Volcanoes 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
and DR. Congo (Zaire) to form the bigger Albert National Park.
Volcanoes was the first
National Park in Africa.
he 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
is 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 beautiful francolins.
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 (4000m+).
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.
High altitude makes it generally cold, especially during the evenings. Gorilla
viewing is possible all the year round.
Gorilla Tracking Rwanda Volcanoes National Park
Gorilla 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,
Long trousers/ pants- to
avoid stinging nettles The trousers must be strong enough to withstand
occasional pulls from thorns.
Long sleeved shirts/
t-shirts. To avoid stinging nettles
Gloves- These are required
to avoid injury to your hands. Remember the grounds are wet and slippery.
Hiking boots- Please bring
average waterproof sturdy walking boots reaching ankle level not mountain
climbing boots. Something light and hardy will do.
Warm cardigan- Volcanoes
can get extremely cold. A warm cardigan is required to keep off cold.
Long sleeved Rain Coat or
anorak -it can rain anytime in Volcanoes National Park even on hot days. The
downpours are heavy and extremely cold.
Water 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
If you desire headgear
(hats), a baseball cap is recommended as gorillas are familiar to them.
Enough 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.
Film 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.
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 enemies.
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
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.
- Susa Group/
Family—the 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.
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
- Group 13/
Family(Also Called Agashya)—when first habituated this group had
only 13 members hence its name. Now the group has approximately 25 members.
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.
- Hirwa Group/
Family—Hirwa is the most diverse group comprising from
differently families mainly group 13 and Sabyinyo.
Gorilla Tracking 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 bears.
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 gorillas.
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
Avoid 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.
Do not sneeze towards them
Do not 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 waste.
Gorilla tracking is a clean
activity. Leave only your footprints in the national park.
Do not litter and if you
spot any litter, collect it and take it down with you.
Do not 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 you.
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
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 fully booked.
Apart from Gorilla tracking
other activities in the vicinity of Ruhengeri and Volcanoes include:
Visit to the grave of Dian Forsey and her gorilla
Climbing Karisimbi 2 days.
Climbing Bisoke 1 day.
Tour of the lakes Burera and Ruhondo.
Cave exploration – visit Musanze cave and the natural
Tracking the Golden Monkey.
Away from Ruhengeri and
volcanoes one can organize the following excursions if you finish trekking in
time and return comfortably for overnight.
Accommodation in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda:
Accommodation (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.
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.
The 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.
Those wishing to track
specific gorilla families are advised to book in advance.
Tracking begins at 07 :00 Hrs
at ORTPN Kinigi office.
Park Entrance Fee and Other
Park entrance fee USD 25.00
Tracking gorillas USD 350
Tracking golden monkeys USD 75.00
Climbing Bisoke USD 75.00
Climbing Karisimbi USD 175.00