Volcanoes National Park Rwanda / Parc National Des Volcans (PNV)
Traveler’s guide to Volcanoes national park Rwanda featuring all you need to know about Rwanda trekking safaris to watch gorillas in Ruanda, Location of VPN, Wildlife, Vegetation, travel tips how to book gorilla permits, other attractions in the park, what to wear for gorilla trekking, gorilla groups in Rwanda, best time to visit Rwanda for accommodation in Rwanda and so much more. A gorilla tour to Volcanoes national park is purely a life-changing adventure which rewards travelers with close encounter to the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.
Volcanoes national park is a stop center for all Rwanda gorilla safaris sheltering the highest number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Conservation area. The strategic location of the VNP roughly 2 hours drive from Kigali international airport make it the most accessible gorilla national park in the world. Besides gorillas, Volcanoes National park is a home for golden monkeys, a variety of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects among other creatures which together make a complete Rwanda safari package.
Spanning on a 160 sqkm area in the northern part of Ruanda, Volcanoes national park is part of the great Virunga volcano conservation region spanning to cover Virunga national park Congo and Mgahinga national park Uganda. It was initially a small area around Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes which was gazetted to protect the Mountain gorillas which were facing the threat of extinction as a result of poaching.
In 1929, Volcanoes national park was extended into Rwanda and the then Belgian Congo and was named Albert national park managed and run by the Belgian Colonial Authorities. During the early 1960s, the park was divided as Rwanda and Congo gained their independence and by the end of that decade, the park was almost half of its original size.
In 1967, the American zoologist Dian Fossey who had been doing research on mountain Gorillas in the forests of Congo fled from insecurity and established her research base at a place between Visoke and Karisimbi volcanoes that was yet to be known as Karisoke research center. She spearheaded the conservation campaign of the mountain gorillas and mobilized resources to fight against poaching in this area, a fight she put up until her murder in 1985. She was buried at the research center next to the grave of her favorite gorilla called Digit.
The park continued to suffer at the mercies of poachers though conservation efforts were also underway. In the early 1990s, the park became a battlefield for Rwanda’s civil war which paralyzed tourism activities until 1999. In 2005, in a bid to boost conservation and gorilla safaris in Volcanoes national park, Rwanda introduced the annual baby naming ceremony for baby gorillas known as ‘Kwita Iziina’ which has seen great results in as far as gorilla population in volcanoes is concerned.
In addition to mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), Volcanoes national park is home to golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), elephants, black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). The park also harbors 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori mountains and the Virungas.
How to get there
Volcanoes National Park is located in a small village called Musanze previously well-known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport. The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2 hrs and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek. You will be required to arrive at the headquarters of ORTPN in Kinigi, at the park entrance, by 7:00 am, therefore, if you hope to trek gorillas for one day, you have to wake up very early for your journey so that you are on time. However, there isn’t any public transport from Musanze to the headquarters of the park at Kinigi.
What to Expect the day you trek gorillas in Rwanda
Carry your gorilla permit with you as you leave your hotel that morning and make sure you have packed all the necessary gears like gloves, trekking boots, long sleeved wear, rain jackets, snacks and packed lunch, walking stick (very necessary), among others, this is what you should expect the day of your gorilla trekking excursion in the Rwanda.
Carry your passport with you as you head to the park headquarters for an early morning pre-tracking briefing by park officials. Your gorilla permits will be crosschecked with your passports to verify that you are the right owner of the permit. At this moment, you are expected to be ready with your packed lunch since no one is certain about the time you will take to see these gorillas.
A cup of tea/ coffee is served as you are being entertained by the local traditional Kinyarwanda dancers to give you a good start of a strenuous yet exciting day, before the ranger guide gives you tips on how to conduct yourself on this trek.
After a quick briefing on safety measures and what to expect during the day, you will be grouped in groups of 8 people maximum and each group is assigned one gorilla family to trek. Rwanda has 10 gorilla families, hence 10 groups of 8 people each are the ones allowed to track on a particular day.
Assigning the groups highly depends on the fitness and age of the guests. For example, those above 45 years and the ones with less fitness are assigned the ‘easy to find’ gorilla families which do not wander far away from the trail heads. However, even those with special interests about specific groups may inform their guides to help them negotiate with rangers before assigning the groups such that they may be assigned those specific groups too.
Being wild animals in their natural habitat, what may be regarded as easy to find may not necessarily be, as the animals may wander far as they search for food and therefore, it is not a guarantee that they must be near or easy to find. Even those which are allocated to the physically fit and energetic tourists, that are always regarded as strenuous to track, may be easily tracked on a particular day which makes the total experience interesting and un predictable.
Each gorilla tracking group consists of a main guide and two scouts who carry AK-47 guns, one walking in front and another behind the group. The reason for armed scouts is for protection in the forest against wild elephants or angry, wild gorillas. The scouts are trained to fire shots into the air first in order to scare away the animals but this is only done on rarest occasions when all other options like hiding away from such dangerous animals have been done. We’ve never heard of any case where such animals attacked the tourists and the scouts had to fire bullets though on many occasions, they advise to hide or remain still until the animals go away. However the policy of the National Park is to be safe rather than sorry.
Your group will also have a pair of trackers who will have been sent out in the early morning (prior to your arrival in the park) to find the location of your specific gorilla family and to assess where they may be headed. Trackers communicate the gorilla’s movements to the guide so that he can decide on the best approach to meet the gorilla family.
If you do not trust your fitness, please endeavor to let your guide know such that he may help you to hire a porter at the park gate. A porter is hired between $15 to $20 depending on what he is going to carry.
Trekking to Find the Gorillas
The overall length of your hike to the mountain gorillas is unpredictable depending on how far the gorillas have moved being wild animals. It may take as little as 30 minutes to find your gorilla family and as long as five to seven hours.
The forest is verdant, humid and somehow light and there are no discernible trekking paths. The terrain is full of hills and steep volcano slopes where you will be required to pull yourself up steep grades by grasping onto branches, plant roots, bushes and more. Follow the lead of the guide as to the best path and form to take. If you need a break, let your guide know.
It is also advisable that you carry with you some energy giving snacks and bottled mineral water to quench your thirst and give you more energy.
Golden Monkeys Tracking
Golden monkeys trekking takes place in Volcanoes national park and at the same time 7:00 just like gorillas. These rare species are also listed as endangered – and Volcanoes national park currently has two habituated golden monkeys’ troops that are available for visiting by tourists in the park, both of which make about 80 members.
Golden monkeys in Rwanda live in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes and habituation has helped them to overcome their initial shyness to accept their daily visit by researchers and tourists. Trekking golden monkeys and gorillas is a similar experience – in a small group of no more than eight people, and you can spend one hour with the monkeys once you find them. The endangered species are very active creatures, and jump from tree to tree which is really interesting and a little difficult to photograph!
The golden monkey trek is worth going for while in Volcanoes National Park and if you’re interested in wildlife, this is a rare and delightful experience not to be missed!. Besides Volcanoes national park, the other population of golden monkeys reside in Mgahinga gorilla national park in Kisoro district, south western Uganda.
How much is a golden monkey permit?
Just like in mountain gorillas, Travelers to see golden monkeys are required to buy permits which allow them to access and spend an hour with these amazing creatures. Fortunately, golden monkey permits are quite cheap costing $100 per permit in both Uganda and Rwanda. permits are bought from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) in Rwanda and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in Uganda.Travelers are reminded to book for permits at least 3 months before the trekking date to secure permits and ensure timely planning. The cost of a golden monkey permit involve park entry fees, ranger fee and government taxes.