Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda

Volcanoes! Just the name is exciting. Where you can you combine towering volcanoes, stunning lake scenery and the rare mountain gorilla? In the Parc National des Volcans  otherwise known as Volcanoes National Park!

The Volcanoes National Park can be found in the north west of the tiny country of Rwanda and it lies along the neighbouring Virunga National Park which in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It also borders the neighbouring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda making this one of the most important areas in Africa for conservation and preservation of the landscape and wildlife.  It is also the oldest national park in Africa having been set up in the 1920s in order to preserve the gorillas in this region.

A Volcanic Landscape:

As its name suggests this area is volcanic and mountainous and this provides the unique eco-system that is home to some incredible wildlife and some of the most stunning scenery. Volcanoes National Park (VNP) is home to 5 volcanoes which make up part of the chain of Virunga Mountains which in turn make up part of the incredible Rift Valley that runs down the spine of Africa.  These volcanoes are Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo and they are still partly active. Every now and again there is an eruption making for a spectacular display at night-time!

The mountainous slopes are covered in dense vegetation of cloud forest. This makes it a haven for primates of all kinds and also elephants and other wildlife. It is so dense that in some places it is inaccessible which has gone a long way to protecting the wildlife in this region. It also provides food and shelter for these species and continuous high rainfall means the animals never have to move on to look for food elsewhere. The vegetation varies as the altitude increases and some of the highest peaks reach a towering 4000 metres high! In amongst these mountains lie a world of lush greenery and beautiful lakes. Other activities available in the VNP include hiking, mountain biking and boating on the lakes. This region really is one of the most stunningly beautiful in the whole of Africa and will leave you with incredible memories!

Mountain Gorillas and other Primates:

Dian Fossey made this park her home whilst she studied the mountain gorillas and chimpanzees of this region in the 1960s. She set up the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke and is widely recognised as having saved the mountain gorillas from extinction by bringing their plight to the attention of the outside world. There are other species of rare primates in the forests including the Golden Monkey, the Bonobo and the Chimpanzee all of which can be visited by organised trekking groups.

Trekking to visit the gorillas or other primates is the main source of tourist income in the area and is also strictly controlled with a limited number of permits available each day so as to not overload the area.  There are 8 habituated families in the park and this means there are a limit of 64 permits allowed per day. Treks start early and take several hours of demanding hiking before you reach the group of gorillas you are visiting. You then spend an hour with them before heading back down to the centre where you will be awarded a certificate and have the chance to enjoy a rest and some refreshments.

The Kwita Izina is an unmissable experience if you happen to be in the park during June. It is a Rwandan ceremony of giving a name to a newborn baby gorilla. The ceremony’s main goal is to monitor the individual gorilla families in their natural habitat. It was also created as a means of bringing attention both locally and internationally to the importance of protecting the mountain gorillas, their habitats and also to bring in some much needed tourist income to a poor area.

Volcanoes National Park and Rwanda as a whole offer so much to the visitor. The friendly welcome of Rwandans is world famous but the scenery is even more impressive. From the terraced slopes of the numerous farms to the soaring peaks of the highest mountains, from the shimmering blue lakes and sandy beaches to the lushest rainforest, there really is something for everyone here. And then there is the incredible wildlife; rare, colourful, noisy and awe-inspiring, that make this place truly magical!

If you would like to know more about Rwanda and Uganda then please give Lily a call;  she has been gorilla trekking and even came face to face with a silverback!

Posted by Ruth Bolton

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