The national park spans over 160km area in the northern part of Rwanda. It’s also part of the great Virunga volcano conservation region straddling to cover Virunga National Park in Congo and Mgahinga National Park of Uganda. This was at first a small area around Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke volcanoes which was gazette to protect the mountain gorillas which were facing the threat of extinction a s a result of poaching. In 1929, the park was extended into Rwanda and was named Albert national Park managed and run by the Belgian Colonial Authorities. In 1967, the American zoologist Dian Fossey who had been doing research on mountain gorillas in the forests of Congo fled from insecurity and also established her research base at this place.
Volcanoes National park is home to mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, spotted Hyena, buffaloes, elephants, black fronted duiker, and bush buck. The park has got 178 bird species including the 29 endemics to Rwenzori Mountains and the Virungas. The park is located in the small village called Musanze previously known as Ruhengeri, which is very accessible by public transport from Gisenyi or Kigali or from the airport. This drive takes 2 hours and gorilla trekking can be done on the same day and drive back to Kigali after the trek. You will also be required to arrive at the head quarters in Kinigi at the park entrance, by 7: 00 am, so if you hope to trek the gorillas for one day, you have to wake up so early for your journey so that you are on time.
The main activities carried out from this park include; Golden Monkey tracking which takes place in volcanoes national Park and at the same time 7:00 just like the mountain gorillas. These species are rare and listed as endangered and volcanoes National Park has got two habituated golden monkey troops that are available for visiting by the visitors in the park, both of which make about 80 members. These live in Rwanda in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes and habituation has helped them to overcome their initial shyness to be able to accept their daily visit by the tourists and researchers. Tracking of gorillas and golden monkeys is similar, this is done in the small group of no more than 8 people and you can spend one hour with the monkeys once you find them. They are very active and can jump from tree to tree which is so interesting and a little difficult to photograph.
The Dian Fossey Visit, trekking to the Dian Fossey Tomb is one of the most famous activities carried out while visiting Volcanoes National Park. The trek involves a 30 minutes drive from the park head quarters to the trail head to access the Karisoke research camp where the visitors walk for 10 minutes to the park boundary. This walk from the park boundary to the research center where the grave is, takes about an hour to 1 hour and half hours and affords good views of forest hogs, forest elephants, a variety of primates and bird species.
The hike is unbelievable adventurous physically, emotionally and intellectually. It’s so inspiring to learn about someone who was so dedicated and left a legacy that exists even today. The hike also includes moving through the forests as well as hiking up the slopes and therefore needs some relative degree of fitness and patience.
The twin Lakes of Burera and Ruhondo; these were named so because they are located in the same areas and their physical connection. These are located in Musanze district which is a walk away from the volcanoes National park. The lakes offer the tourists a very beautiful view of the land scape, wetland, water birds and the habitants.
Mount Karisimbi hike is another activity in this national Park; this rises at an elevation of about 4507m above sea level and it’s a strato volcano that is the highest of the eight main volcanoes of the Virunga field and the 5th highest in Africa. This also extends along the border between DRC and Rwanda on the western branch of the East African Rift Valley. Climbing Mount Karisimbi is a tiring activity and yet veruy rewarding 2 days hikes. The hike starts early in the morning and takes 6 hours and involves navigating through the Bisoke side before reaching the first stopping place at an altitude of 3700 meters for the overnight camping before finishing off the journey the next day. Karisimbi is so close to the Karisoke research center where the grave of Dian Fossey is found and this means that one has a chance of visiting the grave and trek the golden monkeys in addition to the gorillas.
Mountain Bisoke Hike is one of the most memorable activities in Rwanda. At the top of this mount, there is a crater lake which is so spectacular and the hike takes 6 hours including the 2 hours descending down to the starting point. The experienced hikers can get to the top of the mountain in only 3 hours time or less and the return to the base in about an hour. The hikers come together at the park head quarters at Kinigi by 7:00am to attend to a briefing and then be assigned a park ranger. By 8:00am the adventure begins and the tour guide will transfer you to the starting point and be assigned porters to carry your luggage and also be given hiking gears.
There is also the Iby’ Iwacu cultural village tour which is situated around Volcanoes National Park in Nyabigoma, Kinigi and Musanze district in Northern province. On your visit, you will share with the local people home as well as heritage treasures that include life style, artifacts, activities, and ways of living, of the local people. The cultural village is committed to show casing the traditional lifestyles, ways of living as well as dances to tourists. This also gives you a chance of meeting local people, in their environment, with the taste of their culture and traditions.
There is also the Musanze cave which is a natural underground space that is large enough for a human to enter. As you visit Volcanoes National Park, get chance to tour the Musanze caves two kilometers along underneath that were recently unveiled for tourism in 2013by Rwanda Development Board and the Rwanda Defense forces. These can be sited north of the country in Musanze district. You will adventure very spectacular sites and the views of the nearby areas including the Buhanga Eco Park, which is the Rwandan former coronation place for the former kings.
Gorilla trekking is also another activity that can be enjoyed in Volcanoes National Park. These are the world’s most endangered animals in Rwanda. They can be trekked in only three countries; that’s Uganda in Bwindi impenetrable National park as well as Mgahinga National Park, Rwanda, they can be trekked from Volcanoes National Park as well as in Virunga Mountains in the DRC. This activity in Rwanda starts so early in the morning and the rangers are always present to help out. For more information check www.volcanoesrwanda.com