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. This is 160km² national park and it protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains, range of six extinct and three active volcanoes which straddles the borders with Uganda and the DRC.
The Volcanoes Park is part of a contiguous 433km² 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.
Parc Volcano’s Biodiversity
Volcanoes National 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, since when the number of tourists visiting the Virunga had increased rapidly. More details of 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 neighboring Mgahinga National Park, most of which probably only occur in the larger Rwanda section of the Virunga. Elephant and buffalo are still quite common; judging by the amount of spoor encountered on forest trails, but is very timid and infrequently observed. Also present are giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyena, and several varieties of small predator. Recent extinctions, probably as a result of deforestation, include the massive yellow-backed duiker and leopard.
The Virunga with five peaks-Karisimbi (4507M), Bisoke (3711M), Sabyinyo (3634M), Gahinga(3474M) and Muhabura (4127M).
Other animals including– the rare golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti ), Cape buffalo,black fronted duiker; a profusion of bird life including the Ruwenzori turaco, and beautiful francolins.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: Bamboo (base altitude),Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine(4000m+).
Between Bisoke and Sabinyo volcanoes lies lakes Ngezi, Nyirambubu, Gasindikira and Muraro. Crater Lake is at the peak of Bisoke. Visit to the lakes can be organized
What to see & do in Parc Volcanoes
Mountain gorilla tracking remains the most popular in Volcanoes National Park, with over a total of 40 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 trekking, hiking which are now well organized, from a two-day ascent of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of crater later, but the most exciting achievement is that visitors can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.
Gorilla Groups or Families in Rwanda
There are 7 Gorilla Families
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 are 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.
Sabinyo Group/ Family
One o the easily accessible groups. The group has 8 members led bythe 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 Sabinyo.
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 Kwitonda which 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 Virunga. Together with Susa this is one of the 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
Hirwa is the most diverse group comprising from differently families mainly group 13 and Sabinyo
Birding Parc Volcanoes
Volcanoes National Park has a total of 180 species. With 15 recent 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 Albertine Rift endemic are present, including handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori batis, 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 than 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 round 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.
Where to stay in Parc volcanoes
- Sabinyo Governor’s Camp-up market facility
- Gorilla view lodge-up market facility
- Gorilla Nest Lodge -up market facility
- Le’ Bambou Gorilla Lodge -up market facility
- Kinigi Guest House –budget facility
- Muhabura Guest House –budget facility
When to Visit
Any time throughout the year