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Rwanda’s tourism sector has stood for long mainly because of the unique tourist attractions and the most exciting tourist activities in the Volcanoes National Park. The park is located in Musanze province, northwestern part of the country. It is mainly credited for its remarkable five of the eight Great Virunga Volcanoes which include Gahinga volcano, mount Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Muhabura and Karisimbi; the unique endangered mountain gorillas, Rivers and Lakes, Caves and others. Volcanoes National Park was gazetted around 1925 which makes it one of the ancient conversational areas in the whole of Africa. There is a lot more in offer for visitors to excite their minds while on safari to this protected area.

Below are some of incredible tourist activities for you to engage in Volcanoes National Park.

1- Mountain gorilla trekking

Mountain gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes National Park plays a crucial role towards Rwanda’s tourism sector.  About ten (10) families have been designated for visitor to catch a glimpse of these unique creatures while they are still in their natural habitat. Among others include the Susa A family, Sabyinyo, Amahoro, Hirwa, Ugenda, Agashya, Kwitonda, Umubano, Karisimbi and Bwenge among others. Like any gorilla destination, trekking permit is a must to have in the Rwanda Volcanoes National Park and permits are obtainable at $1500 per tourist. One permit allows you to track one habituated group in a group of eight visitors. Permits are accessible through a local tour operator or through the Rwanda Development Board head office. Your trek takes you from one hour to eight hours but this will depend on your speed, nature of the habitat and location of the gorilla family that will be allocated to you to track. Volcanoes National Park is about 2 to 3 hours’ drive from Kigali International Airport.

2- Golden monkey tracking

Besides tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, the Volcanoes National Park is where silver meets gold! The golden monkeys are a few fascinating creatures that are worth tracking while on safari in Rwanda. They are largely found within the Great Virunga Mountains ranges of Volcanoes National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda. The golden monkeys are a sub species of the Sykes monkey also famous as the blue monkey. There are 2 groups that have been habituated for visitors to track all of which consist of 80 individuals. The adventure begins at 7:00am local time. For lifetime experiences with these striking creatures, permits can be purchased at $100 per visitor. The trek can last up to four hours with only one hour of face to face encounter with the primates. Most of these unique species largely live within the bamboo forest of Volcanoes National Park and can be sighted playing or feeding.

3- Bird watching

Volcanoes National Park is exceptionally one of the Important Birding Areas (IBAs) in Rwanda. It refuges more than 200 unique species of birds with mainly the Albertine rift endemics. The notables for you to spot include the Rwenzori Turacos, Rwenzori double collared sunbird, Handsome Francolin, strange weaver, dusky crimson wing, collared apalis, archer’s ground robin, Grauer’s rush warbler, red faced woodland warbler and many more. Birding safaris can be combined with primate safaris in Volcanoes National Park while you are on safari in Rwanda.

4- Dian Fossey tomb hike

The Dian Fossey tomb hike is one of the remarkable activities and experiences that you shouldn’t miss out while on safari in Volcanoes National Park. This adventure allows you to explore more about Dian Fossey’s conservation life. She is credited for devoted work to save mountain gorillas that today the world boasts about. She is credited for her book which later turned into “Gorillas in the Mist” movie. This mainly talks about Dian Fossey’s life and her research camp in the Volcanoes National Park. The treks usually take up to 3 hours where you find the beloved gorillas “Digit” and her resting site. She established Karisoke research center to help her research work around 1967 and she carried out research on mountain gorillas for 18 years. Unfortunately, she was mysteriously murdered in 1985. The hike to the tomb site rewards visitors with the stunning features and wildlife species, birds and not to forget primates. This lifetime adventure currently costs $75 per person.

5- Volcano hiking

Volcanoes National Park offers refuge to several volcano mountains which are worthy hiking while on safari in Rwanda. For hikes life changing hikes, you can climb Mount Bisoke which features the most beautiful Crater Lake on its top. The adventure takes visitors up to (7) seven hours plus the two that you spend while descending back to the starting point. The hikes start at 7:00am with briefing from park official and then you will be assigned a guide. Mount Bisoke stands at 3711 meters above sea level and it features a number of stunning floras, and offers opportunity for visitors to catch a glimpse of the remarkable views of Virunga Volcanoes and the Crater Lake “Ngezi.” The hikes are less strenuous and even a person without experience can hike through it.

