Volcanoes National Park is undoubtedly that one most picturesque conservancy area that you should consider a must to explore while on Rwanda safari. It is also best known as Parc National des Volcans and it straddles suitably in northwestern Rwanda. It forms part of the Virunga Conservancy Area and the others include Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It was established around 1925 making it the first park to be gazetted in Africa and its creation was mainly to offer refuge to the rare mountain gorillas. It covers an area of about 160 square kilometers comprising of a tropical rainforest and bamboo. Around 1929, its boundaries were enlarged to cover parts of Rwanda and the DRC and it was popularly called the Albert National Park that covered an area of about 8090 square kilometers. At a time, this park was run by the Belgian Colonial government-the colonial masters of both Rwanda and the DR Congo by then. They were later separated after each state gained independence.
The attractions in Volcanoes National Park
For any plans to spend your holiday in this park and expect to explore variety of unique attractions that this particular of Rwanda boasts about. They include mountain gorillas which feature as star attractions in Rwanda. These rare creatures are scientifically called Gorilla beringei beringei and remarkably, Rwanda features among the 3 destinations in the whole world where these unique apes are found. The others include Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Currently, not more than 1004 of these creatures still exist and distributed within jungles of Volcanoes National Park northwestern Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).Wildlife-these include bushbuck, black fronted duiker buffalo and spotted hyena. Whereas these natural wonders do thrive here, they are also not commonly spotted given the nature of the habitat and terrain.
The other exceptional creatures you need not to miss to catch a glimpse at while on Rwanda safari in Volcanoes National Park are the golden monkeys. These spectacularly striking creatures do thrive within the Virunga Mountain range that Volcanoes National Park is part. They are usually spotted in the bamboo zone of the park. Scientifically, they are referred as cercopithecus mitis kandti. On the other hand, about 200 bird species call this park a home with about 13 of them and 16 sub species that are endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountain ranges.
For bird lovers, this is one of the Important Bird Areas you need not to miss to explore while on birding safari in Rwanda. The notable bird species for you to sight here include dusky crimson wing, the francolins, red faced woodland warbler, Rwenzori doubled collared sunbird, Rwenzori Turaco, collared apalis, strange weaver, archer’s ground robin a mention but a few.
Its vegetation differs considerably based on altitudinal range. This park features tropical rainforest and between altitude 2400 and 2500 meters, you will find Neoboutonia forest. As you hike up to 2500-3200 meters, there is a bamboo forest which covers approximately 30 percent of this protected area. From 2600-3600, this area lies within a more humid slopes in the south and west that features mainly hagenia forest-one of the vast forest covers at the park. As you continue to 3500-4200 meters, this area is mainly characterized by lobelia hagenia Abyssinia and others while from 4300 to 4500 meters, it is mainly a grassland area. However, a small portion of thicket, marshes, Lakes, meadows do exist here but cover a small area.
When it comes to breathtaking sceneries, the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park still features among a few most exceptional destinations in Africa. It is a host to five of the eight volcanoes that make up the Great Virunga Massif and they include Karisimbi volcano that stretches for about 4507 meters and features as the highest of all the 8 Virunga Volcanoes, Gahinga at 3474 meters, Sabyinyo stands at 3634 meters, Bisoke that stretches up to 3711 meters and Muhabura at 4127 meters. They come in a chain form thus presenting one of the spectacular scenic views in African continent. Besides, they add it with lush vegetation on their slopes and not to forget their magnificent peaks especially the crater lakes for instance Lake Ngezi.
