Parc National des Volcans is an untamed and timeless area where ancient volcanoes, swathed in rich, green rainforest, tower over 4,000m high, their steep slopes providing habitat for the rare mountain gorillas.
It is largely thanks to Dian Fossey that the poaching of gorilla has been greatly reduced; the release of the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist,’ three years after her untimely death brought her work to a worldwide audience, and the subsequent growth in tourism has also helped to raise local awareness.
The Parc National des Volcan hosts over 76 mammal species and over half the world’s population of mountain gorillas. Trekking through the rainforest in search of these wonderful creatures is an exhilarating experience. The forest is alive with the calls of colourful birds and chatterings of the rare golden monkey, and every so often there are tantalising glimpses of the magnificent peaks of the Virunga range through the forest canopy.
The range of activities available in the park (other than gorilla tracking for those with permits) includes nature walks, climbing Visoke volcano, trekking to the Karisoke Research Centre, visiting local communities or watching habituated golden monkeys.
Note that tracking gorillas through the forest requires both patience and stamina. Sometimes the trackers find the gorillas within a couple of hours, but equally it may take up to ten hours of tracking off-trail in dense jungle in order to find them. Steep gradients, slippery conditions underfoot, high humidity and regular rainfall add to the challenge, but the exhilaration of a close encounter with these magnificent creatures makes it all worthwhile. For the sake of the gorillas’ wellbeing, contact time is always limited to an hour, and if you are suffering from a cold you may not be allowed to approach them. For many people, seeing a gorilla face-to-face is truly a life-changing experience!
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