Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is a dense, lush, tropical paradise, lying across five dormant Volcanic Mountains at the borders of Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo; Mount Bisoke, Muhabura, Karisimbi, Sabinyo, and Gahinga. Thanks to its abundance of over 180 bird species, 1,050 plant, and 85 mammal species, it has everything you imagine Africa’s most beautiful park to look like. Add to that an endearing gorilla trekking experience and you have one of the world’s natural seven wonders. It has 10 habituated gorilla families, each comprising of at least 7 members.
You will never feel in any danger for a minute at this 130 Km2 gem of Rwanda, it is absolutely safe destination.
Location of Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Also known as “Parc National de Volcans”, Volcanoes is just two hours’ drive from Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport. As such, if you have limited time, you can fly in the early morning, track gorillas and later fly out at night.
How the gorilla trekking unfolds
The rangers are profoundly dedicated to their calling and have a strong connection with the gorillas. You will feel you are in safe hands the minute you meet them. In an effort to make the adventure less exhausting for you, you can hire a local porter to carry your luggage. This will allow you to travel lighter.
Upon arrival at the park headquarter in the Western region of Rwanda, you will be assigned a large gorilla family comprising of several adults, juveniles, and few babies. You will be divided into groups, each with 8 tourists at most.
After getting briefed, the hike will start off along an easy path with thick jungles on each side. Before long, the hike will start to get steeper but worry not, there are lots of stopovers where you can take a break to allow your body to regain its full vigor. Soon, you will be walking on old lava that nature is has broken down into small spherical pieces. This rough texture makes it easier to hike compared to slippery trails.
Your group will be led by two rangers armed with AK47s to scare off stray forest buffaloes from attacking you. Due to the high elevation of the park at 2,500-4,500 meters above sea level, temperatures can drop as low as 10’s (or 35’s if you still use F). Luckily, this will hardly have an effect on you because your body heats up as you hike. Nevertheless, you need a raincoat just in case it starts to rain while you are still in the forest.
There are brief stops in scenic settings where you can have photographic moments.
When it all seems like the adventure will be fruitless, you will land on a family of gorillas at a random location—where they are bonding or searching for food! Right there! The gorilla family members are usually spread out across perhaps a thirty-meter area in the jungle. You will move from place to place, meeting each member of the family and appreciating their uniqueness. A little infant might frolic in front of you to show off new climbing skills he has learned. If in the mood, he might reach out to you and touch you. It’s such an emotional encounter that has left many in tears of joy.
Most tourists who have been here can’t help but gawp at the sight of huge silverback when they loom into view. These alpha males are four-time bulkier than man and strong enough to rip apart a fully grown sheep. Given this background, it is such an intimidating encounter especially when he walks right to you to analyze if you are a friendly visitor or trouble maker. The good news is that they are not violent to tourists having undergone habituation.
DOs and DON’Ts of Gorilla trekking
- You will spend a full hour in the company of gorillas during which you are not expected to take their pictures with your camera flash. It irritates their sight and makes them restless. Similarly, you are advised not to wear clothes with shouting colors like red. It deprives them of peace of mind as it is identical to blood and death.
- Though gorillas have the ability to live in harsh environments, their immune system is quite weak. To this effect, tourists are expected to keep a seven-meter distance from these amazing gentle creatures. This minimizes the possibility of transmitting diseases to them.
- Good hiking boots with a good grip are a must. Some stretches of the forest floor are quite steep and slippery.
- Wear long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and gaiters. The park has lots of stinging nettles. Besides, you will walk through a very dense forest and it is good to protect your skin from scratches.
- If you wish to empower locals directly and effectively spread your wealth, you can’t go wrong with hiring a local porter to carry your backpack. It is good for the local population to earn from tourism.
Best time to visit Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla tracking is quite frustrating during peak rainy months like April, March, and May for two reasons. The vegetation of the park overgrows at this time making it difficult to observe gorillas or take their pictures. In this regard, the dry season is much more recommendable as it offers a hustle free experience. It occurs from June-March.
Other things to do in Volcanoes National Park
- Pay homage to Dian Fossey
You can honor the historical scientist and gorilla advocate Dian Fossey with a visit to her grave. It is not so far from the Headquarters of Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, a nonprofit institute she founded to save gorillas from going extinct. Fossey took her last breath on December 26, 1985 (aged 53), she was killed by a gang of poachers who weren’t happy with her endeavors to protect the gorillas.
- Explore Musanze Caves
Formed over a million years ago, Musanze caves offer an insight into volcanic eruptions that led to the formation of the 8 mountains in Virunga region. It is spacious and full of unique rock formations and nocturnal bird species like bats. There is no better way to see the full beauty of Musanze than by pursuing a 2-kilometer trail that passes through them. It is an informative and inspirational tour.
- Iby’iwacu Cultural Village
Visiting Iby’lwacu Cultural Village is absolutely worth doing before or after gorilla trekking in Volcanoes, a park it neighbors. It showcases what typical villages in Rwanda look like, offering deep insights into the traditional way of living. Here, authentic crafts are sold and traditional dances performed for tourists. The initiative was established to combat poaching in Volcanoes National Park by offering former poachers alternative work and livelihoods. This includes selling crafts. Inspired by the project, so many poachers have influenced those around them to get in involved in gorilla conservation.
Gorilla Families in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
Gorilla Families in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda: Agashya group, Sabyinyo group, Titus Family, Amahoro group, Susa A Group, Umubano group, Susa B-also is known as Karisimbi group, Hirwa group, Kwitonda group, Bwenge group, Ugenda group