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Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Gorilla Trekking

Trekking gorillas in Volcanoes National Park is one of the ultimate highlights of a safari to Africa. The thrill attached to first setting eyes on a wild mountain gorilla is difficult to describe.

These are massive apes, up to 220 kilograms in weight (almost as three times as bulky as an average human) and their size is exaggerated by a shaggily luxuriant coat.

Yet given their intimidating appearance, gorillas are incredibly peaceful creatures. In fact trekking to see them would be a considerably a very risky pursuit if they had the aggressive temperament of, say, vervet monkeys or baboons or for that matter human beings.

More impressive even than the gorillas’ size or their peaceful behaviour is their enigmatic attitude to people, which differs greatly from that of other wild animals that visitors often encounter during their African wildlife safaris.

Almost everyone who encounters gorillas in tour in Rwanda experiences an almost mystical sense of recognition.

Often one of the gentle giant will break off from the business of chopping a bamboo to study human visitors, soft brown eyes staring deeply into theirs as if seeking a connection, a spine-tingling wildlife watching experience without peer.

What It’s Like On A Gorilla Trekking In Volcanoes National Park

  • On the day of your Rwanda gorilla trekking tour in Volcanoes National Park, you will set off very early in the morning to trek to the apes from the edge of the forest.
  • Your driver/guide will take you from your Rwanda safari lodge to the Volcanoes National Park headquarters in Kinigi village. The guides here are very good and speak excellent English.
  • They will be taking you to a specific group/family of ‘habituated’ mountain gorillas, which are used to human visitors, and known well by the guides.
  • Before trekking, you will be divided into groups of 8 (currently 6 during this period of COVID-19) and, after a briefing on safety and gorilla trekking etiquette; you will be allocated a gorilla family to track according to your level of fitness.
  • If you have any physical limitations, do inform the park officials so they can plan your trek accordingly. You can also inform them if you would like to track a particular family, so that you will be permitted to join the group headed to see them.
  • If you feel you need assistance to carry any photographic equipment or other gear you have with you, you can hire the services of a porter for the duration of your gorilla trek.
  • Please ensure that you have the necessary gorilla trekking essential before you set out for the trek and ensure you fallow all the gorillas trekking rules.
  • Don’t forget to put on your sturdiest shoes for the trek, wear trousers, bring sweat shirt, wear muted colours and carry a rain jacket. Also, drink plenty of water and do carry some quick calories such as biscuits and chocolate.
  • Then, you’ll be driven to the start of the trail to reach gorilla family. Your guide will lead you along generally clear paths up into the forest, in radio communication with the trackers that stay with the group so that they can be located.
  • First 30 minutes will be an easy walk through flat farmlands. Once the forest boundary is reached, the actual trek begins.
  • The altitude is over 2,500m, so although the pace is unhurried, the hike is tiring and can be steep in parts, taking from 30 minutes to a few hours. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit breathless at this altitude – this is perfectly normal.
  • As you trek, you will see other Volcanoes National Park attractions includes birds, you may see golden monkeys and other animals, different tree species, colourful butterflies, etc.
  • The good news is that in 99% of cases, whatever exhaustion you might fee on the way up will vanish with adrenaline charge that follows the first sighting these massive great apes.
  • Often the gorillas will be spread around a small area of dense vegetation. They will continue with their feeding and interactions, nonchalant about their visitors, though watching you with interest.
  • Occasionally one, often a playful youngster, will approach you with curiosity – sometimes coming so close that you will have to move away.
  • Please note that, at times gorillas may move closer to you, and you might even find them earlier than expected, but the trek can take anywhere from 2 to 5 hours.
  • And despite the many hours you spend searching for gorillas. Travelers only spend 1 hour with gentle giants.
  • Above all, do bear in mind that gorillas are still wild animals, despite the gentle giants’ reputation that they has superseded the old King Kongo image. An adult gorilla is much stronger than a person and will act in accordance with its own social codes when provoked or surprised.

There have been no accidents on gorilla trekking tour for past many years, but it is still very important to listen to your guide at all times regarding correct protocol during gorilla trekking and in presence of the gorillas.

How Fit Do I Need To Be To Trek Gorillas In Volcanoes National Park

You do not have to be extremely fit for gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda, however it does benefit if you have a general level of fitness, if only to enhance your overall enjoyment of your Rwanda gorilla trekking experience.

Hiking will be at a slow pace, with time for breaks if required. Depending on which gorilla family you are allocated to trek, 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.

However, you can reach your gorilla group after a 30-minute trek. But it is advised that you prepare for the most active option and if nothing else, a few hill walks before you leave would be beneficial.

Gorilla Trekking Rules In Rwanda

For those planning a gorilla trek in Rwanda, the following gorilla trekking rules and regulations will apply.

Before You Visit The Gorillas

  • People who know that they are habouring potentially airborne diseases such flu or cold should not trek gorillas (the permit fees will be refunded). This is because gorillas are susceptible to many human diseases and it has long been feared by researchers that one ill tourist might infect a gorilla, resulting in the possible death of the whole family.
  • A maximum of 8 people per group (6 during this period of Coronavirus) are allowed to track one particular gorilla family per day to void behavioral disturbances to the gorillas.
  • The minimum age for gorilla trekking Rwanda is 15 years. This is because anyone below this age is considered a young and vulnerable person and therefore not fit to trek the gorillas. In most cases, persons below 15 have unpredictable characteristics that may lead to change of the primates’ behaviors. An example is when a gorilla tries to fume or come near a visitor in the presence of a child, she may decide to run or scream hence disorganizing the gorillas.
  • Always wash your hands when heading in to the forest and when out of the forest

On The Way To The Gorillas

  • Please always speak in a low voice in the forest. This will also enable you to observe other natural treasures in the forest such as birds and other mammals.
  • Don’t throw away garbage in the forest. Whatever you enter in to the forest with, must be brought back out when you are living the forest.
  • Human waste should be buried 30cm deep.

