Volcanoes National Park

Perhaps best known as the home of the rare mountain gorilla, the Virungas are that and so much more. Trekking through the park in far northwest Rwanda, one will find a tapestry of sensory delights. The visitor in the rainforest can hear the calls of birds and monkeys, and through the forest see the peaks of the ancient volcanoes. In addition to the rainforest, the park offers evergreen and bamboo forest, grassland, swamp and heath.

Rwanda also known as the land of “Gorillas in the Mist” has its star tourist attraction in the Mountain Gorillas. The giant but gentle primates were the subject of the late Dian Fossey who dedicated her life to their protection and conservation. Her detailed work is best seen in the international acclaimed film “Gorillas in the Mist”, which was shot in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

The Parc National des Volcans (PNV) is part of the Virunga Conservation Area and covers more than 125 km². PNV is home of five Virunga volcanoes: Sabyinyo (3.674 m), Gahinga (3.474 m), Bisoke (3711 m), Muhabura (4.127 m), and the Karisimbi, the highest volcano with an altitude of 4.507 m. All five volcanoes are extinct, the active ones are located in Congo. Two of them erupted recently; the Nyiragongo erupted in January 2002 and Nyamulagira in July 2002.

The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+).

The mountain gorillas spend most of their time in the hagenia woodlands and bamboo forests. During the raing season when new bamboo shoots are growing, the gorillas spend more time foraging in the bamboo forests (base altitude). The climb to the natural habitat of bamboo forest and Hagenia woodlands offers fantastic views.

The PNV was Dian Fossey’s base a long time ago (She died on the 26th of December 1985), and it is at the Karisoke Research Center that during 18 years she carried out her study on mountain gorillas.

The park was closed for tourism in 1991 when the war broke out and was reopened again in July 1999. The numbers of visitors are increasing every day and the PNV regains its former reputation as the best organized and most popular mountain gorilla sanctuary.

There are 4 gorilla groups habituated for tourism, the Sabinyo group has been divided up in two:

Susa group has 35 individuals

Amahoro group has 11 individuals

Sabyinyo A – group has 13 individuals

Sabyinyo B – group has 4 individuals (breakaway group)

Group 13 has 7 individuals

Excursions

The lake circuit to the lakes Bulera and Ruhondo offers breath taking sceneries. Unfortunately the dirt road needs to be repared and its actual state is quite dangerous due to the incredible steep hills.

 

Highlights

Gorilla viewing, a day excursion up to the top of the Mt Sabinyo or a visit to the grave of Dian Fossey on the edges of Mt Sabinyo. The Rwanda Tourism Office (ORTPN) is thinking to reopen the Mt Karisimbi again to hikers and mountaineers.

Distance (travelling time)

Access to the area starts with Ruhengeri a town about 1h30 drive from Kigali and afterwards to Kinigi (14 km from Ruhengeri) where the park headquarters are located.

Accommodation

The Kinigi guest house (Asoferwa) is situated only 200 meters from the park headquarters and provides comfortable and clean accommodation with breathtaking scenery at the foot of Mt Sabyinyo.

Weather conditions:

Due to the altitude it is generally quite cold, especially during the evenings. Gorilla viewing is possible all the year round.

Opinion

The area is well protected and there is no need for concern about personal security. The rangers are very kind and motivated, and they will do everything possible to make it a pleasant trip. It is still a wonderful place to see the mountain gorilla, and it normally offers excellent opportunities for photos. The gorilla trekking is less strenuous than in Bwindi Impenetrable NP however the altitude may cause difficulties for some visitors and gorillas tend to climb higher during dry season. A good physical condition is also here recommended.

Lake Kivu

After the exciting but perhaps also tiring mountain gorilla trekking safari, chimpanzee trekking and extensive game driving in Akagera National Park, Lake Kivu provides the ideal place for rest and recuperation. For sunbathing, swimming and water sports, the Rwanda Riviera town of Gisenyi is the place to be. If you prefercomplete seclusion for mental and physical relaxation, we recommend the Kibuye Guest House, in the south of Lake Kivu. If you love speed boats, canoe sailing, or just mountain walks and picnics, Kibuye will provide these facilities to your satisfaction.

There are lovely villas along the tree-lined shore… a beautiful white sandy beach… the lake is crystal clear. This is a spot that deserves a longer stay.”

– Daniel Stiles, writing about Gisenyi on Lake Kivu in Swara magazine

Lake Kivu is an extraordinarily beautiful inland sea enclosed by steep, green terraced hills along the Congolese border Three resort towns, Gisenyi, Kibuye and Cyangugu stand on the littoral, connected by a wild roller-coaster road that tumbles through lush plantain fields and relic patches of misty rainforest to offer sweeping views over the blue water.

It is one of the classic road journeys in all of Africa There is also charter boat service on the lake connecting the 3 towns.

