Things to Do in Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda Tour with Primate Safari Experiences
Volcanoes national park also known as Parc National Des Volcans 160km2 /62 sq miles, is located in high altitude northwest of Rwanda in the Virungas notable for outstanding dormant volcanic mountains; Karisimbi 4507m, Bisoke 3696m, Muhabura 4127m, Gahinga 3473m and Sabinyo 3669m.
The park is an international wildlife expansion that touches and shares international borders with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda and Virunga National Park; DR Congo. Volcanoes National Park was formerly part of Albert National Park; the first on African continent in 1925 for protection and conservation of Mountain gorillas, and the habitat.
Weather and Vegetation
High amounts of latitudinal rainfall and volcanic soils rich in plant nutrients support growth of luxuriant vegetation dominated with bamboo, lobelia, meadow, thicket and montane forests. Swamp, lilies and wetland vegetation feature predominantly in the lower valleys. These are natural factors favorable for survival and existence of Mountain gorillas. Other permanent wildlife species residents but rare to spot in the park include Golden monkey, elephants, buffalo, bushbuck, bush pig, duiker, forest hogs, spotted hyenas, close 200 bird species, reptiles, insects and other wildlife species.
Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas are highly social mammals that live in groups or families of related individuals. An adult male; silverback (a whitish band of body fur develops on the back of male gorillas due to old age) leads family. The silverback may not necessarily be the oldest or strongest in the group but rather have high degree of forming coalitions, mobilize the family, influential and accurate in decision-making. Each mountain gorilla family has a well-known home range; an area assumed secure with plenty of survival resources for entire family. The silverback ensures security and discipline of group, determines activity undertakings of the time and course or direction of movement. Rivalries for dominance and succession lead to internal cliques, coalitions, physical confrontations, revolts and family split up. The losing group forms a splinter group, own home range close to mother group and entices some members in old family into the new one. Mountain gorillas; diurnal and inactive in the night may live up to 35 years in the wilderness.
Mountain gorillas are omnivorous that spend much of day roaming the wilderness browsing on fresh vegetation, bamboo shoots, bananas, moss, ferns, passion fruits, berries, barks of trees, fruits, flowers, seeds, peas, nuts, root tubers. Mountain gorillas supplement their “vegetarian” diet with insects notably termites, harvest honey and feed on bee pupae, mushrooms, rodents, snails, capture fish in ponds and hunt small antelopes, other monkeys, pythons and birds for meat.
Mountain gorilla is restricted to tropical Africa natural forested habitat average 2000m-3600m above sea level, with huge amounts of rainfall, cool temperatures and average sunshine. The weather, soil texture and other factors must be appropriate to sustain continuous plant growth and easy regeneration all through year to support mountain gorillas’ huge appetite for food. These natural conditions only exist in the Virunga volcanic massif; Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda, Virunga National Park DR Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda has similar natural conditions and hosts more than half of Mountain gorillas on the entire globe.
What to expect during gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Typical gorilla trekking adventures in Rwanda begin early in the morning by assembling at Kinigi Headquarters in Volcanoes National Park by 7:00 am. This is done for registration and briefing from one of the Park rangers. Embark on the search for the allocated gorilla group, at about 8:30 am and take about 1-6 hours. Trekkers are required to return back to the Lodge by evening.
The duration and difficulty of trekking, personal interests as well as your level of physical fitness are some of the important factors in determining what gorilla group you will trek to. You don’t have to be a weight lifter or gym addict and super fit for gorilla trekking but instead, you need a reasonable level of fitness. The team of professional guides, armed rangers, and trackers will take you through the hiking trails in search of the allocated gorilla group. The forest trails can be muddy and slippery even during the drier months and sometimes humid under the forest canopy.
When you finally meet the mountain gorillas, you will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of spending up to one hour quietly observing and taking photographs in their natural habitat. Keep a few meters away from the gorillas as they go about their daily routine-interacting with one another, munching, resting, and grooming under the watchful gaze of huge silverbacks. Talk in low voices while watching the gorillas and sudden loud movements should be avoided.
Excitement is inevitable but try as much as possible to express it quietly. Maintain a 7-meter distance from the gorillas and avoid touching them under any circumstances. Much as they have been habituated to be accustomed to human presence, they are still wild animals. It is therefore important to keep in mind the guidelines issued by your guides during the briefing and while interacting with gorillas.
Rwanda Gorilla Permits
Trekking Rwanda Gorillas is strictly managed to protect the endangered Great Apes within their natural habitats as well as increasing their chances of blossoming. A permit is, therefore, a requirement for trekking gorillas within Volcanoes National Park. There are presently only 12 habituated gorilla groups open for trekking and only 8 visitors can visit each of them. This means permits are limited to only 96 each day.
These gorilla permits presently go for $1500 per person per trek (as of August 2021) and include Park entrance fees, expert trackers, armed rangers, and guides. This price doesn’t include hiring porters and tipping.
Important things to pack for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Enough preparation is an important factor to achieving an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda although over packing is also disastrous. Our recommended packing list for gorilla trekking in Rwanda should include light and breathable safari pants, strong waterproof hiking boots, long-sleeved shirts, warm clothing (sweater) for cold mornings and nights, gardening gloves, toiletries (bite relief cream, toothbrush, sun cream, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorants, and many others), a small backpack for carrying extra clothes, jacket, camera, drinking water, binoculars, snacks, and lunch box), reusable water bottle, a wide-brimmed hat, snacks, good non-flash camera with extra batteries and lenses, Multi-purpose travel adaptor, pair of binoculars, first aid kit and insect repellant.
Best time to trek Gorillas in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are trekked all year round yet the best time is usually during the dry season from June to September when the forest is less muddy and slippery much as it is also important to expect rains any time of the year.
The Months of April and May are always the wettest hence hiking trails tend to be muddy. Nonetheless, gorilla treks can still go on even during the rainy months, and treks are easier since gorillas usually climb higher up the mountains during the dry months and descend during the wet months. Wet months also offer the most beautiful backdrops and conditions for photography in Rwanda.
Places to stay when trekking Rwanda Gorillas
As far as trekking Rwanda Gorillas is concerned, we advise staying near Volcanoes National Park for easy connectivity to the Park Headquarters. Therefore, our selection for the best places to stay while trekking Rwanda Gorillas include Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest, Gorilla Solution Lodge, Bisate Lodge, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, and many others.
How to get to Volcanoes National Park
The smooth road from Kigali International Airport and Kigali City connects northwest to Kinigi, Volcanoes National Park is average 120 km, 2.30 hours’ drive. Private travel is highly recommended. Public transport from Kigali to Musanze town or Kyanika border point to Uganda gets travelers to Kinigi. Charter helicopter flights to Kinigi town are possible for clients not able to use road travel or clients with bigger travel budget.