The Virunga ecosystem is composed of 4 major vegetation zones: bamboo (base altitude), Hagenia and Hypericum forest (2600-3300m), Sub-alpine (3300-4000m), and Afro-alpine (4000m+).
The mountain gorillas ( gorilla gorilla beringei ) spend most of their time in the hagenia woodlands and bamboo forests. During the raing season when new bamboo shoots are growing, the gorillas spend more time foraging in the bamboo forests (base altitude). The climb to the natural habitat of bamboo forest and Hagenia woodlands offers fantastic views.
The PNV was Dian Fossey's base a long time ago (She died on the 26th of December 1985), and it is at the Karisoke Research Center that during 18 years she carried out her study on mountain gorillas.
The park was closed for tourism in 1991 when the war broke out and was reopened again in July 1999. The numbers of visitors are increasing every day and the PNV regains its former reputation as the best organized and most popular mountain gorilla sanctuary.
There are 5 gorilla groups habituated for tourism, the Sabinyo group has been divided up in two:
- Susa group has more than 38 individuals.
- Amahoro group has 14 individuals.
- Sabyinyo - group has 11 individuals.
- Umubano - group has 8 individuals (break away group of Amahoro)
- Group 13 has 18 individuals
(Data updated the 5th of April 2006)
Highlights: Gorilla viewing, a day excursion up to the top of the Mt Sabinyo or a visit to the grave of Dian Fossey on the edges of Mt Sabinyo.
Distance (travelling time): Access to the area starts with Ruhengeri a town about 1h30 drive from Kigali and afterwards to Kinigi (14 km from Ruhengeri) whiche takes another 30 minutes.
Weather conditions: Due to the altitude it is generally quite cold, especially during the evenings and nights. Gorilla viewing is possible all the year round.