Camouflaged among the heavily forested and misty mountains of Rwanda, are the World’s most endangered Great Apes, threatened by habitat loss and other human factors. Mountain gorillas are one of the World’s most successful conservation stories and are so far the only primate species in the world with growing numbers, and Rwanda’s blossoming tourism industry has been centered on gorillas.
Coming face to face with mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is an extraordinary opportunity and one of the most unforgettable wildlife encounters you will ever experience in a lifetime. It is undeniably beautiful but also not an easy feat with several hours of maneuvering your way through the dense, muddy, and slippery African jungles but the moment you are already there to watch baby gorillas breastfeeding or playing, juveniles hanging on trees, and silverbacks sizing up, your life will never be the same again.
Interesting and emotional are the two main words used to describe the rare encounter with mountain gorillas in their natural habitats.
Where to trek mountain gorillas in Rwanda
With more than half the World’s 1063 remaining mountain gorillas occupying the mountain slopes of Virunga Volcanoes of East and Central Africa-Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, about 35% of them are in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. This Conservation Area is situated within the north-western corner of the country and has about 12 habituated gorilla groups. The number of visitors in each gorilla group is strictly limited to 8 persons; hence only 96 gorilla permits are available each day.
The Gorilla Groups in Volcanoes National Park include Karisimbi (Susa B), Susa A, Sabyinyo, Hirwa, Kwitonda, Agashya (Group 13), Umubano, Ugenda, Amahoro, Bwenge, Titus, and Pablo.
What to expect during gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Typical gorilla trekking adventures in Rwanda begin early in the morning by assembling at Kinigi Headquarters in Volcanoes National Park by 7:00 am. This is done for registration and briefing from one of the Park rangers. Embark on the search for the allocated gorilla group, at about 8:30 am and take about 1-6 hours. Trekkers are required to return back to the Lodge by evening.
The duration and difficulty of trekking, personal interests as well as your level of physical fitness are some of the important factors in determining what gorilla group you will trek to. You don’t have to be a weight lifter or gym addict and super fit for gorilla trekking but instead, you need a reasonable level of fitness. The team of professional guides, armed rangers, and trackers will take you through the hiking trails in search of the allocated gorilla group. The forest trails can be muddy and slippery even during the drier months and sometimes humid under the forest canopy.
When you finally meet the mountain gorillas, you will have the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of spending up to one hour quietly observing and taking photographs in their natural habitat. Keep a few meters away from the gorillas as they go about their daily routine-interacting with one another, munching, resting, and grooming under the watchful gaze of huge silverbacks. Talk in low voices while watching the gorillas and sudden loud movements should be avoided.
Excitement is inevitable but try as much as possible to express it quietly. Maintain a 7-meter distance from the gorillas and avoid touching them under any circumstances. Much as they have been habituated to be accustomed to human presence, they are still wild animals. It is therefore important to keep in mind the guidelines issued by your guides during the briefing and while interacting with gorillas.
Rwanda Gorilla Permits
Trekking Rwanda Gorillas is strictly managed to protect the endangered Great Apes within their natural habitats as well as increasing their chances of blossoming. A permit is, therefore, a requirement for trekking gorillas within Volcanoes National Park. There are presently only 12 habituated gorilla groups open for trekking and only 8 visitors can visit each of them. This means permits are limited to only 96 each day.
These gorilla permits presently go for $1500 per person per trek (as of August 2021) and include Park entrance fees, expert trackers, armed rangers, and guides. This price doesn’t include hiring porters and tipping.
Age restrictions of Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Trekkers of Rwanda gorillas have to be at least 15 years of age because of safety reasons. This also applies to gorilla safaris in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Important things to pack for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
Enough preparation is an important factor to achieving an unforgettable gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda although overpacking is also disastrous. Our recommended packing list for gorilla trekking in Rwanda should include light and breathable safari pants, strong waterproof hiking boots, long-sleeved shirts, warm clothing (sweater) for cold mornings and nights, gardening gloves, toiletries (bite relief cream, toothbrush, sun cream, toothpaste, lip balm, deodorants, and many others), a small backpack for carrying extra clothes, jacket, camera, drinking water, binoculars, snacks, and lunch box), reusable water bottle, a wide-brimmed hat, snacks, good non-flash camera with extra batteries and lenses, Multi-purpose travel adaptor, pair of binoculars, first aid kit and insect repellant.
Best time to trek Gorillas in Rwanda
Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are trekked all year round yet the best time is usually during the dry season from June to September when the forest is less muddy and slippery much as it is also important to expect rains any time of the year.
The Months of April and May are always the wettest hence hiking trails tend to be muddy. Nonetheless, gorilla treks can still go on even during the rainy months, and treks are easier since gorillas usually climb higher up the mountains during the dry months and descend during the wet months. Wet months also offer the most beautiful backdrops and conditions for photography in Rwanda.
Places to stay when trekking Rwanda Gorillas
As far as trekking Rwanda Gorillas is concerned, we advise staying near Volcanoes National Park for easy connectivity to the Park Headquarters. Therefore, our selection for the best places to stay while trekking Rwanda Gorillas include Virunga Lodge, Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, Muhabura Hotel, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge, One & Only Gorilla’s Nest, Kinigi Guesthouse, Bisate Lodge, Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge, and many others.
How to reach Volcanoes National Park
Flights are the main way to reach Rwanda via Kigali International Airport. On getting cleared with immigration at the Airport, you will be met by a representative of the Tour and Travel Company your gorilla safari was booked with. In this case, our professional safari driver will meet and drive to your place of stay. We advise that you spend a night/s within the City on the first day of your trip but if you arrive earlier, you can make your way straight to Volcanoes National Park. This amazing safari destination is only 65 miles from the Capital City and about 2-3 hours’ drive from the Airport.