Guide to Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Guide to Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Guide to Gorilla trekking in Rwanda  : Everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda – the most extraordinary animal encounter in the world.

Thriving in the misty mountains of Virunga Volcanoes stretching between Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, there are only around one thousand mountain gorillas remaining in the world.

Mountain gorillas are the world’s most endangered apes with humans and habitat loss as their greatest threats, mountain gorillas’ population has increased tremendously, which makes them one of the greatest conservation success stories thanks to the conservation efforts.

rwanda gorilla trekking

Mountain gorillas are the only primate species on Earth with increasing numbers, Rwanda as a country has built a thriving industry around the gorilla encounter – gorilla trekking. Gorillas are fiercely protected by the tourism police as well as the rangers and 10% of the revenue from gorilla trekking permits are used for their conservation and community development.

Witnessing mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is one of the most incredible and extra-ordinary wildlife encounter you will ever witness in a life time. It is not east as it involves hours of pushing your way through dense, slippery jungle but once you locate them. Watching baby gorillas playing or a silverback protecting the group, it is a very rewarding experience.

Mountain gorillas is an exhilarating and eye – opening experience, many people find it themselves deeply moved by a rare encounter with a gorilla in the wild.

This article offers detailed information about what you need to about gorilla trekking in Rwanda. This article covers the following topics about gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Where to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda

How to get to Volcanoes National Park

Best time to visit Rwanda

What to expect on a gorilla trek in Rwanda

Photography of the gorillas

Gorilla Permits in Rwanda

Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park

What to pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda

Where to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda

With just over 1,000 mountain gorillas remaining in the world, half of these gorillas live in the Virunga Mountains of Central Africa – a range of volcanoes extending about 50 miles along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo.

Volcanoes National Park “Parc National des Volcans” is the best to see these gentle giants, the park is found in northwest Rwanda approximately 2 hours drive from Kigali City – the capital of Rwanda and Kigali International Airport.

volcanoes national park Rwanda

How to get to Volcanoes National Park

The easiest way to enter Rwanda for a gorilla trekking safari is by flying into Kigali City – the capital, on arrival at Kigali International Airport, you will receive a 30-day single-entry visa.

Once you have cleared with the immigration at the airport, you be met by our representative and be transferred to your hotel in Kigali City or head straight to Volcanoes National Park in Musanze, Kinigi.

We recommended spending a couple of days in Kigali City at the start or end of your trip as there are many amazing sites to explore.

Volcanoes National Park is located about 105 kilometers from Kigali and is two hours’ drive from the airport.

Travel Tip – it is easy to combine Rwanda with a Big Five safari holiday in Kenta or Tanzania or with a beach holiday in Diani Beach or Zanzibar.

 About Volcanoes National Park “Parc National des Volcans”

Volcanoes National Park is regarded as the center of gorilla conservation as Conservationist Dian Fossey spent 20 years studying mountain gorillas from her Karisoke Research Center step up between Mount Bisoke and Mount Karisimbi.

Thanks to her work, poaching was curtailed in time to save these gentle giants, Volcanoes National Park is featured in the film “Gorillas in the Mist” – 1988 which chronicles the work of Diani Fossey.

Volcanoes National Park hosts 10 mountain gorilla families, trekking groups of 8 people are allocated to each gorilla family which means 80 permits are available per day.

Best time to visit Rwanda

Gorillas in Rwanda can be tracked throughout the year. However, the best time tends to be during the dry season period from June to September as the jungle is less muddy and the paths are less slippery.

Bear in mind that it can rain any time of the year in Volcanoes National Park.

The wettest months are April and May resulting into tricky muddy trails, however you can still track gorillas at this time. Mountain gorillas often climb higher up the mountain during the dry season and descend during the rains.

The rainy season from March to May and October to November provides the best conditions for photography in gorilla habitat, after a rainy shower. The air is clear of any dust providing the perfect atmosphere for gorilla photography.

What to expect on a gorilla trek in Rwanda

Gorilla trekking adventure start early by arriving at the Kinigi park headquarters in Volcanoes National Park at 7:00 am for briefing from park rangers, you will begin your search for gorilla family allocated to you by 08:30 am and you are required to return to the campgrounds by 7:00 pm at the latest although it may take less time.

Duration and difficulty of the trek are one of the key elements in determining which gorilla family you will take to see the gorillas, your trek could last anywhere from 30 minutes to nine hours depending on the exact location of the specific gorilla family which you are trekking.

You do not have to be super-fit to take part in gorilla trekking, however it does help if you have a reasonable level of fitness. If only to enhance your overall enjoyment of the experience.

Your professional guide and tracker will lead you through the forest trails in search of your gorilla family, the conditions in the forests can be slippery and muddy even in the dry season, also it can be very humid under the forest canopy.

The gorilla trek is fairly challenging and you may find it tough as you pass through the dense undergrowth, the high altitude and the steep, slippery trails can make the trek exhausting but definitely worth the effort to spend time with mountain gorillas in the wild.

When you finally find these gentle giants, you will have the opportunity to spend up to one hour in their company, at the end of the experience. You will be rewarded with a gorilla certificate at the park’s headquarters.

Meeting the Mountain Gorillas of Rwanda

When you meet the gorillas, you will have the chance to spend between 40 minutes to one hour quietly observing them in their natural habitat. The gorillas are more likely to be just a few meters away from you and they will continue to go about their daily lives with activities like feeding and interacting with each other under the watchful gaze of the Silverback. This is an experience you will never forget.

