Volcanoes National Park is part of the Virunga Massif that straddles three countries – Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda – and home to six towering, extinct volcanoes that penetrate the clouds. Its lower slopes are covered in bamboo forest, with a rich, otherworldly woodland of hagenia and hypericum trees, festooned with lichens and old man’s beard on the mid-slopes. Home to some 480 mountain gorillas, this park offers one of the most unbelievable wildlife viewing opportunities in the world.
Above the lower slopes of the forest is the alpine zone with its bizarre lobelia and senecio plants and seasonal snow on the top of Mount Karisimbi. Together with Uganda’s Mgahinga National Park and Virunga National Park, Volcanoes National Park makes up a 44 800-hectare (110 000-acre) conservation area that is a World Heritage Site. The park was gazetted in 1925 in order to help protect these rare apes and is Africa’s oldest national park.
Dian Fossey made what was then known as the Parc National des Volcans her base in the 1970s and 1980s and her research changed the way this great ape species was viewed and protected. Volcanoes National Park is thus considered the best place in East Africa to track gorillas, thanks to its easy access to ten habituated gorilla groups.
The lush slopes of the volcanoes provide an appropriately dramatic natural setting for what is perhaps the most poignant and thrilling wildlife experience to be had anywhere – trekking to see the famous mountain gorillas. There is a reason seeing the mountain gorillas is on so many bucket lists: it is both grounding, humbling and exhilarating to experience these humanlike primates in the flesh. It is the subtle nuances of human behaviour, their knowing eyes and sheer power which makes the mountain gorilla so captivating.
Aside from the gorillas, other mammals that call the park home include golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, elephant, tree hyrax and bushbuck. Some 178 bird species are found here too, including at least 13 endemic to the Virunga area such as the Rwenzori turaco, Rwenzori batis, Archer’s robin-chat, red-faced woodland-warbler and Rwenzori Apalis.
Rwanda is an astonishing country. With a traumatic recent history, it is a testament to the Rwandan people’s strength of character that it stands today as a wonderful place for tourists to visit and enjoy. The scenery is beautiful, the primate viewing exceptional and the cities pristine. It is not just the primates which are an attraction here, but the country as a whole; it is a fascinating place to get lost in for a week or two.
Rwanda is an astonishing country. The scenery is beautiful, the primate viewing exceptional and the cities pristine.
Nyungwe Forest National Park is the largest mountain rainforest on the entire African continent, home to over 13 different species of primate and 20% of all the apes in Africa.
Although Rwanda is better known for gorilla viewing rather than game viewing, Akagera National Park is beginning to flourish as an exceptional place for a safari.