A visit to the Volcanoes National Park takes you through series of attractions. This unique ecosystem that is home to abundant wildlife, stunning geology, vast montane forests and outstanding volcanoes. Though the major draw to the park is the famous mountain gorillas, the park has more to see during your safari into the remote northern part of Rwanda.
From the rare mountain gorillas to the beautiful and striking golden monkeys there are unique things to see in the park. The backdrop of the Virunga Volcanoes makes the region one of the most beautiful places in Africa. Below is a list of amazing things that you should not miss during your visit;
The Volcanoes National Park is the most accessible destination where travelers can see the endangered mountain gorillas. The park offers refuge to almost a third of the world’s remnant population of about 1063 mountain gorillas. The country has protected the great apes in a safe environment and today the mountain gorillas got off the IUCN’s list of critically endangered to just endangered.
With a significant mountain gorilla population, there are several habituated families that can be visited by tourists. Currently 12 families can be visited by tourists and you can experience an up close and personal encounter with the gorillas in the wild.
For all those looking to gorilla watching, it is advisable to book your gorilla permits well in advance. A gorilla permit costs US$1500 per person. All visits to the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park start at Kinigi, a small village located on the foothills of the volcanoes. After getting briefing from the park rangers you will be transferred to the trailhead assigned to you by the park rangers.
Gorilla treks will allow you get soaked into the bamboo montane forest to see and get deep lessons into the gorilla kingdom. You can book a permit at the RDB offices or via a registered tour operator.
Golden monkeys are another rare attraction of the Volcanoes National Park. The golden monkey is a unique species of the old-world monkey that is endemic to the Virunga Conservation Area. Interestingly, you can only see the golden monkeys in the Volcanoes National Park and the nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park of Uganda.
Just like their name, the golden monkeys have a strikingly stunning golden fur! These blue monkeys are quite stunning to watch and are known to live in high altitude areas of the park thar rise above 3000meteres. These primates live in troops and there are two groups that have been habituated for tourism.
Like gorilla tracking, tourists going for golden monkey tracking assemble at the Kinigi park headquarters and get split into two groups. Before going for golden monkeys trekking, be in the know that the hike may take about 2-4 hours trekking. The hike takes you through the steep slopes, bamboo forest before coming across the golden primates in the high altitude areas of the Virunga Mountains.
Apart from the Mountain gorillas and golden monkeys, the park contains some more amazing wildlife. Some of the mammals include forest elephants, duikers, buffaloes, forest hogs, civet cats and more. On the mammal checklist are some rare cats like leopards, though not common to encounter.
Of these mammals, the bushbuck is the most common animal to encounter. It is estimated that a population of about up to 7000 animals live within the park.
The African forest elephant is known to live inside the park. However it is rare to encounter this large mammal and it has been listed as very rare.
Birds of the Virunga
The Volcanoes National Park is also an amazing place to see birds. The park has a record of 178 bird species that have been ticked off by birders who have visited the park. Of these 13 species and 16 sub species have been established as endemic to the Virunga Mountains and the Rwenzori Mountains.
In addition, 53 of the 74 species of the Afro-tropical highlands biome that occur in Rwanda call the Volcanoes National Park home.
Some of the popular birds to spot in the park include; beautiful francolins, Rwenzori turacos and others. Therefore if you are a birder looking to visiting the Virunga Volcanoes, it is important to carry your binoculars and get more to experience during your visit.
There are also some lakes that are worthy exploring during your visit to the Volcanoes National Park. Twin lakes of Ruhundo and Burera are found in the closest vicinity from the park. The Twin lakes lie at the base of the Karisimbi, the highest standing volcano in the Virunga Massif. The two lakes can reached in the outskirts of Musanze town and are separated by just 1kn of land.
From the Twin lakes you will have a picturesque view of the Virunga Mountains with their five peaks. These include; Karisimbi (4507m), Sabinyo (3634m), Mgahinga (3474m), Muhabura (4127m) and Bisoke (3711m).
More so, another notable attraction is the Crater Lake on top of Bisoke that is also worthy exploring during the Bisoke Hike.
The Virunga Volcanoes are an attraction that you will not miss. Upon reaching the Musanze Town, you will be rewarded with the great scenic view of the Virunga Volcanoes. The Volcanoes National Park protects five of the eight Virunga volcanoes.
These are Karisimbi (4507m) and Mount Bisoke (3711m) that straddle the border of Rwanda and DR Congo, Mount Gahinga (3474m) and Mount Muhabura that straddle the border of Uganda and Rwanda. The fifth Volcano, Mount Sabyinyo (3634m) straddles the border of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. From the Volcanoes National Park, the two most preferred volcanoes for hiking tours in Rwanda are the Karisimbi and Bisoke volcanoes.
The Dian Fossey Graveyard is one of the key attractions that visitors often do not miss while exloring the Volcanoes National Park. Dian Fossey is remembered for her lifelong efforts that she dedicated to conservation of the mountain gorillas.
This American primatologist was killed in the park while protecting the endangered species. She spent over 18 years in the Virunga Volcanoes doing extensive studies on the mountain gorillas. She established the Karisoke Research centre in 1967 between Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi volcanoes. She spent most of her time protecting mountain gorillas, fighting poaching and making efforts to save mountain gorillas from extinction be known to the world.
After her death, she was buried close to the tomb of beloved gorilla called Digit. To visit Dian Fossey tomb site, it can take 2-3 hours and participants can pay US$75.
The Virunga Volcanoes are enriched with the Afro-alpine (4000+m), Bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m). If you love forests, this is the ultimate destination not to miss on your Rwanda safari.
Please be in the know that the forests of the Virunga lie at high altitude areas. This makes it generally cold especially during the evening hours. For visitors looking to gorilla trekking, the cold environment makes gorilla viewing possible all the year round.
These ancient caves are found in Musanze district, outside the Volcanoes National Park. The caves were opened to tourism in 2013 after undergoing rehabilitation which involved building staircases and paved trails/paths. The Musanze caves are about 2 kilometers long and where formed from lava flows over 60 million years ago – Around the time when the East African Rift Valley was formed. There are about 32 entrances with the main entrance about 10 kilometers wide. The Musanze caves are a popular attraction for those interested in geology or adventure. The bat-filled caves were once hiding grounds for the Batwa pygmies and other tribal groups in the area.
Gorilla Guardians Village
Formerly Known as the Ibyiwacu Cultural Village, the Centre was founded by Edwin Sabuhoro (a former warden at the Volcanoes National Park) to showcase all that is great about the Kinyarwanda Culture while also providing employment for ex-poachers. Visitors are first taken for a tour of the Centre before settling down to watch cultural dances. While at the Gorilla Guardians village, visitors can also learn how to prepare local food or hunt like the Batwa people. You may be invited to wear traditional royal clothes and experience what it was like to be a cultural leader.