Volcanoes National Park, (Parc National Des Volcans) Rwanda
Situated in the far northwest corner of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) protects the steep rainforested slopes of the magnificent Virungas mountain range.
The “Parc National de Volcans” (or PNV as it’s known by locals) lies along the Virunga Mountains, with 8 ancient volcanoes, which are shared by Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Just a short two hour drive from Rwanda’s capital of Kigali, the park is a central location for exploring some distinctly Rwandan experiences. While a visit to the mountain gorillas is often at the top of visitor’s list, the dramatic landscape also offers thrilling hiking and visits to the fascinating golden monkeys.
PNV is also one of Rwanda’s conservation epicenters, where many non-profit organizations base their operations. Visitors can pay homage to the legendary scientist and gorilla advocate Dian Fossey with a hike to her tomb or a visit to the Dian Fosse Gorilla Fund that continues her legacy of research and advocacy to this day.
Near the park, the bustling and vibrant markets of Musanze are a place to immerse yourself into everyday Rwandan culture. Go deep into the earth with Musanze’s caves – one of the area’s newest attractions.
Volcanoes National Park, which runs along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda, is home to the Rwandan section of the Virungas. Comprising five volcanoes – Karisimbi (the highest at 4507m), Bisoke (Visoke), Sabinyo, Gahinga (Mgahinga) and Muhabura (Muhavura) – the Virungas are utterly spellbinding and few would argue that this is not one of the most exciting national parks in Africa. We probably needn’t remind you, but of all the extraordinary sights and attractions around the Virungas the one that really draws people here are the mountain gorillas, which were first studied in depth by primatologist George Schaller, and later thrust into the international spotlight during the life of Dian Fossey.
While most tourists to Volcanoes National Park are understandably driven by the desire to have a face-to-face encounter with real gorillas in the mist, there is good reason to stay in the area once you’ve finished tracking: the gorillas share the park with rare golden monkeys, a troop of which has also been habituated to human contact. The Virungas, which tower over Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, also present a variety of rewarding climbing and trekking options. To get the most from the Virungas give yourself as much time as you possibly can. This is absolutely a park that rewards those who linger.
Activities in Volcanoes National Park
- Gorilla Trekking Adventure
- Primate Tracking & Hiking
- Musanze Caves
- Buhanga EcoPark
- Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village
Endangered mountain gorilla trekking on the slopes of the Virunga volcanoes is a magical experience. Hike through mountain forests to experience these gentle creatures or make your way through airy bamboo forests to find the charming Golden Monkey.
Also available is the ‘Dian Fossey Tomb Trail’ – a beautiful yet challenging hike to 3,000 meters up the slopes of Mount Bisoke or a hike to the beautiful Ngezi Crater Lake at the top.
- Home to the rare mountain gorilla, the Virungas volcanoes span Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, with the Parc National des Volcans being the Rwandese element of this ecosystem.
- Roughly half of the world’s wild population of mountain gorillas is resident on the Rwandan slopes of the Virungas.
- Located only 3 hours drive from Kigali Airport, the country’s only international Airport.
- Home to the beautiful golden monkeys
When to Go
The long dry season from June to September is the ideal time to track mountain gorillas as it is, well…drier.
Getting to Volcanoes National Park
The main access point for Volcanoes National Park is the nearby town of Musanze (Ruhengeri).
The park headquarters is located near the village of Kinigi, approximately 12km north of Musanze. The condition of this road has been greatly improved over recent years and Virunga District Service runs buses every 30 minutes between Musanze and Kinigi (first departure 6am, RFr350, 35 minutes). From Kinigi it’s a further 3km to the park headquarters (RFr700 to RFr1000 by moto-taxi).
It’s also necessary to arrange transport from the park headquarters to the point where you start climbing up to where the gorillas are situated. Some solo travellers opt to hitch a ride with other tourists going to see the same gorilla group as them, although this may be seen as freeloading and even if you offer to contribute your share towards the vehicle there’s always the chance you’ll be refused, which would mean you not being able to get to the trek start point and therefore wasting the money you spent on the gorilla permit – false economy all round!
If you want the assurance of your own wheels and the peace of mind of knowing that you’ll meet the critical 7am meeting time, the best option is to join a group in Musanze. Saso Gorilla Trips has a couple of organized trips to the park including hiring safari vehicles to the park.