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The Volcanoes National Park – Rwanda and its Tourism Activities

15 February 2014

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 February 15, 2014
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Rwanda the” land of a thousand hills” is endowed with a number of tourist attractions that entice tourists to make their way there. Rwanda is a land locked country that lies in central Africa.

The Volcanoes National Park comprises of 5 volcanoes, 23 lakes and a number of rivers that make up a portion of the source of River Nile. It lies 75 miles south of the equator, 880 miles as the crow flies west of the Indian Ocean and 1250 miles west of the Atlantic Ocean. It covers an area of 26338 kilometers squared on land bordered by Uganda to the north, Burundi to the south, Democratic republic of Congo to the west and Tanzania to the East.

The park is located in Musanze province; which happens to be one of the biggest cities and  lively for everyone and is a base point for Gorilla visits cradle against a beautiful background of Karisimbi, Bisoke, Sabinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes.

In the north province of the country lies the Virunga Mountains on the border of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. These comprise of six volcanoes and are a habitat for most gorillas.

The volcanoes national park was first demarcated in 1925 and is bounded by Bisoke, Karisimbi, and Mikeno to protect the gorillas against poachers.  The Volcanoes was the very first park to be created in Africa.

There are a number of activities to be enjoyed while in Rwanda and range from gorilla safari trips, birding, to visiting caves, Cultural and Community Tourism, cycling, hiking, fishing among others. In a much broader sense, the attractions are as follows;

The volcanoes that are extinct except for Nyiragongo and Nyiramugira attract many visitors for hiking safaris in Rwanda. Karisimbi happens to be the highest of all volcanoes at 4507 meters, Sabinyo the oldest at 3643m, Mount Bisoke that has a crater lake called Ngezi, Mikeno, Muhabura and Mgahinga.

The Dian Fossey Tomb trail. Some years back Rwanda had a researcher named Dian Fossey who committed her life to saving the gorillas. Her tomb is an hour and 45 minutes hike on steep slopes where birds, orchards and a few gorillas may be seen.

Lake Ngezi on Mount Bisoke Hike. The hike to this lake requires about 4 hours since it is steep from the departure point to reach the summit. The walk around the lake is also usually suggested and in total one would have to use about 7 hours. The lake is small, shallow and the easiest hike in the park.

The Karisimbi volcano hike.

The Karisimbi name means “White shell” which refers to the white capped summit which is often seen. Karisimbi is the highest mountain of Africa and needs about a 2 day’s hike making it a little tiring. The hike will at times take about 6 hours before reaching the top.

Lakes Burera and Ruhondo. These are usually birding stop centers and they could also offer boat cruises to the islands of Ruhondo and Burera. While on some of these cruises one would enjoy the breath taking landscape get to see the wetland habitat for birds as well.

Trekking of the golden Monkey. Besides the gorillas, there are other primates that attract tourists like the rare Golden Monkey through the forests and offers a life time thrill to the visitors.

Gorilla Tracking is the major activity in the volcanoes national park, and the park comprises of 10 gorilla groups that are habituated and are ready to be viewed by visitors. Discussed below are the different gorilla families in Volcanoes NP.

Gorilla families in the park.

The Sabinyo group led by Guhonda, the biggest silver back that weighs about 220 kilograms. This group can be got to within a two hour walk.

The Amahoro. There is a steep section of the mountain as one climbs to find these inhabitants led by Ubumbwe.

Umubano. Like the name goes live together led by Charles the silver back that took part of the Amahoro group to make his own group  after a rise to the same level of ranks. They have however lived peacefully since then.

Susa group .The name originates from the Susa river that has its origin from the Virunga Mountains. It is believed to be the largest group and was researched about by Dian Fossey. This group has the oldest gorilla that was born in 1976.

Hirwa group. The group’s name means “Lucky one” and is an emerging group of members from the other groups making it the newest of groups.

Agashya. This group is led by Agashya upon challenging Nyakarima the former group leader and usually this group can be found via the forested saddle between Sabyinyo and Mount Gahinga.

Kwitonda group. This includes 3 silver backs and established itself on the slopes of Mount Muhabura.

Community and cultural based tourism activities among which include the following;

Ethno botany tour with traditional healers. This is a casual tour where one could come across herbs that may treat ailments, run in to a local pharmacy to see the injured individuals and the follow up on their recovery process.

Knigi-ibyiwacu cultural Village. This comes along with some exciting events such as riding a wooden bicycle; grinding millet and sorghum, shooting arrows with the batwa people, dances from the Intore people learn more about the banana and sorghum which are the staple food in Rwanda.

Markets in Musanze. At this point one gets to interact with the Rwandese women on how to prepare food in banana leaves and enquire about some village walks.

Brick making Tour. One can visit the fields and watch how local bricks are made with clay, wrapped in banana leaves and left to dry for 2 days. One’s hands inevitably get dirty more so in trying to put up a community house.

Lakes Karago and Lake Nyarakigugu.

Karago lies between Rubavu and Musanze districts while Nyarakigugu offers a splendid spot for fishing and birding.

Kwita Izina.

This is a function where a new born child in every family is given a name and for three decades the rangers have been giving names to gorillas. It has become an exciting part of Rwanda’s tourism and conservation calendar as a way of celebrating the efforts towards protecting the rare gorilla.

The Rugezi swamp. This happens to be a habitat to several sought after birds like the Grauer’s swamp warbler. The swamp has now turned out to be an important birding area in Rwanda.

Buhanga Eco Park. This is a section of the forest that offers nature walks, picnics and camping facilities. The forest is dominated by beautiful dragon trees and a habitat to a number of lovely birds.

Caving tourism. These are caves that are as a result of volcanic activity especially the Cenozoic rocks. The caves are 52 in number in the Northern Province and some include;

The Musanze cave that is 2km long and the most often visited cave with 31 entrances.

The Busasamana cave that is 1km long and connects to several other caves like Kazenze, Mudende and Busasamana sectors.

Mugongo cave that is great for caving and can easily be found close to Mr. Carr’s property with some camping amenities.

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