Volcanoes National Park - Rwanda's Gorilla Trekking Destination

Volcanoes National Park

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VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK GORILLA GUIDE

Volcanoes National Park is one of only four forest reserves in the world that protect mountain gorillas and where gorilla trekking adventures occur. The park gives visitors a unique opportunity to trek and spend intimate moments with the critically endangered mountain gorillas on trekking adventures within the untamed jungle. The park encompasses a 62-square-mile(160-square-km) slice of the Virunga Mountains, including a string of nine volcanoes that extends into neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Volcanoes National Park is Rwanda’s side of the ecologically rich Virunga Mountains region, home to about half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. The park heavily protects 12 human-habituated gorilla family groups available for tourism and others reserved for research. Tourists can visit any one of the groups for a permit price of $1,500. A maximum of six people is allowed to see each group daily.

Gorillas may be the headline act, but there’s plenty more to see and do in Rwanda’s tourism jewel. Nature hiking enthusiasts can navigate a network of trails through the Virunga Mountains, including summiting the 3,711-meter (12,175-foot) Mount Bisoke, with its crater lake and rewarding cross-border views of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. History and mammal buffs can visit the prominent primatologist Dian Fossey’s grave and research center, which inspired the blockbuster movie Gorillas in the Mist.

A visit with the park’s population of golden monkeys is worth the USD 100 permit. These hyper, cherub-cheeked primates swing through the bamboo forests, occasionally swooping down to the forest floor for a particular choice bamboo shoot. Be warned that catching them on camera can prove tricky. Volcanoes are also home to forest elephants, buffalo, spotted hyenas, and nearly 200 bird species.

Highlights

  • A rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath, alive with the calls of 200 colorful bird species
  • A chain of dormant volcanoes making up the Virunga Massif makes up the park: Karisimbi – the highest at 4,507m, Bisoke with its verdant crater lake, Sabinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura.
  • The truly unique experience of tracking endangered mountain gorillas through the mysterious intimacy of the rainforest
  • You’ll be hiking uneven, steep terrain through a damp rainforest flour and thick vegetation with no visible trails for about 1 to 6 hours to find a human-habituated gorilla family group.
  • The Gorilla permit in Volcanoes costs $1,500 per person per trek, and only six people can track any of the twelve gorilla family groups available for tourism in the park.
  • Hiking, canoeing, mountain biking, nature walks, and village experiences offer some extra adventures to add to your Rwanda gorilla experience.

Gorilla Permits

We recommend that you secure your Rwanda gorilla trekking permit in advance, at least three to six months before your trip. Less than 90 permits are available each day in Rwanda, so book yours early from a licensed local tour operator or directly from the Rwanda Development Board. All trekkers must arrive at the park’s headquarters at the nearby Kinigi town at 0700, where you’ll present your permit to get which gorilla group you’ll trek after that.

Only adults above 15 years can obtain a license and track gorillas in Rwanda. However, you can leave your teenager at the lodge.

When To Go

The best time for gorilla trekking is during Rwanda’s two dry seasons: December to early February and June to September. The drier months make for a more pleasant (and less muddy) hike. Note that the gorilla tickets are scarce during the high season, and lodging is expensive, so secure your gorilla permit and where to stay well in advance to avoid rush-hour logistics.

The rainy months don’t have traffic, and visitors can take advantage of low-season pricing. And oh, temperates can be fickle regardless of when you go, so pack a jacket and rain poncho for those gloomy hours.

Getting There and Around

You’ll most likely jet into Rwanda via Kigali International Airport (KGL), a few minutes outside Kigali city. Most local tour operators will provide transport for the two-hour transfer from Kigali to Musanze, the country’s bustling gorilla tourism hub. Independent travelers can catch a public bus from Kigali’s Nyabugogo bus station to Musanze for less than US$5. Recommended lodges for gorilla trekking are in Musanze, where you can also rent a 4×4 with its driver for US$80 in Musanze to commute to the gorilla trekking trailhead the next day. There’s a bit of a distance you can walk between Musanze, the briefing point, and the trailheads at the park’s boundaries.

Tailored Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes

WHERE TO STAY

Bisate Lodge

From USD 1,750 Per person per night, sharing

Located in the foothills of Mt. Bisoke, on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, this oasis of vacation lodging offers an eco-luxury experience accompanied by unique insights into the remotest parts of Rwanda. The lodge’s features include warm and attentive staff, breathtaking views from every well-designed and large suite, excellent food made primarily with local ingredients. The lodge is a 40-minute drive to the gorilla trekking briefing point.

