Volcanoes National Park is a protected area set in the north-west of Rwanda, very close to the border lines with Uganda and the Republic of Congo. Its name is due to the five volcanoes included in its 160 sq km territory, no one of which is active today. The record of this park is to be the very first National Park to be created in Africa, back in 1925. No other state had thought about a protected natural area, before. But this was necessary because the beautiful mountain gorillas were in danger and almost extinct.
The first part of the Volcanoes National Park was in Uganda, later it was extended to both Rwanda and the Republic of Congo (1929). The park became famous worldwide because of the studies of Dr Dian Fossey – who also lived there until she was killed in 1985 – and because of the civil war. The natural area was a battlefield for 7 years, from 1992 to 1999. It reopened to tourism only in year 2000.

What to see at Volcanoes National Park

What to see at  Volcanoes National Park? Volcanoes, of course. Mounts Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabinyio are the most important attractions of the place. Two of them – Bisoke and Gahinga – are considered as “dormant” volcanoes: this means they could still provoke eruptions, though we do not know when. Muhabura, Karisimbi and Sabinyio are instead extinct, no more dangerous.
Mount Karisimbi (4507 metres asl) is the 11th highest mountain in Africa, and its name means “snow”. It is a stratovolcano which has finished its activity long time ago and now is just a part of the beautiful landscape. Mt Bisoke’s body (3711 m) is in Congo, but its top crater is in the Rwandese territory, so is a part of its eastern flank. It also keeps two crater lakes. Muhabura (4127 m) with its perfect triangular shape is visible from far away, this is why its name (=the guide) has a special meaning here. The Gahinga (3473 m) is the greenest volcano of the range, all covered in afro-mountain vegetation. Finally, Mt Sabinyio (3669 m) is the most scenic and home of the Rwandese communities of mountain gorillas.
Volcanoes in the sunset
photo by Craig R Sholley

Animals of the Park

When you go safari at the Volcanoes National Park you can choose which volcano to explore. Or you can enjoy a visit to the animals’ habitat of the different mountains. Walking among bamboo forests, Hagenia-Hypericum woods, lavic deserts or swamps, you will have the chance to meet: golden monkeys, buffalos, duikers, spotted hyenas, some rare elephants – if you are lucky.
The main protagonist of the park is the mountain gorilla, of course. The communities mainly live on Mt Sabinyio, but you can learn a lot about them also by visiting Dian Fossey’s Centre, on the way between volcano Karisimbi and volcano Bisoke. They call it the “Karisoke Gorillas Centre”.

More information about Volcanoes National Park

At the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, you can of course admire animals – especially gorillas – in a varied choice of safari trips. But you can also go visiting the monkeys’ habitat, or explore the volcanoes. If you love caves, there are plenty of them to visit especially at Musanze. You can do birdwatching at Iby Iwacu Village or enjoy the twin crater lakes Bulera and Buhndo.
In order to enter the Volcanoes National Park you must have a special Gorilla Permission that allows you to meet the famous animals.
There are different entrance ticket to the park and for using its services. The official page of the Volcanoes National Park will show you the complete list.
It takes a 3-hour drive to get to the National Park from the Rwandese capital, Kigali. You will land at the International Airport and then book a taxi or a private bus to the park. You can get there also with a rented car, on your own, but we do not recommend it.
volcanoes national park
Credit: by Sarel Kromer.