“Volcanoes National Park most famous by the movie Gorillas in the Mist and you can still trek and see mountain gorillas related to those Dian Fossey studied” there are only two places where you can see the endangered mountain gorilla – the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda Virunga mountains and Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It’s easier to get to Volcanoes National Park from Kigali than it is to get to Bwindi from Entebbe, so the shortest, easiest way to see the mountain gorilla is on the Rwandan side of the Virungas.
Gorilla trekking permits are more expensive in Rwanda than Uganda, but what you save on the permit in Uganda you’ll have to spend on accommodation because Bwindi requires an overnight stop from Entebbe.
Sasha Loosemore says
“Volcanoes National Park and the gorillas is a wonderful experience. I suggest that you do more than one gorilla trek; the first is over so quickly and you’ll appreciate the second more. Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge or Volcanoes Virunga Lodge are the best places to stay.”
The Volcanoes National Park is the oldest national park in Africa. There are some reserves that are older, but Volcanoes was the first national park, proclaimed in 1925 to protect the mountain gorilla. The park was where Dian Fossey was based during her research on mountain gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre. It’s widely believed that her fight for the mountain gorilla and the subsequent publicity saved the species from extinction as a result of the bushmeat trade.
Fossey was murdered in 1985, probably by poachers, or so it’s thought. She was buried in the park in a grave close to the research centre to which she devoted most of her life. Her story was later documented in the film Gorillas in the Mist. When you go to see mountain gorillas we recommend that you trek on two consecutive days and see two separate habituated families. A Gorilla Trekking Safari in both Volcanoes National Park on the Rwandan side and also at Bwindi on the Ugandan side would give you the best of both worlds.
Tourism & Activities in the Volcanoes Park
The Rwanda Development Board (RDB) runs several activities for tourists, including:
Volcanoes Gorilla Tracking & Golden monkey tracking
Endangered mountain gorilla tracking on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes is a magical experience. Hike through mountain forests to experience these gentle creatures or make your way through airy bamboo forests to find the charming Golden Monkey. Also available is the ‘Dian Fossey Tomb Trail’ – a beautiful yet challenging hike to 3,000 meters up the slopes of Mount Bisoke or a hike to the beautiful Ngezi Crater Lake at the top.
Permit costs per person:
- Mountain Gorillas: $750
- Dian Fossey Hike: $75
- Golden Monkey Tracking: $100
- Crater Lake Hike: $75
Permits are booked 3 to 6 months in advance, especially during Rwanda’s high season of June – September. As of January 2015, there are ten habituated gorilla groups in Volcanoes National Park open to tourists, allowing for a total of 80 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.
Climbing Karisimbi Volcanoes
Group of Climbers, Karisimbi Volcanoe (Photo Credit – Hallie G)
Rising at an elevation of about 4507m above sea level is MT. Karisimbi, a stratovolcano which is the highest of the eight major volcanoes of the Virunga field and the 5th highest in Africa. It strides along the border between Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda on the western branch of the Eat African Rift valley. Karisimbi lavas have been dated from 0.24 Ma to 0.010 Ma indicating that the volcano is very young.
Climbing Mt Karisimbi is a strenuous yet very rewarding 2 days hike. The climb starts early in the morning taking 6 hours and involves navigating through the Bisoke side before reaching the first stopping place at an altitude of 3,700 metres for overnight camping before finishing off the journey the next day.
A hike to Karisimbi’s summit is not an ordinary one, but also affords sights of several bird varieties, primates like monkeys and Gorillas since the volcano lies in the primates’ park of Parc National des Volcans (Volcanoes national park). It is also known for its exotic plants in its four belts of vegetation, from the dense forest at its base to the barren volcanic core at the summit.
The hike up the summit is characterized of muddy trails especially during rainy season, though due to the altitude, it can rain at any time of the day.
You need relatively good health and stamina to hike through the slippery slopes to reach the summit which is white capped as a result of hail and sleet which accumulate in the higher elevations from its frequent storms. This implies that one may have to incur an extra cost of hiring a porter ($20 per day) to help in carrying your luggage and hiking equipment.
