The great, old volcanoes shared between Uganda, DRC and Rwanda form the northwest border of Rwanda, and have created a lush home for the mountain gorillas, one of the main reasons for visiting Rwanda. The steep slopes are covered with rich bamboo forests, and evergreen glades with open grassland and heath. The slopes are perfect terrain for the gentle giants of the primate world; the gorillas. The park is small and covers an area 120 sq km and includes the peaks of Karisimbi(4,507m),Bisoke(3711m), Sabyinyo(3,534m).
Views on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes are magnificent in all directions, although one needs to dress warmly as it can be quite chilly on these lofty heights. Habituated Golden Monkeys live in the same forests and this is one of the few places they can be seen for relatively long periods of time.
Buffalo and elephant do inhabit the area but are not easily seen.
Gorilla treks are run on a daily basis from the park headquarters although there is limited amount of gorilla permits available and these need to be booked well in advance.
The park is well run by the Rwanda Park authorities and the Gorilla Conservation Fund is well supported. Around 380 mountain gorillas live on the slopes although the population changes as they keep moving from one country to another.
Gorillas in Rwanda
Diane Fossey's memorial, laboratory and grave are nearby with a full history of her life and works with the gorillas. Although the park can be visited for the day from Kigali, it is a long drive along a curving, scenic roads and most visitors are advised to stay in one of the many lodges and hotels built around the park and Ruhengeri.
The town of Ruhengeri is a busy market centre with traders coming from far and wide and boda bodas (motorbike taxis) transporting shoppers about. The stunning lakes of Bulera, Ruhondo and Karago are near the park but are rarely visited.
Rwanda Gorilla Groups
The groups and their locations will obviously vary; mountain gorillas often climb higher in the dry season and descend during the rains.
It's possible to request to visit a specific group once you are at the park headquarters, but this can never be guaranteed. Currently the eight accessible groups are:
The Sabyinyo Group has about 11 individuals, including one silverback gorilla, and is usually found relatively close to the edge of the forest (about 20–40-minutes' walk), between Sabyinyo and Gahinga.
Group Thirteen lives close to the Sabyinyo Group and is also a fairly easy walk. It has about 25 individual gorillas, and the silverback here is usually particularly relaxed. This gorilla group crossed the border into the DRC in 2007, but has thankfully returned to Rwanda!
Usually living between the Karisoke and Visoke peaks are the Amahoro Group, with about 16 individuals, and the Umubano Group, which currently has 10 members. Both are usually further away from the headquarters than the Sabyinyo and Thirteen groups, but easier to reach than the old Susa Group.
Originally studied by Dian Fossey, the Susa Group was the largest group – with about 42 individuals, including four silverbacks. However the big news in the gorilla population is that this group, that had split and joined back together again several times over the last year, has now definitely divided into two separate groups. 'Susa-A' has kept the name Susa Group and 'Susa-B' has been renamed the Karisimbi Group, as this family live in the Mt. Karisimbi area of the Volcanoes National Park.
The new Susa Group is now usually found relatively low down in the forest, however the 'new' Karisimbi Group is better suited to visits from more serious hikers. It appears that their home range is quite high up on the slopes of the Karisimbi caldera, consequently visiting this group can take the best part of a full days hike.
With the formation of this new gorilla family, the Park authorities have agreed to increase the number of gorilla permits available each day to 64.
The Hirwa Group is new; it has around 11 members including one silverback that came from the Susa Group.
The eighth group, the Kwitonda Group has 14 members which were habituated in the DRC. They crossed the border into Rwanda in 2005, and were carefully tracked' now they are also being visited on a regular basis.