Volcanoes National Park lies in north-western Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
The national park is known as a haven for the rare and endangered mountain gorilla and golden monkeys. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains, and spans 160 km² covered in rain forest and bamboo. The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey.
Attractions in Volcanoes National Park
Attractions in Volcanoes national park include; mountain gorillas, Dian Fossey Grave, Rwanda genocide site, golden monkeys and breath-taking green natural cover.
Presently, mountain gorillas are the leading tour attractions in Africa and these are best trekked in the tropical rain forest of Volcanoes.
Therefore, primate trekking only gets better in Rwanda! Below are some of the exciting and breath-taking activities that you shouldn’t miss to engage in while on safari in Rwanda:
Mountain Gorilla Trekking
Rwanda’s tourism industry today boosts largely because of gorilla trekking. Most tourists, who come for safaris in Rwanda, travel mainly to see the rare mountain gorillas in the thick bamboo vegetation of Volcanoes National Park. The park features ten habituated groups that have been set for visitors to track every day.
They include the Susa A group which derives its name from the Susa River and known to have been monitored by Dian Fossey – the famous primatologist, Sabyinyo family which is headed by the hugest silver back gorilla “Guhonda” in the entire Volcanoes National Park, Amahoro, Hirwa, Ugenda, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Karisimbi and Bwenge. To track a gorilla family in Volcanoes National Park you will need to have a permit at hand.
Rwanda sells trekking permits at $1500 per person and accessing one offers you a golden chance to strike your imaginations with these dramatic wild creatures.
The permits can be obtained through a tour operator or through the Rwanda Development Board. The 10 habituated gorilla families translate to 80 permits and only eight visitors are assigned to track one group per day.
The trek takes from 30 minutes to 8 hours depending on location of gorillas, nature of the habitat, visitor speed and many other factors.
Visitors are given only one hour to be with the apes in the wild, explore their behaviour and take as many photos as possible.
Across the world, it is only in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where you can catch a glimpse of these rare species while they are still in their natural habitat.
Mountain gorillas are listed as the critically endangered species and there are fewer than 900 that are left in the entire world today.
Therefore, a trip to Rwanda Volcanoes National Park rewards endeavors with the most amazing and thrilling experiences of lifetime. The park is accessible within 2 to 3 hours’ drive from Kigali International Airport.
Golden monkey tracking
Besides tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the Volcanoes National Park is where silver meets gold! The golden monkeys are a few fascinating creatures that are worth tracking while on safari in Rwanda.
They are largely found within the Great Virunga Mountains ranges of Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The golden monkeys are a sub species of the Sykes monkey also famous as the blue monkey.
There are 2 groups that have been habituated for visitors to track all of which consist of 80 individuals. The adventure begins at 7:00am local time. For lifetime experiences with these striking creatures, permits can be purchased at $100 per visitor.
The trek can last up to four hours with only one hour of face to face encounter with the primates. Most of these unique species largely live within the bamboo forest of Volcanoes National Park and can be sighted playing or feeding. Like mountain gorilla trekking packing list, if you are interested in this tremendous adventure, you will need to come with long trousers, long sleeved shirt or T-shirt, hat, light rain jacket or poncho, waterproof hiking boots but should be light weight for you to hike, waterproof day pack, energy giving snacks, a bottle of drinking water, camera, insect repellent, first aid kit, walking stick (this can be got from the park headquarters) and many others
Rwanda Safaris in Volcanoes National Park are not only for mountain gorilla or golden monkey tracking but a place for you to also go for bird watching while on Rwanda safari. The park features among a few Important Birding Areas (IBAs) in Rwanda. There are over 200 distinct bird species that call the park their home with mainly the Albertine rift endemics. For visitor sightings, the notable birds include the Rwenzori Turacos, Rwenzori double collared sun bird, Handsome Francolin, strange weaver, dusky crimson wing, collared apalis, archer’s ground robin, Grauer’s rush warbler, red faced woodland warbler and many more. If you are planning any birding tour in Rwanda, consider Volcanoes National Park a must to visit destination. You will need a binocular and camera for bird watching and many others.
