Guide to Rwanda safaris and tours.
Volcanoes National Park Rwanda Safari
Sitting on a 160sqkm area in the north of Rwanda, this park is the oldest national park here in Africa. It was originally a small area around Mikeno, Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes which was gazetted to safe guard mountain gorillas in here which were at risk of extinction at the hands of poachers.
The park was then extended further into Rwanda and the then Beligian Congo in 1929 under the management of Belgian Colonial authorities as Albert national park. On attainment of independence for both Rwanda and Congo in the early 1960s, the park had to be divided and by the end of that decade, it was almost half its original size.
Fleeing Congo from insecurity, an American zoologist called Dian Fossey who had been caring out research on mountain gorillas in their forests made her way into Rwanda in the year 1967 where she established her research base between Karisimbi and Visoke volcanoes which she late named Karisoke research centre. She is the same person who spearheaded the conservation campaign of mountain gorillas as well as mobilising resources to eradicate poaching in the area till her death in 1985 when she was murdered. She was buried their next to her favourite’s gorilla’s grave called Digit.
The park continued to suffer at the hands of poachers even when conservation efforts were under way. The civil war in the early 1990s further affected the park as it became a battle field. Tourism during this time was paralysed until 1999. In 2005, Rwanda introduced a ceremony in a bid to boost conservation as well as gorilla tours in the park. This was the naming ceremony of baby gorillas known as ‘Kwita Iziina’ and this has paid off tremendously in both the population of Rwanda gorillas and the tourists who turn up at the park.
Volcanoes national park is not only a home to mountain gorillas but also Spotted Hyena (Crocuta crocuta), golden monkeys (Cercopithecus mitis kandti), black-fronted duiker (Cephalophus niger), buffaloes (Syncerus caffer), elephants, and bushbuck (Tragelaphus scriptus). It also harbours over 178 bird species including at least 29 endemics to Rwenzori mountains and the Virungas.
The park is located in a small village known as Musanze or Ruhengeri which can be accessed by road from Gisenyi, Kigali or the airport. The drive is only 2 hours which means it is very possible to go gorilla tracking on the same day and then travel back to Kigali. However in case you want to trek these gorillas for one day, you will have to be at the park’s headquarters by 7:00am.
Activities in the park include:-
The activities one can do while at volcanoes national park include Gorilla trekking, One day Mount Bisoke volcano hike, Hiking Karisimbi volcano (3,800 m), Visiting the twin lakes of Ruhondo and Bulera and also Visiting Dian Fossey grave.
This is a brief traveler’s guide to Volcanoes national park and you can find more interesting information about this park on our website.
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Rwanda is gorilla tracking in the volcanoes national park therefore when planning to go gorilla tracking, it is very important and crucial that you first book your gorilla pass ahead of the actual date you track as they often get finished quickly.
Below are two options on how you can successfully get a gorilla permit to enjoy a day with Rwanda gorillas in their natural habitat.
The body governing tourism in Rwanda called the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) can be contacted through email or calling their offices. Email; firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone; +252 57 65 14
Price of a Rwanda Gorilla Permit
East African Residents – $450, East African Citizens – $300, Rwandan Residents – &375, Non Residents – $750, Rwandan Citizens – 30,000 Frw
The other option is booking your permit through a travel agency. This is a reliable option which may be a little easier as these operators are more familiar with the season.
Note; you are advised to book your permit way before the actual gorilla trekking date as they tend to run out really quickly. Volcanoes national park houses 10 mountain gorilla groups and each family group can accommodate 1 group of visitors comprising 8 people. Rwanda today floods with many visitors coming to track gorillas so it is best to book early to guarantee your gorilla permits.
a refund of 50% of the gorilla tracking shall be made by the Rwanda Development Board for any visitor showing signs of illness. Once you are sick, you shall not be allowed to track the gorillas once declared unfit by the in charge warden. This though applies only to visitors who have travelled all the way to the park.
Tracking Time Limit
Briefing begins early in the morning from one of the park rangers at the Kingi headquarters where assembling is limited to 7:00-7:30 at latest.
Visitor’s Passport Information
Passport details of the tracker will be required after full confirmation of the booking which will enable UWA to write out the gorilla permits. You are reminded to ensure the full names, country of passport issuance and passport number are sent.
Please note: To obtain a gorilla viewing permit you must be over 15 years of age.
Where to go for Gorilla Trekking Rwanda Vs Uganda
The world is remaining with only about 720 gorillas and these are found in only three countries; Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Insecurities in the Congo forest forced gorillas to flee that area into Uganda and Rwanda which explains why half of the population of gorillas is found in Bwindi Impenetrable conservation area here in Uganda and another large number in volcanoes national park in Rwanda. This leaves tourists tending to visit these rare endangered species to choose between volcanoes national park in Rwanda and or Bwindi Impenetrable national park in Uganda.
The fact that some tourists have tracked gorillas in the two national parks has left people comparing to see in which park they had a better experience as well as a value for their money. We are going to break down the comparison for you basing on the distance, tourist pre-tracking experience, accessibility of the national park and price of the gorilla permits.
Distance and accessibility of the two national parks
Volcanoes national park is very easily and quickly accessed because Rwanda is quite a small country and you need about only 3 hours from the airport to the park. Bwindi national park however is over 600km away from the capital city Kampala which may take between 9-10 hours to get there. However if you prefer to move by air, flight operations are available between Entebbe International airport and Kajjansi airfield to Ishasha and Kihihi airstrips in Kanungu district. From here you will be taken to the park. This may cost you about $260 with Aero link Uganda.
The pre-tracking experience is a bit limited in Rwanda because of short hour drive to the park. It is quite convenient for tourists who will only be spending a short time in East Africa as there are high chances of tracking the gorillas on the same day of arrival without getting too exhausted.
In Uganda you will be able to get a great pre-tracking experience majorly because Bwindi Impenetrable national park is several kilometres from the capital city in the southern part of Uganda. This 9-10 hour drive about 550-600km offers tourists an opportunity to view quite a number of attractions en-route, take photographs at the equator, interact with the very hospitable warm Ugandans as well as visiting other national parks to view the game there especially Kibale forest national park, Lake Mburo national park and Queen Elizabeth national park. Again this will favour tourists who have planned long holiday vacations and those interested in game drives.
The price of gorilla permits
the price of gorilla permits is relatively cheaper in Uganda compared to Uganda. You will part with $600 in Uganda whereas in Rwanda, a gorilla permit will cost you $750 therefore budget tourists are more likely to track gorillas in Uganda in order to save the $150 for other expenses. Although tourists in Rwanda pay an extra of $150, they get to enjoy benefits that one will have to pay for in Uganda for example a cup of tea before tracking as well as entertainment by local entertainers.
Whichever part you choose to track mountain gorillas, be sure you will enjoy your time!