Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans PNV), the most famous destination in Rwanda.  This park is home to the Mountain Gorillas and forms Rwanda section of the Virunga Ranges with 5 volcanoes – Karisimbi , Bisoke (Visoke), Sabinyo, Gahinga (Mgahinga) and Muhabura (Muhavura).

Volcanoes NP (Parc National des Volcans) is part of the Virunga Mountains, a large volcanic massif of more than 8,000 square kilometers, which covers both Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The massif covers a huge area of over 8,000km², encompassing six active and three extinct volcanoes. Mountain Gorillas, of course, pay no heed to borders and are known to cross between the countries, although most habituated groups are to be found in Volcanoes National Park. The massif is home to around half of the world’s precious mountain gorillas – some 400 of them – making Rwanda probably the best place in Africa for a tracking safari.

Volcanoes National Park also has a historic connection with gorilla conservation. It was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey which started in the late 1960s and is evocatively portrayed in the book and film Gorillas in the Mist.

The Wildlife

Vegetation varies considerably due to the large altitudinal range within the park. There is some lower montane forest (now mainly lost to agriculture). Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpine (bamboo) forest occurs, covering about 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, mainly 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 of Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation from 3500 to 4200 m is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs. Secondary thicket, meadows, marshes, swamps and small lakes also occur, but their total area is relatively small.

The Volcanoes National Park is best known for the mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei). Other mammals include: golden monkey (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffalo (Syncerus caffer), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. There are 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.

Tourism Activities in Volcanoes National Park

The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) runs several activities for tourists in Volcanoes National Park, including:

  • Gorilla trekking – as of January 2015, there are ten habituated gorilla groups open to tourists, allowing for a total of 90 permits per day. Tourists report at the park head office by 7:00 for a pre-tracking briefing. Once tourists meet the gorillas they spend an hour with them.
  • Golden monkey visits.
  • Climbing of Karisimbi volcano – this is a two-day trek with overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800 m.
  • Climbing of Bisoke volcano – one day.
  • Tour of the lakes and caves.
  • Visiting the Dian Fossey Tomb.
  • Iby’Iwacu cultural village tour

The majority of revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving the wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and (around 10%) to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park.

Special events

Kwita Izina, the baby gorilla naming ceremony which takes place every year during the month of September in Rwanda

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Best Time to Visit

Visiting Rwanda for gorilla tracking can be done all year round. The best time to travel to Rwanda is during the drier seasons, periods between December to early March and June to September. December to March is a long dry season for Rwanda, with temperatures going up to 29 degrees Celsius for some days while the months of March – Mid May, July to September, on the other hand, are regarded as the rainy in the country

Best time to go: December to February and June to July (Dry seasons)
High Season: June to September (More people visit Uganda since it is the peak time for gorilla tracking)
Low Season: March, April, May, October and November (A number of camps and lodges close)
Best Weather: Mid-December to February (Less rainfall)
Worst Weather: Mid-March to May and mid-August to November (High rainfall, roads can become impassable)

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Tailored Gorilla Trekking Rwanda Safaris

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Rwanda’s renowned Volcanoes National Park is home to mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The park encompasses 4,507m-tall Mt. Karisimbi and 4 other forested volcanoes. In the southwest is Nyungwe National Park, with ancient montane rainforest that’s a habitat for chimpanzees and other primates.
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