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Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

30
Apr 2014

 

Volcanoes National Park - Rwanda

This is 160km² national park and it protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains, range of six extinct and three active volcanoes which straddles the borders with Uganda and the DRC. The Volcanoes Park is part of a contiguous 433km² Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virunga National Park and Mgahinga National Park, which protects the DRC and Ugandan sectors of the Virunga respectively. The three national parks are managed separately today. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the gorillas which were already known internationally despite the pressing problem of overpopulation. Ranging in altitude from 2400km to 4507 the Volcanoes National Park is conquered by the setting of volcanoes. This chain of steep, all free standing mountains linked by fertile saddles which were formed by solidified  lava flows , is one of the most stirring and memorable sights in East Africa .

Karisimbi is the tallest mountain in the chain which is found on the border with the DRC. Moving eastward, the other main peaks within the national park are Visoke on the DRC border; Sabinyo at the juncture of Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, and Gahinga and Muhabura on the Uganda border. The Volcanoes National Park is best known to the outside world as the place where almost for 20yrs the American primatologist Dian Fossey under took her pioneering studies of mountain gorilla behaviour. Three years after her death, Fossey’s life work was exposed to a mass audience with the release of Gorilla in the mist, a cinematic account of her life filmed on location in the Volcanoes Park. Gorilla in the Mist drew global attention to the plight of the mountain gorilla and generated unprecedented interest in the gorilla tourism programme that had been established in the park some ten years earlier. In 1990, the Volcanoes Park was the best organized and most popular gorilla sanctuary in Africa and gorilla tourism was probably Rwanda’s leading earner of tourist revenue.

The park reopened to tourism in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide.  Later in 1995, it once again reopened to tourism, only to close again a few months later.  Gorilla tracking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, since when the number of tourists visiting the Virungas had increased rapidly.  More details of gorillas and gorilla-tracking follow later in this section. Gorillas and golden monkeys aside, primates are poorly represented by comparison with other forests in Rwanda and Western Uganda.  Little information is available regarding the current status of other large mammals, but 70-plus species have been recorded in Uganda’s neighboring Mgahinga National Park, most of which probably only occur in the larger Rwanda section of the Virungas.  Elephant and buffalo are still quite common; judging by the amount of spoor encountered on forest trails, but is very timid and infrequently observed. Also present are giant forest hog, bush pig, bushbuck, black-fronted duiker, spotted hyena, and several varieties of small predator.  Recent extinctions, probably as a result of deforestation, include the massive yellow-backed duiker and leopard.

Birds in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park compiled in 1980 a total of 180 species.  About 15 previously recorded species were noted during a 2004 biodiversity survey, but it is possible that several other forest specialists have gone astray since 1980.  A local specie is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s rush  warbler, while at least 16 Albertine Rift endemic are present, including handsome francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Rwenzori batis, strange weaver, dusky crimson-wing, collared apalis, red-faced woodland warbler and Archer’s ground robin.

Mountain Gorilla Tracking in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda

This activity still remains the most popular in the park, with a total of up to 40 permits issued daily, eight for each of the five habituated troops.  But Volcanoes National Park is not just about gorilla tracking, it has other activities like  trekking, hiking which are now well organized, from a two-day ascent of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of crater later, but the most exciting innovation is that tourists can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.

Hiking in Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda

Hikes are now offered to visitors.  The ascent of Karisimbi is a two-day excursion costing US$150; ORTPN provides guides but trekkers should have suitable clothing and camping equipment.  A shorter option costing US$50 is the ascent of Mount Visoke to its crater lake at 3,711m; the upward climb takes about two hours.  For the less energetic, walks of about two and a half hours costing US$30 to the nearer crater lakes and in the forest are thoroughly enjoyable and will be particularly rewarding to birdwatchers!

It is also possible to visit Dian Fossey’s tomb and the adjacent gorilla cemetery at the former Karisoke Research Camp.  This trek costs US$50 per person and involves a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters to the trailhead than a 10-minute stroll to the park boundary.  From here, the climb through the forest takes from 90 minutes to three hours, depending on your fitness and how often you stop to enjoy the scenery, while the plunge takes 1-2 hours.  In addition to the fees listed above, all activities appeal to a daily park entrance of US$25.  All arrangements for these activities can be made through the ORTPN offices, whether in Kigali, Musanze or Kinigi (incase you want to pay by MasterCard it can be done in Kigali).  Note that all hikes depart from the park headquarters at Kinigi at round 07.30 (check-in-time 07.00), the same departure time as for gorilla tracking, which means that visitors can undertake only one activity per day within the park.

Accessibility to the Park

The normal base for visiting the Volcanoes Park is Musanze formerly known as Ruhengeri, which can easily be reached on public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali on the day you track. You need to be at the ORTPN office in Kinigi, by the park entrance, by 07.00, but this isn’t a reliable option incase you are using public transport.  There is no public transport between Musanze and the park headquarters at Kinigi.

Accommodation and Meals in PNV, Rwanda

The park has got no accommodation and overnight camping is forbidden.  You can check with ORTPN about camping possibilities nearby.  For those on a restricted budget, the best option is to have overnight in Musanze, but smarter and more convenient accommodation is available near the park headquarters at Kinigi or at the superior but more distant Virunga Lodge overlooking Lake Burera.  It is also possible to stay in Gisenyi or Kigali the night before trek, but this is not so realistic as it used to be now that the assembly time shifted from 08.00 to 07.00- you need to allow at least two hours for the drive from Kigali and 90 minutes from Gisenyi, and would most likely be late in the event of a breakdown or puncture.

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