What to do while on safari in Volcanoes National Park
When you think of spending a safari in Volcanoes National Park, there are many exciting and very rewarding safari activities for you to take part. They include among others;
Mountain gorilla trekking
If your dream has always been to strike your imaginations with mountain gorillas and you are not sure of which destination to visit then Volcanoes National Park is that one unique destination you shouldn’t miss to explore while on Rwanda safari. For visitor experiences, 10 gorilla families have been habituated and readily available for trekking. They include Group 13 also known as Agashya, Kwitonda, Susa A, Susa B-Karisimbi, Amahoro, Ugenda, Umubano, Guhonda, Bwenge and Hirwa. Remarkably each of these habituated groups rewards trekkers with unique experiences and rare history that they have to tell the world travelers. A trek to see a group of mountain gorillas in the jungles of Volcanoes National Park is exceptionally a lifetime experience. Treks kick start at Kinigi park headquarters with morning briefing on dos and don’ts that are to be followed while in the jungle in search of these magnificent creatures. The trek may last you about 2 to 6 hours less or more depending on your hiking speed, location of gorillas and nature of habitat. To take part in this life changing experience, you need a gorilla permit which costs $1500.
Golden monkey tracking
A side from gorilla trekking, this park is equally ideal for golden monkey tracking. A trip to trek golden monkeys in this park, takes you through habituated groups and you start your adventure with early morning briefing at Kinigi park headquarters. This adventure may last you about 4 hours and 1 hour of magical encounter with these magnificent creatures while in their natural habitat. To be part of this primate experience, you equally need a permit which costs $100 per person.
Volcanoes National Park is incredibly one best destination that is ideal for birding. With about 200 avifaunal species, while on birding safari in this park, expect to spot birds like Rwenzori Batis, collared apalis, archer’s ground robin, dusky crimson wing and many more.
If you are adventure seeker, Volcanoes National Park is one of a kind destinations you need to pay a visit and you will be rewarded with the most thrilling experiences. While on hiking safari in this park, take a hike to Karisimbi Volcano that stretches for about 4507 meters and features as the highest of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes. A hike through this volcano may take you about two days with first camp at 3700 meters that also comes with incredible views over Mount Bisoke and the second phase of it takes you to summit and then descend back to where you kick started your adventure. Exploring through this volcano rewards travel endeavors with amazing views over different geographical features, vegetation and sceneries. The other option is Bisoke Volcano which stretches up to 3711 meters and it is a one day trip. While at its summit, you will be rewarded with spectacular views of its crater lake-Lake Ngezi. Visitors on Bisoke volcano hike can combine this adventure with a hike to Lake Ngezi which is about 3 to 4 meters that rewards with amazing sights at montane flora and avifaunal species en-route.
Dian Fossey tomb hike
A hike to Dian Fossey tomb site offers you a great opportunity to explore more about conservation legacy of Dian Fossey-one of the world’s greatest conservationist. Dian Fossey featured among a few prominent primatologists in the world and she set a research center in Volcanoes National Park in 1967 ‘Karisoke research station’ mainly to help her research work in the park. She conducted her research for about 18 years and she worked tireless to safe guard the lives of mountain gorillas. She started the Digit Fund which today works as Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. Unfortunately, she was mysteriously murdered and buried near her lovely gorilla-Digit.
Other activities include;
Visit to twin lakes
On safari to Volcanoes National Park, never miss to pay a visit to the scenic twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera. A walk to this scenic area rewards visitors with stunning views over the lakes and amazing sights of Russumo waterfalls. Besides, you have a chance to spot out variety of bird species including cinnamon breasted bee-eater, Grey throated tit, African marsh harrier, stonechat, long crested eagle, common moorhen and paradise fly catchers.
Musanze cave exploration
These are historical caves which are situated within Musanze district just outside the Volcanoes National Park. A cave walk to these caves offers you opportunity to learn more about these historical caves that date about 65 million years that comes with 31 entrances and 2 kilometers long. They formed as a result of basalt layers of lava and walk may last for about 2 hours and you need $50 to be part of this experience. These caves also played incredible role by offering refuge to people during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Buhanga sacred forest nature walks
Just outside Volcanoes National Park, Buhanga sacred forest is that one site you need not to miss to explore. This forest boasts not only its lush flora but also endowed with Rwanda’s history and cultures. History has it that monarchical king of Rwanda could bath in this touristic site prior assuming kingship and as a result, this area featured as a sacred and people never cultivated or cut any tree. Others assert that the forest in most cases changes colors at different season which the year.