Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Written by on January 10, 2012 in Destinations, Travel Tips - 43 Comments

Less than a two-hour drive from the rolling hills of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, is Volcanoes National Park. Also known as Parc National des Volcans, it spans 77-miles in the Virunga Mountains.

The park is home to five of the Virunga Mountain range's eight volcanoes.

Bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, Volcanoes National Park is made up of lush rainforests, volcanoes … and gorillas.

It was the first park created in Africa and has overcome struggles to become the tourist attraction it is today. In 1992, it became a battlefield for the Civil War, halting it’s tours because of the dangerous times. It did not open to tourists again until 1999, when it was once again safe for visitors to explore the mountainous region.

Today, visitors come from around the world to catch their own glimpse of a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. With eight family groups in the park, each day guides take visitors on treks up to high altitudes so they can enjoy an hour watching the families interact with each other. Treks to and from these animals can last anywhere from one to four hours, depending on the family’s location.

There are many rules to remember when trekking for gorillas, such as staying more than 7 meters from them at all times.

 

The treks begin with a climb through farmland.

 

En route to the next leg of the journey, children emerge from their huts and working to watch the tourists.

One little boy stands back from the others, watching trekkers from a distance.

The farmland, dotted with huts, provides an up-close look at life in the country.

After the farmland, trekkers enter the thick bamboo forest, where day turns to night and shoots tower high into the air.

The bamboo forest makes up 30 percent of the park's area.

And then … after a strenuous trek … come the gorillas.

The park was home to renowned gorilla research Dian Fossey. She dedicated her life to these creatures and is buried nearby the park's research center.

A gorilla poses for the camera.

There is only one silverback in a gorilla family, and he's the one in charge.

A mom and baby survey their habitat.

Planning a trip?

Only 64 visitors are given permits (which cost around $500 each for non-nationals) each day to trek for gorillas. To request a permit, people must go through the Rwanda Tourism Board and make reservations. For more information, e-mail [email protected]

For those trekking, it is important to pack right. Sturdy shoes and long pants (to protect against ant bites and nettles) are a must. Comfortable clothing (that can get dirty) and layers are ideal, as the climate will change from the base to where the gorillas are located.

Ruhengeri is located near the park and offers a variety of lodging options for different budgets.

Want a first-hand experience? Click here to read about my trekking adventure.

 

How do you get from place to place? There are plenty of options to get around,  like deciding on a cheap car hire on holiday.

 

About the Author

Diana Edelman is a travel writer and expat currently residing in Chiang Mai, Thailand. She is a former career breaker and long term solo traveler. Today, she helps promote responsible elephant tourism and is the co-founder of #RTTC, a weekly chat on Twitter focusing on responsible tourism. When she isn’t writing, Diana handles the PR and social media for Save Elephant Foundation, which runs the popular Elephant Nature Park. Her writing as appeared in About.com, Thought Catalog, The Huffington Post, Matador Network, Travel + Escape, Luna Luna, Vegas Seven, World Nomads, Viator, CheapOair, OneTravel and more.

43 Comments on " Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda "

  1. Christy January 10, 2012 at 9:43 pm · Reply

    Those photos of the gorillas are amazing! I still can’t believe I haven’t been to Africa.

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm · Reply

      Thank you!! Christy, I never thought I would have ended up in Rwanda. It was a very impromptu decision. I couldn’t believe it was happening until I touched down in Kigali!

    • Robert (@Kenya Safari) January 17, 2012 at 4:31 am · Reply

      Its a place you should go. I have only accessed the Gorillas in the Massifs from Ugandas Mghahinga National Park and the view of the Rwanda series of volcanoes in the mist is just breathtaking.

      • Diana January 19, 2012 at 12:58 pm · Reply

        It really is. The way that mist rolls in … surreal.

  2. Laura January 10, 2012 at 9:50 pm · Reply

    I can’t even imagine how it would be to see gorillas like this. Sounds like an epic trek. Your photos are really great!

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Laura! It was definitely an epic trek. And a very cool experience!

  3. santafetraveler January 10, 2012 at 10:57 pm · Reply

    What great photos. The black and white of the hut looks very vintage.

    • Diana January 14, 2012 at 1:16 am · Reply

      Sometimes I have too much fun with photo editing :) Thank you!! :)

  4. Nina F January 10, 2012 at 11:11 pm · Reply

    A gorilla trek in Volcanoes National Park is now on my bucket list. Your images make me want to sign up tonight.

    I did not know about its being Africa’s first national park but of course was aware of the civil wars. So good that the area is re-opened for tourism again.

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:18 pm · Reply

      Oh, thank you! I am glad they made you want to sign up!

  5. Zablon Mukuba January 10, 2012 at 11:53 pm · Reply

    i did the gorilla trek and i was very afraid, am glad you werent

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:17 pm · Reply

      Ya know … I never really thought about being afraid. There was only one moment where I got a little nervous, and that was when the silverback started to move towards us. I think I felt pretty safe because our guides and trackers had weapons should anything bad happen.

  6. Sherry January 11, 2012 at 3:45 am · Reply

    Wow, its such a lush part of Africa. Though, at $500 just for the permit alone , its definitely an expensive adventure. Gorilla photos are beautiful!

