The Volcanoes National Park also known as Parc National de Volcans (PNV) is a hub for some of the best tourism activities in Rwanda. The park itself is located in the Northern Province of Rwanda and sits on an area covering 160 Sq Km. The Volcanoes National Park was turned into a major plant and wildlife conservation areas in the early 1920’s at the same time as the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The three parks together form what is known as the Virunga conservation region for the main purpose of protecting the endangered mountain gorillas. The arrival of Dian Fossey in the park in 1967 and establishment of the Karisoke Research Center brought more publicity to the park and led to the reduction of severe poaching. Her efforts attracted greater funding for gorilla conservation programmes and ensured the survival of the giant apes.

The Volcanoes National park has been made famous because of the endangered mountain gorillas but the mountainous landscape, green forests, lakes, rivers and a sizeable population of other wildlife also makes the park stand out. Four major volcanoes can be found in the Volcanoes National Park. They include Bisoke (3,711m), Karisimbi (4,507m), Gahinga (3,474m), Sabyinyo (3,634m) and Muhabura (4,127m). Because of the high altitudes, volcanoes and low laying areas, the park has four types of vegetation cover consisting of Bamboo on the lower slopes, Hypericum / Hagenia on the higher altitudes below 3,300m, sub-alpine vegetation at altitudes above 3,300m and Afro alpine vegetation above 4,000m.

Apart from hosting 30% of the remaining population of mountain gorillas that feed on bamboo shoots and other lower altitude vegetation cover, another endangered species inhabiting the parks lower altitudes are the beautiful golden monkeys. There are also clans of wild chimpanzees and other small primates that call the park home. Larger mammals like forest Elephants and Buffaloes can be found but in small groups. The park has leopards, Duikers, Bush Pigs, Forest Hogs and the Spotted Hyena. Birding in the volcanoes national park is increasingly becoming popular in the park considering the numerous species found in the park, top of which are the beautiful Francolins and the Rwenzori Turaco.

Attractions in Volcanoes National Park

Gorilla Trekking in uganda & Rwanda

Although gorilla trekking is the dominant activity in the volcanoes national park, there are several other incredible activities to choose from for potential visitors. Visitors may be spoiled for choice and wish they had more time to complete all the activities in the Volcanoes National Park.  The major attractions include gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, visiting the grave of Dian Fossey, mountain hiking, touring the lakes Ruhondo and Burera. Let’s look at the activities in more detail.

Mountain Gorilla Tracking: The Volcanoes National Park is one of the 4 national parks where mountain gorillas can be sighted. The others are Virunga in Congo, Mgahinga and Bwindi in Uganda. Their is a high chance of seeing gorillas in Mgahinga. 10 habituated Rwanda gorilla groups are available for tracking under the guidance of experienced and motivated rangers.  A safari in the Volcanoes National ParkIt is important to be in good shape before embarking on an activity that can prove demanding depending on the gorilla group you are assigned. Trackers can hire the services of a porter to help with extra luggage at a cost of about $15. Read our article about gorilla trekking for the disabled for more about porters. A gorilla permits in Rwanda cost $1500 with part of it going to the local communities and infrastructural developments around the park. The Permits can be obtained directly from the Rwanda Development Board or more conveniently through the services of a tour operator. The dress code during gorilla trekking consists of long sleeve shirts and trousers, hand gloves, rain jackets and hiking shoes.

Tracking Golden monkeys: Tracking golden monkeys has gained popularity over the years and is now second only to watching the gorillas. Spotting the endangered monkeys feed, groom and swing from one bamboo tree to another costs $100. Touring the Volcanoes National Park RwandaA group can consist of nearly 100 individuals and is usually led by a dominant male. Golden Monkey tracking can be done before or after gorilla trekking. Tracking the Golden Monkeys is less strenuous than the gorillas because they don’t go to high altitudes in search of fresh food like the gorillas. They prefer to feed on the Bamboo shoots that grow at the base of the volcanoes. Golden monkey permits don’t need to be booked in advance like that of the gorillas but we recommended early booking just in case.

Visiting the Tomb of Dian Fossey: Dian Fossey is one of the greatest primatologists of all time. Because of her courage and determination, poaching of animals and particularly mountain gorillas was greatly reduced in the Volcanoes National Park. Without her efforts, mountain gorillas would probably be extinct by now. Visiting the Volcanoes National Park in RwandaShe is also credited for introducing new ways of making gorillas comfortable around human presence by imitating their sounds and gaining the acceptance/trust of the dominant male. Today hundreds of visitors go to pay homage to this great conservationist by visiting her grave and former Karisoke Research Center located between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke. The guided hike lasts about 3 hours and costs $75. As one climbs the volcanoes to her former base, they will get to experience what she had to go through, her determination and the passion she had for the gorillas. Please check out our 3 Days Rwanda gorilla tour and Dian Fossey memorial visit Package.

Hiking Mount Karisimbi Volcano: Mount Karisimbi is an extinct Volcano that reaches a height of about 4,507m. Hiking Mount Karisimbi is one of the top tourist attractions in Musanze. It is the fifth highest in Africa and thus requires mental and physical preparation in order to ensure the 2 day hike.  The hike involves navigating through thick forests before stopping at an altitude of 3700m for the first stop, rest and overnight.  Hikers than continue hiking the last steep section early in the morning and up to the top of the summit. The summit rewards hikers with great views of the Volcanoes National Park, the whitened snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, Mount Nyiragongo and all the volcanoes within  the Virunga region.

Mount Bisoke Hike: Mount Bisoke is an extinct Vocano that forms part of the wider Virunga range of Mountains. It takes 3 hours of driving to reach the foot of the mountain from the capital Kigali. Hiking mount Bisoke takes one day and is relatively easier compared to Karisimbi. However, hikers still need to be reasonably fit to complete the activity. The hiking permit costs $75 and like all activities in the park, everything starts with briefing at the park headquarters before heading out to the starting point. The roads from the park headquarters to the head trail can be muddy with stones and requires a four wheel drive car. For those with heavy luggage, porters are available for hire at a cost of about $15 at the starting point.

Mount Muhabura Hike: Mount Muhabura is one of the most interesting and adventurous volcanoes to climb while visiting the Volcanoes National Park.  At 4,127m, it is the third highest mountain within the Virunga ranges. The hike starts at a height of 1200m and by the time one reaches the summit, they would have passed through beautiful green forests and marveled at the other volcanoes within the wider Virunga region.