VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK:( PARC NATIONAL DES VOLCANS)
This park was once closed for tourism conservation in 1991during the outbreak of the genocide and was reopened again in July 1999. The numbers of visitors are increasing every day and it regained its former reputation as the best organized and most popular mountain gorilla sanctuary.
Parc National Des Volcans (PNV) is part of the Virunga Conservation Area and covers more than 125 km˛. PNV is home of five Virunga volcanoes: the Karisimbi, the highest volcano with an altitude of 4.507 Muhabura (4.127 m), Sabyinyo Bisoke (3711 m), (3.674 m), and Gahinga (3.474 m). Two of the volcanoes erupted recently that is; the Nyiragongo erupted in January 2002 and Nyamulagira in July 2002 while the rest are extinct. The active ones are located in Congo.
The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo forests, bambooHagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), (base altitude), Afro-alpine (4000m+) and Sub-alpine (3300-4000m).
Conceivably best known as the home of the rare mountain gorilla, the Virungas are and so much more! Trekking through the park in far northwest Rwanda, one will find a variety of sensory delights. The visitor in the rainforest can hear birds singing 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.
Rwanda also known as the land of "Gorillas in the Mist" has its star tourist attraction in the Mountain Gorillas. The giant but gentle primates were the subjects of the late Dian Fossey who dedicated her life to their protection and conservation. Her detailed work is best seen in the international acclaimed film "Gorillas in the Mist", which was shot in Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park.
The mountain gorillas spend most of their time in the hagenia woodlands and during the rainy season when new bamboo shoots are growing, the gorillas spend more time searching for food in the bamboo forests (base altitude). The climb to the natural habitat of bamboo forest and Hagenia woodlands offers fantastic views.
PNV 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:
Sabyinyo A - group has 13 individuals
Sabyinyo B - group has 4 individuals (breakaway group)
Susa group has 35 individuals
Amahoro group has 11 individuals
Group 13 has 7 individuals
Distance (travelling time): 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.
Excursions: The lake circuit to the lakes Bulera and Ruhondo offers breath taking sceneries. Unfortunately the dirt road needs to be repared and its actual state is quite dangerous due to the incredible steep hills.
Highlights: Gorilla viewing, a day excursion up to the top of the Mt Sabinyo or a visit to the grave of Dian Fossey on the edges of Mt Sabinyo. Morestill Rwanda Tourism Office (ORTPN) is thinking to reopen the Mt Karisimbi again to hikers and mountaineers.
For accommodation, 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.
Weather conditions: Due to the altitude it is generally quite cold, especially during the evenings. Gorilla viewing is possible all the year round.
Opinion: The area is well protected and there fore secure with well trained motivated, kind and satisfactory rangers to lead you to a pleasant trip. It is still a wonderful place to see the mountain gorilla, and it normally offers excellent opportunities for photos. The gorilla tracking is less strenuous than in Bwindi Impenetrable NP however the altitude may cause difficulties for some visitors, as gorillas tend to climb higher during dry season. A good physical condition is also recommended here.