“In the heart of Central Africa, so high that you shiver more then you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are the great old volcanoes towering up almost 15,000 feet and heavily covered in rich, green rainforest – the Virungas”.
The Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen, bamboo forests, open grassland, swamp and heath. Volcanoes National Park (Parc National de Volcans) is situated in north-western Rwanda. It borders Virunga National Park in the Demographic Republic of Congo And Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. It is a 90 minute drive for Kigali, the Capital of Rwanda. Volcanoes National Park is home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo). The park was first gazetted in 1925 and was the first national park in Africa.
Volcanoes National Park was the base for the famous American Naturalist, Dian Fossey to carry out her research on gorillas. She arrived in 1967 and set up the Karisoke Research Centre. Dian Fossey is widely credited with saving the gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the international community. Dian Fossey was later murdered by unknown assailants and she is buried near the research centre.
Best known for the mountain gorillas, other mammals that reside in the park are the golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena and bush buck. There are 178 recorded bird species with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Rwenzori Mountains.
ACTIVITIES IN NYUNGWE NATIONAL PARK
- Gorilla Tracking
A gorilla visit can entail anything from a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.
- Golden Monkey Tracking
Trekking to see the golden monkeys is another highlight of Volcanoes National Park. The Golden Monkey (Cercopithecus Mitis Kandti) is a local subspecies of the widespread Sykes Monkey, also known as the “Blue Monkey” and is endemic to the high altitude forests of the Volcanoes National Park area. The monkeys are playful and inquisitive and often spend their time leaping from bamboo branches or frolicking on the forest floor.
There are two habituated groups of Golden Monkey, one group comprises around 80 – 100 members and has its home at the foot of Mt Sabyinyo. As with treks to see the Mountain Gorillas, treks to see the Golden Monkeys take place in the mornings and visitors are permitted to stay for 1 hour with the monkeys.
- Climbing of the Karisimbi Volcanoes (4507M)
This is a two day climb with an overnight camping at an altitude of 3,800m.
- Climbing of the Bisoke Volcanoes (3711M)
This is a slightly less strenuous climb then the Karisimbi trek, but does involve some fitness. The upward climb is approximately two hours, but the view from the top is breathtaking and the beautiful crater lakes situated at the summit of the Volcano definitely makes it worth it.
- Tours of the Lakes and Caves
A guided tour of the lakes and caves of the park is an extremely pleasurable activity and is especially rewarding for bird watchers.
- Visiting the tomb of Dian Fossey
A visit to the tomb of Dian Fossey and the nearby gorilla cemetery is a memorable experience. There is a two – three hour climb through the forest to get to the site and then the plunge down takes between one – two hours depending on how many times you stop to admire the marvellous scenery and observe the abundant wildlife of the park.
The majority of the revenue from tourism goes towards maintaining the park and conserving wildlife. The remainder goes to the government and to local projects in the area to help local people benefit from the large revenue stream generated by the park.
- Kwita Izina
A special event that happens in the park annually is Kwita Izina, the baby gorilla naming ceremony. This much celebrated event takes place every year in June.