A visit to the Volcanoes National Park and partaking in a classic gorilla trekking expedition, is truly a once-in-a-lifetime safari experience. Spanning 160 square kilometres in the northwest of Rwanda, it is a wildlife haven like no other.
Initially called into existence by the mountain gorilla in a small area, today the park is distinguished by lush rainforests with five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains occupying swaths of land. It forms part of the Virunga conservation region that stretches into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Virunga National Park) and Uganda (Mgahinga National Park).
The park’s famed mountain gorillas were immortalised by the ground-breaking work of naturalist Dian Fossey who established the Karisoke Research Centre to study these great apes. She is buried in the park and her grave can be visited by safari-goers.
Apart from the imposing mountain gorillas, Volcanoes National Park is also home to a great variety of mammals, including the golden monkey and countless bird, reptile, and insect species.
The park is situated just two hours drive from the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, that is serviced by an international airport. Visitors can either self-drive, make use of public transport, or arrange a pick-up by any of the well-established safari operators.
Dian Fossey established the Karisoke Research Centre in the Volcanoes National Park. She is buried in the park and her grave can be visited by safari-goers.
The densely forested areas of Volcanoes National Park are prime habitat for its most famous inhabitants, the mountain gorillas. The park is home to more habituated groups of these great apes than any other destination of its kind.
These enigmatic creatures occupy the higher elevations on the mountain slopes with their thick fur adding warmth in the colder conditions. Observing family groups, including mature male silverbacks and mothers with their young, is a sight to behold.
Other species traversing the length and breadth of the park, include golden monkeys that are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Visitors should also keep their eyes peeled for elephants, buffalos, bushpigs, and a variety of antelope species. Close to 180 bird species will keep the twitchers scanning the skies.
Although the moderate weather in Rwanda makes it a good safari destination all year round, the optimum time to go gorilla trekking in the Volcanoes National Park is during the drier months. These are between December and March and again from June to September with average daytime temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. For travellers on a budget, the months between July and September are a good option. Visitors should pack a rain jacket as it will be in the middle of the rainy season.
Apart from gorilla trekking, there are a handful of other safari activities to attract visitors to Volcanoes National Park. Visitors should pencil in a visit during September when the yearly baby gorilla naming ceremony takes place on the first of the month.
Other wildlife and nature related excursions include spending time with habituated groups of golden monkeys, the climbing of the Karisimbi and Bisoke volcanoes and a tour of the surrounding lakes and caves.
A visit to the Dian Fossey tomb and a cultural village tour to Iby’Iwacu could also be arranged.
There are various accommodation options to choose from in and around the park. These range from the higher end boutique hotels, lodges and guesthouses to those catering for a more modest budget. All accommodations are perfectly suited to provide visitors a safe and comfortable environment to enjoy the amazing wildlife in their natural surroundings.