National Park is part of the bigger Virunga (Birunga)
Conservation area which includes Mgahinga and Virunga National
Parks in Uganda and DR Congo respectively. These three parks are
the home of Mountain gorillas. The history of Volcanoes National
Park (Parc des Volcans) dates back to 1925 when a small triangle
between Karisimbi, Bisoke and Mikeno was set aside to protect
the Mountain Gorillas. Boundaries were later extended into
Rwanda and DR. Congo (Zaire) to form the bigger Albert National
was the first National Park in Africa.
park is famous for Mountain Gorilla tracking and its golden
Monkeys. A good gorilla trekking safari experience takes minimum
four days with two gorilla treks. The safari can be combined
with visits to the nearby Lakes Burera, Ruhondo, Kivu and the
local villagers. The gorilla safari can also be combined with
chimpanzee tracking in Nyungwe Forest National Park.
Volcanoes National Park
located Ruhengeri 1 hour 30 minutes drive from Kigali to the
Northwest of Rwanda. The park occupy an are of about 130 Km2.
The Virungas with five peaks-Karisimbi (4507M), Bisoke
(3711M), Sabyinyo (3634M), Gahinga (3474M) and Muhabura (4127M).
The last families of mountain Gorillas on earth.
Other animals including– the rare golden monkeys (Cercopithecus
mitis kandti), Cape buffalo, black fronted duiker; a
profusion of bird life including the Ruwenzori turaco, and
In the vicinity the beautiful lakes Burera and Ruhundo.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation
zones: Bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest
(2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine
Between Bisoke and
Sabyinyo volcanoes lies lakes Ngezi, Nyirambubu, Gasindikira
and Muraro. Crater lake is at the peak of Bisoke.
Visit to the lakes can be organized.
altitude makes it generally cold, especially during the
evenings. Gorilla viewing is possible all the year round.
Gorilla Tracking Rwanda Volcanoes National
Tracking safaris in Volcanoes National Park takes place in
altitudes of about 2000 Meters above sea level.
Volcanoes / Virunga Mountains experiences a modified
equatorial climate. Volcanoes National Park (Par des
Volcans) is both hilly and cold. The grounds are usually
wet and the paths are full of stinging-nettles. Besides,
the rains are random. Thus proper preparation is important in
terms of dressing and equipments. Please bring the following
items with you,
trousers/ pants- to avoid stinging nettles The trousers must
be strong enough to withstand occasional pulls from thorns.
sleeved shirts/ t-shirts. To avoid stinging nettles
These are required to avoid injury to your hands. Remember
the grounds are wet and slippery.
boots- Please bring average waterproof sturdy walking boots
reaching ankle level not mountain climbing boots. Something
light and hardy will do.
cardigan- Volcanoes can get extremely cold. A warm cardigan
is required to keep off cold.
sleeved Rain Coat or anorak -it can rain anytime in
Volcanoes National Park even on hot days. The downpours are
heavy and extremely cold.
proof container for your cameras. Yes I know there are
waterproof cameras but even them to be sure just put them in
a waterproof container. When you are slipping and falling in
muddy grounds you do not want your precious photos damaged
or do you?
desire headgear (hats), a baseball cap is recommended as
gorillas are familiar to them.
water- minimum of 2 litres of drinking water to avoid
dehydration. Carry four just in case the hike proofs longer
than expected. Sometimes it can be 8 hours.
Camera- A film camera for domestic use is recommended.
If you are
interested in birds, you can bring Field guide to birds of
East Africa by Fanshawe and a pair of binoculars.
Rwanda Gorilla Families Volcanoes National Park Rwanda
are social animals staying in groups or families of 6 to 40 or more
individuals. A family comprises of the Alpha male (called the silver
back), subordinate males (Black backs), females, juveniles and young
ones. Each family has its own territory and a home range, where
they forage for food. Territories are aggressively or physically
defended against male intruders. Territorial fights are fatal and
may lead to the death of the territorial or alpha male. Besides
humans and diseases , a mature mountain gorilla has very few
Gorilla groups in
Rwanda also called families are divided into two. The study groups/
families which are accessible to scientists and the tourist
groups/families which are open for tourist tracking. The Study
groups have the largest number of individuals. Study groups
include Beetsme, Pablo’s, Shida’s and Bwenge.
Besides these, there are seven(7) tourist groups-Susa, Sabyinyo,
Amahoro, Kwitonda, Group 13(Agashya), Umubano and Hirwa.
Sometimes, these are joined by a migrant group from Uganda. Most
of the potential gorilla trackers have diverse questions ranging
from the best time to track, the existing gorilla families,
accommodation facilities, when to buy permits, tracking rules and
regulations and what to bring. We will answer most of these
questions and many more on request.
Seven gorilla families
open for tourists . Only 8 tourists allowed per group per day.
largest group with 41 gorillas. The group is very impressive with
three silver-backs and several-black backs, females and several
youngsters. Part of the fame of this group are playful 5 year old
twins named Byishimo and Impano. The group roams the slopes of
Karisimbi Volcano(4507M). Though the group is a bit difficult to
track sometimes it is very near. Always find out their location
from guides a day earlier
- Sabyinyo Group/ Family—One
o the easily accessible groups. The group has 8 members led by the
biggest silverback known in the entire jungle called Guhonda.
- Amahoro Group/ Family—Amahoro
meaning peaceful has 17 members led by the peaceful Ubumwe. Amahoro
is a more strenuous group to access compared to Group 13 or Sabyinyo
13/ Family(Also Called Agashya)—when
first habituated this group had only 13 members hence its name. Now
the group has approximately 25 members.
