Perhaps best known as the home of the rare mountain gorilla, the Virungas are that and so much more. Trekking through the park in far northwest Rwanda, one will find a tapestry of sensory delights. The visitor in the rainforest can hear the calls of birds and monkeys, and through the forest see the peaks of the ancient volcanoes. In addition to the rainforest, the park offers evergreen and bamboo forest, grassland, swamp and heath.
Volcanoes national park is part of the Virunga Conservation Area and covers more than 125 km². PNV is home of five Virunga volcanoes: Sabyinyo (3.674 m), Gahinga (3.474 m), Bisoke (3711 m), Muhabura (4.127 m), and the Karisimbi, the highest volcano with an altitude of 4.507 m. All five volcanoes are extinct, the active ones are located in Congo.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+). The mountain gorillas spend most of their time in the hagenia woodlands and bamboo forests.
Due to the altitude it is generally quite cold, especially during the evenings. Gorilla viewing is possible all the year round. During the rainy season when new bamboo shoots are growing, the gorillas spend more time foraging in the bamboo forests (base altitude). The climb to the natural habitat of bamboo forest and Hagenia woodlands offers fantastic views.
The Parc National des Volcans was Dian Fossey’s base a long time ago (She died on the 26th of December 1985), and it is at the Karisoke Research Center that during 18 years she carried out her study on mountain gorillas.
There are 4 gorilla groups habituated for tourism, the Sabinyo group has been divided up in two:
Susa group has 35 individuals
Amahoro group has 11 individuals
Sabyinyo A – group has 13 individuals
Sabyinyo B – group has 4 individuals (break away group)
Group 13 has 7 individuals
Gorilla tracking may involve hiking to the top of the Mt Sabinyo or a visit to the grave of Dian Fossey on the edges of Mt Sabinyo. Access to the area starts with Ruhengeri a town about 1h30 drive from Kigali and afterwards to Kinigi (14 km from Ruhengeri) where the park headquarters are located.
The Rwanda Tourism Office (ORTPN) is thinking to reopen the Mt Karisimbi again to hikers and mountaineers.
The lake circuit to the lakes Bulera and Ruhondo offers breathe taking sceneries.
The Kinigi guesthouse (Asoferwa) is situated only 200 meters from the park headquarters and provides comfortable and clean accommodation with breathtaking scenery at the foot of Mt Sabyinyo.
The area is well protected and there is no need for concern about personal security. The rangers are very kind and motivated, and they will do everything possible to make it a pleasant trip. It is still a wonderful place to see the mountain gorilla, and it normally offers excellent opportunities for photos.