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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The first night in Rwanda

Once JD and I had arrived at Sports View, we dropped our bags in our rooms and set off to find the other members of our press trip — Anna, Jason and Adam.

We only found Anna.

When I had received the names of the people on the trip, I was elated to see Anna was a part of it. Since I had joined Twitter a little more than one year ago (not even the same account I have now), I had followed Anna. She was a person I respected, admired and could not wait to meet in person.

Needless to say, when JD and I banged on her door at 9 p.m. our first night and woke her up, I knew immediately we would become friends.

The three of us ventured to the poolside restaurant downstairs and enjoyed dinner, talking briefly about our excitement over the itinerary we were given, and of course, talking social media and blogging.

My body ached by the time dinner was through, and I was craving a hot shower to wash off the 24 hours of traveling and the airport sleepover the previous night.

I walked into the shower in my room, a decrepit looking corner with a pair of dirty flip flops at the base of the shower.

There was a bug crawling on them.

It’s OK, D. You are in Africa. Maybe this is how it is …

I turned on the faucet.

Cold.

Maybe if I turn the shower on, it will warm up.

I twisted the knob.

Water began squirting out of the pipe directly above the faucet. The shower head refused to work.

Oh my god. I am dirty. I need a shower. I want a shower. Please, please, please let me shower.

The shower gods had other plans.

After a minute or two of spitting water at me from the pipe, I called it a wash (not literally, of course, I was filthy), and crawled into my bed.

My mind crawled with thoughts about the upcoming five days of my life … the sites we were supposed to see … the places we were supposed to visit … and quickly, sleep came over me.

Disclosure: Rwanda Development Board provided lodging, most meals and activities.

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My first glimpse of Africa

I picked 14 K on the Brussels flight to Kigali on purpose. I wanted a window seat and to spread my legs out in front of me. I never get the chance to sit in the first seat in the economy class, but this time, the Plane Gods were on my side.

The trip to Rwanda from Brussels is a long one. It takes nearly as long to get from DC to London. But, damn, it is an amazing view. The flight takes you over Germany and its swirling fields of green, and Italy and the mountains still capped in snow, and then on to the vast blue of Mediterranean.

And, then there is Africa.

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