WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN AT VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK
Volcanoes National Park lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. Just a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences.
While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. Virunga Mountains of East Africa are a chain of Volcanoes that are located on the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and DR Congo.
You can book gorilla permit through your tour operator. A gorilla is priced at 750 per individual for a single trek. You will be briefed at RDB tourism and conservation offices located at the area offices within Kinigi by 7:00 am.
The RDB tourism and conservation today has English and French speaking skilled guides plus a team of about 88 trained gorilla trackers with majority of them speaking French or English.
There are particular clothes that tourists must avoid when tracking the mountain gorillas of Uganda and Rwanda. The regular questions always asked by the visitors are; what must I wear when tracking gorillas? What must I take on a gorilla adventure or trip? And all these are answered below;
Visitors are recommended to wear their strongest walking or hiking shoes, heavy trousers and as a long sleeved shirt for safety against biting nettles. Gorillas trip are conducted in cold areas for that reason it’s a wise decision to bring a sweat shirt.
Chances are higher of dirtying your clothes as you track the Rwanda gorillas. Because of whether changes, it is good to bring a water proof bag to protect you against the rain and a raincoat, a hut, sun glasses, insect repellent plus drinking water whatever time of the year.
For guest planning to carry additional gear plus water or food, it is recommended to hire porters who are always inside the park with the expectation of getting some work at small fee at $15 for each trek. The money you pay them enables them to look after their local communities and benefiting from Rwanda tourism.
The briefing just after 7:00 am is given by the English guide who explains about the park and the gorilla family that will be visited. You meet the other members of your group at this time.
You then drive to the site where you start the hike and the group re- gathers in front of a group of porters who help carry backers. In addition, porters help stabilize you at slippery or sleep points on the hike, sometimes pushing or pulling guest as necessary.
A second briefing on interaction with gorillas is provided in the park, or forest, the trail shaded and muddy. A tracker with a gun joins the group to protect against the slim chance of encountering a water buffalo or elephant while hiking. Each gorilla family has a set of trackers who stay with them until night fall.
They check for each gorilla, daily, remove any traps in the area, and go out early to locate the families. This ensures that the vast majority of groups do see the family to whom they have been assigned too.
The hike may take 2 to 6 or more hours according to the movement of these families. The guide maintains contact with these trackers during the hike to gather instructions and to update the trackers on the hikers’ progress. A strict 1 hour is allocated for the visit and during this time, trackers under the guide’s direction hack down plants to establish paths for better viewing.
You are not allowed to go with in 7 meters, but gorilla’s especially juvenile ones may try to play with visitors. The guide and trackers discourage too much interaction, although these gorillas are habituated to their trackers and the daily visitors.
Each visitor permit cost $750 as gorilla viewing is the main reason for Rwandan Tourism. The strict control of maximum numbers that are allowed to visit and the high cost have been used by the government to reduce poaching by 90% as tourism for this activity has become a major income for the country. The experience is truly a once in a lifetime one that should not be missed.
Home of the Mountain Gorillas
Volcanoes national park is situated in a small town of Musanze and only 12km from Kinigi, the base of the entrance of the park. Visitors can reach Musanze by public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali or from the international airport.
The drive to the park is only 2 hours unless when you make stopovers which can go from 2 to 3 hours and it is very possible for one to gorilla tracking the same day and drive back to Kigali for overnight. But tourists planning to use public transport to the park should note that there isn’t provision of public transport from Musanze to the headquarters of the park at Kinigi.
Gorilla trekking starts at the park headquarters at 7:00am. There is tea and coffee served in the main shelter and some days there is a dance presentation given by the local cultural centre.
The park guides will place individuals into trekking group of 8 people basing on the ability and preference for which group to visit. This process takes 30 to 40 minutes during which you can walk around the grounds or relaxing in the main shelter.
After the signs are made by your driver or guide will direct you to a location on the way where your trekking group will assemble, then the park guide will give you an introduction to the group you will be visiting along with showing you or diagram of the gorilla group’s family tree. Once this introduction is complete, you will find your driver and proceed to the starting point for your trek.
The Gorilla trek:
Once you have reached the entry point parking lot, your trekking group will reassemble with your park guide and secondary guide, additional instructions will be given and you will be offered a walking stick for the trek and in case of heavy bags or equipment as the hike can be long steep or through difficult terrain.
The porters are all wearing the same blue coveralls and there is a defined order in which they are selected and at the end of the trek a porter has to be paid. It is also an important way to support the local economy and help and conservation.
Your starting point will be outside the park and depending on the starting position you may have to hike up to an hour or hours to actually get to the park boundary which is marked with a stone wall. Once you reach the park boundary, additional instructions will be given about how to behave around the primates such as on eating, drinking, smoking and bathrooms breaks.
The trek inside the park boundary varies depending on the location of your group and may include steep climbs, movements through a bamboo forest.
Viewing the primates:
At this point you will need to leave all bags and walking sticks with the porters but will be allowed to take cameras with you so that you can experience the gentle apes playing, eating, sleeping, swinging from one tree to another, watching them breast feed while taking pictures and videos of them.
After the one hour visit, you return to the staging area where you left your belonging and prepare to hike out to the starting point and pay your porters. Finally, you can return to the park headquarters of Kinigi where you will be awarded a certificate indicating that you have completed a visit with your specific gorilla family. The certificate includes the name of the family visited.
Equipment needed when going for trekking
When you are tracking through the Virunga forest of Rwanda, it requires you some basic equipment to ensure you can protect yourself from the flora and fauna and can be safe.
- Long sleeve shirt and long pants
- Insect repellent
- Hiking shoes or boots
- A wearable bag to carry water, snacks and camera
- A hat
- Utility gloves among others