Volcanoes National Park

virunga mountains

Protecting the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains, the 160km2 Volcanoes National Park is best-known as the place where Dian Fossey launched her pioneering study of mountain gorillas in the wild in 1966, and where the Oscar-nominated film Gorillas in the Mist was shot on location in 1988. It is one of Africa’s most scenic national parks, comprising a chain of six extinct and three active volcanoes whose steep forest-swathed slopes are linked by fertile saddles formed by solidified lava flows. Straddling the border with Uganda and the DR Congo, the Virungas provide sanctuary to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas, and the Rwanda component is home to a dozen habituated groups for which a total of 96 tracking permits are issued daily. Other wildlife includes the nimble bamboo-guzzling golden monkey, elusive populations of elephant and buffalo whose spoor often litters the forest trails, and the likes giant forest hog, bushpig, bushbuck, and black-fronted duiker. Around 200 bird species are thought to inhabit the mountains, a list that includes at least 16 Albertine Rift Endemics. Tracking mountain gorillas is far and away the most popular tourist activity, but it is possible to extend a stay with other activities such as golden monkey tracking, hiking to Dian Fossey’s former camp at Karisoke, and hiking to four of the volcanic peaks.

Highlights

hiking virunga Hiking the Virungas | Credit: The Backpacker Professor

Tracking mountain gorillas in the Virungas ranks high on almost every traveller’s bucket list of must-do experiences. And the reality seldom disappoints. Gorillas are more closely related to humans than any animal other than chimpanzees, and the sheer bulk of these charismatic apes - a silverback might weigh 200kg - is deeply impressive. Meanwhile, the very fact that tourists can routinely approach gorillas to within a few metres pays testament to their remarkable peaceable temperament. True, the hike up can be hard work. You’ll be climbing steep slopes, through tangled vegetation, at an altitude of above 2,500m - and it isn’t called rainforest for nothing. But the reward, a magical hour spent in the company of nature’s archetypal gentle giants, is quite simply one of the world’s most exhilarating and emotionally charged wildlife encounters.

gorilla trekking silverback gorilla

An Albertine Rift Endemic whose range is practically confined to the Virunga Mountains, the handsome golden monkey is named for the luxuriant orange-gold patches on its back and flanks. Daily tracking excursions run into the national park to visit a habituated troop of these delightful hyperactive monkeys, which generally frequent patches of bamboo - their primary diet - but also sometimes gather at fruiting trees.

karisoke research centre

A popular half-day round hike leads to the original Karisoke Research Camp, which was founded by the legendary primatologist Dian Fossey in 1967. Set an altitude of around 3,000m on a forested saddle connecting Mount Karisimbi and Mount Bisoke, the camp had to be evacuated several times during the civil war, and it was eventually relocated to the town of Musanze at the mountains’ base. Nevertheless, it is profoundly poignant to visit the living quarters - now in ruins - where Fossey was murdered in 1985, and to pay tribute at her tomb, which stands alongside those of several gorillas killed by poachers during her tenure.

Guided hikes can be undertaken to four of the Virunga Peaks set within the parks. Most worthwhile is the day hike up the 3,711m Mount Bisoke, which is topped by a beautiful crater lake enclosed by slopes swathed in atmospheric giant lobelias and hagenia woodland. It’s a steep hike, gaining more than 1,000m from the trailhead to summit, and the descent can be treacherous after rain.

For dedicated hikers and summit baggers, the most alluring of the Virunga peaks is Mount Karisimbi, which stands at 4,507m, making it the tallest point in Rwanda and sixth-highest mountain in Africa. Karisimbi also boasts the greatest vegetation diversity of the Virungas, and the ascent rises through clumped bamboo and hagenia forest to the otherworldly Afro-alpine zone. It’s a steep hike even by the standards of the Virungas, and it entails camping overnight in near-freezing conditions.

gorilla guardians Credit: African Wildlife Fund

Bordering the national park, Gorilla Guardians (better known by its former name of Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village) is the flagship for a community project that project that provides employment as niche farmers, beekeepers and the like to about 1,000 local villagers. It also offers tourists a fascinating and enjoyable programme that culminates in a traditional Intore drumming and dance routine set in a fantastic wood-and-thatch replica of a traditional Rwandan palace.

Practical advice

  • All activities in Volcanoes National Park start at the park headquarters in the village of Kinigi, which lie 12km north of the substantial town of Musanze, and 110km from the capital Kigali. Gorilla tracking and other hiking permits are best bought in advance and participants must be at the park headquarters by 7am, or they risk invalidating the permit. There is no accommodation within the national park, but several lodges and hotels can be found along its borders, at Kinigi, and in Musanze.

