This is Rwanda’s most important tourist hotspot, stretching 160 kilometers and protecting Rwanda’s sector of the Virunga Mountains. It is found in the region with at least six extinct and three active volcanoes that overlap the Ugandan and Congolese borders and protect more than half of the world’s magnetic mountain gorilla population. Volcanoes National Park is a beautiful and diversely ecologically diverse destination. This chain of steep free-standing mountains, spanning altitudes ranging from 2,400m to 4,507m and connected by fertile saddles formed by solidified lava flow, ranks among the most stirring and memorable of African landscapes.
Karisimbi on the DRC border, Mgahinga, and Muhavura on the Ugandan border are among the highest members of the chain and the most western part of the National Park. The most popular activity in Volcanoes National Park, which is home to mountain gorillas, is mountain gorilla tracking. The most important activity after gorilla tracking is a visit to the habituated family of golden monkeys, a hike to Dian Fossey’s former camp and grave on the Karisoke forested slopes, and an overnight hike to the highest point of Karisimbi’s summit.
In Volcanoes National Park, there are several gorilla families, some of which are habituated for gorilla tourism and others for research, while others are not. Before embarking on this fulfilling bucket list experience, you must purchase a gorilla permit through your tour operator with specific dates. Depending on the circumstances, each gorilla group is given a name and is led by a silverback. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback, he must ‘steal’ some females from an existing group to start his own family.
Amahoro gorilla group
Amahoro means “peaceful,” and the group is led by the composed Ubumwe. The group primarily lives uphill, which necessitates a steep climb to eventually enter its territory, but the climb is always worthwhile.
Susa (A) Gorilla family
Dian Fossey studied the Susa gorilla group, which has 41 gorillas and is the park’s largest Gorilla group. The group is well-known for having the unusual twins Byishimo and Impano. This family lives in the high mountains, making trekking difficult, but it rewards you with its size when you see it.
Hirwa gorilla group
This group evolved from existing gorilla families such as Group 13, Susa, and Sabyinyo. After leaving Susa with two females, Munyinya the silverback met others along the way and eventually formed a group.
Sabinyo Gorilla family
Named after one of the volcanoes, Guhonda leads the Sabyinyo gorilla group. This family has fewer members than most, but it is an impressive one. This group is closest to the park headquarters; if you are tired of tracking long distances, request this group.
Kwitonda gorilla group
The Kwitonda gorilla group is led by silverback Kwitonda, whose name means “humble one” in Swahili. This gorilla group migrated from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and ‘permanently’ settled in Rwanda. It is a moderately difficult trek due to its location on the upper slopes of Mt Muhabura.
Group 13 / Agashya gorilla group
During habituation, Group 13 / Agashya gorilla group had only 13 members, hence its name. It currently has about 25 members and is led by silverback Agashya, which explains the name change.
Umubano gorilla group
Silverback Charles leads the Umubano gorilla group, which split off from the Amahoro gorilla group with some females to form Umubano. Umubano means “living together” in Swahili.
Karisimbi (Susa B) gorilla group
Karisimbi / Susa – B gorilla group has two silverbacks and it split from the original Susa (A) group. This group, which lives on the upper slopes of Mt Karisimbi, is one of the most difficult to reach. It is best suited for experienced hikers who enjoy the hiking experience as much as seeing gorillas.
The Titus gorilla group
The Titus gorilla group was named after the silverback Titus, who was born during Dian Fossey’s research at Karisoke.
Bwenge gorilla group
Silverback Bwenge formed the Bwenge gorilla group after breaking away with females from other groups. ‘Wisdom’ is translated as Bwenge. The group primarily inhabits the slopes between the mountains of Karisimbi and Bisoke.
Ugenda gorilla group
The Ugenda gorilla group was named after its unique behavior of roaming from location to location around the Karisimbi area; be prepared to hike this volcano as you follow this gorilla group.