Karisimbi is also close to the Karisoke research center where the grave of the re-known mountain gorilla conservationist and American zoologist; Dian Fossey lies. This means that one has a chance to visit the grave as well as trek the golden monkeys in addition to the Mountain gorilla tracking.
Climbing of Bisoke volcano – one day.
The mountain Bisoke adventure is one of the most memorable activities in Rwanda. The top of this Volcano has a spectacular crater lake. It is simply a 6 – hours hike including the 2 hours descending down to the starting point. Experienced hikers can get to the top of this mountain in a matter of 3 hours or even less and return to the base in about an hour.
On the day of hiking, hikers converge at the park headquarters at Kinigi at 7:00 am to attend to a briefing and be assigned a park ranger. The park rangers are usually natives of the Volcanoes national park vicinity and thus very knowledgeable about the mountain adventures. At 8:00 am the adventure begins. Your tour guide will transfer you to the starting point. You will be assigned porters to carry your baggage. You will be provided the hiking gear.
Tour of the lakes and caves.
Rwanda’s caves date back 65 million years and lie withing the volcanic region where lava flow layers long ago created the Albertine Rift Valley. The caves offer easy hiking 2 kilometers in distance and have brilliant views of cascading lights from the surface, unique rock formations, and a colony of bats.
Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey.
Karisoke, Volcanoes Rwanda gorillas For those interested visiting Dian Fossey’s original scientific base Karisoke, a trek is available from the Volcanoes National Park headquarters. Karisoke scientific base was established by Dian Fossey in the saddle area between two volcanoes; Mt Visoke and Mt Karisimbi (from which the name Karisoke is derived). The camp site stands at an altitude of around 3000m (over 9000 ft) and was abandoned during the unrest of the 1990’s. All that remains today is the graveyard where several of Dian Fossey’s favourite gorillas were buried. Dian Fossey is also buried near the graves of her beloved gorillas.
The trek to the Karisoke research camp takes around 3 – 4 hours and takes you through some of the most beautiful stretches of Hagenia – Hypericum forest in the Volcanoes National Park. The Park fee for this Karisoke Trek is currently USD$ 75 per person, which includes the fee for the guide. The trek starts at 07:00 am from the Park Headquarters in Kinigi, from where visitors will have to drive / be driven to the start point for the trek. Permits can be purchased on the day of the trek at the Park headquarters and porters can be hired from here.
Iby’Iwacu cultural village tour
Located just outside the national park, this living museum highlights aspects of traditional Rwanda society. Visitors can expect to be greeted by thunderous drumming, joyful dancing, and the kind of hospitality that has permeated Rwandan society for centuries. The village features hands-on activities related to the rituals and ways of life in the ancient Rwandan kingdom.
Some of Iby’Iwacu’s presenters and performers were previous poachers who’ve now been able to make a new livelihood through this memorable, interactive stop designed for visitors of all ages. The village also offers extended trips into the countryside as well as overnight lodging that can be arranged in advance.
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. Rwanda Gorilla Groups – Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park
Silverback gorilla with his family
There are ten groups/families of habituated gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Gorillas do not stay in the same spot hence the need to do some tracking before you spend your magical one hour with them. They usually climb higher up the mountain in the dry season, and descend in the wet season, so your tour guide might have a general idea pf where the group you are tracking might be during a particular season, but there are no guarantees that you will find them where you expect them to be.
These are the gorilla groups in Volcanoes national park:
The Amahoro group: this group is usually found between the Karisoke and the Visoke peaks of the Virunga volcanoes. This group has about 17 gorillas. Together with the Umubano group of 11, they are the furthest from the park headquarters. The Sabinyo Group is usually found between Mt. Sabinyo and Gahinga. It has about 12 individuals, with a couple of silverbacks in the group.
Agashya Group, formerly referred to as “Group Thirteen”, is often found close to the Sabinyo group, and has about 25 gorillas including two silverbacks. The Susa Group is the largest in volcanoes NP with about 40 individuals, including 3 silverbacks. This group is usually found high up on Mount Karisimbi, which makes for a relatively more challenging hike, but it is well worth the effort.
The Karisimbi Group, which split from the Susa group a few years ago, can be found in the Mt. Karisimbi area. Tracking these two groups requires a full day hike. The Kwitonda Group has 18 members and was habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and are now open for visitation.
