How To Go Gorilla Trekking In Rwanda : Rwanda is renowned of its incredible mountain gorilla encounter which is a once – in – a life time wildlife encounters, coming face t face with mountain gorillas in their nature environment is a great experience to enjoy on your Rwanda trip.
There are approximately 1,000 mountain gorillas remaining in the world living into two distinct populations, the first population which is the largest lives in Bwindi impenetrable national park in Uganda, the second population lives in the Virunga Mountains (Virunga Conservation Area) comprising of Volcanoes National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Virunga National Park.
Rwanda’s Volcanoes national park is the best destination for gorilla trekking as the country is safer, also there are more developed infrastructures inform of roads and world class accommodation options.
Volcanoes national park is located in northwest border of Rwanda, the park spans about 62 square miles of montane reforest with five of the 8 Virunga Volcanoes. Volcanoes national park is contiguous with Virunga National Park in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda.
Gorilla permits in Rwanda are considerably more expensive than gorilla tickets in Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, however Rwanda still remains the best gorilla trekking option and loved by many trekkers as one day trek from Kigali is possible.
A gorilla permit in Rwanda costs USD 1,500.
What to Expect in Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes national park has 12 gorilla troops that have been habituated for tourist encounters, each group is under the leadership of a dominant silverback and consists of females and juveniles.
Gorilla trekking adventure in Volcanoes national park starts at the park’s headquarters in Kinigi at 07:00 am with briefing about the rules and regulations to follow while in the forest and in presence of mountain gorillas, among the rules include maintaining a distance of around 22 feet, visitors below the age of 15 and those with contagious diseases such as cold and flu that could affect the gorillas are not allowed to participate in gorilla trekking. There are rules and regulations for safe interactions with the gorillas for photography, flash photography is not permitted as it irritates the gorillas. Also visitors are advised to keep their voices low and makes as minimum movements as possible.
In groups of 8 people you are allocated a gorilla family to trek on that day, the number of people per group is limited so to keep the experience as unobtrusive as possible for both humans and gorillas.
Mountain gorillas are nomadic creatures which spend most of their days on the move, foraging for the vast quantity of vegetation required to support their huge size. Because of their constant movement, it is difficult to predict exactly where each troop will be from one day to the next although they tend to stick to a preferred general area.
Murch of the trekking experience consists of hiking through the misty forest to find them, the trek can take about 30 minutes to 6 hours or more. Generally, gorilla families are assigned according the fitness levels of each group and porters are available to help you carry your backpack, cameras and other items.
Once you locate the gorilla family, you will spend one hour in their presence within a few feet from them, watching them as they continue going about their daily routines unfazed by the presence of the humans. Encounters with mountain gorillas are strictly kept to one hour so as to ensure that each gorilla family is impacted as little as possible.
Gorillas are our closest relatives after chimpanzees and baboons, sharing 98 percent of our DNA. So much of their behavior feels familiar such as a mother grooming her infant, juveniles play fighting with one another while the adults forage for food.
What to Wear
The Climate in Volcanoes national park is both cool and wet, so when traveling to the park and Rwanda as well, be sure to dress appropriately. This means you need to carry plenty of layers so that you can stay warm when sitting with the gorillas, you need waterproof jackets and pants, sturdy hiking boots or any form of shoes with sufficient grip for slippery, uphill terrain.
In the jungle of Volcanoes national park, there is plenty of stinging nettles so wear woven clothing and gaiters, long sleeved shirts and trousers are recommended. If you are susceptible to sunburn, carry sunglasses, a sunhat and sunscreen for times when the sun makes an appearance during the trek.
How To Get A permit
8 gorilla permits are issued for each of the 12 habituated gorilla families every day in Volcanoes national park, there are only 96 permits available every day which is so little basing on their demand. This means that they sell out months in advance and getting one can be quite competitive.
It is recommended you book your permit months before your trek.
How To Go Gorilla Trekking In Rwanda : Other Attractions in Volcanoes National Park
A part from mountain gorillas, Volcanoes national park offers an opportunity to spot other interesting species including endangered golden monkeys (two habituated groups), forest elephants, black -fronted duikers, buffaloes, forest hogs and more than 200 bird species including Albertine Rift endemic species which are most sought – after by keen birders.
Karisoke Research Center is another point of interest in Volcanoes national park, the center was a base where legendary primatologist Dian Fossey began her 18 – year research project on mountain gorillas in 1967. It is also where she wrote her seminal book “Gorillas in Mist”, made discoveries about gorilla behaviors that continue to form our understanding of these species today. Dian Fossey was murdered in 1985 by unknown, she was buried amidst the gorillas her beloved ones.
Today, visitors can visit the Dian Fossey Research Center and learn more about the valuable work being carried out by the resident scientists as well as conservation initiatives established to ensure the future of the park’s gorillas. You can also hike Dian Fossey’s grave.
Best Time to Go
Due to the park’s close proximity to the equator and its high elevation, temperatures in Volcanoes national park stay consistently cool throughout the year. Average daytime temperatures are around 61 degrees F and nights are chilly as the temperatures tend to drop to as low as 43 degrees F.
Rain and mist are ever present, although less in the drier months from June to August, the dry seasons are from June to August. These months receive lighter rainfall thus being the best time to visit Volcanoes national park for gorilla trekking since the terrain is easier to navigate and the gorillas are often more active.
The wettest months in Volcanoes national park are October, March and April, it is recommended to avoid these months.
The main port of entry to Rwanda for international visitors is Kigali International Airport located roughly 6 miles east of the Rwandan Capital, from the airport it is a drive of over 70 miles, about three hours drive by road to Musanze which is the closest town to the park.
From Musanze it is a drive of approximately 30 minutes to the park’s headquarters in Kingi where all gorilla trekking tours depart from.