An exhilarating trek through the cultivated foothills of the Virunga Mountains offers stirring views in all directions. Then, abruptly, the trail enters the 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 .
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 best Rwanda section of the Virunga Mountains. 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.
Mountain gorilla tracking remains the most popular in activity in Volcanoes national park, with over a total of 40 permits issued daily, eight for each of the five habituated troops. Volcanoes National Park is not only for gorilla tracking but also 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 achievement is that visitors can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.
Birding Parc Volcanoes
Volcanoes National Park has a total of 180 species. With 15 recent 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.
Visitors stand a high chance of hiking. 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 involves a 30-minute drive from the park headquarters to the trail head 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.
All arrangements for these activities can be made through the ORTPN offices, whether in Kigali, Musanze or Kinigi (in case 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.
Susa Group/ Family
The largest group with 41 gorillas. The group is very impressive with three silver-backs and several-black backs, females and several youngsters. Part of the fame of this group is the playful 5 year old twins named Byishimo and Impano. The group roams the slopes of Karisimbi Volcano (4507M). Though the group is a bit difficult to track sometimes it is very near. Always find out their location from guides a day earlier.
Sabyinyo Group/ Family
One o the easily accessible groups. The group has 8 members led by the biggest silverback known in the entire jungle called Guhonda.
Amahoro Group/ Family
Amahoro meaning peaceful has 17 members led by the peaceful Ubumwe. Amahoro is a more strenuous group to access compared to Group 13 or Sabyinyo.
Group 13/ Family(Also Called Agashya)
When first habituated this group had only 13 members hence its name. Now the group has approximately 25 members.
Kwitonda Group/ Family
This migrant group from DR Congo has 18-members led by Kwitonda which means “humble one” . It has two silverbacks and one black-back. Though the group tends to wander far, it is now permanently in the Rwanda Section of Virungas. Together with Susa this is one of the difficult groups to track.
Umubano Group/ Family
Families of 11, Umubano were originally Amahoro members but broke off after the dominant silverback was challenged by Charles, now the leader of Umubano. When a young silverback challenges the dominant silverback he must steal some females from the existing group in order to form his own family; thus Umubano was formed.
Hirwa Group/ Family
Hirwa is the most diverse group comprising from differently families mainly group 13 and Sabyinyo.