​Expert Reviews – Volcanoes NP

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Expert
Sue Watt   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Sue is an award-winning writer who specializes in African travel and conservation. She writes for national newspapers, magazines, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet.

3 people found this review helpful.

Magical mountain gorillas
Overall rating
4/5

I’m fortunate through my work to have tracked mountain gorillas six times and it never disappoints – it is the ultimate wildlife encounter. In Volcanoes National Park it’s a very smooth and well-managed operation, with strict rules to ensure gorillas aren’t adversely affected by visitors. These include – but aren’t limited to – keeping a distance of 7m from the gorillas (although gorillas don’t know this), never tracking gorillas if you have a respiratory infection or diarrhea, and never touching the animals.

Volcanoes National Park is often considered an ‘easier’ trek than those in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the other main center for tracking mountain gorillas. However, if you’re allocated to Susa B group, this may not be the case – their home territory lies high up Mount Karisimbi and it’s an exhausting hike to reach them.

Another big difference between the two parks is the cost of permits. The Rwanda Development Board unexpectedly doubled its permit price to US$1500 in 2017, while Uganda’s is US$700. Rwanda has very high end, ultra-expensive lodges to the area, seemingly aiming to make it the ‘Botswana’ of gorilla tracking and focusing on high-income, low-impact tourism. One consequence of this is that many potential visitors have turned instead to neighboring Uganda.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple visits

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

1 person found this review helpful.

Rwanda’s Gentle Giants
Overall rating
4/5

Tracking mountain gorillas is one of Africa’s top bucket-list experiences. People often ask me whether it lives up to the hype. Is it worth the money (US$1,500 for a permit in Rwanda)? My answer is always YES… Being close to these gentle giants in their wild habitat is something you’ll never forget. Such a unique experience is priceless. Although chimps are more closely related to humans, gorillas seem to connect to us more. Nothing prepares you for being stared at by a gorilla. And that is exactly what they do: they seem to be looking at us as much as we are looking at them.

I’ve been privileged to track gorillas in Volcanoes National Park more than a dozen times, and each experience has been totally different from any other. One memorable encounter was when the whole troop followed me down the mountain to the boundary of the forest on our way out. I’ve seen a conflict between two silverbacks (very scary), youngsters playing in bamboo, a mother nursing a newborn baby, and lots of other interesting interactions. Budget-permitting, I recommend booking two gorilla tracking permits on consecutive days. Just one hour spent with these fascinating primates might just feel too short.

Aside from gorilla tracking, there is lots more to do in Volcanoes National Park. Most popular is spending an hour with a troop of habituated golden monkeys. If you haven’t spent much time at altitude, this is a great one to acclimatize before your gorilla trek. The hike to Dian Fossey’s Research Station is quite easy and especially worthwhile if you’re familiar with the famous primatologist’s heartbreaking story. As a keen hiker, I also climbed Bisoke Volcano and the views of the crater lake are more than worth the strenuous ascent.

Expert
Stuart Butler   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: Multiple times

Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

1 person found this review helpful.

Luxury gorilla tracking
Overall rating
4/5

For most visitors Rwanda means Volcanoes National Park, and Volcanoes National Park means mountain gorillas. This is the original Gorillas in the Mist destination, Africa’s most hyped gorilla park, and the place where famed American primatologist Dian Fossey spent many years studying the gorillas. Up-close (sometimes so close you can virtually feel the gorilla’s breath on you) mountain gorilla sightings are a given and the park’s vegetation (compared to some other gorilla parks) is comparatively clear and conducive to easy sightings. However, having been lucky enough to see mountain gorillas in every park in which they exist, the gorilla-watching experience at Volcanoes National Park feels a little too polished and, dare I say it, not quiet wild enough. When I tracked the gorillas here I was surprised to arrive at the park offices to find around 80 other tourists milling around, as well as souvenir sellers and a dance troupe. It didn’t exactly feel like the African wilderness.

Once you’re with the gorillas, however, the experience is every bit as wonderful as you’ve heard, and if I based my review on the hour spent with the gorillas alone, then Volcanoes National Park would be hard to top. And of course, Volcanoes has more to offer than just gorillas and it’s these other activities that perhaps reveal the best of the park – tracking golden monkeys, bird watching, visiting local communities and, best of all, tough hikes to the misty summits of volcanoes.

This is one of the best parks in Africa if you allow sufficient time to partake in the broader range of activities on offer. The gorilla tracking itself is amazing, and with its upmarket accommodation and ease of access, it’s best suited to those who want a taste of the African rainforest without too much discomfort.

Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Multiple times

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

Gorillas in the Mist
Overall rating
5/5

Protecting the Rwandan portion of the majestic Virunga Mountains, Volcanoes National Park warrants a five-star rating simply for its incredible scenery and the opportunity to track mountain gorillas in the wild – arguably the single most reliably rewarding wildlife experience Africa has to offer. I've tracked gorillas more than five times in this park, and every experience was different, but it is always an amazing and unforgettable day out.

Another highlight for wildlife-lovers is a day hike to track a 100-strong troop of habituated golden monkeys. This strikingly marked species is listed as endangered and its main stronghold is the Virungas, due to deforestation elsewhere within its restricted range. As is the case with mountain gorillas, the favorite diet of golden monkeys is young bamboo shoots, and you almost invariably find them in the bamboo zone when suitable food is available. At other times, the monkeys often forage outside the park to raid crops, and this – to my surprise – is where we found them on our most recent visit. I was also struck by how much more habituated the golden monkeys are now than they were a few years ago.

Other activities are the relatively undemanding hike to Dian Fossey’s old research center and grave, and more demanding day or overnight hikes to various volcanic summits (most notably Bisoke with its gorgeous crater lake). The park still hosts small numbers of elephant and buffalo, as testified to by fresh droppings on the forest trails, but these are seldom seen. Likewise, while it has enormous potential as a birding destination, this is largely unreleased in practical terms, and birders wanting to see a good selection of forest species associated with Rwanda would be better off heading to Nyungwe or Gishwati-Mukura.

Expert
Stephen Cunliffe   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: March, July and November

Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.

Mountain gorillas, trekking and birding
Overall rating
5/5

Volcanoes National Park is the Rwandan sector of the 8000km² Virunga massif. The greater conservation area encompasses six active and three extinct volcanoes, straddling the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountain gorillas move freely between the countries, with the greatest number of habituated groups residing in Volcanoes National Park, making Rwanda arguably the best place in Africa to go gorilla trekking.

With the 2017 gorilla census revealing a total mountain gorilla population of just over 1000 of these engaging primates in all of Africa, gorilla trekking is truly one of the ultimate life experiences. Rwandan gorilla permits aren’t cheap at $1500 per trekker, and your permit allows just one priceless hour in the company of these great apes, watching the gorilla family interact, eat, play, tease, sulk, doze and groom each other. Sitting quietly among a family of these gentle giants is a bucket list experience for any serious wildlife enthusiast: it is an extraordinary hour that you will remember forever.

While the gorillas are the star attraction at Volcanoes, there are also golden monkeys, birding walks, forest and waterfall hikes, mountain climbing (including an overnight hike up the 3800m Karisimbi volcano) and – for the less active – luxury lodges with comfortable views of the gorgeous mountain rainforest scenery.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.4/5
  • Wildlife
  • Scenery
  • Bush Vibe
  • Birding

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