GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA
The exceptional opportunity of encountering endangered mountain gorillas in their natural environments is second to none, some travellers describing it as heart-warming and others as life-changing. Guided walks, culminating into the face-to-face encountered with these Giant Apes as they go about their day-to-day activities are conducted in the company of experienced Ranger guides and trackers who lead a group of 8 visitors through the densely-forested slopes of Virunga Mountains marked by bamboo to spend a magical and memorable one hour just few meters away.
Being the largest Great Apes on Earth, Eastern Gorillas occupy a significant portion of the East and Central African Tropical rainforest. Generally, these gorilla species are split into Eastern lowland and mountain gorillas. The latter are generally endangered and are sheltered within three countries-Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda as well as Uganda and trekking them in Rwanda is relatively easier, safe and accessible for travellers.
With the most recent mountain gorilla census (in 20187), there are about 1063 individuals in the wild, where by about 604 of them call the Virunga massif home. Thanks to the efforts of different Governments, Conservation Agencies, tourists and local communities, the population of these giant Apes are slowly growing. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is only provided within Volcanoes National Park, about 16000 hectares within the North-western side of the country.
Gorilla groups in Rwanda
A total of over 40 Gorilla Groups live within Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, some of which have been fully habituated and others dedicated for scientific research. These Gorilla families are made up of at least one silverback, a number of females, blackbacks and youngsters. These gorilla groups are relatively strong in make-up but prefer living within a preferred region. Considering the fact that these groups are closely monitored and protected by Rangers attached to Rwanda Development Board, close contacts are done within 7 meters and one hour is the time of observing and taking photos. For any gorilla trekking tour booked in Rwanda, visitors are introduced to Muhoza, Amahoro, Igisha, Kwitonda, Bwenge, Susa, Ugenda, Agashya, Karisimbi, Sabyinyo, Hirwa and Umubano Groups.
A maximum of eight (8) gorilla permits are provided for each gorilla group each day, hence making the face to face encounters with mountain gorillas to be as private and low-key as possible.
How Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is done
Visitors with gorilla treks scheduled for a particular day are required to converge at Kinigi Park Headquarters by 7:00am to be allocated a habituated group according to levels of physical fitness, age and personal interests, after being briefed on the rules and regulations of visiting the Giant Apes in the wild. Some of the guidelines you will be introduced to include;
- Maximum time spent in the presence of mountain gorillas being one hour.
- Not making noise while searching for Great Apes to avoid scaring birds and other residents of the forest.
- Being of eligible age (15 years and above).
- Visiting gorilla families in smaller groups (8 visitors).
- Being in good health (free from cough, flue, measles, Covid-19, Tuberculosis and others) before trekking the Great Apes, to mention but a few.
Meet the trekking team (armed Rangers and guides) and hire porters who will help in lifting your backpack and offering support in hiking high elevation and densely forested areas. Transfers to the different trailheads of gorilla families normally take 20-30 minutes, followed by treks to find allocated habituated group taking anywhere from half an hour to five hours or more. Expect to walk through varying elevations and even reach places of 2500-4000 meters above sea level. At the end of these gorilla treks, a reward of one hour to watch and take photos awaits trekkers.
Permit availability, cost and booking in Rwanda
We now know that only 96 permits each day are available for gorilla trekking in Rwanda and because of the accessibility of Volcanoes National Park, demand is always high. However, they cost $1500 per person per trek but a 30% discount is available for visitors who spend three days in Nyungwe or Akagera National Park. Permits for gorilla trekking in Rwanda are issued by Rwanda Development process although Tour Operators can book them on your behalf.
Best time to go for gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is possible throughout the year but most travellers will choose the dry season (June to August and December to February) as the most ideal time because forest trails are less muddy and slippery. However, don’t forget that Volcanoes National Park is a heavily-forested region where downpours are experienced at any time.
The months of March, April, May, October and November are considered the wettest with challenging muddy trails, but mountain gorillas are still encountered at the end of the trekking session. The down-side of dry season is that these Great Apes tend to move higher up the mountains and descend to lower elevations in wet season. Downpours clear the air of any dust thus creating perfect backdrops for photography.
Where to stay when you go gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Places near Volcanoes National Park are recommended when looking for where to stay during gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the accommodation facilities fit for the purpose include Bisate Lodge, Singita Kwitonda Lodge, Five Volcanoes Boutique Hotel, Le Bambou Gorilla Lodge, Virunga Lodge, Kinigi Guesthouse, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, Bishop’s House, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Muhabura Hotel, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest and others.
What to carry for gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Preparation is fundamental for unforgettable gorilla trekking experiences but it doesn’t mean overpacking. Essentials include strong waterproof hiking boots with ample ankle support, warm layers (sweater for cold mornings and evenings), wide-brim hat, binoculars, sunglasses, long-sleeved shirts and safari pants in Khaki, green and blue color, toiletries (like lip balm, hand and body lotion, toothpaste and toothbrush, sun cream and others), backpack with enough storage space, snacks, re-usable water bottle, camera with extra memory space and batteries, gardening gloves, camera and binoculars among others.
Options of Getting to Volcanoes National Park
The commonest way of accessing Rwanda is by air and arrivals are at Kigali International Airport and entry visas are required for most travellers. When it comes to getting to Volcanoes National Park, 2.5-3 hours’ road trips from Kigali City will usher travellers to the Northern Province where this Protected Area is set.