There is no other wildlife experience quite like an encounter with mountain gorillas. That precious hour spent in their company – watching the group playing, sulking, teasing each other, eating, or dozing – is extraordinary. Africa’s oldest national park and most famous Rwandan destination for mountain gorilla trekking safaris is Volcanoes National Park.
Volcanoes National Park lies in northwestern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. It is home to five of the eight rainforest and bamboo covered volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains. Gorillas, of course, pay no heed to borders and are known to cross between the countries, although most habituated groups are to be found in Volcanoes National Park.
The massif is home to around half of the world’s precious mountain gorillas – some 400 of them. The park has a historic connection with gorilla conservation. It was the base for the ground-breaking work of primatologist Dian Fossey which started in the late 1960s and is evocatively portrayed in the book and film Gorillas in the Mist.
Volcanoes National Park is also home to range of other mammals including golden monkey, black-fronted duiker, buffalo, Spotted Hyena and bushbuck . There are also reported to be some elephants in the park, though these are now very rare. The park also boasts 178 recorded bird species, with at least 13 species and 16 subspecies endemic to the Virunga and Ruwenzori Mountains.
A hike through the Rwandan caves in Volcanoes is not to be missed if time allows. Some of these caves date back 65 million years and lie within the volcanic region where lava flow layers long ago created the Albertine Rift Valley. The caves offer easy hiking and have brilliant views of cascading lights from the surface, unique rock formations, and a colony of bats. The town of Musanze (more commonly known by its former name Ruhengeri) is the hub of Rwanda’s gorilla trekking tourism, with plenty of cafes, bars and restaurants, and is easily accessible by road, about a 2 hour drive from the capital, Kigali.
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