Gisenyi, the most developed of these resorts, lays less than an hour’s drive from the Parc des Volcans, and is set on a sandy beach lined with swaying palms and colonial-era hotels that exude an atmosphere of tropical languor. At Kibuye, to its south, Rwanda Safari tourist activities are centred on a modem lakeshore guesthouse overlooking pine-covered hills seemingly transplanted from the Alps. Different again is Cyangugu, close to Nyungwe Forest, whose more subdued tourist development is compensated for by a stirring setting of curving inlets winding into narrow valleys.

Lake Kivu is the largest of numerous freshwater bodies that shimmer in the valleys of Rwanda. Lakes Burera and Ruhondo, close to the gorilla-tracking centre of Ruhengeri, are oft-neglected gem, deep blue waters ringed by steep hills and tall waterfalls, with the nearby Virunga Volcanoes providing a spectacular backdrop.

Away from the main resorts, Rwanda’s lakes offer visitors rewarding glimpses into ancient African lifestyles. Here, fishermen ply the water in dugout canoes unchanged in design for centuries, while colourfully dressed ladies smoke traditional wooden pipes and troubadours strum sweetly on stringed iningire (traditional ‘guitars’) And. the birdlife is fantastic; flotillas of pelicans sail ponderously across the open water majestic crowned cranes preen their golden crests in the surrounding swamps, while jewel-like malachite kingfishers hawk silently above the shore.

Akagera

If it is big game you are looking for, Akagera will not disappoint. Located on the border with Tanzania, Akagera is comprised of swamps, lakes, savannah, woodland and open grassland. The lakes draw out herds of elephant and buffalo, while the savannah typically attracts giraffe and zebra. That is just the beginning! The park hosts, leopard, hyena, lions and more than a dozen types of antelope. Also found in and near the lake are large pods of hippopotami as well as ominous crocodiles basking in the sun.

For the bird-lover, you can be entertained by majestic fish eagles and the large concentration of waterbirds. In the marshes, keep an eye out for the papyrus gonolek and the often sought-after shoebill stork.

Akagera National Park is located in the east of Rwanda. Kibungu is the city that is nearest to the park and the best starting point.

The park covers over 2500 sq km of savannah west of the Kagera River, which denotes the frontier with Tanzania. The park has a variety of wildlife and is a habitat for over 500 different species of birds. There are accommodation facilities on the edge of the park at Gabiro, 100km (60 miles) to the north. It is best not to visit the park in the rainy season (December, March and April) since many of the routes become impassable.

“Akagera, with its complex mix of terrains, vegetation and animal life… is a very special place on earth, a place to preserve at all costs for future generations.”

– Jean Pierre Vande, writing in the award-winning conservation magazine Africa Environment & Wildlife.

Akagera comes as an exciting surprise after the steep cultivated hills and breezy climate that characterizes the rest of the country. Set at a relatively low altitude along the Tanzanian border, this beautiful game reserve protects an archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia and brachystegia bush, interspersed with patches of open grassland and a dozen swamp-fringed lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River.

Set at a relatively low altitude on the border with Tanzania, Akagera National Park could scarcely be more different in mood to the breezy cultivated hills that characterise much of Rwanda.

Dominated scenically by the labyrinth of swamps and lakes that follow the meandering course of the Akagera River, the most remote source of the Nile, this is archetypal African savannah landscape of tangled acacia woodland interspersed with open grassland.

Akagera is, above all, big game country. Herds of elephant and buffalo emerge from the woodland to drink at the lakes, while lucky visitors might stumble across a leopard, a spotted hyena or even a stray lion. Giraffe and zebra haunt the Savannah, and more than a dozen types of antelope inhabit the park, most commonly the handsome chestnut-coated impala, but also the diminutive oribi and secretive bushbuck, as well as the ungainly tsessebe and the world’s largest antelope, the statuesque Cape eland.

Camping alongside the picturesque lakes of Akagera is a truly mystical introduction to the wonders of the African bush. Pods of 50 hippopotami grunt and splutter throughout the day, while outsized crocodiles soak up the sun with their vast jaws menacingly agape.

Magically, the air is torn apart by the unforgettable high dieting of a pair of fish eagles, asserting their status as the avian monarchs of Africa’s waterways.

Lining the lakes are some of the continent densest concentrations of water birds, while the connecting marshes are the haunt of the endangered and exquisite papyrus gonolek, and the bizarre shoebill stork – the latter perhaps the most eagerly sought of all African birds.

Nyungwe Forest

Those especially looking for primates or birds will want to be sure to spend time in Nyungwe National Park. The forest is teeming with a vast array of flora and fauna throughout the park’s 1,000 square kilometres.