Hiking to the Dian Fossey tomb site
The Dian Fossey tomb hike is one way that you can best explore more about Dian Fossey’s conservation life. For some of you watched “Gorillas in the Mist” movie, it entails more about Dian Fossey’s life and her research camp in the Volcanoes National Park. The trek to the tomb site lasts for about 3 hours where you find the beloved gorillas “Digit” and her resting site.
Dian Fossey is known to have saved the critically endangered mountain gorillas that the world is proud of today. Her research work and conservation was facilitated by the Karisoke research center that she established at a time of her research in 1967.
She conducted her research on mountain gorillas for over 18 years but unfortunately she was murdered by unknown people in 1985. The surrounding area features spectacular scenic views and wildlife species, birds as well as primates. Hiking permits are sold at $75 per visitor. The trek also comes with views from golden monkeys and at times the rare mountain gorillas and bird life.
Hiking through the Volcano Mountains
Beside primate adventures, Volcanoes National Park also features a number of Great Virunga Mountain ranges that offer breath-taking experiences to hikers and adventure enthusiasts. For hiking adventures in the park; you can climb Mount Bisoke which comes with spectacular Crater Lake on its top. The trek lasts for seven hours plus the two that you spend while descending back to the starting point. The hikes start at 7:00am with briefing from park official and then you will be assigned a guide. Mount Bisoke stands at 3711 meters above sea level and it features a number of stunning floras, and offers opportunity for visitors to catch a glimpse of the remarkable views of Virunga Volcanoes and the Crater Lake “Ngezi.” The hikes are less strenuous and even a person without experience can hike through it.
Hiking through the Karisimbi Mountain
This volcano features as the highest out of all the 8 Great Virunga Volcanoes. It stretches up to 4507 meters above sea level and features as the sixth highest in Africa. To hike to its summit, you need two days and above where you will first camp around 3700 meters and catch a glimpse of stunning Mount Bisoke. The second day takes you to the summit and return to where you started from. The hike rewards visitors with views of many geographical features, vegetation and sceneries. This mountain was named after amasimbi which denotes white shell in Kinyarwanda due to its white capped summit. The trek is breath-taking compared to Bisoke Mountain but the experiences thereafter are worthy it.
The twin Lakes walk
Rwanda features twin like Lakes that join one another. They include Lake Bulera and Ruhondo. The hike to these Lakes rewards visitors with magical views of not only the Lake but also the Rusumo water falls. You will also meet local residents paddling the canoes while others riding the wooden boats. The walk also comes with views of several bird life like cinnamon breasted bee eater, common moorhen, paradise fly catchers, and stone chat, grey throated tit, long crested eagle, African marsh harrier and many more. This activity can be done in the morning and afternoon.
Musanze caves feature among the few most historical sites in Rwanda. They are situated within Musanze town just adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. The caves have existed for over 65 million years and they have 31 entrances and extend up to 21 kilometres inside. They were formed from the flow of Basalt layers of Lava that spread form Virunga Volcanoes of Sabyinyo and Bisoke. The musanze caves offered home to many people as well as storage of supplies and food by the kings of Rwanda during the war time. The exploration lasts for two hours and visitors pay $50. It can be done in the afternoon with an escort. Other caves include the Busasamana caves which are located one kilometre and links up to many other caves such as Kazenze, Mudende and Busasamana regions. There is also Mugongo cave for you to explore and all these are among the famous 52 caves.
Buhanga sacred forest nature walks
Buhanga forest is the stunning site which is worthy visiting for nature walks while on safari in Rwanda. The forest lies outside the Volcanoes National Park boundaries. Buhanga sacred forest comes with spectacular flora and diverse historical and cultural experiences of the Rwandan traditions. It is believed that most monarchical kings of Rwanda used to bath around the forest prior taking over kingship and at the end the site was referred to as a sacred place and people never cultivated on it or even cut down trees. It is also believed to sometimes change colours during certain seasons which mark the year. The walks through this forest can be done in the morning or afternoon. The trails are made of Lava stones and they extend throughout the forest.
