Volcanoes National Park is one of the oldest and most famous parks on the African continent. This is attributed to the fact that it is one of the few stronghold destinations hosting ¼ of endangered mountain gorillas in the whole world. It is located in northwestern Rwanda with an area coverage of 160 km2 of mainly montane rainforest. The park shares borders with Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Volcanoes National Park started as a small gazetted sanctuary in 1925 to protect the critically endangered mountain gorillas from poachers. Volcanoes national park holds the record for being the first national park in Africa. In the following years, the park's borders were extended to cover five of the eight famous volcanoes in the Virunga massif in western rift valley. These included Bisoke, Karisimbi, Gahinga, Sabyinyo and Muhabura.
In 1967,Volcanoes national park turned into a research base for celebrated American primatologist Dian Fossey. She invested great efforts into studying the mountain gorillas and protecting them before she was murdered by poachers on her duty. She set up camp at the Karisoke Research Centre between Mount Karisimbi and Mount Visoke. Here she focused on studying, creating bonds with mountain gorillas, and fighting their greatest enemies at that time - the poachers.
She's celebrated for her fight to create awareness internationally of the critical danger of extinction that mountain gorillas were facing. Her devoted and brave course is still playing an unforgettable role in many of us being able to meet these magnificent creatures on a mountain gorilla safari.
Dian Fossey's tomb is also found within Volcanoes National Park at Karisoke Research Centre. Visitors get a chance to pay tribute to this great American primatologist who sparked the gorilla conservation project in the region. Dian Fossey was murdered by poachers in 1985 while performing her devoted research and efforts to conserve mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park became a raging war zone during the Rwandan genocide in1994. This led to the park headquarters being attacked resulting in the research center and tourism activities being abandoned. Tourism activities were forgotten until 1999 when the region regained stability and was declared safe to visit.
Gorilla trekking usually starts early in the morning by 7:00 am so trekkers have to be at the park headquarters in Kinigi very early.
Gorilla trekking is an amazing experience where you set off into the rainforest for the quest of the incredible gentle giants. Visitors navigate the trails and when you find the gorillas you are permitted one exciting hour with these breathtaking creatures. The trekking experience takes 1-8 hours depending on how far the gorillas trudged into the forest from their nests looking for food. A gorilla encounter is one of the precious memories to hold as testified by many guests who get a chance to meet them.
Though Volcanoes National Park is mostly known for the mountain gorillas, several mammals also call this renowned park home. Some of these include the fascinating golden monkey, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyena, and buffalo. There are also reported sightings of elephants though they have been very few. More than 178 bird species have been recorded; with 13 species and subspecies only found in Rwenzori and Virunga Mountains can be encountered on exciting birding exercises in different parts of the park.
Volcanoes National Park is found in the humble village of Kinigi in Musanze district previously called Ruhengeri. The park is easily accessed by road from Kigali airport. This is usually a 2 hours’ drive from the airport enabling guests an advantage where you can experience gorilla trekking and return to Kigali the same day.
A good percentage (20%) of the revenue earned from park activities is given back to the local communities near the park. This is done through improvement or setting up local facilities like schools, hospitals and roads to help neighboring communities. This has helped the local people to embrace government's efforts to conserve gorillas by limiting human encroachment and hunting in the park.
With a planned safari to Volcanoes national park, travelersalso help in ensuring the continued survival of mountain gorillas and life of the locals by the revenues earned from gorilla permits sold. This is achieved without leaving the exhilarating moments you experience on encountering the magical beasts.