Volcanoes National Park which protects the Rwandan section of the Virungas is the most popular and reliable destination for those looking for gorilla trekking. Located to the north west of the destination Rwanda and it is the most popular park in the country. It is one of the only four national parks in the world that protect the mountain gorillas which are listed as critically endangered world over.
Volcanoes National Park harbors at least half of the estimated 320 mountain gorillas that live in the Virunga Region. Currently there are ten gorilla groups that have been habituated for gorilla visits. Each of these gorilla groups can be visited by eight tourists making a total of 80 gorilla permits to be available every day. Every morning trackers assemble at the park headquarters to get assigned to the different gorilla groups.
Besides the mountain gorillas, the other outstanding features of Volcanoes National Park are the five (5) breathtaking scenic volcanoes that include; Rwanda’s highest Mountain Karisimbi (4,507m), Mount Bisoke (3,711m), Mount Muhabura (4,127m), Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m) and Mount Gahinga (3,474m) with the last three having their peaks in the neighbouring destination Uganda.
The Musanze town (former Ruhengeri) is also a base point for cross-border gorilla tracking – you can easily go gorilla trekking from PNV to Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park.
History of the Park
Established in 1925, the Volcanoes National Park Rwanda ranks among the oldest National Parks of Africa and the aim of its gazzette was to conserve the Mountain Gorillas from poachers. The borders were further increased in the year 1929 by the Belgian colonial Masters to cover more parts of Rwanda and Congo and it was named Albert National Park covering 8,090km2. However, 700ha were later cleared for human settlement in the year 1958.
Following the independence of Democratic Republic of Congo in the year 1960, the national park was divided into two and after Rwanda gained independence in 1962, still the new government resolved to keep the park though the population was already dense. However, the National Park was reduced between 1969 and 1973 with 1,050ha cleared for pyrethrum growing.
The Arrival of Dian Fossey
The arrival of Dian Fossey in 1967 in Volcanoes National Park saw its popularity rise all over the world as a centre for mountain gorilla research and conservation. Dian Fossey established a research station at Karisoke between Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi and spent great deal of her time researching about Mountain Gorillas and devising means for conserving them before she succumbed to unclear death in the year 1985. The Movie Gorillas in the Mist was showcased in her commemoration and she is buried at her research station along with her most admirable Silverback Digit.
During the Rwandan Civil War, Volcanoes National Park was turned into a battle field and the park headquarters were attacked in the year 1992 but the park resumed operations including receiving visitors in 1999 when it was believed to be safe and under complete control.
How to Book Gorilla Permits for Rwanda
Rwanda gorilla permits are sold at US$1500 per person and per trek. If you are looking at multiple treks, you are free to book multiple gorilla permits for different dates.
The gorilla permits can be booked directly from the Rwanda Development Board or through a local tour operator who offer fully inclusive Rwanda Safaris. It is advised to book your gorilla permit early enough given that they are sold on first come, first serve basis. If you are prepared to risk non-availability you can pitch up at the Volcanoes National Park at Kinigi the day before you want to track and buy a gorilla permit there.
Where to Stay in Volcanoes National Park
There are lots of places where to stay in Volcanoes National Park. From upmarket to budget options, lots of choices are available. Here are the most popular accommodation options for tourists
- Kinigi Guest House – Budget style accommodation
- Virunga Lodge – a luxurious lodge boasting one one of the most stunning locations in Africa. Located on a hilltop overlooking the twin lakes f Burera and Ruhondo.
- Hotel Gorillas Musanze
- Hotel Muhabura
- Centre Pastoral Notre Dame de Fatima
Apart from the gorillas, there is plenty to see in Rwanda, a scenic and welcoming country.
- Go for golden monkey tracking
- Day hikes to Dian Fossey’s Grave
- Hiking to the summit levels of several volcanoes; Bisoke and Karisimbi.
- You can also visit the tropical port on the shore of Lake Kivu, a stunning place with beaches.