The Volcanoes National park Rwanda also known Parc National des Volcans (PNV) in French or Pariki y’Igihugu y’Ibirunga in Kinyarwanda is the most popular tourist destination in Rwanda. It is located in the northwestern region of Ruanda in the district of Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri bordering Virunga National park in Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National park in Uganda.
Volcanoes National park is situated on the Virunga Mountain ranges and is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo), covered in rainforest and bamboo. The major activity in the volcanoes national park is mountain gorilla trekking where visitor from all over the world have travelled for this unique experience. Gorilla tracking in the volcanoes is all possible to date thanks to the great works of Dian Fossey who worked with the community tirelessly for the conservation efforts in these mountains. Her remains still lie in the Volcanoes National park and tourist hike to the grave to witness and have a brief background about her works.
Apart from Mountain Gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei), Volcanoes national park is home to golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), elephants, black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). The park also harbors 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Ruwenzori Mountains and the Virungas.
Due to the tourism potential of the park, there has been fundamental development in Musanze with many tourist centers and accommodation facilities that range from upmarket (about $1,500 a night) to budget facilities for as low as $80 a night.
The most popular tourism activities to do in PNV Rwanda include the following;
1. Mountain Gorilla Tracking
Perhaps the most sought after activity in the park, gorilla tracking in the volcanoes has been operational and with growing number of visitors per year post genocide in Rwanda. The gorilla tracking permit in the Volcanoes are sold by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), the Rwanda tourism authority or by booking a packaged Rwanda gorilla safari that is all-inclusive through a reputable tour operator.
There is a total of 13 gorilla families in volcanoes national park as of 2017 where by a total of 8 tourists 15 years and above are allowed to visit each gorilla family per day. The gorilla permits are sold at $750 per permit (this according to the 2016 tariff) by RDB.
The gorilla tracking activity starts very early in the morning with a briefing at the park headquarters at around 7:30am. Given the proximity of the park from the capital Kigali tourists are able to do a 1 day gorilla trekking safari commonly known as the 4:30, tourists can also do multiple gorilla tracking at the volcanoes or a combination of gorilla tracking and other activities at the park or other destinations in Rwanda. Tourists are allowed to spend 1 hour with the gorillas and within acceptable distance.
2. Golden Monkey tracking
Golden monkey trekking is another highlight of Volcanoes National Park. The Golden Monkey is a local subspecies of the widespread Sykes Monkey, also known as the “Blue Monkey” and is endemic to the high altitude forests of the Volcanoes National Park area. The monkeys are playful and inquisitive and often spend their time leaping from bamboo branches or frolicking on the forest floor. The bamboo is their major food basket of the Golden Monkeys.
There are two habituated groups of Golden Monkeys, one group comprises around 80 – 100 members and has its home at the foot of Mt Sabyinyo. As with treks to see the Mountain Gorillas, treks to see the Golden Monkeys take place in the mornings and visitors are permitted to stay for 1 hour with the monkeys. Departure for the Golden Monkey trek is from the Park’s Kinigi Headquarters at 07:00am. The number of visitors is not limited and the fee for a Golden Monkey permit is currently USD$100 per person per trek. Permits can either be arranged in advance or booked at the park headquarters on the morning of the trek. Porters can be hired at the entry point of the park.
3. Mountain Climbing
There are apparently hiking visits to two of the 5 mountains in volcanoes National park and that is trek to the Karisimbi and Bisoke volcanoes.
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 meters for overnight camping before finishing off the journey the next day. You can book the Karisimbi volcano hike with East African Expeditions
Hiking to the summit of Mt. Bisoke is a day’s activity. It takes about 6 hours to hike to the top and about 2hrs to descend.
4. Hike to the Dian Fossey Grave
Dian Fossey was a great zoologist who worked relentlessly for conservation of the Volcanoes habitat with much emphasis on the mountain gorillas. Dian Fossey was mysteriously murdered in 1985 and her remains laid to rest near her “home” in the volcanoes alongside remains of gorillas that could have been killed by poachers or died from natural death.
A hike to the Dian Fossey grave starts early morning and takes about 1 & half hours up to the forest with a view of the forest species like birds, butterflies, a variety of primate and bird species.
The Dian Fossey tomb’s headstone reads, “No one loved gorillas more, Rest in peace, dear friend, Eternally protected, In this sacred ground, For you are home, Where you belong”. The Dian Fossey hike costs $75 per person per hike.
5. 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. Unlike other activities in the park, this village tour can be organized at any time of the day.
6. Tour of the Lakes and Caves in Volcanoes National Park
There are tours organized to Musanze caves. These caves were formed by centuries of geologic activity centered around the Virunga volcanoes next door, the 1.25-mile long Musanze caves are located just outside of the town they share a name with, and are only a 90-minute drive from Kigali. With an enormous opening (and an equally huge number of bats resident inside), the greenery outside spilling over into the twilight within makes for a fantastic photo op. Though today they’re a tourist attraction, the caves were used as a shelter during wartime for many centuries leading right up into the modern era, and as such, it’s an important site to local people. Thus, out of respect for the area’s residents, access is limited to guided visits. Expert guides lead every tour, and they can explain the history of the caves from their formation to present day. The tours make an excellent add-on activity for the afternoon after you’ve seen the gorillas, take about 2.5 hours, and can be done at any time throughout the year.
7. Visit to the Twin Lakes of Burera & Ruhondo
These twin lakes are located in Musanze and short excursions are organized on these lakes and tourists normally cool off from their hectic hiking activities in Volcanoes National park. Tourists can enjoy canoe rides on these deep blue waters.
Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s tourism hub which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport. The drive to Volcanoes national park is 2hrs and hence one can do gorilla tracking on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek. You will be required to arrive at the headquarters of ORTPN in Kinigi, at the park entrance, by 7:00am, therefore, if you hope to trek gorillas for one day, you have to wake up very early for your journey so that you are on time. However, there isn’t any public transport from Musanze to the headquarters of the park at Kinigi- it is highly advisable to buy a full gorilla tracking package for your memorable gorilla safari adventure in Rwanda.
Volcanoes National Park is also famous for the Famous “Kwita Izina” the gorilla naming ceremony that is an annual event that was inaugurated in 2005 with the aim of boosting tourism in Rwanda. This event is special on the Rwanda calendar and happens in the month of September every year.