Volcanoes National Park

The Volcanoes National Park (PNV) is the most popular and visited national park in Rwanda. Located in north western Rwanda, PNV is a known home to the famed mountain gorillas, endangered apes that are only found in three countries in Africa. The park lies in the Virunga Region and is neighboured by the Mgahinga National Park of Uganda and the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The Volcanoes National Park was first gazetted in 1925 as a small area bounded by Karisimbi, Bisoke, and Mikeno Volcanoes. Initially it was intended to protect the mountain gorillas from poaching. It was the very first national park to be created in Africa.

Explore Volcanoes National Park


Volcano National Park started as a small area surrounded by Mikeno, Visoke and Karisimbi. Together with the areas of Virunga National Park of Congo, the park was gazetted in 1925 with the aim of protecting the mountain gorillas, great apes that were found in the early 1900. By 1929, the boundaries were expanded further into Rwanda territory and into the Belgian Congo, to form the Albert National Park of Africa, a large area of 8090 km², run by the Belgian colonial authorities who were in charge of both Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo as their colonies.

In 1960 when the Democratic Republic of Congo got independence from the Belgians the park was divided into two, and upon Rwanda also gaining its independence in 1962 the new government accepted to maintain the park as Volcanoes National Park. The new government protected the park as a conservation and tourist destination, despite the fact that the new republic was already facing problems of overpopulation. The park was halved in area in 1969.

Volcanoes National Park and the Gorillas

The park was turned into the base for the American naturalist for Dian Fossey’s research on mountain gorillas. She arrived in Rwanda in 1967 and she started the Karisoke Research Centre between Karisimbi and Visoke. Since that time she spent most of her time with the gorillas in the park, Volcanoes National Park became widely known for her famous work of saving the mountain gorillas from extinction. Through her conservation efforts, she brought their plight to the attention of the international community.

She was later murdered by unknown assailants while at her home in 1985, a crime often attributed to the poachers she had spent her life fighting against. Fossey’s life later was portrayed on the big screen in the film Gorillas in the Mist, named after her autobiography. She is buried in the park in a grave near her research center, and amongst the gorillas which became her life for remembrance of her work.

In 1992 Rwandan Civil War turned Volcanoes National Park into a battlefield and a central point for warriors. Diana Fossy’s gorilla research centre was closed during that time and all visitors were refused from accessing the place. It was until 1999 when all safari destinations in Rwanda were open offering confirming that Rwanda was once again safe for tourists.

Flora and fauna in Volcano Park

Due to large attitudinal range, there is vegetation variation in the park that is the lower forest montane has turned into farming. Between 2400 and 2500 m, there is Neoboutonia forest. From 2500 to 3200 m Arundinaria alpina (bamboo) forest occurs, covering 30% of the park area. From 2600 to 3600 m, especially on the more humid slopes of the west and south part of the park, is Hagenia-Hypericum forest, which covers about 30% of the park. This is one of the largest forests in Africa with Hagenia abyssinica. The vegetation from 3500m to 4200m is characterised by Lobelia wollastonii, L. lanurensis, and Senecio erici-rosenii and covers about 25% of the park. From 4300 to 4500 m grassland occurs.

Volcanoes National Park is commonly known for being a habitat to the mountain gorillas (gorilla beringei beringei) and it’s the major tourist attraction in the park. Apart from the gorilla safaris other wildlife attraction in the park are golden monkey safaris, hynas, buffaloes, black-fronted duiker and a few elephant but rarely seen. Birders also stand a chance of seeing some birds species since there are about 178 bird species recorded to be in the bird and some a migrants