Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park is located in the north western part of Rwanda and was illustrated by Dian Fossey a resident zoologist who once wrote that these are so high up that one shivers more than sweating due to the fact that it takes one 15,000 feet to climb them. The park is adjacent to Virunga national Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west and to the North East lies Mgahinga National Park Uganda. These extend to the magnificent Virunga Mountains with thick green rain forest vegetation covering their slopes and this includes bamboo, open grasslands, swamps, heath etc. These forests 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 bushbucks relocating and interacting around their different habitats. There are very many different activities carried out in Volcanoes National Park and these include;

Activities at Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla Trekking

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 US $1500 per person.

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.

Bird Watching

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.

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 Research Camp 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

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.

Gorilla Families at Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes National Park has 10 habituated family groups of gorillas that can be tracked by the visitors which includes;

Susa gorilla group Family.

This is the largest and most popular group well known for being studied by Dian Fossey during her research in 1967 to 1985.It derives its name from Susa River which flows through their home range. This group is the hardest to trek as it tends to range high into the mountains but the RDBs tourism and conservation tracker  have always located them  in advance the day before trek. Initially the Susa group consisted of 42 members but later split into the present day impressive number of 28 members with three silverbacks. The group is famous for its playful twins; Impano and Byishimo. Not forgetting  Poppy one of the oldest known habituated gorillas from the Dian Fossey’s  original group who is believed to have been born  in 1976.

Kirisimbi group.

This family is also known as Susa B, and is believed to have been split from the original group(Susa A family),consisting of 15 members. The kirisimbi group lives in the slopes of Virunga volcano; as it appears that they established their home range in karisimbi caldera. Tracking the Karisimbi family may sometimes be difficult as it’s only suited for more serious hikers because of its distant location.Just like the original group, the karisimbi are also hard to trek and it takes long to track. This may Lead to cancelation of the trek if the family is too far away. This trek is worth rewarding because the visitors get to see a lot, including some stunning scenery ,although the trek may be difficult.

Sabyinyo gorilla family group.

This group was named after the sabyinyo volcano, which means” the old mans tooth”.It  consists of  8 individuals with one giant silverback, Guhonda who is the largest and regarded as the commander of the group weighing 220kg.Guhonda is also well known for having kept its main challenger, Ryango out of the family to remain as a  lonely silverback This group is the easiest and  nearest to track inhabiting the gentle slopes of mountain Gahinga and Sabyinyo .

Amahoro (peace)  Gorilla family.

This group   has a sizeable number of 17 individual suitable for trekking which live up to its, name, “peaceful” and are active, delightful to behold when you are in their presence. This peaceful consists of; 1 siverback; 2 black backs; 5 adult females; 2 sub-adult males; 2 juveniles and 5 babies. One must  endure  fairly steep climb to reach Amahoro, however the climb is well worth it, once in contact with this tranquil group.

Umubano group.

This group broke off from the original Amahoro after the dominant silver back ubumwe was challenged by Charles, now the leader of the Umubano. It consists of  11 members  ie,1 silverback; 1 sub adult male; 3 adult females and 6 babies. As Charles matured into a silverback of  the same rank as ubumwe, he  staged a fight because he could not stand being given orders and later challenged  Ubumwe.This fight went on for weeks and months whereby  he latter snatched  some females from  ubumwe and later settled after the formation of his group umubano. since then, he has commanded respect and recognition from ubumwe. No fights have ever existed between the two families again.

Agashya gorilla family.

This group is also known as the special group and it derived its name frm the first habituation which comprised of 13 members. This family today consists of 25 individuals with: 1 silverback; 1 adult females;2 sub adult females; 3juveniles and 7 babies. The group was formerly commanded by Nyakarima who was later challenged by Agashya meaning “the news” Agashya indeed made news by first watching and estimating Nyakarima’s strengths and eventually challenging him to a fierce fight by taking off with his whole group. This was a shock to Nyakarima and an unprecedented event in observed gorilla history. Agashya then moved up the volcano to secure his group and make sure Nyakarima did not track them. Agashya has since increased his group’s numbers by snatching from other groups and assimilating other lone gorillas, rapidly increasing the group from 12 to 25 individuals.

Agashya is known, at the first sign of trouble, to take his whole group up to the top of the volcano. Once, while we were taking a group of tourists to see Group 13 this exact scenario unfolded. Agashya felt that there was another silverback who was about to challenge him. In response, he took the group up the volcano. Every time we thought we were close to see them, Agashya would move the group further uphill. We did not reach them until the very top, where we finally got a chance to see them. By the time we got back to the car we had walked for 12 hours. While it was an exhausting day, it was magical to see gorillas at the top the world.

Ugenda group.

This group got its name because of its movement from one place to another. Ugenda means, ”being on the move000’’ and it has 12 individuals ie.2 silver backs and 11 gorillas. This group is fond in Karisimbi area of Rwanda and since because they move from one place to another, it becomes very difficult to be tracked hence need for moving from one place to another in order to locate them.

Bwenge family.

This group is led by one silverback, Bwenge, who left his natal group  and was joined by females from other groups. This group was formed in 2007 having 11 members with one silverback. They suffered death of sick infants which gave them hard time, however, the group is now growing strong with two successful births in the past two years and a strong silver back leader. The group is mostly found in the slopes of Karisoke volcano and the trek to see them is very tough, as one has ti hike up the hill. The trails are sometimes muddy and very steep.

Hirwa Group.(meaning”lucky one”)

This group exhibits its strength and holds its own amongst all the other established groups. The  group now has 9 members .Its   was formed in 2006 when trackers witnessed the gorillas emerging from two different groups  of group 13 and Sabyinnyo. This group is also called the Lucky one  and it consists of: 1 silverback; 3 adult females; 2 sub adult females; and 3 babies.

Kwitonda Family.

The word”kwitonda” means “humble one”. This group contains 18 members led by a silverback called “kwitonda”, having two silverbacks and one black back. Having migrated from DRC, the group tends to range far making it moderately difficult to trek. This group is also hard to track like Susa B.

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.