Gorilla Trekking

Located on the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Volcanoes National Park is part of the Virunga region—a home to world’s mountain gorillas. The other gorilla population is found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga national park in Uganda as well as the Virunga national park in Congo.

A gorilla visit can entail a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, and raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.

Ten Gorilla groups are now habituated for gorilla tourism and many travelers visit Rwanda and take gorilla safaris to volcanoes national park Rwanda, to see these endangered giants. It is very easy to meet the gorillas in the wild in Rwanda more than anywhere else in the world. Look into the eyes of a large silverback gorilla and he’ll look back with a thinking, intelligent gaze, mindful that you’re another individual. Any apprehensions or nerves you might have had during your trek will melt away the minute you see your gorilla family. Gorilla trekking safaris offer a magical encounter that transcends any other ‘wildlife’ experience we know.

Useful Information

Mountain gorilla trekking permits
All permits to visit the mountain gorillas and Golden Monkeys are booked through local tour operators in Kigali.

Fees for mountain gorilla permits
This is inclusive of park entry fees. It is advisable to organize your own transportation to take you up to the park boundaries.

Visiting fees
For Foreign visitors: USD 750
For EAC Nationals: USD 300: EAC Foreign Residents: USD 450
For EAC Children & Students: USD 225: EAC Foreign Residents Children & Students: USD 225
For Rwandan Citizens: RWF 30,000
For Rwandan Children & Students: RWF 30,000

On the day you are scheduled to trek, report at 0700hrs for briefing at the ORTPN offices in Musanze. The ORTPN team of trackers and anti-poachers speak French or English.

Gorilla Guidelines

  • To minimize possible transmission of human diseases, visitors are asked to maintain a distance of 7m (about 22 feet) from the gorillas. If you are sick with a cold, flu or other contagious illness, please do not visit the gorillas.
  • Viewing time is limited to one hour.
  • Maximum 8 visitors per group.
  • Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited.
  • Should you need to cough, cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas.
  • When with the gorillas, keep your voice low.
  • Try not to make rapid movements that may frighten the gorillas.
  • If a gorilla should charge or vocalize at you, do not be alarmed, stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions.
  • Do not litter.

To enhance your enjoyment

  • The security of our visitors is our highest priorities. There is no need for concern about personal security.
  • The climate in Musanze is changeable and you can generally expect both sun and rainfall during the day.
  • Musanze, at 1,700m above sea level, is generally quite cold, particularly in the evening, so warm clothing is advised.
  • Recommended clothing is long trousers and shirts when in the forest to avoid nettle stings.
  • Study walking shoes or hiking boots are essential. You may find raingear useful.
  • Bring a water bottle and a small snack although eating, drinking and smoking near the gorillas is forbidden.
  • Photography is permitted, although you may not use flash
  • Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small charge.
  • Mountain gorillas live at high altitude and this may cause difficulties for some visitors. You should pace yourself, walk slowly and drink plenty of water. No one should feel deterred from making this trip.

Plan Your Gorilla Trekking Safari

When you encounter a massive silverback gorilla and family in their natural habitat it is an amazing and humbling moment. There is less than 1000 mountain gorillas left in the world and privileges experiences is not lost on us. Planning our gorilla trek in Rwanda took a bit leg work but below is the tips and information.

Where can you go for gorilla trekking?

Well the endangered mountain gorillas can only be found in three countries. Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. After extensive research, you can decide to see   the gorillas in Rwanda. The distance factored heavenly in our decision. Volcanoes National park in Rwanda is easily accessible with a 2-2.5 hour drive. In contrast, along drive (9-20 hours) is needed to reach Bwindi Impenetrable National park in Uganda from Kampala.

When is the best time to see the gorillas?

Gorilla tracking can be done year around though it tends to be more popular during the dry season. The dry season is from December to February and June- September but the temperature itself does not vary much year round. During our visit, the temperature was a pleasant 60s while Kigali was in the 80s.

Please be in the know that hiking can be tougher in the rainy seasons from April – May and in November, but at an altitude of 2000m and more, it can of course rain here at any time of the year. The most popular times for gorilla tracking are during the drier months, between December and February, and from June to mid-September.

Permits for gorilla trekking

Both Uganda and Rwanda require visitors to obtain a permit in order to trek gorillas. Presently for Rwanda, a permit costs $1500 for non-nationals. The number of gorilla permits given per day are limited to only 8 people. During the busy season, permits need to be purchased months in advance due to high demand.

During the peak seasons of June-August and December—February, securing permits for trekking gorillas can be difficult at short notice, so you should plan well ahead. We will make all the arrangements for buying your permits. Each day, a maximum number of 80 gorilla tracking permits are obtainable. Permits cost US$1500 per person per visit, which may seem a lot but don’t begrudge it; this money provides Rwanda with a compelling economic reason to conserve the park and, amongst other things, pays for a 24-hour guard for each gorilla group. (Armed teams constantly track each habituated group – like royal bodyguards in the UK!).

How fit do I need to be to track gorillas?

For the best gorilla tracking experience, you need a general level of fitness though you don’t have to be super-fit.

Walk at your own pace if you cannot catch up with the rest of the group and you can as well have time for breaks if needed. Depending on which group you track, and the time of year you go (gorillas tend to move down the mountains in the rains), you might find yourself walking on some pretty steep slopes for several hours. On the other hand, you could reach your group after a 30-minute stroll. It’s best to prepare for the most active option however, and if nothing else, a few hill walks before you leave would be beneficial.

What kit should you take for a gorilla trekking safari?

Walking boots are necessary as tracks/paths on gorilla treks can be slippery, muddy and steep. Due to brambles and nettles en route, thick gardening gloves are recommendable and you should wear long trousers rather than shorts. A waterproof jacket may come in handy and take some water and a snack in case it’s a long trek. You might also find a walking stick or pole helpful.
For a small fee, porters are available at the trailheads to carry your backpacks and offer a hand during tricky parts of the hike. Even if you don’t really need them, hiring a porter is a helpful way to contribute directly to the local economy and chatting to them en route can enhance your experience both of local life and of your gorilla trek.

Tours and transportation from park headquarters to the trek starting point

Most of visitors and tourists do rely a tour company all necessary arrangements. The main reason for doing versus making independent arrangements is because a vehicle is required to take you from the check in point at parc National des volcano to the trek starting point. Very many tour companies available to arrange mountain gorilla safaris in Rwanda. Using a local tour company is a greater low cost option.  Many tour companies have been contracted to run short tours.

Degree of difficulty and choosing a gorilla group

There is no standard experience and each gorilla trekking will vary depending on the day of the trek and the gorilla family you are assigned. Some groups do require a shorter, easier trek and some gorilla family you are assigned will require a shorter and easy trek while some groups require longer and difficult treks.

Your gorilla trekking permit does not specify which group will visit. On the day of the trek, guides, drivers and park staff negotiate among themselves which visitors are assigned to which group. At the point, the guides already have a general idea. The actual hike to the gorillas can arrange anywhere from 1 to 5 hours. Although the most difficult, many people seek to visit Susa group, not only is this the largest gorilla group. Dian Fossey studied for years and sought after group is guided by Francois Bigirimana, the most famous and knowledge guide. With over 30 years of experience, including working with Fossey, Francois is I a league of his own. Having lived with a group of gorillas for an extended period of time, Francois is even able to communicate with them through grunts, shrieks and chest thumps. He knows the gorilla and they know him.