Gorilla or golden monkey trekking can be fascinating when combined with cultural experience in the community around the park. For cultural enthusiasts, you can engage in Iby’Iwacu cultural village safaris. This cultural encounter was local community project who were previously poachers at the park and now chosen to support conservation and protection of mountain gorillas and other wildlife species. The initiative was mainly to change poachers from their acts to support conservation efforts in the park.
The cultural site is situated near Volcanoes National Park and mountain gorillas trekking in the Iby’Iwacu village denotes treasures of our home and heritage. Rwanda historical and present time is kept in its way for tourists to personally engage in cultural experience. It can be visited within a few hours or you can choose to spend a night in a traditional style Rwandan home that will also make up part of your experience in the area. There are also traditional meals and drinks like banana beer or you may have a taste of banana juice.
You can be part of people participating in riding a wooden bicycle, grinding millet and sorghum, shooting bows and arrows with the unique Batwa people, be entertained by the Intore dances people and also explore more on banana and sorghum that are used as staple food in Rwanda. You can engage in ethno botany safari with traditional healers. This will help you explore important herbs that are used for treatment and many other performances.
Accommodation in Volcanoes
Sabyinyo Silver Back Lodge
This is a luxury lodge located in the neighbouring district of Musanze, at the edge of the park just 3km from its main entrance. From the park headquarters in Kinigi it takes 15 minutes’ drive to reach this lodge. Have 8 well-spaced cottages away from each other ensuring privacy of the guest. One of them is a family cottage accommodating two adults and two children.
Each of the cottages is well furnished, palatial and self-contained with large verandas, sitting area, cozy bedroom, a fireplace to provide warmth during cold evenings, adjoining bathrooms with bathtubs, hot and cold showers and electricity is always available at all times, a library and games room is also available, a restaurant that prepares continental meals and a well-stocked bar is at your disposal. It being at the foothills of Virunga provides good view of the Mountains.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
This mid-range eco – lodge is new, located in Musanze district on the foothills of Mt Sabyinyo about 15 km from Ruhengeri town and 100km from Kigali. There are 30 spacious and simple cottages built with local materials like grass thatch, stones, tiles and pleasantly furnished for the comfort of their guests. Each of the cottages has en-suite bathroom with hot and cold shower, sitting room with a fireplace for warmth and a veranda. Out of the 30 chalets, 19 of them have king size beds, 5 have twin beds, and 6 are VIP cottages with wooden floors. From the park entrance it takes about 15 minutes to reach this lodge. There is a restaurant that prepares international and local cuisines, a bar for wines, spirits, beers and other drinks.
A cozy eco – lodge is located on an incredible hill side near the Virunga volcanoes. This offers a magnificent view of the mountains and twin Lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. It is approximately one hour’s drive from the park headquarters and 3 hours’ drive from Kigali to this lodge. There are 8 spacious and astonishing cottages made of tiles and stones, ligneous floors, substantial private verandas and wooden furniture. This facility uses solar for lighting and heating water for showers and eco – toilets that use less water hence environmentally friendly. Offers three course menu for dinner, you can get a chance to interact and socialize with other guests while enjoying your meal because there is an enormous dining table.
Apart from gorilla tracking, other activities include visiting Dian Fossey’s grave (American female Primatologist who dedicated her time undertaking research on mountain gorillas), relishing traditional dances from the Intore dance group which always entertains guests, tracking Golden monkeys, village walks and community school visits, hiking the volcanoes and the waterfalls.
