Parc Des Volcanoes
An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virunga offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the Volcanoes national park, which is a 160 km² national park and protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains. A range of six extinct and three active volcanoes straddles the borders of Uganda and DR Congo.
The Volcanoes national Park is part of a contiguous 433 km² Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park, which protects the DRC and Ugandan sectors of the Virunga respectively. The three national parks are managed separately today. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the gorillas, which were already known internationally, despite the pressing problem of overpopulation.
Ranging in altitude from 2400 km to 4507 the Volcanoes National Park is conquered by the setting of volcanoes. This chain of steep, all-freestanding mountains linked by fertile saddles which were formed by solidified lava flows, is one of the most stirring and memorable sights in East Africa.
Parc Volcano’s Key Species
The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide. Later in 1995, it once again reopened to tourism, only to close again a few months later. Gorilla tracking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, when the number of tourists visiting the Virungas had increased rapidly. More details about gorillas and gorilla-tracking follow later in this section. Gorillas and golden monkeys aside, primates are poorly represented by comparison with other forests in Rwanda and Western Uganda. Little information is available regarding the current status of other large mammals, but 70-plus species have been recorded in Uganda’s neighbouring Mgahinga National Park, most of which probably only occur in the larger Rwanda section of the Virungas. Elephants and buffalo are still quite common; judging by the amount of spoor encountered on forest trails, but are very timid and infrequently observed. Also, present are giant forest hogs, bush pigs, bushbuck, black-fronted duikers, spotted hyenas, and several varieties of small predators. Recent extinctions, probably as a result of deforestation, include the massive yellow-backed duiker and leopard.
The Virungas with five peaks-Karisimbi (4507M), Bisoke (3711M), Sabyinyo (3634M), Gahinga(3474M) and Muhabura (4127M).
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: Bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300 m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000 m), and Afro-alpine (4000 m+).
Between Bisoke and Sabyinyo volcanoes lies lakes Ngezi, Nyirambubu, Gasindikira and Muraro. Crater lake is at the peak of Bisoke. Visit the lakes can be organized.
Other animals include– the rare golden monkey’s Cape buffalo, black-fronted duiker; a profusion of bird life including the Ruwenzori touraco, and beautiful francolins.
What to do
Volcanoes National park, known as Mountain gorilla tracking, remains the most popular activity in the park, with over a total of 80 permits issued daily, eight for each of the five habituated troops. But Volcanoes National Park is not only for gorilla tracking but other activities like golden monkey trekking, and hiking which are now well organized. From a two-day ascent of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of craters later, the most exciting achievement is that visitors can now visit a habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.
Gorilla Families in Rwanda
So far, 12 Gorilla Families in Rwanda are habituated
Susa Group/ Family
The largest group with 41 gorillas. The group is very impressive with three silver-backs and several-black backs, females and several youngsters. Part of the fame of this group is the playful 5-year-old twins named Byishimo and Impano. The group roams the slopes of Karisimbi Volcano (4507M). Though the group is a bit difficult to track, sometimes it is very near. Always find out their location from guides a day earlier.
Sabyinyo Group/ Family
One o the easily accessible groups. The group has 8 members led by the biggest silverback known in the entire jungle called Guhonda.
Amahoro Group/ Family
Amahoro meaning peaceful has 17 members led by the peaceful Ubumwe. Amahoro is a more strenuous group to access compared to Group 13 or Sabyinyo.
Group 13/ Family (Also Called Agashya)
When first habituated, this group had only 13 members, hence its name. Now the group has approximately 25 members.
Kwitonda Group/ Family
This migrant group from DR Congo has 18 members led by Kwitondawhich means “humble one”. It has two silverbacks and one black-back. Though the group tends to wander far, it is now permanently in the Rwanda Section of Virungas. Together with Susa, this is one of the most difficult groups to track.
Umubano Group/ Family
Families of 11, Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off after the dominant silverback was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback, he must steal some females from the existing group in order to form his own family; thus Umubano was formed.
Hirwa Group/ Family
Here is the most diverse group comprising different families, mainly group 13 and Sabyinyo
Volcanoes National Park has a total of 180 species. 15 recently recorded species were noted during a 2004 biodiversity survey, but it is possible that several other forest specialists have gone astray since 1980. A local specie is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s rush warbler, while at least 16 Albertina Rift endemics are present, including handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Ruwenzori basis, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s ground robin.
Visitors stand a high chance of hiking. For the less energetic, walks of about two and a half hours costing US$30 to the nearer crater lakes and in the forest are thoroughly enjoyable and will be particularly rewarding to birdwatchers!
It is also possible to visit Dian Fossey’s tomb and the adjacent gorilla cemetery at the former Karisoke Research Camp. This trek involves a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters to the trailhead, then a 10-minute stroll to the park boundary. From here, the climb through the forest takes from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on your fitness and how often you stop to enjoy the scenery, while the plunge takes 1–2 hours. All arrangements for these activities can be made through the ORTPN offices, whether in Kigali, Musanze or Kinigi (in case you want to pay by MasterCard it can be done in Kigali). Note that all hikes depart from the park headquarters at Kinigi at around 07.30 (check-in-time 07.00), the same departure time as for gorilla tracking, which means that visitors can undertake only one activity per day within the park.
Accessing Parc Volcanoes
The easiest way of reaching Volcanoes Park is Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri, which can easily be reached on public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali on the day you track. You need to be at the ORTPN office in Kinigi, by the park entrance, by 07.00, but this isn’t a reliable option in case you are using public transport. There is no public transport between Musanze and the park headquarters at Kinigi.
Virunga Lodge overlooking Lake Burera, Governor’s Camp Sliver back Lodge the most luxurious facility, Gorilla view lodge, Gorilla Nest Lodge, Le’Bamboo Gorilla Lodge and Kinigi Guest house are among the facilities that visitors seek overnight services.
Best time to Visit
Any time throughout the year