Volcanoes national park is the only gorilla trekking national park in Rwanda and it lies in the northwestern part of the country in Ruhengeri province and particularly situated in the Kinigi area of Musanze district. This park borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The national park is known as a haven for the mountain gorilla. It is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains that are Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo, which are covered in rainforest and bamboo. The park was the base for the zoologist Dian Fossey.
The park was first gazetted in 1925 becoming the very first National Park to be created in Africa. This park became the base for the American naturalist Dian Fossey to carry out her research into the gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Bisoke. From then on she spent most of her time in the park, and is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the international community courtesy of the movie “gorillas in the mist”. She was murdered by unknown assailants at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. She is buried in the park in a grave close to the research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life.
Though gorilla trekking is the main activity at Volcanoes National Park, this park also boasts of other activities like nature walks, hiking Diane Fossey, and hiking to Mountain Nyiragongo, Mountain Bisoke, and Mountain Karisimbi.
Trekking mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is a unique wildlife encounter; the magical hour with the endangered giant ape is once in a lifetime experience. There are 12 habituated gorilla families in Rwanda active for gorilla trekking every day, habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park -Rwanda includes Susa family (40 individuals), Karisimbi family (10 individuals), Isimbi family (16 individuals, Igisha family (28 individuals), Sabyinyo family (17 individuals), Agashya family (21 individuals), Umubano family (12 individuals), Amahoro family18 individuals), Hirwa family (18 individuals), Kwitonda family (29 individuals), Muhoza family (10 individuals) and Pablo family (24 individuals). Gorilla trekking is the main tourist activities in this national park. This park is home to the endangered mountain gorillas and they are trekked after purchasing gorilla permits from Rwanda Development Board (RDB) which currently costs US$1,500 per person for all nationalities.
Golden Monkey is a unique kind of monkey and very rare to be found anywhere. So this is the reason why Rwanda has gone ahead to protect them and this has fetched it some foreign exchange. Visitors will depart from the headquarters of Volcanoes National Park for their wildlife trek to come face to face with the golden monkeys. This beautiful species is listed among those in danger of extinction and today there are just 2 troops of these golden monkeys that have been habituated so tourists can trek them inside the park. In total these two troops have about 80 members and in the whole world, there are about 4000-4500 golden monkeys in Rwanda and Uganda. These golden monkeys stay in the bamboo vegetation close to the bottom of the volcanoes and these have overcome their original shyness to allow a daily visit by some researchers and tourists.
There are 2 habituated Golden Monkey groups. One of the monkey troops which are the bigger ones is found at the bottom of Mount Sabyinyo. Similar to the Mountain Gorillas, these golden monkey treks set off early mornings so visitors are allowed to spend 60 minutes observing them as they play and feed. You will set off from the park head offices at Kinigi moving into the forest accompanied by the forest guides by 07:00 am. Each of the golden monkey permits goes for USD 100 per individual and several people travel from all parts of the world just to see them. Permits may be booked in advance or reservations be done at the headquarters of the park on the morning of the trek. There are also Porters to hire just at the entrance point of the national park.
Volcanoes national park inhabits 200 bird species and 16 Albertine Endemics are present including Grauer’s rush warbler, Rwenzori batis, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double –collared Sunbird, handsome francolin, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared Apalis, red-faced woodland warbler, and Archer’s ground robin.
Diane Fossey was an American researcher who delegated most of her life researching about the mountain gorillas and protecting them against poachers. People visiting will depart from the headquarters of the park and then you will drive inwards to the trailhead to reach the Karisoke Research Camp. From here you will walk for about 10 minutes to get to the border of the park, going through the farmland all the way. This trek in the forest takes about 90 minutes to 3 hours, basing on the trekkers’ fitness levels as well as on how often you will stop to enjoy the beautiful scenery
Forest hogs, buffaloes plus different monkey species live inside the forest, therefore keep your eyes open throughout the trek! When you reach the Karisoke Research Camp the guides will show you around, and there you will be able to see Dian Fossey’s grave and even see the hut in which she lived for so many years as she conducted her research on the mountain gorillas.
On reaching the Karisoke Research Camp you’ll tour around, be shown Dian Fossey’s grave plus the hut in which she lived during her stay in Rwanda as she did her research. The walk back to the trailhead will take approximately 60 to 120 minutes.
Hikes today in Volcanoes national park are being offered to the various tourists, climbing the Mountain Karisimbi (4,507m) above sea level is a 2-day activity; the trekkers must have appropriate clothing as well as camping equipment. The shorter alternative is the climb of Mountain Bisoke (3,711m) above sea level to its stunning crater lake and it can take about 2 hours.