Gorillas Volcanoes Hotel
Located in Musanze district (Northern Province of Rwanda) in the heart of Ruhengeri on Rushengeri – Gisenyi road just 13 kilometres and 25 minutes’ drive away from Volcanoes national park headquarters. This clean hotel has over 31 rooms which have comfortable beds, a seating area with comfortable sofas, TV sets that can access Satellite channels, private balcony for each room to allow guests to relax and have a good view of the environment around, free bottled water and complimentary breakfast is provided to visitors, some rooms have gardens and a playground exists for family guests, prompt and excellent room service, private bathrooms with bathtubs, bathrobes and sparkling clean towels, toiletries (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, shower gel, body lotion, hairdryers), a cozy and spacious restaurant for both local and international dishes, a well-stocked bar for your wines, spirits, beers and other soft drinks, there is free Wi-Fi around the hotel premises which keeps guests connected with their family members and friends, for business tourists there is a business center and a conference/meeting room, after a long day of gorilla tracking you can enjoy your evening by swimming or going to the health club for a massage or steam bathe.
This small budget hotel is located in Musanze, Northern Province of Rwanda. There are 30 self-contained rooms comprising of double, single, twin rooms and apartments. There is a room called Dian Fossey that was named after this American primatologist who used to spend nights during her leave form the gorilla camp. After her death, it was named after her and still exists in its original state to remember her. The rooms have satellite TVs and bathrooms with both hot and cold showers/bath, they also offer laundry service to guests free of charge and there is free Wi-Fi around the hotel property, a bar is available and accessible to the convenience of the visitor, a balcony that offers an opportunity to enjoy and relax in the cozy environment especially in the evenings after a long day of gorilla trekking.
There is a conference hall for up to 120 individuals for conferences, meetings, workshops, training programs and theatre plays because of the elevated podium. Feel free to reach the reception because of the 24 hours front desk service to allow booking or for inquiries. However is advisable to make bookings prior to visiting the hotel to avoid unexpected disappointments arising from rooms being occupied.
Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel
A luxury hotel located also in Musanze district near Kinigi park headquarters about 3 hours’ drive from Kigali. The thatched and stone lodge has 13 air conditioned rooms comprising of VIP cottage with VIP amenities like a private kitchen to prepare your own meals, a self-contained double and twin bedroom with pleasant cozy soft beds, other rooms include double, single and twin bedrooms with also comfortable beds, flat screen TVs, a fridge to keep guests’ drinks cold, a kettle in case you need to make yourself tea, an outdoor seating area with cozy sofas for the comfort of guests, free Wi-Fi around the hotel promises, gardens and swimming pool for their tranquillity, serve delicious and nutritious meals at their onsite restaurant which exists separately from the bar to allow guests to enjoy wines, beers with friends before or after their meals. Laundry, ironing, shoe shining services and private parking are also available for the visitors. The hotel has serene environment and well trained, amiable staff ready and willing to serve you to make your stay at the hotel memorable.
Le Bambou Gorilla village
This mid-range lodge is located in the Northern Province near Kinigi, Volcanoes Park headquarters. . It is comprised of 23 cottages made of local materials like bamboo hence the name “Le Bamboo” and grass thatched making it Eco-friendly yet very comfortable. Out of these, 9 are self-contained deluxe rooms, single rooms, double rooms for up to two individuals, twin rooms with two single beds and all these rooms have a mini fridge, a fireplace and chairs. Existing is also a family cottage with an en-suite bedroom comprising of a king size bed and a twin bed offering a feeling of “being home away from home” with an option of self-catering, pleasant closet/wardrobe, and chairs made out of bamboo. The family cottage is preferred by the guests who travel as a family or those on their honeymoon. Gahinga restaurant that is within the lodge offers nutritious and quality cuisines on ala carte menu and the Karisoke bar well stocked with bottles beers, non-alcoholic drinks, cocktails which they serve from inside the bar or outside for those who wish to be at the bar garden.
Kinigi Guest house
This locally run budget guesthouse is located on the foothills of Sabyinyo volcanic mountain in the North Eastern district of Kinigi (in the park headquarters) about 11km for Ruhengeri city. The location on the foothills of the Virunga provides a beautiful panoramic view of the mountain and proximity at the park headquarters makes it easier to acquire a gorilla permit. It is locally known as “village Touristique de Kinigi”. It is managed by Association de Solidarite des femmes Rwandese (ASOFERWA), a non-profit association for orphans and widows to help the needy groups of people.
