Volcanoes National Park
“In the heart of central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat, are great, old volcanoes towering up almost 15000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas.”
– Dr. Dian Fossey
When visiting the “Land of a Thousand Hills” one should not miss out on the magnificent opportunity to visit the Volcanoes National Park. The Park consists of 130km2 of thick vegetation and exotic wildlife, and is home to five of the Virunga Volcanoes and the endangered mountain gorillas. The five inactive volcanoes found within the parks boundaries are Muhabura (4,127m), Gahinga (3,474m), Sabyinyo (3,634m), Bisoke (3,711m), and Karisimbi (4,507m). Karisimbi is the tallest point in Rwanda and is the sixth tallest peak in Africa.
Stepping into the park is like stepping back in time. Compared to the miles of farmland surrounding the park, what lies behind the 6ft volcanic rock wall is like something out of the movie Jurassic Park. Thick tunnels of bamboo, steep and slippery hills, and mud paths that you could sink into are just some of the wild scenery that you will find throughout the park. Make sure to wear rainproof clothing that will dry quickly because, even if it isn’t the rainy season, you are liable to get thoroughly wet and muddy.
Besides the famous and endangered mountain gorillas, the Volcanoes National Park is home to several species of wildlife such as, the golden monkey, buffalo, black-fronted duiker (antelope), hyena, and bushbuck. There have even been reports of the occasional rogue elephant still left in the park. In addition to this plethora of fauna, there are almost 180 recorded species of birds throughout the region, so be sure to bring your binoculars!
The park is managed and protected by the Rwandan Office for Tourism and National Parks (ORTPN). There are two ORTPN offices in the Musanze district: 1) The Musanze District Offices in the center of Ruhengeri and the head of that office is Justin Kanezero. This office is in charge of official procedures, hiring park employees, etc… You can also find information about the Buhunga Eco Park at this office. 2) The Volcanoes National Park Headquarters near the base of the park, just up the Kinigi Road. The head of this office is Alphonse Mwumvaneza. This is where all park activities are handled, such as, gorilla tracking, hiking, overnight excursions, etc…
For information on how to get to the parks please see the Parks page in our business directory.
ORTPN Office Contacts:
RDB Musanze Office
+25 078 851 9727
RDB Volcanoes National Park
+25 078 877 1633
RDB Volcanoe National Park
+25 078 844 9008
Chief Park Warden
RDB Volcanoes National Park
+25 078 853 5949
Gorilla trekking is by far the most popular tourist attraction in Rwanda. Nothing can compare to trekking through the steep slopes of the park and suddenly crossing paths with a fully-grown, 500lb silverback gorilla. Although massive in size (the males reach almost twice the height and weight as the females) these creatures are astoundingly tolerant and peaceful to human beings.
As amazing as the experience of meeting these gentle giants can be, getting to them is not always easy. Unfortunately, as of 2011, there is no way to book a ticket online. Unless you have a friend or relative in Musanze or Kigali that can go pay for and pick up your permit for you, you will have to go through a tour company, which involves wiring the payment to a Rwandan bank account. One tour operator based in Musanze, that is a well established company with a highly personable and accommodating staff, is Amahoro Tours. Information for this company can be found at the bottom of this page and they will be more than happy to help you plan your stay in Musanze and visit with the gorillas.
Plan on arriving at the Volcanoes National Park Headquarters no later than 7 o’clock on the morning of your scheduled visit with the gorillas. A park ranger will tell you where to park and direct you to the park office when you arrive. DO NOT FORGET YOUR GORILLA PERMIT. Unfortunately, the Volcanoes National Park does not keep electronic copies of your permit and if you lose it then there is no way to see the gorillas or get a refund. You will present your permit to the person at the front desk and they will take one of the three carbon copies, and then hand you a small white slip of paper with the RDB stamp on it. Keep that pass on you to present to the guides.
It takes a while for the guides to get everyone sorted into the appropriate hiking groups, but the park offers a selection of hot beverages for you to enjoy while you wait. There are several different gorilla groups throughout the park and each one offers a different experience. Some gorilla groups have more than one silverback, some have a lot more babies than others, and some take longer than 3 hours to hike to! It is wise to discuss your physical limitations with your driver or the guide, so that they can select the most agreeable group for you. There are trackers that leave early in the morning to find the gorilla groups, and your guide is in constant communication with them. That is how they are able to select the easiest or the hardest climb through the park.
Once you are sorted into the various groups your guide will brief you on the gorillas you will set out to see. The guide will tell you everything you need to know about entering the home and interacting with the mountain gorillas. The park advises everyone to remain at least 7 meters away from the animals, so as not to spook them or threaten the silverbacks. While you may understand and abide by this rule, the gorillas do not always, so be sure to listen carefully and follow the instructions given to you by your guide.
After you have been briefed by your guide your group will pile in your driver’s car and head off to the trail head. That drive can be anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes down an unpaved and rocky road. It is then followed by a brief hike through farmland and the Musanze countryside into the park. There will be porters waiting at the trail head to carry your bags. Most of these porters are ex-poachers and by hiring them you are supporting not only the porters and their families, but you are keeping them from hunting in the park and wiping out the gorillas. It is advised that you bring plenty of water (usually two water bottles or 32oz) and something to snack on to keep your energy up. We also suggest that you bring a bottle of water and a small snack for your porter. It is a nice gesture that they will not expect and, otherwise, they would not have anything to eat or drink all day. An appropriate tip for your porter at the end of the hike would be about 3,000 to 5,000 RWF ($5 to $10) depending on how well they did, but normally people want to tip them more because they certainly end up going above and beyond their duty! They have even carried tired hikers down the steep slopes after visiting the gorillas!
It is also advised that you tip your guide, since they are full of interesting information and are the ones that actually lead you to the gorillas. An appropriate tip for your guide would be anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 RWF ($10 to $20).
You will be given a hiking stick to climb with and we do advise that you take it because those hills can be very steep. Hiking boots will be fine for the trek, but rubber rain boots also work extremely well. In fact, that is what all the porters and trackers wear to keep from losing their shoes in the thick mud. Long sleeved shirts and long pants will protect you from various thorns and stinging nettles. Gloves can also come in handy. Make sure to bring plenty of film and batteries for your camera. It would be a tragedy to run out of battery power during your hour long visit with the gorillas. But, the most important thing to remember… have fun! Enjoy your visit with the majestic mountain gorillas!
Managing Director Gregory Bakunzi
P.O. Box 87
Office hours 8am–5pm Mon–Fri, 9–12 Sat