Virunga Lodge

From USD 1,210 per person per night, sharing

Perched on a 2,300-meter (7,500-foot) ridge between Lake Ruhondo and Lake Bulera, this remote lodge offers a bush-chic experience and breathtaking views. Luxury features include massive bathrooms with lake-and-mountain views, secluded and spacious patios, and a well-appointed common area with communal dinner. The lodge is about a 45-minute drive to the Rwanda gorilla trekking briefing point.

Gorilla’s Nest

From USD 750 per person per night, sharing

Surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest awakens a wild spirit of adventure. A place that encourages you to gaze into the mirror through eye-opening encounters with majestic mountain gorillas and experience the story of Rwanda. Individual free-standing lodges and suites sit suspended over sprawling gardens at eye level with the tall eucalyptus trees and volcanic surroundings.

Singita Kwitonda Lodge

From USD 1,950 Per adult per night, sharing

Set right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, Singita Kitonda’s eight luxurious suites feature a private heated plunge pool, wellness treatment area, fireplaces, and large timber-framed windows that welcome breathtaking scenery and volcano views inside. The lodge’s dramatic setting features woven ceilings and hand-fired terracotta brickwork crafted by local artisans. Its on-site vegetable garden provides fresh produce for Kwitonda’s farm-to-table culinary journey. Kwitonda is the closest to the park boundary, but trekkers have to drive 40 minutes to the park’s briefing point.

Mountain Gorilla View Lodge

From USD 280 per person per night, sharing

Sensitively designed and built using local, sustainable resources, the lodge’s 30 cottages are well spaced from each other and come complete with fireplaces and en suite bathrooms. The views from the lodge and your room are impressive – rugged, forest-covered mountains steaming with mist and mystery – and you will see birds and monkeys in the gardens as you stroll around and soak up the scenery. Daily performances of traditional Rwandan songs and dances add to the unique African atmosphere. The lodge is about a 40-minute drive to the gorilla trekking briefing point.

Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

From USD 970 per person per night, sharing

Surrounded by the tropical Volcanoes National Park rainforests, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge’s guests can unwind in their choice of stone cottage or suites, each with a large sitting room, fireplace, stylish ensuite bathroom, and private veranda. The stone buildings feature traditional terracotta tile roofs and polished wooden floors. Scrumptious menus can be savored in the cozy dining room or al fresco on the outside deck, with its breath-taking views of the Virunga volcanoes.

Other Rwanda Attractions

Kigali City, Rwanda capital

Kigali

Rwanda safaris gateway city

Nyungwe National Park, chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda

Nyungwe National Park

Canopy walkway, primates and chimpanzee trekking adventures

Akagera National Park, visit Rwanda for big five viewing in Akagera

Akagera National Park

Big 5 game drives, birding & boat safaris

Visit Rwanda Q&A

Safety is a priority for most travelers, and Rwanda is one of the safest countries not just in Africa, but in the world: Rwanda handled the Covid-19 pandemic impressively with a 0.6% death rate and great standards of tour Rwanda operation that see the country growing back its visitors after the pandemic.

In 2015, the country ranked fifth globally and first on the continent in Gallup’s Law and Order Index, which measures how safe people feel walking home at night. Violent crime is near nonexistent, and the terrorist threats that have plagued other East African destinations in the past have not affected Rwanda since the genocide. Rwanda is safe to visit.

Must Read: Is it safe to travel to Rwanda

The following Rwanda entry requirements are mandatory for all inbound travellers:

  • All travelers arriving in Rwanda must have a negative COVID-19 certificate. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours of departure (meaning travelers must be tested and get results within 5 days of their first flight). Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted.
  • All travelers arriving in Rwanda must complete the passenger locator form and upload the COVID-19 test certificate prior to arrival. Please see passenger locator form and list of designated transit hotels on www.rbc.gov.rw.
  • All travelers arriving or transiting through Rwanda will be screened upon entry and take a second RT-PCR test to confirm the negative results of the test done prior to arrival.
  • All travelers are required to wait 24 hours for the results of their COVID-19 test in a designated transit hotel. All COVID-19 prevention measures announced by the Ministry of Health must be respected during waiting period.
  • The Government of Rwanda has negotiated special rates at designated transit hotels for the 24 hour waiting period. Should a guest wish to remain in the hotel after.
Once at the hotel, the process is as following:
  1. Travelers will be tested for COVID-19 and there will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD). For further information on payment method for COVID-19 test please visit www.rbc.gov.rw
  2. Test results will be received by SMS or email, and the turnaround time for results is 24hrs from the time a sample is collected.
  3. Upon receiving a negative test result, travelers will be invited to check out or may extend their stay in the same hotel at applicable hotel rates.
  4. If a traveler’s test result is positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.

