Rwanda may have just a few national parks, but its Volcanoes N.P. contains 10 habituated gorilla groups and offers arguably the world’s most consistent gorilla trekking! The park is part of the Virunga Mountains range. The famous Volcanoes National Park is home to 10 habituated gorilla groups, 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.
The history of Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes N.P. is situated in the north-west of Rwanda. As its name suggests, it contains a number of volcanoes, specifically Bisoke, Gahinga, Karisimbi, Muhabara, and Sabyinyo – five of the eight located in the Virunga Mountains. Of these, only Bisoke remains active, and it last erupted in 1957.
Originally the park was gazetted as a fairly small area, but this was a significant area nevertheless, as it was the first 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). Unfortunately, the Belgians opted to clear 700 hectares of the area in 1958, for human habitation.
However, 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. This was good news for the gorillas! 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.
The national park faced difficulties during the Rwandan Civil War, to the extent that all tourist activities ceased for much of the 1990s. Happily, the park re-opened in 1999 and now visitors can enjoy gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, volcano climbing, tours of the region’s lakes and caves, and excursions to Iby’lwacu village for a little culture.
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.