Volcanoes National Park Safari Guide
“In the heart of Central Africa, so high up that you shiver more than you sweat,” wrote the eminent primatologist Dian Fossey, “are great, old volcanoes towering almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest – the Virungas.”
Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range – home of the endangered mountain gorilla and a rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
Volcanoes National Park is named after the chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif: Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura.
Tracking endangered mountain gorillas through the mysterious intimacy of the rain forest, alive with the calls of 200 species of colorful birds and chattering of the rare golden monkey, is only one of the truly unique experiences in the area.
Within the boundaries of Volcanoes National Park are Buhanga Eco-Park, an ancient forest holding Rwanda’s most intriguing folklore and Musanze Caves, formed 62 million years ago after the last estimated volcanic eruption.
Pros & Cons
Best mountain gorilla trekking in Africa
Many habituated groups with different size and family structure
Birders’ paradise with several Albertine Rift endemics
Several other activities are available, making a longer stay attractive
Very expensive gorilla trekking permit, and limited availability
Up to 64 tourists track daily, making registration chaotic
Wildlife & Animals
Tracking mountain gorillas is one of Africa’s top wildlife experiences and Volcanoes National Park is perhaps the best place for it. There are more habituated troops here than in the other parks that offer this activity. Each troop has its own territory and family structure. Budget permitting, you can consider booking two gorilla treks on two different days.
In addition to mountain gorillas, a troop of habituated golden monkeys, endemic to the Albertine Rift, can also be tracked. Other mammals resident in the park (but rarely seen) include: buffalo, elephant, bushpig, giant forest hog and several antelope species.
With about 180 species recorded, Volcanoes National Park offers good birding. However, most of the park’s special birds can also be seen in Nyungwe Forest, which is better set-up for birding. A local specialty is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s swamp warbler and at least 16 Albertine Rift endemics (birds restricted to the Albertine Rift) are present, including handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco and Ruwenzori batis, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, and Archer’s robin-chat.
Best Time to Visit
Volcanoes NP is open for gorilla trekking and hiking throughout the year. Sightings of gorillas are almost guaranteed and don’t depend on the weather. However, the trails become very slippery in heavy rain and hiking is definitely easier in the Dry season months, from June to August, and to a lesser extent in early September, December and January.
June to August – Dry Season
Drier trails make hiking easier and pleasant
The sun is more likely to break through the clouds
Gorilla trekking is easier
It is hard to obtain the limited gorilla trekking permits in the high season
Lodges might be full and charge more
September to May – Wet Season
Gorilla permits are easier to obtain
Lodges might have discounted rates
The rain doesn’t diminish the experience of seeing the gorillas
Rain can make forest trails challenging
It might rain for days
Weather & Climate
Volcanoes NP receives a steady stream of rain and mist. Combined with the high altitude, this means that the climate is wet and cold. Temperatures don’t change much throughout the year. Temperatures are around 16°C/61°F during the day. At night, it cools off to about 6°C/43°F. The park's wide range of altitudes also means a range of climatic conditions. The temperature drops by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m climbed (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft).
Dry Season – June to August
It rains a lot throughout the year, but there is a short, drier season from June to August. We recommend that you pack warm, waterproof clothing and good walking shoes for hiking.
June & July – Although it can rain at any time, these are the driest months of the year. With drier trails on offer, it’s an excellent time for hiking. Daytime temperatures average 16°C/61°F, while the mercury hovers around 6°C/43°F at night.
August – Time to pull out your rain jacket. The rains pick up noticeably in August. However, temperatures stay the same.
Wet Season – September to May
Rain, rain, rain…there’s plenty of it around at this time of the year. Don’t forget to pack waterproof clothing, sturdy shoes for hiking and warm clothing for the cold, damp conditions.
September – If the rains don’t arrive in August, they will definitely come in September. Temperatures are around 16°C/61°F during the day, depending on altitude. Nights are cold with an average of 6°C/43°F.
October & November – It rains a lot, with October a peak month for rainfall. Temperatures remain the same.
December, January & February – It rains a bit less than in October and November, but the rain can come at any time. Wet-weather gear is still a must.
March & April – These are the wettest months and it can rain for days. Hiking can be difficult as the trails get very slippery. Temperatures don’t really change.
May – Sometime in May, the rain diminishes and there are more sunny days. Daytime temperatures are a bit lower.
Most visitors arrive in Rwanda via Kigali International Airport (KGL), which is about 10km/6mi from the capital, Kigali.
There are no scheduled domestic flights to Volcanoes National Park. Most people opt for a tour around the country with a 4x4 and driver-guide.
Volcanoes NP is located in the north of the country 130km/81mi from Kigali, 70km/43mi from Gisenyi and 12km/7mi from Musanze.
All participants in any activity at the park must report to the park headquarters in Kinigi by 7am. Therefore, it is recommended to stay close to the park, or in nearby Musanze.
Akagera Aviation offers charter helicopter transfers to anywhere in the country, including Volcanoes National Park.