Rwanda’s unique environment and kind, welcoming people provide one-of-a-kind experiences. This is a country characterized by its impressive biodiversity, volcanoes, and highland rain forests that are home to the gorillas. With over half of the world’s surviving mountain gorilla population, it’s no wonder that most wildlife-enthusiasts come to Rwanda to track and spend time with these critically endangered primates up-close.
Of all nature tours, gorilla trekking in Rwanda ranks as one of the most rewarding wildlife encounters in Africa. Coming eye to eye with a great ape touches a nerve in most of us. A big part of what makes it special, I guess, is that gorillas are so closely related to us humans (the difference in our nuclear DNA is about 1.6%). Mountain gorillas are also very rare.
The Volcanoes National Park is the Rwandan portion of the Virunga Volcanoes range and besides the wealth of extraordinary rain forest life it safeguards; the park protects 300 mountain gorillas – around half the world’s existing population. The mountain gorillas are the prime attraction in Volcanoes National Park with gorilla trekking happening all year round.
Because of the high altitude it is generally cold, especially early morning and the evenings, you are advised to carry a light sweater for these times. The park is located only 2 hours’ drive from Kigali in the north of Rwanda.
Volcanoes National Park offers several comfortable lodges set in the foothills of the range. Gorilla trekking permits must be arranged before arrival, and potential trekkers should be aware not only of the rigors of hiking through mountainous rainforest but the strict conservation rules governing this once-in-a-lifetime. The Rwanda gorilla safaris will require you to secure the gorilla permit which costs USD 1500 during peak season (June – October, January – March) and the discounted during low season to $1050 from November – May and this is also offered to you when visiting more one or two Rwanda parks. For you to have a secure safari, you have to book in advance.
The visitors are expected to arrive at the Rwanda development board (RDB) offices at 7 am where they are briefed about expectations and later distributed among the different gorilla groups. Once allocated a gorilla group and the briefing is concluded you follow your ranger guide and start your trek in search of these gentle giants.
Your gorilla trek can take anything from a few minutes to 4 – 5 hours depending on the location of the group that you are tracking. Once in sight of the group, you will be able to stay in their presence for only one hour.
Although gorilla safaris are the main reason people come to this park, an encounter with these highly endangered primates is not the only activity on offer. A Volcanoes National Park safari will take you into a forest packed with other creatures which include several types of monkeys and some 180 bird species. Head out on guided nature walks or even a challenging hike to experience one of Central Africa’s most bio-diverse destinations.
The park also hosts the beautiful, rare and endangered golden monkeys only found in the Virunga region. Other animals found in the forest include, rare forest elephants, buffaloes, bush pigs, giant forest hogs, duikers, spotted hyenas, bush-bucks and several primates.
Volcanoes National Park is home to over 200 bird species with a number of Albertine rift endemics for bird watching enthusiasts to enjoy. Birding is the next best thing to do in this park after mountain gorilla and golden monkey trekking.