Volcanoes National Park / Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park / Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda

Volcanoes / Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda is a national park situated in the far northwest of Rwanda protecting the steep slopes of the volcanic mountain ranges, the endangered Golden Monakye and Mountain Gorillas, a combination of diverse montane eco-systems which include evergreen forests, bamboo forests, swamps, heath and open grasslands. The park encompasses five of the eight Virunga Mountain volcanoes: Bishoke, Karisimbi, Gahinga, Muhabura and Sabyinyo. It borders Mgahinga National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Volcanoes National Park was first gazetted in 1925 bounded by Bisoke, Karisimbi and Mikeno. It was the first game park to be created on the African continent. It is part of the greater Virunga conservation area which comprises three adjoining national parks; Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, Park National des Volcans in Rwanda, and Parc des Virungas usually known as Djomba in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park only covers 160 km2 and is the smallest national park in Rwanda.

The park became a base for American Naturalist and primatologist Dian Fossey who researched mountain gorillas and is widely credited for saving the endangered Mountain Gorillas from extinction by exposing their unfortunate situation to the attention of the international community. She once said, “ In the heart of central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat, are great, old volcanoes towering almost 15,000 ft and nearly covered with rich green rainforest- the  Virungas.” Dian Fossey later died and was buried in the park and her tomb is a significant attraction in Volcanoes National Park.

Flora in Volcanoes National Park

Due to the large altitudinal range in the park, vegetation varies considerably. First, the park has some lower montane forest which has been destroyed mainly due to agriculture. Between 2400-2500, the park consists of Neoboutonia forest, from 2500-3200, the bamboo forest occurs which covers approximately 30% of the park. On the humid parts of the slope 2600-3600 meters there is the Hagenia-Hypericum forest also covering about 30% of the park. 3200-4200 meters, the vegetation type here is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L.ianurensis, and Senecio ericirosenii covering about 25% of the park. 4300-4500 meters consists of open grasslands. Other vegetation types in the park include swamps, secondary thickets, meadows, and marshes.

Wildlife Species in Volcanoes National Park

The Volcanoes National Park has a rich diversity of wildlife and these are some of the fascinating species one might encounter while in the park.

Mountain Gorillas are one of the park’s main attractions. The park is home to many gorillas with only 12 habituated families ready for viewing by visitors. Other animals in the park include the playful and colourful Golden monkeys which inhabit the bamboo forest, the cunning spotted Hyenas, Buffaloes that inhabit the grasslands, Bushbucks which are shy antelopes that inhabit the edge of the forests and the Black-fronted Duikers which are rare small forest antelopes.

Mountain Gorilla in Volcanoes National Park

Birding and bird species in Volcanoes National Park

The park is a birder’s haven and paradise offering a diverse array of avian species. It is home to over 178 different bird species with at least 29 endemics to the Virungas and the Rwenzori mountains. Some of the notable bird species one can encounter in this remarkable park include the striking Rwenzori Turaco with vibrant plumage in the forest canopy, the melodious ground-dwelling Archer’s Ground Robin, the fascinating Strange Weavers, the ground-dwelling Handsome Francolins, the small insectivores Collared Apalis usually flitting among the leaves, the striking Dusky Crimsonwing, the agile Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Red-faced Woodland Warbler often found in dense vegetation, Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird which has iridescent plumage and metallic colours that shimmer in the sunlight, the Masked Mountain Apalis which is a high altitude specialist, and Grauer’s Swamp Warbler which is a skulking bird that is ever frequenting wetlands and reed beds among others.

Dusky Crimson-wing in Volcanoes National Park

Some of the fantastic locations to do birding in Volcanoes National Park include the Bugesera Wetlands and lakes which are home to a variety of water-loving bird species such as the Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, White-winged  Swamp Warblers and the White-collared Olive Back among others.

The Park is not only a sanctuary of wildlife but also a place where local communities thrive. The people living around the park include the Hutus, the Batwa who were the original dwellers of the mountains and the Tutsi. These tribes collectively contribute to Rwanda’s cultural mosaic and their stories intertwine with the park’s natural wonders. These local communities play a very important role in conservation efforts and also offer unique and authentic cultural experiences. Some of the cultural activities around the park include; Guided village walks which involve exploring different local sites guided by a local guide. This is an exceptional glimpse into their day-to-day lifestyle, culture and traditions. Visits to the King’s Palace, Visits to traditional healers who use medicinal plants to heal others, Banana beer brewing, visits to Iby’lwachu Cultural Village where you will encounter local food, music, dance and drama, dress code and history of Rwanda, Visits to the Batwa Pygmy Rehabilitation among others

Activities to carry out while at Volcanoes National Park

The park offers a plethora of exciting activities for every visitor whether an adventure seeker, Cultural lover or wildlife enthusiast. These activities include the following

  • Mountain Gorilla Trekking

The park is home to 10 habituated mountain gorilla families that are ready for visiting by tourists. The activity costs 1500 dollars and involves hiking and tracking down gorilla families. The visitors are allowed one hour with the gigantic but humble apes. This is the most carried out activity in the park

  • Golden Monkey Trekking

This activity also involves tracking down the playful Golden Monkeys in the bamboo forest. This activity costs 100 dollars per person unlike 1500 for Gorilla Trekking

  • Volcano Climbing

This activity involves hiking to the summits of three extinct volcanoes including Mount Bisoke whose summit stands at 12175 ft with a verdant crater lake, Mount Muhabura which occupies both Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda, its summit stands at 13540 feet, and Mount Gahinga also resting on the border between Uganda and Rwanda with its summit standing at 11394 feet. Exploring these mountains offers breathtaking views and a deeper connection to the region’s geological history.

  • Caving at Musanze caves

This activity involves venturing into mysterious Musanze caves which will offer you the cave’s history, mysteries and facts about Rwanda. These caves were formed as a result of volcanic activity and stretched for approximately 1.25 miles. The caves are approximately  2 km from Kinigi the headquarters of the park.

  • Cultural Tours.

Indulge yourself in the unique Rwandan culture by visiting the Iby’lwacu Cultural Village to explore the food, music, dance and traditional practices of the Rwandans.

  • Twin Lakes Exploration

This activity involves visiting the serene twin lakes of Bulera and Buhondo. Expect to see- amazing and stunning views, and birds. Endeavour to get a boat ride for a rewarding experience.

  • Birding in Volcanoes National Park

The park is a paradise for bird enthusiasts since the park is home to a variety of avian species amidst the lush forests. such as the Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Dusky Crimsonwing, Rwenzori Turaco, Grauer’s Rush Warbler

Papyrus Gonolek

What is the best time to visit Volcanoes National Park?

Volcanoes National Park can be visited all year round though the best time to visit the park is during the dry season which is from December to March and June to September

How to get to Volcanoes National Park?

The park can be accessed by both road and Air means of transport. By road, the park is 2-3 hours from Kigali to Musanze where the national park is. By Air, the flight takes only 30 minutes to the national park. Akagera Aviation operates daily helicopter flights from Kigali to Musanze where the park is located.

Where to find accommodation around Volcanoes National Park?

There is a wide range of accommodations around Volcanoes National Park ranging from high-end luxury to mid-range and Budget travellers. Some of the options include; Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Ingagi Park View Lodge, Gorilla Nest Lodge, Muhabura Hotel and Amarembo Lodge among others.