Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

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 reservations@rwandatourism.com.

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.

 

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