Gorilla Trekking in the Volcanoes National Park is popular because Rwanda is widely regarded as the best place in Africa to see gorillas. Mountain gorillas, which are fascinating but endangered, live in the park. Only three countries have mountain gorillas: Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Volcanoes National Park is located in the northwestern part of Rwanda and covers approximately 16,000 hectares. It is made up of afro-montane forests, bamboo forests, savanna grassland, vast swamps, and five volcanoes (Bisoke, Gahinga, Muhabura, Sabyinyo, and Karisimbi). Mount Karisimbi is one of Africa’s four tallest mountains. Among the many mammals found in the Volcanoes National Park are spotted hyenas, buffaloes, elephants, bushbucks, duikers, and golden monkeys.
The most popular tourism activity in Volcanoes National Park is gorilla trekking, and the chances of seeing mountain gorillas are very high. Volcanoes National Park gorilla trekking entails hiking through dense bamboo forests and steep mountain slopes in search of one of Rwanda’s gorilla families. The final encounter with the primates is regarded as one of Rwanda’s most exciting and memorable Gorilla Tracking encounters with wildlife in Africa.
To get the best of both worlds, visitors can cross the border into Uganda to see the gorillas in what is known as double gorilla trekking. Some tourists even choose to go gorilla trekking while also visiting the gorillas in Congo’s Virunga National Park. Seeing mountain gorillas and Eastern lowland gorillas in Congo’s Kahuzi Biega National Park is an even more thrilling experience. Tracking gorillas is difficult, but finally seeing them is the ultimate wildlife experience.
The Gorilla Tracking Experience
At around 7:30 a.m., gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park begins with a briefing from park authorities and Rangers. Participants are divided into groups and assigned to a specific gorilla during the briefing. Family gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park. Less fit hikers are assigned to groups closer to the park offices. The park Rangers lead the group to the gorillas at 8:00 a.m. As previously stated, gorilla trekking in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda provides you with a choice of 10 habituated groups/families. Regardless of which group you end up with, watching mountain gorillas is a breathtaking experience.
You could spend hours just watching the gorilla kids run around and have fun. Mountain gorillas are constantly playful and inquisitive. Some may approach you, but with no malice intended. It is critical to follow your Guides’ instructions and to remain calm while with the gorillas. Make no sudden movements. Gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park can take anywhere from one to six hours, depending on the gorilla group assigned to you and their exact location on the day of the trek.
Golden monkey trekking or tracking in Rwanda is an exciting adventure that offers an epic encounter with a rare and beautiful species of monkeys known as “Golden Monkeys” in Volcanoes National Park. The golden monkeys, as the name implies, have a striking golden fur coat, which, combined with their vivacious personality, makes them quite lovely to watch and excellent for photography. The popular gorilla trekking adventure overshadows the golden monkey trek in Volcanoes National Park, which is usually done as an add-on to the Rwanda gorilla tour in Volcanoes National Park.
The golden monkeys are an endangered species that can only be found in the Virunga mountain range, which spans the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda. Rwanda and Uganda are the only two countries where visitors can trek to see these magnificent monkeys up close. The golden monkeys are found in bamboo forests and vegetation near the Volcano Mountains. The monkeys primarily consume bamboo shoots, branchlets, and young bamboo leaves.
There are two habituated troops of golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park, with the larger troop in Sabyinyo volcano being the most visited, with 80 – 100 members.
The golden monkey trek has only one session per day and, like all other activities in the Volcanoes National Park, takes place in the morning. Visitors must report to the Kinigi Park Headquarters (at 7 a.m.) to meet the park ranger guides for a briefing before driving to the start of the trek, which is 15 minutes away at the park’s edge.
The monkeys will be easy to find because they live at the base of the Volcano Mountains in the bamboo forest, and trackers can find them in less than an hour by following clues of fresh leftovers from eaten bamboo shoots and leaves. Visitors can spend up to an hour watching these incredibly beautiful monkeys pick bamboo shoots and young bamboo leaves while making huge jumps from one bamboo tree to another, made possible by their extra-long tails that provide great balance.
Long tails can become entangled in the bamboo and be severed, as seen in some monkeys with short tails. The monkeys spend a lot of time at the top of the bamboo, but they also climb down to eye level and move around on the ground. They are some of the least shy monkeys because you can get within a meter of them.
