanoes National Park is a unique and unforgettable destination that offers an opportunity to see one of the most endangered species on the planet in its natural habitat. With careful planning and preparation, you can have an amazing experience while respecting the park’s wildlife and culture.