You will first see five immense ancient volcanoes, now covered in a dense green rainforest – these are the Virunga Mountains. It is here you will find the wonders of Volcanoes National Park – mysterious mountain gorillas, rare golden monkeys, towering massifs, bamboo forests, and pristine mountain lakes.
You’ve arrived at one of the most dynamic national safari parks in Africa. No experience compares with trekking for gorillas and that heart-stopping moment when you come upon an immense silverback staring at you in the forest. Surrounded by adorable gorilla babies and the others in its family group, it’s a moment no one ever forgets.
Of the 1,000 mountain gorillas in the world, the Virunga area hosts over 600. The park itself is home to 12 gorilla families – each with a silverback male, several females and their young. On a hosted trek you can spend up to an hour in their presence – plenty of time to observe their family dynamics, snap pictures, and make lifetime memories.
But the park hosts many other natural surprises – you can trek for rare golden monkeys. Take a trek to find a habituated troop and spend an hour or so with these shy but active primates as they curiously look you over while scampering overhead from tree to tree.
Other animals you may spot on your wildlife safari are the black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena, and the bushbuck. And throughout you’ll hear the calls and catch the flitting colors of over 200 species of birds.
The park was also made famous by the zoologist Dian Fossey, who fled from the troubles in the Congo to establish her research center here. Fossey studied the gorillas and created a conservation campaign to stop their poaching. She is credited with saving their population from extinction, publicizing their endangered plight to the world. Fossey was murdered by unknown assailants in 1985 and her story was told in the film, Gorillas in the Mist.
But Fossey’s conservation efforts continue. To publicize these endeavors and the wonders of gorilla safaris, the park began an annual naming ceremony for baby gorillas called “Kwita Izina”. The mountain gorilla infants born during the year are named based in the traditional Rwandan ceremony for naming human babies.
About Volcanoes National Park
The park encompasses 160 sq. km (62 sq. mi), including 5 of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes.
Expect lots of rain and mist. The park’s high elevation – almost 4572 m (15,000 ft) – means a cool or cold climate with daytime temperatures dropping to 160 C /610.
The park is in northwestern Rwanda, about a 2-hour drive from Kigali.
The park is open from 6 am to 4 pm.
When to go:
The best time to visit is during the dry season from June through September.
Things to do and see
There are few places in the world where you can take a guided trek to visit these rare but noble apes. You’ll walk in small groups through bamboo forests and up dense hillsides to spend an unforgettable hour marveling at the family dynamics of these powerful, yet gentle creatures. Don’t forget to take sturdy walking shoes and rain gear. This could well be the highlight of your African safari.
Trekking for Golden Monkeys
These are a rare and endangered species. Coming upon them can be an exciting moment. Like a gorilla trek, this is also a small-group excursion. The park hosts two troops of these unique monkeys, about 80 in all. Initially shy, they will gradually emerge and you’ll enjoy their antics as they caper about and jump through the trees.
Kwita Izina Gorilla Naming
An annual celebration in which the year’s gorilla babies are given names. There are guided tours to the naming ceremony which features music, dancing, and opportunities to meet the park’s staff in an atmosphere of celebration. It’s a wonderful time to visit the park.
Culture Tour to Ibyiwacu Village
This is a unique moment to meet with the local people and see up close their daily lifestyle with its rich cultural traditions. Enjoy their songs, dances, and stories… you might even get to participate with these very welcoming people.
Climb Biscoe Volcano
Hike to a beautiful crater lake. It’s a tough but rewarding climb, starting in a bamboo forest and progressing through low bush country.
Tour the Lakes and Caves
The Musanze Caves are a must-see, filled with mysteries and magical tales.
Discover Volcanoes National Park
“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat” – these were the words of the world-famous gorilla expert Dian Fossey, who made her life studying and protecting the rare mountain gorillas in these rich, green forests. There is so much you’ll want to discover in this most exciting of African parks