Volcanoes National Park (also known as Parc National des Volcans) is arguably the best place in the world to observe the critically endangered mountain gorilla. This is where Dian Fossey started the habituation of these gentle giants decades ago. Other activities in the park include golden monkey trekking, a hike to Diane Fossey’s former camp, and the more strenuous volcano summit.
Aside from mountain gorillas, a habituated troop of golden monkeys can be tracked. This rare species is an Albertine Rift endemic. Buffalo and elephant are quite common in the forest, but they are skittish and rarely seen. Smaller animals present include bushbuck, bushpig, giant forest hog, black-fronted duiker, and spotted hyena.
Tracking mountain gorillas is one of Africa’s top wildlife experiences and Volcanoes National Park is perhaps the best place for it. There are more habituated troops here than in the other parks that offer this activity. Each troop has its own territory and family structure. Budget permitting, you can consider booking two gorilla treks on two different days. In addition to mountain gorillas, a troop of habituated golden monkeys, endemic to the Albertine Rift, can also be tracked. Other mammals residents in the park (but rarely seen) include buffalo, elephant, bush pig, giant forest hog, and several antelope species.
Gorilla trekking is available throughout the year. Sightings are almost guaranteed at any time. In heavy rain, the trails become slippery, therefore tracking gorillas is easier during the Dry season, from June to August, and to a lesser extent in December and January when it also rains a bit less. Gorilla trekking in the Dry season may require booking far in advance to ensure you get a permit.
Volcanoes National Park protects the Rwandan sector of the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct and active volcanoes that straddle the Ugandan and Congolese borders. The dramatic scenery consists of a chain of free-standing mountains, each connected by forested saddles. The gorillas are often found along with these forested saddles, in enormous groves of bamboo.
Due to the mountain peaks and general high altitude, Volcanoes NP has a damp, cold climate. It rains throughout the year, but there is a drier period from June to August. Due to its location near the equator, temperatures don’t vary much throughout the year. Daytime temperatures average 16°C/61°F, but this drops to about 6°C/43°F at night. Waterproof, warm clothing is necessary throughout the year.
Gorilla trekking is offered throughout the year. Sightings are almost guaranteed and are not weather dependent. However, the drier months, from June to August, offer the best hiking conditions and these are the prime months for gorilla trekking and other hiking trips in the volcanoes. The trails can be slippery throughout the year and good hiking shoes are recommended.
Volcanoes NP is open for gorilla trekking and hiking throughout the year. Sightings of gorillas are almost guaranteed and don’t depend on the weather. However, the trails become very slippery in heavy rain and hiking is definitely easier in the Dry season months, from June to August, and to a lesser extent in early September, December and January.
With about 180 species recorded, Volcanoes National Park offers good birding. However, most of the park’s special birds can also be seen in Nyungwe Forest, which is a better set-up for birding. A local specialty is the vulnerable swamp-dwelling Grauer’s swamp warbler and at least 16 Albertine Rift endemics (birds restricted to the Albertine Rift) are present, including handsome francolin, Ruwenzori turaco, and Ruwenzori batis, Ruwenzori double-collared sunbird, and Archer’s robin-chat.
The birdlife in Volcanoes National Park is good year-round, but the volcanoes are especially wet and often shrouded in mist. This means that birding in this area is easiest during the Dry season, from June to August, and to a lesser extent December and January when it rains slightly less. This is also the best time for gorilla trekking. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Volcanoes NP receives a steady stream of rain and mist. Combined with the high altitude, this means that the climate is wet and cold. Temperatures don’t change much throughout the year. Temperatures are around 16°C/61°F during the day. At night, it cools off to about 6°C/43°F. The park’s wide range of altitudes also means a range of climatic conditions. The temperature drops by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m climbed (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft).
Dry season –June to August
It rains a lot throughout the year, but there is a short, drier season from June to August. We recommend that you pack warm, waterproof clothing and good walking shoes for hiking.
June & July – Although it can rain at any time, these are the driest months of the year. With drier trails on offer, it’s an excellent time for hiking. Daytime temperatures average 16°C/61°F, while the mercury hovers around 6°C/43°F at night.
August – Time to pull out your rain jacket. The rains pick up noticeably in August. However, temperatures stay the same.
Wet season –September to May
Rain, rain, rain…there’s plenty of it around at this time of the year. Don’t forget to pack waterproof clothing, sturdy shoes for hiking, and warm clothing for the cold, damp conditions.
September – If the rains don’t arrive in August, they will definitely come in September. Temperatures are around 16°C/61°F during the day, depending on altitude. Nights are cold with an average of 6°C/43°F.
October & November – It rains a lot, with October a peak month for rainfall. Temperatures remain the same.
December, January & February – It rains a bit less than in October and November, but the rain can come at any time. Wet-weather gear is still a must.
March & April – These are the wettest months and it can rain for days. Hiking can be difficult as the trails get very slippery. Temperatures don’t really change.
May – Sometime in May, the rain diminishes and there are more sunny days. Daytime temperatures are a bit lower.
Most visitors arrive in Rwanda via Kigali International Airport (KGL), which is about 10km/6mi from the capital, Kigali.
There are no scheduled domestic flights to Volcanoes National Park. Most people opt for a tour around the country with a 4×4 and driver-guide.
Volcanoes NP is located in the north of the country 130km/81mi from Kigali, 70km/43mi from Gisenyi, and 12km/7mi from Musanze.
All participants in any activity at the park must report to the park headquarters in Kinigi by 7 am. Therefore, it is recommended to stay close to the park, or in nearby Musanze.
Like most game reserves and parks in Rwanda, Volcanoes NP is very safe in our opinion. It is illegal to enter the park on your own, and the well-trained rangers guide all hikes and activities.
The risk of contracting malaria in Volcanoes NP is very low due to the altitude of the park. However, if you are traveling in other parts of the country, precautions against malaria, as well as other vaccinations as advised by your local doctor, are recommended. Protection against malaria includes taking ant malarial medication and using mosquito repellent containing at least 30% DEET. The best defense against mosquito’s remains covering up bare skin in the evening, so as to avoid getting bitten.