Volcanoes National Park is the Rwandan section of the great volcanic massif called the Virunga Mountains that straddles the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. The massif covers a huge area of over 8,000km², encompassing six active and three extinct volcanoes.
It is in northwestern Rwanda and covers 160 km2 (62 sq mi) of rainforest and encompasses five of the eight volcanoes in the Virunga Mountains, namely Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo.
Volcanoes National Park also has a historic connection with gorilla conservation. It was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey which started in the late 1960s and is evocatively portrayed in the book and film Gorillas in the Mist.
The Volcanoes National Park is the most famous destination in Rwanda, and is synonymous with mountain gorilla tracking safaris. There is no visit to this land of a thousand hills that would be complete without visiting these majestic apes.
The Virunga massif is home to around half of the world’s precious mountain gorillas – some 400 of them – making Rwanda probably the best place in the world for a gorillas tracking safari.
Tracking mountain gorillas in volcanoes national park happens in the morning and therefore time is of great essence depending on the arrival times for the clients arriving in Kigali, Rwanda, two and a half hours drive to the park. For late arrivals means one have to spend a night in Kigali the Capital City
On the day that you are scheduled to go gorilla trekking, your day start early with an early breakfast. Afterwards you will be taken to the park headquarters in Kinigi. At the headquarters you and others scheduled for gorilla trekking that day will be divided into groups of 8 and briefed on gorilla etiquette and safety. If you have a cold, flu, or any other contagious infection, you should not go gorilla trekking.
Only one group of tourists can visit the mountain gorillas each day and you can only spend an hour with them. You should keep a distance of 7m from the gorillas, and if the gorillas try to get close, try to move further away.
Afterwards you will be driven to the star of the trail and your guide will lead you as you track through gorillas along the designated trails and enjoy nature in the Virungas. Gorilla treks in the volcanoes national park, are uphill hikes, so even at an unhurried pace the altitude makes the trek a bit tiring.
Gorillas do not stay in the same spot hence the need to do some tracking before you spend your magical one hour with them. They usually climb higher up the mountain in the dry season, and descend in the wet season, so your tour guide might have a general idea pf where the group you are tracking might be during a particular season, but there are no guarantees that you will find them where you expect them to be.
Gorilla are susceptible to human infections since their DNA is a 98% match with human DNA. Their immunity is not as strong as that of humans so even the slightest infection such as a common cold, can be life threatening to the gorilla, hence the various rules and regulations. Some of these are pretty basic and should be easy to follow.
It’s possible tо gо on a gorilla trеkking tour аll уеаr rоund, but you’re likely to witness plenty of rain during сеrtаin timеѕ of уеаr. The high ѕеаѕоns, and therefore the best times to go, are June to September and December to February.
Gorilla trеkking реrmitѕ аrе an investment at $1,500 реr person and the реrmitѕ exist tо limit thе number of visitors аnd thereby rеduсе the ѕtrеѕѕ оn thе gоrillаѕ. The money also goes towards strengthening conservation efforts and supporting the development of local communities.
Some of the things you will need on a gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda include: sturdy walking boots, thick gardening gloves to protect your hands from the bramble as you track, long trousers, a waterproof jacket, water and a snack, a walking stick, some money to pay porters to carry your backpack. Taking photographs of the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat makes for a very exciting photo shoot, so do not forget to carry your camera.
Apart from the Gorillas, the Golden monkeys in Rwanda live in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes and habituation has helped them to overcome their initial shyness to accept their daily visit by researchers and tourists.
Trekking golden monkeys and gorillas is a similar experience – in a small group of no more than eight people, and you can spend one hour with the monkeys once you find them. The endangered species are very active creatures, and jump from tree to tree which is really interesting and a little difficult to photograph!
The golden monkey trek is worth going for while in Volcanoes National Park and if you’re interested in wildlife, this is a rare and delightful experience not to be missed!
After the gorillas experience, and despite the fact that most of the focus of Volcanoes National Park falls squarely onto the animals, there is the taste of the Rwandan Culture at the Gorillas Guardians village.
This ‘cultural village’ puts the spotlight back onto the people. Visitors get to experience Rwandan village life by grinding seeds, firing bows and arrows, taking part in a traditional intore dance and even partaking in the marriage of a king to his queen.
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