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- On March 7, 2016
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Volcanoes National Park lies in northern Rwanda and borders Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga National Park in Uganda. The national park is a haven for the Mountain gorilla – with over 400 of these gentle giants making the park their home. Volcanoes national park is home to ten habituated gorilla families and 8 other groups that are still under research making the entire total of 18 groups.
The park is also home to five of the eight volcanoes of the Virunga Mountains (Karisimbi, Bisoke, Muhabura, Gahinga and Sabyinyo) which are covered in rainforest and Bamboo.
The park was the base of operations for famed naturalist Dian Fossey. She spent 20 years here living and working with the gorillas and campaigning for their protection. She was murdered here and although her death remains a mystery the likely culprits were the poachers she had fought against for so long. Her life here is immortalized in the film; “Gorillas in the Mist”. It is largely because of her influence and her setting up of the Karisoke Research Centre that saved these gentle giants and today Rwanda is able to receive travelers from all over the world to visit gorillas in Rwanda in the Parc National des Virunga (PNVi).
When coming to Africa for your gorilla tour, plan for at least a 1-4 hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting and raising their young.
From one of these lodges you will launch your hike into the forested slopes in search of one of the gorilla families. Be warned though that gorilla tracking is no walk in the park. You do literally have to track down the gorillas who could have moved a significant distance from the day before. Relatively few permits (80 per day) are issued to see the gorillas and your time with them is restricted to one hour.
Accommodation in the Parc National des Virunga (PNV)
Mountain Gorillas Nest
So close to the entrance of Volcanoes National Park that you can ‘almost’ roll out of bed and onto your gorilla tracking hike, Mountain Gorillas Nest has 40 rooms available and being this close to the park it’s no surprise that most visitors to the gorillas choose to stay at Mountain Gorillas Nest Lodge rather than anywhere else.
Your stay might not be exclusive and romantic but you can share in the joys of seeing the mountain gorillas with your fellow travelers. Built in a grove of trees, the rooms are arranged in a large semi-circle around a central courtyard. The rooms are all en-suite and there is also a spacious restaurant with a large bar. The food is simple, sufficient and electricity is supplied by a generator. The staff here has seen a million visitors head out on gorilla treks, so if you are worried in the slightest simply ask. They also provide morning wake ups so that you don’t miss your gorilla appointment!
In the shadows of the Virunga Volcanoes and right near the entrance of the Volcanoes National Park is the Kinigi Guesthouse. Kinigi Guesthouse has 20 rooms and after the recent renovation they can be said to be comfortable and more than adequate, but one can stop short at calling them luxurious. Run by a local women’s’ co-operative most of the proceeds from your stay here will go into supporting the community. Be warned though that several facilities that one expects to be inclusive are not and you will be asked to make a donation, for instance when you have your laundry done.
There is also a bar and lounge area where you can relax and chat with your fellow gorilla trackers and swap stories about what you saw on your hike. The renovations have brought with them a generator, so all the rooms offer electricity and hot water. While sparsely furnished the rooms are warm and comfortable and if it’s gorillas you are interested in, you won’t mind that this isn’t a luxury lodge!
Boasting one of the most stunning locations anywhere in Africa, the recently opened Virunga Lodge sprawls across a 2,175m hilltop overlooking Lakes Burera and Ruhondo to the southeast. The view is phenomenal with four of the Virunga volcanoes to the northwest and the shimmering waters of the lakes far below. Each of the individual cottages has a verandah with some comfortable seating, because you will be doing quite a bit of just sitting and enjoying the unfolding panorama. The spacious stone and wood chalets are spread out around the hill to allow guests maximum privacy.
Built in an eco-friendly fashion and adhering to eco-guidelines means that the lodge has full electricity supplied by solar panels, but it also means going to the bathroom can be a bit of an adventure. All the toilets operate in a well designed eco-friendly principle and it may require a bit of getting used to, especially the pouring ash down to flush! Friendly staff goes out of their way to make your stay here an enjoyable one. In the mornings they pour piping hot water into your shower (which operates on a ‘bucket’ system) and deliver fresh hot chocolate or percolated coffee depending on your desire.
The main reason to visit this eco-friendly lodge is for the gorillas. Situated just an hour away from the Volcanoes National Park entrance where all gorilla tracking activities leave from guests is woken at 5am for the journey. Once there you will be in the capable hands of trained guides who will lead you out into the jungle in search of a gorilla family. On your return to the lodge you might also want to spend some time in the library reading about the wonders of nature that you have just witnessed!
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
Situated only one kilometer from the edge of Volcanoes National Park in northern Rwanda, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is the newest lodge catering to gorilla seekers. Sister Camp to the popular luxury Governors’ Camp in Kenya’s Masai Mara, the lodge features the same attention to detail, luxurious finishes and well trained staff that the more established Governors is known for.
At 2,150 metres it’s not surprising that all of the separately positioned cottages have spectacular views from their private balconies. At this height it can get quite misty and cool, so the fireplace, warm bedding and warm smiles will all make you feel at home and comfortable. At the main lodge you can relax at the bar or in the dining room, which of course all feature amazing views. For those who are interested there is a community awareness centre where you can find out more about efforts to protect the endangered gorilla as well as socio-economic development efforts since Rwanda’s most recent troubles.
The primary reason to visit this area is of course for the gorillas. Volcanoes National Park is home to some 300 mountain gorillas and there are ten habituated families that you can visit. All hikes leave from the visitors centre which is only a kilometer from the Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge. The price for a gorilla permit is $750 and its very necessary to book ahead of time you expect to travel to Africa for the actual gorilla trek. For any questions and tips for your upcoming rwanda safari, please feel free to contact Africa adventure safaris and our travel consultants will be able to tell you much more about what is required.