Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is one of the most picturesque conservancy areas and it is also best known as ‘Parc National des Volcans.’ This park is situated in northwestern Rwanda and it makes up part of the Virunga Conservancy Area that also includes Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It was founded in 1925 making it one of the oldest national park in Africa and its establishment was to protect the rare mountain gorillas. It spans for over 160 square kilometers and composed of a tropical rainforest and bamboo. In 1929, its boundaries were enlarged to cover parts of Rwanda and the DRC and it was popularly called the Albert National Park that covered an area of about 8090 square kilometers. At a time, this park was run by the Belgian Colonial government-the colonial masters of both Rwanda and the DR Congo by then. They were later separated after each state gained independence.
Unique things to see while on safari in Volcanoes National Park
The notable tourist attractions in Volcanoes National Park include the rare mountain gorillas. They are scientifically called Gorilla beringei beringei and remarkably, Rwanda features among the 3 countries in the whole world where these unique creatures are found. The others include Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, fewer 1004 of these Great Apes still exist and distributed within jungles of Volcanoes National Park northwestern Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The other wildlife species that thrive within this park include bushbuck, black fronted duiker buffalo and spotted hyena, golden monkeys. The golden monkeys equally can be spotted in the bamboo zone of the park. Scientifically, they are referred as cercopithecus mitis kandti. On the other hand, about 200 bird species call this park a home with about 13 of them and 16 sub species that are endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountain ranges. For bird lovers, this is one of the Important Bird Areas you need not to miss to explore while on birding safari in Rwanda. The bird species for you to spot out here include dusky crimson wing, the francolins, red faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori doubled collared sunbird, Rwenzori Turaco, collared apalis, strange weaver, archer’s ground robin and many others.
Volcanoes National Park features varied vegetation based on its altitudinal range. It is largely a tropical rainforest and between 2400 and 2500 meters, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 meters, there is a bamboo forest which covers approximately 30 percent of this protected area. From 2600-3600, this area lies within a more humid slopes in the south and west that features mainly hagenia forest-one of the vast forest covers at the park. Between 3500 and 4200 meters, this area is mainly characterized by lobelia hagenia Abyssinia and others while from 4300 to 4500 meters, it is mainly a grassland area. However, a small portion of thicket, marshes, Lakes, meadows do exist here but cover a small area.
For the most exceptional sceneries, Volcanoes National Park remains off the beaten safari destination. This scenic park offers refuge to 5 of the 8 volcanoes that make up the Great Virunga Mountain ranges which include Karisimbi volcano (4507 meters) and this is the highest of all the 8 Virunga Volcanoes, Gahinga at 3474 meters, Sabyinyo stands at 3634 meters, Bisoke (3711 meters) and Muhabura (4127 meters).
Things to do in Volcanoes National Park
Mountain gorilla trekking
Volcanoes National Park is one of the 4 parks where gorilla treks are conducted. There are 10 gorilla families that have been habituated and readily available for trekking. While on gorilla safari, you will track one habituated group and they include Group 13 also known as Agashya, Kwitonda, Sabyinyo, Susa A, Susa B-Karisimbi, Amahoro, Ugenda, Umubano, Guhonda, Bwenge and Hirwa. Each of the groups rewards trekkers with unique experiences and rare history that they have to tell the world travelers. A trek to see a group of mountain gorillas in the jungles of Volcanoes National Park is exceptionally a lifetime experience. Treks begin at Kinigi park headquarters with morning briefing on dos and don’ts that are to be followed while in the jungle in search of these magnificent creatures. The trek may last you about 2 to 6 hours less or more depending on your hiking speed, location of gorillas and nature of habitat. To take part in this life changing experience, you need a gorilla permit which costs $1500.
Golden monkey tracking
This national park is equally ideal for golden monkey tracking. A trip to trek golden monkeys in this park, takes you through habituated groups and you start your adventure with early morning briefing at Kinigi park headquarters. This adventure may last you about 4 and 1 hour of magical encounter with these magnificent creatures while in their natural habitat. To be part of this primate experience, you equally need a permit which costs $100 per person.
Volcanoes National Park is amazingly one of Rwanda’s most important birding sites It comprises of 200 bird species and on a birding safari, don’t miss to sight at birds like Rwenzori Batis, collared apalis, archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson wing and many more.
For adventure lovers, Volcanoes National Park is one of a kind destinations you need to pay a visit and you will be rewarded with the most thrilling experiences. Hike to Karisimbi Volcano (4507 meters) and have the best of breathtaking views. A hike through this volcano may take you about two days with first camp at 3700 meters that also comes with incredible views over Mount Bisoke and the second phase of it takes you to summit and then descend back to where you kick started your adventure. As well, don’t miss the most amazing views over the different geographical features, vegetation and sceneries while on a hike in this volcano. The other option is Bisoke Volcano which stretches up to 3711 meters and it is a one day trip. While at its summit, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of its crater lake-Lake Ngezi. Visitors on Bisoke volcano hike can combine this adventure with a hike to Lake Ngezi which is about 3 to 4 meters that rewards with amazing sights at montane flora and avifaunal species en-route.
Dian Fossey tomb hike
If you are a primate enthusiast and you wish to explore more about Dian Fossey-the great primatologist then don’t miss to hike to Dian Fossey tomb site for you to learn more about her conservation legacy. Not only is she a world’s prominent primatologists but a great researcher. She set up a research center in Volcanoes National Park in 1967 ‘Karisoke research station’ to aid her research work. She did her research for about 18 years and she worked tireless to safe guard the lives of mountain gorillas. She started the Digit Fund which today works as Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Unfortunately, she was mysteriously murdered and buried near her lovely gorilla-Digit.
Visit to twin lakes
A visit to the picturesque twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera while on Rwanda safari rewards travel endeavors with incredible views including amazing views over the Russumo waterfalls. In addition, you have a chance to spot out birds like cinnamon breasted bee-eater, Grey throated tit, African marsh harrier and stonechat, long crested eagle, common moorhen and paradise fly catchers and others.
Buhanga sacred forest nature walks
The Buhanga sacred forest boasts not only for its lush flora but also for its endowed Rwanda history and cultures. History has it that monarchical king of Rwanda could bath in this touristic site prior assuming kingship and as a result, this area featured as a sacred and people never cultivated or cut any tree. Others assert that the forest in most cases changes colors at different season which the year.
Musanze cave exploration
In case you love cave exploration then the Musanze caves should be a must for you to visit while on safari in Volcanoes National Park. These caves hold significant history that is worth sharing. They are found within Musanze district just outside the Volcanoes National Park. A cave walk to these historical sites offers you a great opportunity to learn more about these ancient caves that date 65 million years. They have 31 entrances and 2 kilometers long. They formed as a result of basalt layers of lava and walk may last for about 2 hours and you need $50 to be part of this experience. During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, they served best as main refuge to most people.