They are excellent for photography, and flash is permitted, which is not permitted for other primate adventures such as gorilla and chimp trekking in Rwanda. Even these monkeys seem to enjoy the flash of a camera. The monkeys will occasionally venture out of the park into the open potato fields to eat the Irish potatoes left over after the harvest.
Extensive afro-Alpine forests, bamboo stands, and moorland dominated by towering giant Lobelias cover the volcanoes. Fortunately, we don’t have to scale these towering peaks to find our avian prey. The park also protects 17 of the 27 Albertine Rift Endangered species, as well as 53 of the 74 Afrotropical Highlands biome species.
As a result, the guest must keep their eyes peeled and fingers crossed for these specialties. Lower trails take you through habitats where you will look for some of the park’s specialties. The unusual Rwenzori Turaco and Rwenzori Double-collared Sunbird, Handsome Francolin, Kivu ground thrush, and Lagden’s Bush Shrike are among them.
Trekking to the Dian Fossey tomb
Trekking to the Dian Fossey tomb gives you an insight into the life of Dian Fossey and gorilla conservation in the Virunga region. You will learn more about her fascination with gorillas and how, over time, gorilla conservation became a focus, eventually leading to gorilla tourism. You will travel by car for a portion of the distance until you reach the trailhead, where you will hike for about 1 – 2 hours. You may see forest animals such as elephants, buffaloes, forest hogs, and a variety of bird species.
You arrive at Dian Fossey’s house, where she was murdered in 1985 and buried next to Digit, her favorite gorilla friend. The gorilla graveyard is home to approximately 20 gorillas who were killed by poachers or natural causes.
Hiking Mount Bisoke
Mount Bisoke has a spectacular crater lake at the summit, making hiking this volcano a rewarding adventure. The hike takes about 6 hours, including the 2 hours spent descending. However, some experienced hikers take as little as three hours and an hour to descend. Hikers, like in all activities, meet at the park offices at 7 a.m. to listen to a briefing before beginning the hike with the assigned ranger guide. Your ranger guide is knowledgeable and eager to share his or her mountain experiences with you. You can hire porters to help you with your luggage for a small fee, and it is highly recommended that you do so.
Hiking Mt Karisimbi
Mt Karisimbi, at 4507m above sea level, is the highest of the Virunga volcanoes and the fifth highest in Africa. It is located on the western rift valley between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Because of the white-capped summit caused by hail and sleet accumulation, it gets its name from ‘amasimbi,’ which means “white shell” in Kinyarwanda.
The Karisimbi hike is challenging but rewarding, lasting two days and beginning in Bisoke. There is a chance of seeing birds, primates, including gorillas on rare occasions, and breathtaking scenery.
The Iby’ Iwacu Cultural Village Encounters
This is a project for locals who were previously involved in gorilla poaching but are now committed to conservation. Edwin Sabuhoro founded the village while working as a warden at Volcanoes National Park, with the goal of converting the park’s notorious poachers into conservationists. Your visit to this village will help to further conservation efforts and provide a source of income for many community members.
Participate in the activities to get a feel for the village; be crowned king or queen for the day, learn about traditional lifestyles, and enjoy music and dance.
Volcanoes National Park is about 105 kilometers from the country’s capital and airport (Kigali), and it is accessible by road and air. You can fly into Kigali International Airport and then be driven for 2 hours to the park. You can also take either private or public transportation. A cab can be hired for $50 to transport you to the park.
The accommodation options near Volcanoes National Park range from luxury to upmarket, mid-range to basic. Depending on your interests, the majority of establishments can be found in Kinigi, and Musanze, and some are even an hour away from the park headquarters. Some of the accommodations are:
Bisate Lodge, Kwitonda Lodge, Virunga lodge, Sabyinyo silverback lodge, One & Only Gorilla Nest, Le bambou gorilla lodge, Mountain gorilla view lodge, Kinigi guesthouse, Muhabura hotel, and Garden place hotel
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