Nyungwe’s primates are just one reward for a walk through the forest with its viewing points and waterfalls. There are 13 species, including the chimpanzee, L’Hoest’s monkey and Angola colobus.

Bird enthusiasts can imagine the delight of seeing the great blue turaco, as well as many of the other almost 300 bird species found in the park.

Nyungwe forest is an Albertine rift montane rainforest. The Albertine rift forms the epicentre of Africa’s montane rainforest circle. It is dominated by a series of mountain chains, originating on the Lendu Plateau in northern Uganda and Congo, running south through the Rwenzori mountains, western Rwanda and Burundi, to some isolated massifs on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. The Albertine rift eco-region is one of Africa’s most endemic rich regions.

Nyungwe forest received only recently the status of National Park and became the largest protected high-altitude rainforest of East Africa. It was particularly important to protect the forest reserve when you know that the highest population pressures in Africa are to be found within the Albertine rift and that the forest is the biggest water reservoir for the country.

The highland forest covers 970 km² and has a unique habitat. It’s the only place where we have seen troops of more than 300 colobus monkeys travelling in the trees. The park has 25 % of the primates of Africa with its 13 recorded primate species. It’s a primate nirvana!

The forest has 300 species of birds with 27 Albertine rift endemics and 121 forest species. The flora is particularly rich with 200 species of trees and more than 100 species of orchids! The park has an extensive network of walking trails that leads you through various waterfalls and viewing points. Nyungwe offers scenic views over the forest, Lake Kivu and sometimes also the Virunga.

The primate fauna includes: chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), Rwenzori colobus (colobus angolensis), l’Hoest’s monkey (C.l’hoesti), silver monkey (c.mitisdoggetti), golden monkey (C.mitiskandti), owl-faced monkey (C.hamlyni), red-tailed monkey (C.ascanius), Den’tmona monkey (C.monadenti), vervet monkey (C.aetiops), olive baboon (papioanubis), grey-cheeked mangabey (Cercocebusalbigena) and three species of bushbaby.

The mountains are Africa’s Galapagos Islands – islands encircled by golden monkeys, gorillas and iridescent sun birds, by giant labelias, everlasting flowers, Ruwenzori turacos and all the questions they raise. They deserve greater recognition, protection and study than they have received so far.”

– Jonathan Kingdon, renowned biologist, in his award-winning book Inside Africa.

Nyungwe National Park, extending for almost 1 ,000km2 across the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda, is the largest ‘island’ of montane forest remaining in East or Central Africa: a rich and ancient centre of unparalleled bio diversity and natural wonders. Transected by the surfaced road between Butare and Lake Kivu, Nyungwe and its array of forest inhabitants are also uniquely accessible to casual visitors.

Recently accorded national park status, Nyungwe is rightly celebrated for the rich variety of its flora and fauna.

At least 200 different types of tree are found in the forest, along with hundreds of different flowering plants, including wild begonia, more than 100 species of orchid, and sensational giant Lobelias. Of the large mammals, primates are the most visible, with 13 recorded species representing 25% of the African primate checklist.

Of particular interest are the Angola colobus – delightfully acrobatic arboreal monkeys which move in troops of several hundred – and an estimated 500 chimpanzee, often seen from the forest trails

Recently accorded national park status, Nyungwe is rightly celebrated for the rich variety of its flora and fauna.At least 200 different types of tree are found in the forest, along with hundreds of different flowering plants, including wild begonia, more than 100 species of orchid, and sensational giant Lobelias. Of the large mammals, primates are the most visible, with 13 recorded species representing 25% of the African primate checklist. Of particular interest are the Angola colobus – delightfully acrobatic arboreal monkeys which move in troops of several hundred – and an estimated 500 chimpanzee, often seen from the forest trails during the rainy season. Other primates likely to be encountered over the course of a visit are L’Hoests monkey, silver monkey, velvet monkey, olive baboon, grey-cheeked mangabey, and red-tailed monkey.

Nyungwe is most alluring for its primates: 13 species in all, including humankind’s closest living relative the chimpanzee, as well as the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey and hundred-strong troops of the delightfully acrobatic Angola colobus. The most important ornithological site in Rwanda, Nyungwe harbours almost 300 bird species of which two dozen are restricted to a handful of montane forests on the Albertine Rift.

The avian highlight of Nyungwe is the great blue turaco – an outlandish blue, red and green bird which streams from tree to tree like a procession of streamlined psychedelic turkeys.

An extensive network of well-maintained walking trails leads through the forest to various waterfalls and viewing points. A comfortably rustic rest house and perfectly situated campsite lie alongside the main road, and the reserve can readily be visited as a day trip from the towns of Butare and Cyangugu. Nyungwe does, however deserve more time: anybody who wants to track chimps and see several varieties of smaller primate will need two days there – and dedicated birdwatchers might never want to leave!