Volcanoes National Park

Volcanoes national park

Volcanoes national park is home to the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and it covers an area size of about 160 square kilometres of the Virunga Mountains located north eastern part of Rwanda bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Virunga Mountains range of six extinct and three active volcanoes which straddles the borders with Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Volcanoes national park is part of a contiguous 433 square kilometres Trans frontier conservation unit that also includes the Virunga national park in Congo and Mgahinga national park in Uganda which protects the Democratic Republic of Congo and Ugandan sectors of the Virunga Mountains respectively.

Today, these three national parks are managed separately by individual countries. Prior to 1960, however, the Volcanoes and Virunga national parks together formed the Albert National Park under the Belgian colonization. The Albert national park was established by the decree of 21 April 1925 in the triangle considered to be a gorilla sanctuary formed by the Karisimbi, Mikeno and Visoke Volcanoes.

At the time of its creation it was the first national park in Africa to be known as such. The institute dup arc national Albert was created by decree on 9 July 1929. A further decree on 12 November 1935 determined the final boundaries of the Albert National Park, then covering 809,000ha. About 8% of the park lay in what is now Rwanda and today constitutes the Volcanoes National Park, while the rest was in the Congo. At the time of independence, Rwanda’s new leaders confirmed that they would maintain the (the mountain gorillas were already well known international) despite the pressing problem of over population.

Volcanoes national park has a ranging in altitude from 2,400 kilometres to 4,507 kilometres and is dominated by the setting of volcanoes after which it is named. 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 .

The tallest mountain in the chain and the highest part of the national park is Mount Karisimbi on the border with Congo. Moving eastward, the other main peaks within the national park are Mount Bisoke on the Congo border, Mount Sabinyo at the juncture of Rwanda, Uganda and Congo, Gahinga and Muhabura on the Uganda border side.

The Volcanoes National Park is best known as the home where for over 20 years, the American primatologist Dian Fossey under took her pioneering studies of mountain gorilla behaviour. It is largely thanks to Dian Fossey single-mindedness that poaching was reduced while there were still some gorillas to save. For her dedication, Dian Fossey paid the ultimate price for saving the mountain gorillas and was murdered while at the Karisoke Research Centre in December 1985.

Three years after her death, Dian Fossey’s life work was exposed to the world with the release of Gorilla in the mist, a movie that showed lifetime filmed on location in the Volcanoes national park. Gorilla in the Mist drew global attention to the plight of the mountain gorilla and generated unprecedented interest in the gorilla tourism program that had been established in the park some ten years earlier. In 1990, the Volcanoes national 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 wheels came off in February 1992, when the park headquarters were attacked, two park employees were killed, and the research centre established by Dian Fossey had to be evacuated.  Tourism in Volcanoes national park was then reopened in June 1993, but it was evacuated in April 1994 because of the genocide in Rwanda.

 In the late 1995, it was again reopened to tourism, only to close again a few months later.  Gorilla trekking was finally resumed on a permanent basis in July 1999, since then the number of tourists visiting the Volcanoes national park has increased rapidly.


Mountain gorillas and Golden monkeys are the main primates in Volcanoes national park although they 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 neighbouring Mgahinga National Park, most of which probably only occur in the larger Rwanda section of the Virunga Mountains. Elephant and buffalo are still quite common in this park 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 leopards.

Volcanoes national park is registered to have about 180 bird species and about 15 previously recorded species were noted during a 2004 biodiversity survey, but it is possible that several other forest specialists have vanished since 1980.  A local specialty 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.

By choosing a Rwanda safari tour with Achieve Global Safaris, you will definitely be advised to visit volcanoes national park as Gorilla trekking experience remains the most popular activity in this park. Volcanoes National Park is not just about mountain gorillas, tourists who previously came for just one night can now stay for four or five and still not run out of things to do. Trekking and mountain hiking are now well organized, from a two-day hike of Karisimbi to a non-strenuous nature walk to a cluster of crater later on Mount Bisoke and the most exciting innovation is that tourists can now visit habituated troop of the near-endemic golden monkey.

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