While with the gorillas, you should take in a low voice and you must try not to make any loud noise or sudden movements. Of course, you are going to be excited but you should try to express this quietly.

Visitors are requested to keep a five meter distance from the gorillas and you must not touch them under any circumstances.

Even though these gorillas visited are used to seeing people on a daily basis, they are still wild animals and they can sometimes reach unexpectedly. It is crucial that you listen to the instructions from your guides and trackers at all times.

Duration of the Mountain Gorilla Trek

You will have up to one magical hour with the gorillas, however this never feels long enough and we recommend that you consider doing two treks.

Two two gorilla experiences are never the same as two different families in a different area of the park are visited. On the second trek, you are more likely to put your camera down, relax and enjoy the experience.

Photography of the gorillas

Due to the light conditions and the unpredictable distance between the gorillas and you, taking photographs of mountain gorillas is challenging. Your time with the gorillas is limited. Therefore you should ensure that you are prepared as possible to get the best photos.

You choice of camera is completely up to you, as you are required to be al least seven meters from the gorillas, a 70 0 200 mm lens is ideal and a 2.8 lens is even better as the light in the forest can be very poor at times.

Note: Flash photography is not allowed so make sure that you disable the flash on your camera or mobile phone before you get to the gorilla group you are trekking.

Your time with the gorillas is precious, so you should plan your shorts rather than shooting away wildly. It is recommended that you find balance between absorbing this incredible experience and taking photographs of the fascinating mountain gorillas.

Travel Tip: Make sure that your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of space on your memory cards. Also, make sure that you have waterproof bags or covers for your camera as the rainforest climate means that it can rain any time of the year.

Gorilla Permits in Rwanda

Visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is strictly managed so as to protect these critically endangered animals in their natural habitat as well as increasing their chance of survival.

To trek gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, you are required to have a permit. There are only 10 habituated gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park and only 8 people are must visit each gorilla family.

Gorilla permits in Volcanoes National Park are limited to 80 permits per day.

Rwanda gorilla permits sell out months in advance, so you will need to obtain your permit early to secure your preferred dates especially during the peak months which coincides with the dry season.

Although the rainy season of April to May and October to November are not as competitive, the dry season that is December to March and June to September are extremely popular and the permits sell out quickly.

On the actual of gorilla trekking, you will be allocated gorilla family to track based on your age, fitness level and number of pre-booked treks. Some gorilla families are harder to track and require a high level of fitness, while other gorilla families require shorter trekking times.

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Prices

Rwanda Gorilla Permits currently cost US$ 1500 per person, the only way to secure your gorilla permit at no extra cost when you book your gorilla safari holiday with the gorillas.

This price includes park entrance, expert guides and trackers, the security of a tourism police force in the parks and one hour with the gorillas.

Travel Tip – tipping your guides and trackers on your gorilla trekker is recommended though not a must and is entirely at the discretion of the traveler.

Refunds / Cancellation of Gorilla Permits

In case you are showing signs of illness as you will not be allowed to track the gorillas or if you are declared unfit by the warden in charge, you will be refunded 50% of the gorilla tracking fee.

Gorillas can be easily infected by human diseases as they don’t have the necessary immunity to fight as they don’t have the necessary immunity to fight these diseases, any sick people can be a huge threat to the gorilla population.

Age Restriction for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

For safety reasons, you must be at least 15 years of age to track mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park

While on a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda, we recommend staying close to Volcanoes National Park as you must arrive at the park’s headquarters at 07:00 am for briefing and allocation of gorilla family.

The best accommodations to stay near Volcanoes National Park.

  • Virunga Lodge
  • Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge
  • Mountain Gorilla View Lodge
  • Tiloreza Volcanoes Ecolodge
  • Faraja Hotel
  • Da Vinci Gorilla Lodge
  • Hotel Muhabura Lodge
  • Gorilla Volcanoes Hotel
  • Le Mbambou Gorilla Lodge

What to pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda

Being well prepared for the incredible gorilla trekking experience in Rwanda is important, however you need to pack the right gears. Note that domestic flights usually have luggage limited to 20 kilograms per person and it is best to use soft case or holdall to maximize space.

Here is what you should pack for gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda.

  • Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support, make sure your shoes are well worn-in before departing to avoid any nasty blisters
  • Light, breathable, waterproof jackets and trousers and long – sleeved shirts. It is important to wear light, long layers due to the variable weather and to avoid any bites from insects.
  • Warm layers for the chilly mornings and cold nights
  • Long, light weight wollen socks
  • Wide – brimmed hat and sunglasses for sun protection
  • Toiletries such as sun scream, insect repellent, after-sun, bite relief cream and lip balm
  • Garden gloves to protect your hands as you might grip the vegetation during your trek
  • A small backpack to carry your water, lunch, extra clotes, binoculars and camera with extra lenses and batteries. Bring more memory than you think you need
  • Binoculars to have a clear view of everything and to spot other wildlife such as birds and monkeys
  • Snacks – the trek is quite strenuous lasting everywhere from two to nine hours, so bring some snacks for extra energy
  • A reusable water bottle to limit waste
  • Carry a multi-way travel adaptor, Rwanda uses C (two round pins) and J (two round pins and a grounding pin) and operators on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz standard frequency.
  • Supplies for local community projects, for more details take a look at our page for Pack for a Purposes Page Rwanda which recommends supplies you can bring to donate and drop off at partnering hotels, lodges and schools.
  • Plan your Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Safari with Us
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