- Kwitonda Group/ Family—this
migrant group from DR Congo has 18-members led by Kwitonda which
means “humble one” . It has two silverbacks and one blackback.
Though the group tends to wander far, it is now permanently in the
Rwanda Section of Virungas. Together with Susa this is one of the
difficult groups to track.
- Umubano Group/ Family—a
family of 11, Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off
after the dominant silverback was challenged by Charles, now the
leader of Umubano. When a young silverback challenges the dominant
silverback he must steal some females from the existing group in
order to form his own family; thus Umubano was formed.
is the most diverse group comprising from differently families
mainly group 13 and Sabyinyo.
Rules/ Gorilla Tracking Regulations / Dos/ Donts
Gorilla tracking is a
million dollar practice with immense economic benefits to the local
community, without which the mountain gorilla conservation would be
a liability. This daily adventure has made the mountain gorilla one
of the most expensive animals though not in league of the teddy
Gorilla tracking in
volcanoes national park is a clean practice (eco friendly) which
ensures minimal impact to the local community, the environment and
the gorillas. Rules and regulations have been put in place for the
safety of the trackers, the gorillas and to check adverse
environmental impacts. Besides these rules and regulations
guarantees the continued existence of the gorilla as species, that
is to avoid the extinction of the gorillas.
Encounter with the
Gorillas has been described as thrilling, evocative and even
emotional. The gigantic silver-backs are gentle and will rarely
attach unless provoked. Young gorillas are a bit adventurous even
playful and will come to touching distance of individual trackers.
They are particularly attracted to bright colours like yellow. In
that case avoid them. The following are the rules and regulations of
tracking in Rwanda – Submissiveness
When you encounter
gorillas, you are required to portray total submissiveness. Do not
look at them straight in the eyes and avoid standing over them.
If the male gorilla charge at you, crouch down. Gorillas have
freedom of way. Do not drum your chest. Do not shout, talk
in whispers. The guides will advice on how to behave on encounter.
Always follow the instructions from the guides.
2. Rwanda Gorilla
Tracking/ Gorilla Photography/Photographic Safaris.
Flash photography is
prohibited. Tourists are allowed normal photography and filming for
domestic use. Special Photographic and filming safaris may be
organized for particular groups. These will include those who want
to film specifically for commercial use and documentaries. These
will require accreditation cards unlike normal tourists.
3. Health of the
There are currently
approximately 700 mountain gorillas in the wild. Thus these animals
are classified as endangered species. Gorilla tracking if unchecked
can endanger the life of gorillas. Gorilla tracking in Rwanda is
restricted to 8 persons per day per group. That makes a total of
56 permits per day.
tracking gorillas if you suffer from contagious disease. In case
you develop a severe case of flu, your money will be fully refunded
if you make this known in advance. However if you attempt to track
and fail for whatever reason, or if the guides discover that you
cannot track due to disease, you are disqualified for any refunds
and may even be fined.
sneeze towards them
spit in the forest or defecate carelessly. If you need to the
guides will help you with a machete to dig a hole to bury your
Gorilla tracking is a
clean activity. Leave only your footprints in the national park.
litter and if you spot any litter, collect it and take it down with
collect any souvenirs from the park.
5. Eating while
You can carry your
picnic but do not eat in the vicinity of the gorillas. You eating
might encourage the gorillas to come and share your delicacy with
6. Chest beating
Please do not imitate
the male gorilla chest beating. The silver back will take that as a
challenge and charge after you which can result in severe injuries.
Please note that you are not liable for any compensation for any
animal related injuries in the parks. Though charging has not been
reported for a long time, please avoid any provocation as you will
come out second best.
7. Age Limit:
Only people of 15 years and above are allowed track gorillas.
However young children can engage in other activities in volcanoes
like tracking golden monkeys.
When to buy permits,
Permits should be
bought in advance even 9 months before the dates of tracking. When
to buy permits depends on when you want to track. If you wish to
track during summer-June, Jul, August and September book even 7
months before the tracking date. It is not advisable to walk
into ORTPN office in summer to buy permits as most of the dates are
from Gorilla tracking other activities in the vicinity of Ruhengeri
and Volcanoes include:
- Visit to
the grave of Dian Forsey and her gorilla Digit
Bisoke 1 day
- Tour of
the lakes Burera and Ruhondo
exploration – visit Musanze cave and the natural bridge.
the Golden Monkey.
Ruhengeri and volcanoes one can organize the following excursions if
you finish trekking in time and return comfortably for overnight.
- ½ day
excursions to lake Karago
Excursion to lake Kivu.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda:
|Sabyinyo Lodge Suite
(USD 500-800 for double FB) properties include Sabyinyo Community
Lodge, Jack Hanna's House, Volcanoes Lodge. Sabyinyo community lodge
is also called Silverback Lodge. Volcanoes Lodge enjoys a beutiful
location between lakes Burela and Ruhondo. Mid Range
Accommodation properties (USD 350 for double full board) include-Gorilla
Nest Lodge, Gorila Mountain Gorilla Lodge and La Bambou Lodge.
Kinigi Guest House, Muhabura Hotel, and Hotels in Gisenyi.
golden monkey tracking is undertaken in the morning from ORTPN
Kinigi/ Ruhengeri office. Two families of the golden monkeys are
open for tracking ; Kabatwa at the base of Sabyinyo and Musanga at
the base of Karisimbi.
wishing to track specific gorilla families are advised to book in
begins at 07 :00 Hrs at ORTPN Kinigi office.
Entrance Fee and Other Charges
Park entrance fee USD 25.00
Tracking gorillas USD 350.00
Tracking golden monkeys USD 75.00
Climbing Bisoke USD 75.00
Climbing Karisimbi USD 175.00