Welcome to Virunga Conservation Area that consists of Volcanoes National Park is one of the three parks that make up the Virunga massif, others are; Mgahinga National Park (Uganda), and Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo). These three parks are all contiguous to each other and a traveler can easily access any of them from the other.
Volcanoes National Park is located in the Northwestern parts of Rwanda, Musanze town, and it is the only possible destination for gorilla trekking safaris in Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park inhabits the largest number of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Conservation Area (Virunga massif), and a gorilla safari to Volcanoes National Park is purely a life-changing adventure which rewards travelers with close encounter to the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.
The Park comprises of over 250 mountain gorillas and there are currently 11 habituated gorilla families (Karisimbi, Susa 1, Sabyinyo, Agashya, Amahoro, Kwitonda, Umubano, Ugenda, Bwenge, Hirwa, and Titus) which are open to the trekkers. The strategic location of the Volcanoes National Park, roughly two and half hours’ drive from Kigali international airport make it the most accessible gorilla national park in the world.
The park is very accessible from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the Kigali International Airport. Since the drive to Volcanoes National Park is 2 hours and 30 minutes, 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 7:00 am, therefore, if you hope to trek gorillas for one day, you have to wake up very early for your journey such that you are on time.
With the help of one of the most reliable tour agencies in East Africa such as Eco Tours Rwanda, the agency will do most of your bookings including: booking for you a Rwanda gorilla permit which costs US$ 1500, booking for you an excellent accommodation in the Park, booking/hiring you a good 4×4 wheel drive vehicle to use, and also the agency will pick you up from the airport on your arrival.
In need of a driver guide, the agency will have many experienced and frequently English-speaking driver guides who will drive you safely and at the same time, the guide will be telling you many interesting and emotional stories about Rwanda, including the stories of 1994 Genocide. The gorilla trekking trails are done in groups of eight trekkers (individuals) in each group trekking.
Besides the fascinating activity of tracking the mountain gorillas in Volcanoes, the Park also harbors the endangered Golden Monkeys, a primate species that apparently offers the best diverse tourism activity within the national park at the moment. Volcanoes National Park also harbors five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains which, and these include; Karisimbi volcano, Bisoke volcano, Muhabura volcano, Gahinga volcano, and Mount Sabyinyo covering over 160 square kilometers of rain forest and bamboo.
Back in days, the Park was a base of an American zoologist ‘’Dian Fossey’’, a lady who turned out to be so passionate about gorilla conservation that her works still live on till today. The major attractions of the park are the endangered mountain gorillas with a lot of other mammals that also inhabit its plains. Some of these mammals include; golden monkeys, buffaloes, black-fronted duikers, hyenas, and bush bucks, among others.
The park inhabits a large number of bird species; thus, birders will also enjoy the birding activity. Various activities in the park are run by the Rwanda Development Board for tourists with the main one being gorilla trekking. Other activities however include: Golden monkey tracking, visiting Dian Fossey’s tomb, hiking of Karisimbi or Bisoke volcanoes, visiting the Park’s twin lakes (Burera and Ruhondo), and touring Iby’Iwacu cultural village plus a few community visits.
Visitors to Volcanoes National Park will base in one of the Park’s superb accommodations such as; Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Bisate Eco Lodge, Bishops House, Sabyinyo Silver Back Lodge, Five Volcanoes boutique hotel, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Virunga Lodge, and Jack Hanna’s Guest House, among others. Near the park, the bustling and vibrant markets of Musanze are places where you will immerse yourself into everyday Rwandan culture. Go deep into the earth with Musanze’s caves, one of the area’s newest attractions.
Rwanda can be visited anytime of the year and there is no such weather that would stop you from visiting or more specifically seeing the gorillas however, most travelers prefer to take safaris during the drier months of the year (June to October and December to February). This is because wildlife viewing trails are not boggy and easily accessed during the drier months.
Travelers are advised before booking a gorilla trekking tour on what to wear and what to carry on gorilla tracking tour. The packing list below is just a mere guideline as you may have your own preferences. This is what you may carry on a gorilla tour; you are advised to put on long pants during the trek, long sleeved shirts/blouse, carry a hut, Insect repellent, garden gloves and a hiking shoe.
Other equipment’s to carry on your gorilla safari may include; Non-flashlight cameras and extra batteries and extra lenses, personal toiletries, sun glasses with neck strip, binoculars, a note book, a waterproof and windproof jacket, light weight trousers – which can dry quickly (if wearing on treks), pair of shorts, and sweaters, among others.