When You Are With Gorillas

  • One encountered, trekkers should not approach the gorillas more closely than 10 meters, a rule often contravened by curious youngsters and sometimes adults approaching their human visitor. In this case you will need to slowly and calmly move backward to regain the 10 meters distance.
  • Gorillas don’t like flash lights, so flash photography is forbidden since they may cause the gorilla to charge at you. You should note that, gorillas are tricky photographic subjects, on account of their sunken eyes, the gloomy habitat in which they are often found and the jet black coat that tends to distort light readings. So carrying a tripod or monopod will help you to get sharper results.

It is worth programing your camera to a relatively high ISO (around 800), and pushing it even higher if conditions demand it.

  • It is forbidden to eat, drink, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorillas. Gorillas can easily can your diseases.
  • Speak in a low voice. However, it’s ok to ask the guide questions
  • Don’t feed gorillas
  • Sometimes the gorillas charge. Follow the instructions of the guide. Don’t run away, it will increase the risk of gorilla chasing you.
  • Don’t touch the gorillas, they are wild animals.
  • If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth in order to minimize the spread of bacteria or germs.
  • Visits are limited to one hour per gorilla group per day. However, if the gorillas become agitated or nervous, the guide will finish the visit early.
  • After the visit, remain silent or speak in a low voice until you reach at least 200 meters away from the gorillas.

What Should I Bring For A Gorilla Trekking In Volcanoes National Park

  • Hand sanitizer and face masks
  • Sturdy waterproof hiking shoes
  • A light long sleeved shirt and long trouser are essential to avoid stinging nettles and branches. Tuck pants in socks to avoid ants.
  • Rain jacket/Poncho
  • Gaters or long hiking socks are recommended through the thick bush and to avoid those ants up your pants.
  • Pack extra socks: Since the Gorillas live on the side of the mountains, the ground is always damp. It is very likely that the pair of socks you are wearing when you start the trek will become wet, either from the conditions or from sweating.
  • Don’t forget gardening gloves. This sounds funny but they were handy for grabbing branches for support and pushing those stinging nettles off.
  • Floppy hats, bandanas, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen to protect you from strong sun.
  • Plenty of cold water and hydrating fluids.
  • Energy giving snacks are also good for a quick energy boost.
  • A Walking stick can be got at the park headquarters to keep sturdy on the ground.
  • Pair binoculars, a camera and extra batteries are never a bad idea in Africa.
  • You need to carry a waterproof bag to protect your camera and a rain jacket.
  • Insect repellent with DEET.
  • Basic first aid remedies kit for simple illnesses.
  • To avoid any potential hassles, carry your passport with you at all times in addition to your gorilla-tracking permit.

Gorilla Trekking Permit For Volcanoes National Park

You must have a gorilla trekking permit to trek gorillas in Rwanda. The gorilla permits are obtainable from the Rwanda Tourism Board offices in Kigali or Ruhengeri which is near the park.

You can book your Rwanda gorilla permit either online or via a reputable tour operator. Although you can book the permit on your own, the most convenient method is to use a reliable Rwanda tour operator.  Most Rwanda tour operators include a gorilla permit as part of the overall cost of a Rwanda gorilla safari.

How Many Gorilla Trekking Permits Are Available In Rwanda Daily

Eight permits gorilla trekking permits are issued per gorilla group per day, (currently 6 during this COVID-19 period).  Rwanda has 12 habituated gorillas’ families for trekking.

When Should I Book A Rwanda Gorilla Permit

With only 96 permits (72 during this Coronavirus period) available each day in Rwanda, it is highly recommended to book in advance.

Gorilla trekking permits in Rwanda are in high demand. It is highly recommended to book   your permit at least 4-5 months in advance, especially during the peak seasons of December to January and July to August to avoid last minute inconveniences.

Once your permit is secured, you can then go ahead and organize your transport and overnight accommodation.

How Much Are Gorilla Permits In Rwanda

Rwanda gorilla trekking permit fees are as follows;

  • US$1500 —Non Residents, East African Residents, East African Citizens, Rwandan Residents, Rwandan Citizens
  • 30% Discount (US$ 1,050) on gorilla permits if visiting other Rwanda national parks (Akagera national park, Nyungwe national park) for 3 days and more during the low season of November−May
  • 15% discount (US$ 1,275) on conference guests who stay pre & post MICE events to see gorillas
  • $15,000 for Private gorilla trekking of an entire group with an exclusive personalized tour guide service
  • US$ 30,000 for a minimum of 3 visitors for 3 consecutive days (Behind the scenes)

The fees paid give you an opportunity to spend one hour with a particular gorilla group after encountering them.

It doesn’t include accommodation, ground transport or meals. The fee includes park entry, compulsory guides and guards.

10% of the revenue from the permits is channeled towards local communities, to build schools and health centres, as well as roads.

Also part of the fee the money earned from Rwanda gorilla tourism is used to protect the natural habitats where these endangered animals live.

When To Go Gorilla Trekking In Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Gorilla trekking safaris can be done throughout the year. The hiking itself can be more arduous 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 about June to mid-September.

Want to visit Volcanoes Park?

Want to visit Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda's only mountain gorilla trekking park?