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm · Reply

      It is expensive. I was very fortunate to have been a guest of the tourism board, otherwise I don’t think I would have been able to do this. The area definitely is very lush! And, thank you :) I enjoyed taking the photos.

  7. Angela January 11, 2012 at 3:46 am · Reply

    These gorillas are gorgeous, their eyes are so sweet, your photos make me want to give them a cuddle, which is probably not a good idea :P

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:15 pm · Reply

      Haha, no. It is definitely NOT a good idea! They aren’t like elephants. But, they certainly ARE gorgeous! And do look super cuddle-y.

  8. Aisleen January 11, 2012 at 5:00 am · Reply

    Beautiful gorilla pics! Sounds like a great trip. Expensive, but then some experiences are priceless…

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:14 pm · Reply

      It was a wonderful trip. The trek was really hard, but being able to watch the gorillas was worth every moment. And yes, some experiences are definitely priceless.

  9. Sophie January 11, 2012 at 5:21 am · Reply

    Seeing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda or Uganda is high on my list. You got some gorgeous shots here, both of those beautiful animals and the lush vegetation.

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:13 pm · Reply

      Thank you!! It was one of those experiences I never imagined having, and one I was extremely fortunate to have.

  10. Heather January 11, 2012 at 12:54 pm · Reply

    Going to Rwanda is on my bucket list, its the topic of my senior thesis. I’m going to have to add something like this to my time there! Thanks for sharing!

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm · Reply

      So cool, Heather!! Rwanda is a really fascinating country. Thank you for taking the time to stop and read the post.

  11. Kurt W January 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm · Reply

    Diana, excellent post. What lens were you using for the gorillas shots?

    • Diana January 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Kurt. I’m actually using a Kodak Easy Share for those shots.

  12. Bobbi Lee Hitchon January 12, 2012 at 4:57 am · Reply

    This is probably one of the most incredible travel opportunities I’ve heard off. You got so close to them too. I really loved reading this one D!

    • Diana January 14, 2012 at 1:13 am · Reply

      Thank you!! It was a really incredible experience. A very unexpected experience, but absolutely phenomenal!

  13. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista January 12, 2012 at 1:43 pm · Reply

    Those gorillas are amazing! This would be a fantastic adventure that will go on my list of things to do. Thanks for sharing this with us all.

    • Diana January 14, 2012 at 1:17 am · Reply

      Debbie, it really is a fantastic adventure! A quick one, but simply amazing! Thank YOU for taking the time to read about it. :)

  14. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures January 12, 2012 at 7:34 pm · Reply

    Ummmmmmmmmmmmmm AMAZING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I seriously gasped when I saw the gorillas.

    • Diana January 14, 2012 at 1:12 am · Reply

      It really was amazing, Andi. Hard, but the rewards were worth it. It is one of those things I would recommend, despite the price tag. I would have gasped when I saw the gorillas, too, but we had to be pretty silent. :)

  15. jade January 13, 2012 at 4:43 am · Reply

    Looks like an intense but rewarding hike. We really want to get to Africa… hopefully soon!

    • Diana January 14, 2012 at 1:11 am · Reply

      The hike was the most challenging hike in my life. Clinging to vines. Climbing up muddy embankments. Steep slopes at high altitudes (and I loathe steep). But, to see those gorillas … man. I hope you get to Africa soon! The places I have visited on the continent leave my hungry for more.

  16. Raymond @ Man On The Lam January 16, 2012 at 10:47 pm · Reply

    500 bucks!! Yikes! I think it’s worth it though…VERY jealous of you!

    • Diana January 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm · Reply

      I didn’t pay for it, but I think it is worth it, for sure.

  17. Dayna January 18, 2012 at 11:09 am · Reply

    The photos are incredible. Since a couple of my friends have visited Uganda and Rwanda I have really been dying to get to Sub-Saharan Africa (or Africa in general, really). I want to see some gorillas!

    • Diana January 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm · Reply

      Do. It. :)

  18. Tawny- Captain and Clark January 18, 2012 at 5:28 pm · Reply

    Your photos are stunning and now my heart is yearning for Rwanda more than ever! Thank you for sharing. What an incredible experience!

    • Diana January 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm · Reply

      Thank YOU for commenting and enjoying the post! Rwanda was nothing like I expected and absolutely amazing (not that I didn’t expect it to be amazing). It definitely is a country I would put on a list to visit.

  19. Eric @ Trans-Americas Journey January 18, 2012 at 6:15 pm · Reply

    Awesome pics. Seeing the gorillas is high up on our wish list.

    • Diana January 19, 2012 at 12:53 pm · Reply

      Thank you, Eric! It is definitely something I think people should put on their wish list.

  20. Laura February 17, 2012 at 7:40 am · Reply

    How would our lives be if we would move there, in the shadow of a volcano?

  21. Mary @ Green Global Travel April 5, 2012 at 12:03 pm · Reply

    It’s one of our dreams to see Mountain Gorillas. Great photos. I love the expressions on their faces. Amazing!

    • Diana April 8, 2012 at 8:15 pm · Reply

      Thank you! The gorillas were SO cool!!

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