Travel to volcanoes national park for most people is about wildlife experiences including gorillas and golden monkey trekking and birding. Those intending to explore the local community, there’s a wide range of cultural tours in and around volcanoes national park including the traditional Rwandan music and dance at the Gorilla Guardian’s Center. Additionally, a tour operator, guide, or your lodging provider can develop activities based on your individual travel interests. For instance, planting a tree, learning how to prepare local food, cycling and nature walks, camping, boat or canoe riding at the twin lakes.
The protected area is a habitat for mountain gorillas, which are endangered species on the verge of extinction. Protecting them is a top concern since gorilla tourism generates income and benefits the community around the park. The gorilla guardian’s village is one the several community-based tourism and conservation initiatives that empower people to appreciate nature tourism and culture. It is fundamental for all tours in and around volcanoes national park to follow responsible tourism practices.
The Gorilla Guardian Village
Situated 5 km from the park’s visitor center at Kinigi, the gorilla guardians center is a must-visit for those seeking Rwandan cultural experience. The non-profit initiative was created in 2005 to empower locals with alternative ways of generating income. Rather than depending on the forest for survival, most people quit poaching after realizing the value that comes from rural tourism and conservation of gorillas. The organization set up several small-scale income generating businesses including art and craft, bee and goat keeping.
People are passionate about their jobs and the cultural troupe will give you an immersive live traditional performance featuring Amaraba (Rwandan local dance) and drumming. Rwanda has only 3 tribes including Hutu, Tutsi and Batwa pygmies. While the latter are numerous, the Batwa are becoming less common in Rwanda. If not in the entire nation, this is the last opportunity to encounter pygmies. They are a minority group and were servants of the ruling Hutus and Tutsis. Most of the activities at the center revolve around the culture of the two such as the marriage ceremony ritual. Together with your partners, you can take part in a traditional wedding rite, dress as king and queen in traditional attire (Kanzu), and learn about family customs and traditions.
Lake Burera and lake Ruhondo
The volcanic crater filled lakes in northern Rwanda are some of the spectacular landscapes for keen photographers. They’re also known to harbor over 200 species of birds given that they are nearby the national park. In particular, the twin lakes of Burera and Ruhondo have been developed for tourism and offer a variety of adventure activities including canoe and boat riding, hiking, camping, and bird watching.
The woodchat shrike can be seen while birding around these lakes with a local expert. On some of the small islands you will find restaurants offering local food to keep you recharged. The twin lakes are 22km (45 min drive) from Kinigi and 13 km from Musanze town, making it easy to reach by bike, car or motorcycle tour. On the road to get there, you will enjoy the views of the local villages and surrounding Virunga volcanoes.
Buhanga Eco forest park
Situated 18 km south of Kinigi and 8 km west of Musanze town, the 31-hectare Buhanga forest was a former base of kings who ruled Rwanda before colonization. It is considered a sacred forest and has been preserved into an Ecological Park for those intending to learn about the natural history of Rwanda. In addition, other activities to do include nature walks for birding, cave exploration and camping for small groups. Buhanga Eco permit cost is $60 for foreigners, $50 foreign residents, and $40 for East African citizens.
Rugezi swamp is 62 km north of Kinigi visitor and one of the Important Bird Areas in Rwanda with over 40 species of birds including African sacred Ibis. Covering 16,640 acres within the Buberuka highlands, Rugezi is a high-altitude marsh and a habitat for endangered species such as gray crowned cranes, papyrus canary, carruther’s cisticola and the Grauer’s swamp warbler. With a local birding guide, you might spot other water species at Rugezi swamp including malachite kingfishers, white-faced whistling duck, pink-backed pelicans, lesser and African jacana, and rufous bellied heron.
Dian Fossey Tomb Hike
Dian Fossey is famous for establishing the Karisoke research center (1967) and was the first female to study mountain gorillas. She lived in Volcanoes national park and initiated the practice of gorilla habituation and anti-poaching initiatives (active conservation techniques) that were fundamental for the first mountain gorilla tourism project in 1979. Fossey is synonymous with the history of gorilla conservation
Even though she was murdered in 1985 and buried inside the park before she completed some of his works, her legacy still stands; the hike to her tomb offers a glimpse into her life and courage. The medium hike begins at Kinigi early in the morning and lasts 3-4 hours. The trail winds through the saddle between Bisoke and Karisimbi volcanoes. The name Karisoke was created by joining the two. You will walk in her footsteps, enjoy the views and spot wildlife including birds and sometimes golden monkeys. Once you reach the tomb, you will see the ruins of cabins where Fossey and other staff lived.
Booking ccultural tours in and around Volcanoes national park is available for through a tour operator and guide who will help you to find activities based on your individual travel interests. For instance, planting a tree and learning how to prepare local food can be done at the lodge of stay.