The history of Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes N.P. is said to be the oldest national park in Africa. The principal purpose of the park was to protect the gorillas from poaching. Four years after it was established, in 1929, it was expanded to cover not only more of Rwanda but also a large part of what was then known as the Belgian Congo (later the DRC). Once the DRC came into being, the park was halved and on the Rwandan side the government pledged to maintain it as a conservation area.
Another important date in the history of Volcanoes N.P. is 1967, which brought the arrival of Dian Fossey, American naturalist. Dian set up a research centre (‘Karisoke’, located between volcanoes Karisimbi and Visoke) and she worked hard to raise awareness worldwide of the poaching threats against the mountain gorillas. It is generally acknowledged that she saved the beautiful beasts from extinction! Sadly Dian was murdered, most likely by poachers, in 1985. But her memory lives on, not least in the well-known film Gorillas in the Mist – and you can visit the old research centre and Dian’s grave, among gorilla graves, today.
As well as protecting the endangered mountain gorillas, Volcanoes N.P. also shelters five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, which are Bisoke, Gahinga, Karisimbi, Muhabara, and Sabyinyo. Of these, only Bisoke remains active, and it last erupted in 1957. Now visitors can enjoy gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, tours of the region’s lakes and caves, excursions to Iby’lwacu village for a little culture, and volcano climbing.
Volcanoes N.P. contains 10 habituated gorilla groups and offers arguably the world’s most consistent gorilla trekking, ensuring that visitors to the area enjoy some of the most productive and rewarding gorilla trekking experiences available anywhere! Due to the high number of habituated groups, on any given day you will encounter at least one group not only within an hour’s walk, but much farther away too, allowing for keen hikers to set out on treks lasting from 5 to 7 hours.
The Volcanoes gorillas are also found in neighbouring Mgahinga and Virunga national parks, in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) respectively, while the second group lives in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
General game viewing
Of course, Volcanoes is best known for the gorillas, but you can also look out for buffalo, a few elephants, spotted hyena, black-fronted duiker, and bushbuck. Birding is pretty impressive too – at last count, there were 178 species! The park’s flora comprises mostly forest, varying with altitude, but there is also grassland and even some thickets and marshes.
We recommend this national park to anyone who has an interest in seeing the majestic mountain gorillas! Please check out our accommodation pages, and get in touch once you are ready to start planning a very special vacation.