Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park is an extraordinary park in Rwanda, full of impressive tropical rainforest and volcanic scenery, trekking, and is perhaps the best place in the world to see the rare mountain gorillas.
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 up almost 15,000 feet, and nearly covered with rich, green rainforest - the Virungas". Situated in the far northwest of Rwanda, the Parc des Volcans protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range - home of the rare mountain gorilla - and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp and heath.
Flora and fauna
If you are doing any activities in the park, it's best to be prepared for all kinds of weather. Bring a rain jacket, wear a mid layer, and be prepared to go down to a tee shirt if the sun comes out.
While VNP is a tropical rain forest, normal problems like mosquitos and ants are trumped by the stinging nettles, of which there are two less than friendly varieties. If you have sensitive skin, consider long sleeves and possibly gloves.
The mud during the rainy season is also worth mentioning. It can be treacherous: meaning slippery and shoe-swallowing. The rangers wear wellies for a reason.
The Park's Headquarters is located in Kinigi. The HQ is where you meet your guide, and start your activity from.
To enter VNP, you must have a guide and a permit. You can not enter alone. You can get a permit in advance, or the day of your activity: arrive at the HQ by 7am, and pay for the activity of your choice. They accept US dollars, Rwandan francs, or Visa. You must bring your passport or a copy of it in order to register.
From Kinigi: The road from Kinigi to HQ is paved and can be traveled by any means of transportation, including bodas. However, once you get your permit and guide, you are expected to transfer yourself to the trailhead of your given activity. In the case of the Dian Fosses trek or Summit/Crater Trail of Bisoke (which start from the same spot) the 15km from HQ to the start of the hike are terrible, rocky roads. You may be able to hitch a ride from HQ with someone else doing the same activity (since you do come together as a group to meet your guide and sign waivers first), but there is no guarantee of space.
From Ruhengeri: the same applies as with Kinigi, only the distance to HQ is greater. There are matatu running from Ruhengeri towards Kinigi, but you would have to take a boda from Kinigi to HQ. Private cars, return trip, cost $60-80. Ruhengeri is well connected to other cities in Rwanda, as well as to the border of Uganda (via Cyanika).
Mountain Gorillas Prices to obtain permit for Volcanoes National Park to view Mountain Gorillas (May 2017): Residents, non-residents, Students E.A.C citizens $1500. How much discount can you get on gorilla permits? You can get up to 30% discount! There discounted permits options starts from November to May during the low season if you are to visit three other activities in the same or other parks prior to gorilla trekking.
Tickets can sell out several months in advance.
Mount Bisoke $75 per person
Dian Fossey Trek $75 per person
Golden Monkey Tracking $100 per person
Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans (PNV)) in French is situated in a small town, Musanze, and only 12km from Kinigi, the base of the entrance of the PNV. Tourists can reach Musanze by public transport from Gisenyi, Kigali or from the airport. The drive to the park is only 2 hrs and its very possible for one to go gorilla tracking the same day and drive back to Kigali for an overnight stay. Tourists planning to use public transport to the park should note that there isn't provision of public transport from Musanze to the headquarters of the park at Kinigi.
Before You Arrive
The Morning Of
Both trekking options start at the park headquarters at 7:00 am. You will need to register yourself (or your driver / guide may complete this on your behalf). There is tea and coffee served in the main shelter and some days there is a dance presentation given by the local cultural center (this typically starts around 6:45 am). The park guides will place individuals into trekking groups based on ability and your preference for which group to visit. This process takes 30-40 minutes during which you can walk around the grounds or relax in the main shelter. After the assignments are made your driver / guide will direct you to a location on the lawn where your trekking group will assemble. Once all members are assembled the park guide will go over some basic information and have you fill out a form with your name, nationality, etc. The form has a location for passport number and permit number but these are not required (the form is for information gathering only). The park guide will give you an introduction to the group you will be visiting along with showing you a diagram of the gorilla group's family tree. Once this initial introduction is complete (10-15 minutes) you will find your driver and proceed to the starting point for your trek.
Your driver will take you to the starting point of the trek (there are multiple entry points into the park) which can be a trip of 20-45 minutes sometimes on very poor roads. Once you have reached the entry point parking lot your trekking group will reassemble with your park guide and secondary guide. Additional instructions will be given and you will be offered a walking stick for the trek. In addition, this is when you can hire a porter. The porters are all wearing the same blue coveralls and there is a defined order in which porters are selected. Ask your driver or the park guide if you want to hire a porter and they will signal to a porter to give you a hand. It is recommended you use a porter if you have any bags or other equipment as the hike can be long, steep or through difficult terrain. Also, it is an important way to support the local economy and help incentivise anti-poaching efforts. You will pay/tip the porter at the end of the trek.
Your starting position will be outside the park and depending on the starting position you may have to hike up to an hour to actually get to the park boundary which is marked with a stone wall. The area before the park is typically made up of farming fields.
Once you reach the park boundary additional instructions will be given about how to behave around the primates such as restrictions on eating, drinking, smoking and bathroom breaks.
The trek inside the park boundary varies depending on the location of your group and may include steep climbs, movement through a bamboo forest or hacking through thick brush.
Viewing the Primates
You will know you have reached the staging area when additional park trackers join your group. At this point you will need to leave all bags and walking sticks with the porters but will be allowed to take cameras with you. A final hike (around 200 meters) and you should be in the presence of the primates. After the one hour visit you return to the staging area where you left your belongings and prepare to hike out to the starting point.
Upon your return to the starting point you will pay your porters (consider giving tip) and can also tip the guides.
Finally, you can return to the park headquarters where you will be given a certificate indicating that you have completed a visit with your specific gorilla family. The certificate will include the name of the family you visited, and you will be able to buy a T-shirt with the same name in most of the local hotel gift shops.
Trekking through the Virunga forests of Rwanda requires some basic equipment to ensure you can transport sufficient liquids, protect yourself from the flora and fauna and can safely navigate the terrain.
Required / Highly Recommended
Amohoro "Red Rocks" Guest House is a good place with a great location close to the bus station. The have a display of fair trade goods made locally, and offer an array of local activities like ballet weaving and spice classes. Don't $15 with breakfast.