6- Hiking through the Karisimbi Mountain

This volcano features as the highest out of all the 8 Great Virunga Volcanoes. It stretches up to 4507 meters above sea level and features as the sixth highest in Africa. To hike to its summit, you need two days and above where you will first camp around 3700 meters and catch a glimpse of stunning Mount Bisoke. The second day takes you to the summit and return to where you started from. The hike rewards visitors with views of many geographical features, vegetation and sceneries. This mountain was named after amasimbi which denotes white shell in Kinyarwanda due to its white capped summit. The trek is breathtaking compared to Bisoke Mountain but the experiences thereafter are worthy it.

7- The twin Lakes walk

Rwanda comes with twin like Lakes that join each other. They include Lake Bulera and Ruhondo. The hike to these Lakes rewards visitors with magical views of not only the Lakes but also the Russumo waterfalls. You will also meet local residents paddling the canoes while others riding the wooden boats. The walk also comes with views of several bird-life like cinnamon breasted bee eater, common moorhen, paradise fly catchers, and stonechat, grey throated tit, long crested eagle, African marsh harrier and many more. This activity can be done in the morning and afternoon.

8- Cave exploration

Musanze caves feature among the few most historical sites in Rwanda. They are situated within Musanze town just adjacent to Volcanoes National Park. The caves have existed for over 65 million years and they have 31 entrances and extend up to 21 kilometers inside. They were formed from the flow of Basalt layers of Lava that spread form Virunga Volcanoes of Sabyinyo and Bisoke. The musanze caves offered home to many people as well as storage of supplies and food by the kings of Rwanda during the war time. The exploration lasts for two hours and visitors pay $50. It can be done in the afternoon with an escort. Other caves include the Busasamana caves which are located one kilometer and links up to many other caves such as Kazenze, Mudende and Busasamana regions. There is also Mugongo cave for you to explore and all these are among the famous 52 caves.

9- Buhanga sacred forest nature walks

Buhanga forest lies outside the Volcanoes National Park boundaries. Buhanga sacred forest features the rarest flora and diverse historical and cultural experiences of the Rwandan traditions. It is believed that most monarchical kings of Rwanda used to bath around the forest prior taking over kingship and at the end the site was referred to as a sacred place and people never cultivated on it or even cut down trees. It is also believed to sometimes change colors during certain seasons which mark the year. The walks through this forest can be done in the morning or afternoon. The trails are made of Lava stones and they extend throughout the forest.

10- Cultural encounters

For cultural experiences, visitors can pay a visit to Iby’Iwacu cultural village. This a local community project set forth by ex-poachers at the park but today they have chosen to support conservation and protection of mountain gorillas and other wildlife species. The project was largely to transform poachers from their acts to support conservation efforts in the park. You can combine cultural experiences in this village with gorilla trekking safaris and explore more on traditional styles.

In conclusion, Volcanoes National Park rewards visitors on safari in Rwanda with a number of exciting and unforgettable experiences given its distinct activities that are worthy participating. However, access to the activity centers requires a strong 4x4 car due to the nature of the roads. To those on self drive tours, you can hire a 4x4 car in Kigali at good price and recommended cars include Land cruiser, Rav4 and others.

Located in the southern part of Kivu province, west of Albertine Rift Valley, Kahuzi Biega National Park is remarkably one of the most stunning conservation areas in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is one of the incredible UNESCO World Heritage Sites that feature largely Eastern Lowland gorillas. Other UNESCO World Heritage Sites in DR Congo include Virunga National Park famously known for gorilla tracking, Okapi Wildlife Reserve, Salonga National Park and Garamba National park among others.

This conservation area covers an area of 6000 square kilometers which makes it one of the largest parks in the Congo. It straddles between altitude 700 and 3300 meters. Nearly, 10% of the protected area’s landscape features high mountains of mainly the extinct volcanoes that include Mount Kahuzi and Mount Biega where the park derived its name. Its establishment evolves from a zoological reserve in 1937 on mount Kahuzi with the aim of preserving the eastern lowland gorillas by the Belgian colonial government.

Before the reserve occupied an area of about 750 kilometers but it was reduced to 600kilometers in 1970 leading to creation of the Kahuzi Biega National Park with about 300 individuals of lowland gorillas. Later, it increased up to 6000 kilometers in 1975 and it was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1980. Kahuzi Biega National Park comes with two wet seasons each year and receives an annual rainfall of about 1200mm to 1800mm. This falls from the month of April to May and from October to January and the temperatures range from 19 degrees Celsius to 21 degrees Celsius.