Exit Requirements

  • All travelers departing from Rwanda must test negative for COVID-19. The only accepted test is a SARS-CoV 2 Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) performed within 120 hours before departure. Other tests, such as Rapid Diagnostics Test (RDTs), are not accepted. We encourage travelers to book and pay for their tests at least 2 days prior to departure through the online platform available on www.rbc.gov.rw
  • Travelers from neighboring countries planning to start their international travel from Rwanda will be screened at points of entry and taken to transit hotels where samples will be taken for a COVID-19 test. They are requested to arrive at designated transit hotels at least 48 hours before departure where they will await their test results. There will be a medical team to assist for a total cost of 60 USD (includes 50 USD for the test and a medical service fee of 10 USD).
  • If the traveler’s test results are positive for COVID-19 (even if asymptomatic) while in Rwanda, they will be treated as indicated in the National Covid-19 Management Guidelines until they have fully recovered, at their own cost. We encourage all travelers to have international travel insurance.

A direct flight to Kigali from London with Rwandair (a national carrier) takes about 9 hours 54 minutes and there are flights every day of the week. Other direct flights include Johannesburge, Amstadam, Istambul, Doha, Dubai and others. This was one of the reasons Rwanda is a destination of choice. The fact that you can take a direct flight to a travel destination is always very encouraging!

Foreigners who intend to visit Rwanda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa once you arrive at Kigali International Airport. However, if you intend to do an East Africa tour, there is the option of purchasing a single tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya at US$100. More reason to tour Rwanda’s great attractions.

In the wake of Covid-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid contact with the visa process at entry point and make sure you have your visa before you jet in. Thanks to technology, this can be done online with little or no hustle as long you have the requirements to getting the visa like passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and other Covid standard requirements by the government. Here are links to help you get started: https://www.migration.gov.rw/anounce/online-visa/

Must read: Rwanda Safety Information

It’s no exaggeration, Kigali is the cleanest and greenest African city. The government encourages citizens to plant trees/grass in their homes and need a permit to cut down any tree. It is also a crime to walk on lawns in Kigali and you get fined $2 if you are caught walking on one.

Rwanda’s capital is on the move. From its psychedelic Easter egg of a convention center to car-free zones and yes, Wi-Fi cafes that dole out freshly spun smoothies, locally roasted coffee, and homemade scones (Café Neo, Bourbon Coffee), Kigali is making a mad dash toward modernity. Absorb the bright lights of Rwanda’s future at the Inema Arts Center, where promising young painters debut their best work amid weekly yoga classes and cocktail hours.

The tagline “Remarkable Rwanda” is apt as the Rwandans are truly impressive. The country and its people have come a long way from the genocide in 1994 and now live in peace and harmony. They are very welcoming to tourists and are always willing to help.

The land of 1,000 hills lives up to the greenery expectations with exceptionally gorgeous landscapes. The entire country is spread across various hills with abundant green confortably earning its name “Land of a thousand hills”. Potatoes, carrots, kale, chard, tea, cassava, sugarcane, coffee and passion fruit are key crops grown in Rwanda.

These horrific killings, aimed at wiping out an entire tribe, is easily one of the worst massacres to happen on the African continent in modern times. With genocide museums dotted across the country, the Rwandan people have documented this ugly past to the very last detail so the world can learn from it. Kigali Genocide Memorial is a must visit for everyone on a tour Rwanda vacation.

If you are an animal and nature lover, you’ll know that Rwanda is home to one third of the world’s population of mountain gorillas (the others are in Congo and Uganda). There are only about 1064 mountain gorillas remaining in the world and they can only survive in the wild. This means that to enjoy this one of a kind experience, you’ll have to “visit” them in their home.

To see gorillas in Rwanda, book a gorilla permit with Nkuringo Safaris for inside Volcanoes National Park, one of Africa’s oldest national parks, and our local experts will lead you on a daily guided gorilla trek that tops out at eight visitors per gorilla family. The only other two countries that we offer the same experience—in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—require more vigorous hikes for seasoned hikers.

A gorilla permit in Rwanda currently (2020/21) costs US$1,500 per person per trek.

Rwanda Gorilla Tours

After acquiring lions and with the introduction black rhinos in Akagera National Park, Rwanda is once again a prime Africa safari BIG FIVE destination. With elephants, buffalo, and a wide variety of antelope, you’ll get the full savanna experience and the added bonus of the park’s river boat cruises, which include rare encounters with crocodiles and hippos. Akagera provides campgrounds and tents for a small fee, but honestly, “glamping” on the edge of Lake Ihema at the Ruzizi Tented Lodge is the way to go. Even better? All proceeds benefit the park.

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