The proceeds from the association are used to help pay school fees for orphans, provide market for art and crafts made by the locals, support women groups and the organization mostly employ locals hence advocating for community participation in tourism. 40 people can be accommodated in their 20 furnished and immense rooms fitted with mosquito nets, electricity, water, adjoining bathrooms and a wardrobe. Besides that, there are four glamorous VIP suites, attractive gardens, and a restaurant that serves local and French cuisines, laundry and car hire services are also provided at attractive prices and there is an on-site befitting hall with a capacity of 400 persons ideal for meetings, workshops, symposiums, seminars, wedding receptions and other social gatherings. While at this facility, you will have an opportunity to engage in community walk arranged by the guesthouse.
La Palme hotel
This attractive, luxury three star hotel is located in Ruhengeri, Musanze district about 20 kilometres from the Park and 30 minutes’ drive to the twin lakes of Bulera and Ruhondo. It caters for leisure and business travelers. The hotel’s bosom and refreshing environment offers comfort and serenity while at the hotel. Existing at the hotel are 48 self-contained, well-furnished and designed rooms including 4 spacious and classic suites.
Their guest rooms have functional telephones, TVs which access over 15 satellite channels, with private neat bathrooms, their eminent on-site restaurant is charming with a sense of French and oriental kitchens, guests who desire African dishes can be offered on request, full breakfast can be offered with no additional charges but rates included in their room service rates, there is a mini bar adjacent that offers an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks (cocktails, champagnes, wines, spirits) prepared for your total satisfaction.
There is 24 hour room service and front desk service, unlimited internet access around the hotel premises and in the rooms, for business guests there are two modern conference halls with fast internet access, photocopiers, scanner printer and fax machine. One of the halls accommodates 50 people and the other 150 persons for workshops, meetings, conferences with guaranteed hospitality while catering for your meals and drinks
Located in the quiet green leafy suburbs of Kigali offering a tranquil environment .It’s about 5 minutes’ walk from this facility to Kigali Golf club hence this becomes the favourite hotel option for golfers. The rooms are neat and well designed to cater for both business and leisure tourists, with comfortable beds, have 24 hour room service, sparkling clean bathrooms and toilets, telephone available in the room, hot and cold showers, laundry, shoe shining and dry cleaning services, TVs with satellite channels and 24 hour internet connection.
The hotel is located near MTN shop center, numerous shops, restaurants, foreign embassies, parliament building, supermarkets (e.g. La Galette), coffee houses, Amahoro National stadium and other offices making it easy and convenient for guests to access these services and visit other sites like Remera heroes’ cemetery besides gorilla tracking.
A mid – range hotel located at Kinigi about 500meters and 5 minutes’ walk away from park headquarters, about 84km and approximately 2 hours’ drive from Kigali International airport. There are 7 rooms comprising of 4 remarkably cozy double bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and 3 superlative garden bungalows with private toilet and bathrooms with hot and cold bath. Some of these facilities have private kitchens with built-in dishwashers. At the villa there is an on-site restaurant (à La Carte ), a well-stocked bar offers wines, cocktails, beers and non-alcoholic drinks, free Wi-Fi, dry cleaning, car hire services and free valet parking for guests. Activities at the villa include the famous gorilla tracking, hiking of Visoke summit, tracking of golden monkeys, and visit of the Dian Fossey’s grave.
Amahoro Guest House
A budget option located in the northern district of Musanze about 63km from Kigali and about 15 kms (30 minutes’ drive) to the head trail of gorilla tracking. This secluded guest house has self-contained guestrooms with comfortable beds fitted with mosquito nets for comfortable nights, hot and cold water in the bathrooms, a sitting area with a Television, a library allowing visitors to relax and read books of their choice, self-catering is available for clients in their kitchen fitted with a sink, cookers and pans, their shared verandas with chairs allow guests to relax outside as they enjoy the serene environment, there is one laptop that allows you to serf internet. Occasionally the guesthouse offers barbeque on the guesthouse gardens and you can participate in goat roasting. There are friendly and qualified staffs ready and willing to serve you and make your stay at the guesthouse memorable.