The Hirwa Group has around 11 members including one silverback and a pair of twins. The Bwenge Group, named after the group silverback, has 11 members and can be a tough trek. The Ugende Group, whose name means “on the move” – because its 11 individuals are always moving to new areas is also quite difficult to track.
Kwita Izina, the baby gorilla naming ceremony which takes place every year during the month of September in Rwanda. In Rwanda every gorilla birth is a reason for celebration for the successful conservation efforts. Kwita Izina is inspired by the ancient Rwandan tradition of naming a baby soon after its birth. In the nine years since the event was established, 216 mountain gorillas have been named in a celebration of nature and the communities who protect these magnificent animals. Rwanda’s community led conservation efforts have led to a 26.3% growth in the population of gorillas since 2003 and Kwita Izina has been key to this success. Last year’s Kwita Izina saw almost 500 international and 20,000 local attendees.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge – Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park
Great View – Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Reliable Info on where to stay in the Volcanoes national park when going for your gorilla trek in Rwanda. Below is a compile list of Lodges in Rwanda ranging from high end, midrange and budget hotels options.
Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
The lodge offers relaxing high end accommodation, with beautiful views of the rolling hills of the Land of a thousand hills. Accommodation comprises of 13 bedrooms (double/twin), a VIP cottage. Each facility is air conditioned and feature a flat-screen TV. A refrigerator and kettle.
Mountain Gorillas’ Nest lodge
Super luxury lodge located northern Rwanda’s Musanze district nestled in a forest of Eucalyptus trees. The lodge offers a family sized magnificent accommodation at the Jack Hannah’s cottages with beautiful views of Rwanda’s hills and slopes of the Volcanoes national park.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is located in Musanze district close to the Parc National des Volcans park headquarters an excellent located for gorilla trekking. The lodge is situated at the foothill of the Virunga ranges comprising of a wonderful view of the rolling hills.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge is located in Musanze district northern Rwanda neighboring Volcanoes National Park. The lodge is located on the foothills of the Mount Sabinyo, a volcanic mountains that make up the Virunga ranges.
The hotel is located north of Kigali in Musanze province opposite the Musanze district headquarters. The hotel comprises of 30 rooms and apartments that offer a cozy environment to relax in after gorilla trekking or a day visit to the Northern area of Rwanda.
Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel
Modern hotel with a unique character and a pleasant ambience located in Musanze north of Kigali. The hotel comprises of 31 spacious comfortable rooms with an ensuite bathtub and shower. An impressive bar is attached with the restaurant.
The lodge is situated about an hour’s drive from the park headquarters, Virunga Lodge is currently one the area’s top lodges and certainly has one of the most spectacular locations of any camp in Africa – high on a ridge overlooking both Lake Burera and Lake Ruhondo.
Le Bambou Gorilla Village
Midrange safari accommodation situated in Northern Province of Rwanda, close to the endangered gorillas in their natural environment (Volcanoes National park). Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge has an unrivaled reputation for relaxation.
Set in the green leafy suburbs of Kigali, Garr Hotel offers a serene environment to the esteemed guest. It is favorably located at 5min walking distance to Kigali’s Golf Club making it the preferred choice for golfers and other sport enthusiastic guests.
Villa Gorilla is located at Kinigi near the headquarters of Rwanda’s famed Volcanoes National Park, a mere 2 hour’s drive from Kigali international airport. It has 4 comfortable double occupancy bedrooms, each with private bath and toilet facilities.
La Palme Hotel
La Palme Hotel is a three stars Hotel, located in Musanze City offering Luxurious accommodation to business and Leisure tourists. An exceptional dining experience awaits you in a unique and renowned restaurant that delights your senses with African meals, French and Oriental kitchens.
The Guest House is situated in Kinigi district only 11 Km from Ruhengeri City. It is constructed at the bottom of Sabyinyo volcanic mountain with an altitude of 4,480 m. It accommodates over 40 people-all rooms have electricity and warm water.
Quick Volcanoes National Park Facts
Size: 160 sq km covered in rainforest and bamboo
Location: Northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Desc: The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla and the park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey
Areas of interest: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Tomb of Dian Fossey, Iby’Iwacu cultural village
When 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.