Only a few years ago, the conversation on where to go in Rwanda was a fairly short topic as there was only one main park for gorilla tracking; Volcanoes National Park. These days, however, things have changed and the curious traveller has much more to get excited about. Rwanda’s National Parks offer a diversity often not experienced in East Africa, with rainforest on the slopes of the Virunga Volcanoes in the west, the montane forests of Nyungwe National Park in the southwest, and the savannah plains of Akagera National Park in the east. Combined, these national parks provide a stunning journey through one of central Africa’s most thriving destinations. Rwanda’s National Parks are a testament to the wildlife authorities, being well managed with clear park fees and structures and a selection of comfortable accommodation.
Located in the northwest of Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park, or Parc Nationals de Volcans (PNV), borders neighbouring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The land approaching the park is farmland, turning into dense evergreen forest upon crossing the park border. Covering a vast 8,000 kilometres square, this stunning area protects five of the nine staggeringly beautiful Virunga Mountains, each characterised by steep slopes that are blanketed in thick green, tropical rainforest. Six of these volcanoes are extinct and the other three still active, providing the perfect habitat for the last few surviving mountain gorillas in the world.
The park was made famous by the work of American primatologist, Dian Fossey, whose pioneering studies on the behaviour of mountain gorillas became known to the outside world through the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, which was released three years after her death. During your time here you have a great opportunity to trek the jungle to visit her grave, right next to the grave of Digit, her favourite gorilla. There are now seven groups of habituated mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, and trekking in the PNV to see these endangered animals is a poignant experience that you will never forget. Here you will have every chance of successfully tracking a 400lb silverback, or mother caring for her young as they show off in front of you. We only use the best guides who, with their expert knowledge and tracking abilities, are there to lead you in your quest to find these endearing creatures in their natural habitat.
Set in southwest Rwanda, within a protected national park founded in 2004, Nyungwe is one of Africa’s oldest forests, and a rainforest in its purest sense, with regular rainfalls of up to 2,000mm per annum. As the largest single tract of montane forest that remains in Central/Eastern Africa, the area is of utmost importance to Rwandan tourism and it is undoubtedly one of the country’s main attractions with waterfalls, abundant wildlife and viewpoints over the idyllic scenery.
As part of the Albertine rift, the park is easy to access, dissected by the road that runs from Lake Kivu to Butare. Once you are there you will soon get a sense of its sheer scale, as it covers a total area of 970 square kilometres across the majestic mountain ranges. It is known to be one of the richest areas of Africa for its endemic species and stunning biodiversity. Whilst not guaranteed, is it not uncommon to spot troops of Ruwenzori colobus monkeys, which can number up to 400 swinging through the trees – thought to be the largest arboreal troop in Africa no less! Other primate species include the Hoest’s monkey, chimpanzee, silver monkey, golden monkey, olive baboon, vervet monkey, several species of bushbaby, grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkey. There is also a healthy number of chimps in the forest, estimated at 400 in total, which are in the process of being habituated.
Akagera National Park is Rwanda’s equivalent of some of Eastern Africa’s savannah reserves, the low-lying park is nestled in the east of the country on the border with Tanzania. The habitat of undulating plains covered in dense woodland and grassland, leading to swamps, lakes and papyrus forests to the far east contrasts heavily with the mountainous landscapes for which Rwanda is typically known, and those looking to concentrate their itinerary on Rwanda but with some variety may wish to include this in their plans. The oldest of Rwanda’s national parks, Akagera was established in 1934 with the aim of protecting the wildlife found within its differing ecosystems of swamps, plains and mountains. The area of the park is approximately 900 square kilometres which makes it relatively small in size but with a variety of topography from west to east. From Kigali, you will reach the park in approximately two hours, so it is possible to visit on a short day trip from the capital.
The plains are home to a variety of animals such as buffalo, elephants, impala, giraffe, zebra and many antelope. Around the lakes you may see hippos wallowing or crocodiles on the river banks. The area is also great for birdlife with raptors and water-birds in the wetlands, which can be viewed on specific boat trips along the rivers. There are some bird species not found in other areas of the country such as Nyungwe Forest National Park and amongst the water birds you may see are crowned cranes, storks, fish eagles, herons, cormorants, and egrets.