The notable tourist attractions in this stunning protected area include the following;

Flora

Kahuzi Biega National Park comes with spectacular tropical rain forest with over 1178 species of plants. It makes up part of the Congo basin that features marshland and Riverine forest flora, thick wet equatorial rain forest in the west low land sector while the eastern mountain area comes with endless forest vegetation ranging from 600 to 2600 meters in altitude.

 Eastern Lowland gorillas

The Eastern Lowland gorillas form the largest part of tourist attractions in Kahuzi Biega National Park. These rare apes also make up the biggest number of all the sub species of gorillas in the world. They come in a jet black coat which changes into silver at maturity time just like the rare mountain gorillas. The Eastern Lowlands can be distinguished using their short muzzle, big hands, body, shorter body and head hair. These unique creatures mainly live in widest altitudinal range unlike other gorilla sub species as they can be found within the low-land area, transitional and mountainous altitudinal tropical rain forests. They are famous as the most harmonious and social living in families of 5 to 30 individuals with the silverback also known as an alpha male being their leader in the group whose responsibility entirely is to safe guard the rest of the members and establishing a home range of the family. Kahuzi Biega National Park refuges about 181 individuals of these amazing apes in the wild.

The gestation period of a female lowland gorilla is about eight and half months and breastfeeds for at least one year. They young one first crawls for about 9 weeks and starts walking after 35 weeks. They take from 3 to 4 years while with their mothers and later they can start their independent life and mating takes place at around 11 or 12 years. The alpha male gorilla can enter into deadly fight once he encounters a strange family resulting into injuries. At this moment, lots of hooting, rising on their legs, slapping and tearing vegetation, beating their chest with their cupped hands, thumping the ground with their palms and kicking with leg will be the order of the day.

Eastern Lowland gorillas depend mainly on fruits, seeds, plants, stems and tree barks as well as other minor insects especially termites and ants. Males can weigh about 163 kilograms and females can be half the male’s weight. The males can stand straight up to 5 inch and females about 5 or less. They have longer arms compared to their legs and they are shy but social, they are diurnal species and hence mostly active around day time, their lifespan reached up to 50 years while in the wild and they mostly have over 25 vocalization sounds that they use mainly for communication.

 Other wildlife species

A part from the unique eastern lowland gorillas, the park also comes with other fascinating species especially the unique eastern chimpanzees, forest elephants, owl faced monkey, bongo, forest buffaloes and eastern need clawed Galago, mount Kahuzi African climbing mouse, forest hog, Anubis baboon, leopards, hippos and many more.

Birds

Kahuzi Biega National Park is a home to about 349 distinct species of bird. The notable birds to spot include 4 species of which are listed on the IUCN Redbook list and they are the Yellow crested helmet shrike, Congo peafowl, Rockefeller’s sunbird and African green broadbill and many more. There also 44 species of amphibians, 69 reptile species and many more.

Mount Kahuzi

Kahuzi volcano stretches up to 3317 meters above sea level and it comes with the tallest peak in the in the whole of Kahuzi Biega National Park. It also covers the western side of Lake Kivu on the Albertine rift valley. It experienced its eruption effect about 12000 year ago and it inhabits most of the vegetation zones which are also determined by its altitude. The vegetation zones range from wet lowland rainforest, transitional rainforest and montane forest. The wet equatorial rain forest and a transitional forest between 1200 meters and 1500 meter altitude, transitional forest vegetation lies from 600 meters to 2600 meters. From 2000 to 2350 meters lies swamp forest vegetation that is interconnected with mountain forest. The bamboo forest thrives from around 2350 to 2600 meter altitude and higher from 2600 to the top at 3330 meters is mainly the alpine zone that comes with dry savanna grassland and endemic plants especially the senecio Kahuzicus.

Lwiro sanctuary

Lwiro sanctuary is Congo’s rehabilitation center that refuges mostly orphaned chimpanzees and monkeys. It set up around 2002 and it lies in the Tshivanga tourist center in an old Belgian research center. About 55 chimpanzees and 60 species of monkeys are taken care of in this sanctuary.

In conclusion, Kahuzi Biega National Park offers a lot more than just trekking for the eastern lowland gorillas. With variety of attractions to enjoy in this stunning park, we believe you will have the most remarkable experiences in life.