  • The nearest international airport is in Kigali, so you need to travel by road from there. It is easy to get as far Musanze or Kinigi on public transport, but if you do this, you will need to charter a 4x4 with driver to get you to the trailhead in the morning. Technically it is possible to track gorillas as a day trip from Kigali, but it isn’t recommended as you would need to leave at around 4am to be sure of getting to the park headquarters in time.


Our Recommended Itinerary

Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 1

Welcome to Kigali
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 2

Volcanoes National Park
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 3

Gorilla Trekking | Day 1
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 4

Gorilla Trekking | Day 2
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 5

Serengeti National Park | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 6

Serengeti National Park | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 7

Serengeti National Park | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 8

Masai Mara | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 9

Masai Mara | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 10

Masai Mara | Mara River
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)
  • Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

day 11

End of Journey

View Full Itinerary

You might also like

Visa requirements for Rwanda

All visitors must present a passport upon arrival at their port of entry. This must be valid for at least 6 months after the end of their intended stay, and must have at least one full blank page available for entry and exit stamps. Technically, visitors should also have a return or onward ticket, and be able to demonstrate access to sufficient funds to cover day-to-day expenses for the…

Rwanda in October

Highlands and medium-altitude regions, for instance Kigali, Lake Kivu and Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, are warm to hot by day, and comfortably cool by night. Low-lying Akagera National Park is hot by day, and warm by night. October falls within the short rainy season and monthly rainfall in most parts of the country is high (100mm or higher). October is not an optimum month…

Packing list for Rwanda

It is highly recommended visitors to Rwanda take anti-malarial drugs. Seek advice a few weeks before you travel to determine the most suitable regime, and bear in mind you may need to start on the course a couple of weeks before you arrive in Rwanda. At the same time, check whether any vaccinations require updating. Most common over-the-counter medication is available at pharmacies in…

Travelling to Rwanda

Almost all visitors from abroad fly. All flights currently land at Kibale International Airport, which lies less than 10km from central Kigali. Taxis are available to/from the city centre. Work on the new Bugesera International Airport, 40km south of the capital, commenced in August 2017. The national airline RwandAir operates intercontinental flights connecting Kigali to Brussels,…

Rwanda in May

Highlands and medium-altitude regions, for instance Kigali, Lake Kivu and Volcanoes and Nyungwe National Parks, are warm to hot by day, and comfortably cool by night. Low-lying Akagera National Park is hot by day, and warm by night. May falls within the main rainy season and monthly rainfall in most parts of the country is in excess of 150-200mm. May ranks among the worst month for…

Photography in Rwanda

Rwanda offers some superb opportunities for wildlife and scenic opportunities. The mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park are wonderful laidback photographic subject and the speeds attainable by modern cameras mean you would have to be very unlucky not to come back with some awesome pictures, even in gloomy conditions. The more restless chimpanzees of Nyungwe National Park tend to…

Popular Rwanda Safaris

These popular itineraries can be customised to match your budget and travel dates

The Uganda Hills | The Complete East Africa Experience (13 days)

The Complete East Africa Experience (13 days)

Enjoy East Africa's most celebrated highlights, from a snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, to sailing above the Serengeti in a hot-air balloon and meeting mountain gorillas...

 | Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

Gorilla trekking and the Great Migration Combined (11 days)

Unforgettable experience in the jungles of Rwanda to track the last Mountain gorillas on earth and view the awesome Great Migration river crossings...

 | Nature, Romance and Exclusivity - A Complete African Honeymoon (14 days)

Nature, Romance and Exclusivity - A Complete African Honeymoon (14 days)

This exclusive African honeymoon through East and Southern Africa is the perfect way to celebrate the start of your new journey together...

Chimpanzee | Meet the Primates of Uganda and Rwanda (12 days)

Meet the Primates of Uganda and Rwanda (12 days)

See mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys and tree-climbing lions, take a boat cruise and visit Rwanda's genocide memorial ...

 | Best of Africa Safari (16 days)

Best of Africa Safari (16 days)

Experience the best of Africa, from the Okavango Delta – one of Africa's Seven Natural Wonders – to the endangered mountain gorillas and East Africa's Great Migration...

Ready to start your adventure?

Your tailor-made African holiday starts here...

How can we get hold of you?

How many people will be travelling?

Details

Please tell us more about your travel plans?


Discover Africa needs the contact information you provide, to us to contact you. You may unsubscribe from these communications at anytime.

Submitting your inquiry

Thank you, your enquiry has been received

Thank you, your enquiry has been received

Reference:


   discover.africa
    info@discoverafrica.com
    8AM - 5PM GMT+2