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A Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Rwanda Mountain Gorillas 2023/24

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda takes you to the best place to trek and see Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park which is one of the Virunga ranges of Africa.

Unlike Uganda and Congo which have 2 gorilla trekking national parks, gorilla trekking in Rwanda (Rwanda gorilla trekking safaris are done only in Volcanoes National Park since all the country’s habituated gorillas only reside here.

Rwanda gorilla trekking tours to Volcanoes National Park offer the easiest African Gorilla safaris because the Volcanoes park is the most accessible destination gorilla trekking destination in Africa. It is situated only 80 kilometers – about a 3-hour drive from Kigali International Airport.

This stunning park covers an area of 160 square kilometers of the prime rainforest within Virunga Volcanoes and encompasses 5 of them: Mount Karisimbi (4,507m), Mount Muhabura (4,127m), Mount Bisoke (3,711 m), Mount Sabyinyo (3,669m), and Mount Gahinga (3,474m). Volcanoes National Park was the base for pioneering primatologist Dian Fossey, which makes it authentic ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ destination. The park is also home to the endemic golden monkeys and a variety of birds.

POPULAR RWANDA GORILLA TREKKING SAFARI TOURS – PACKAGES

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Families in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park is home to 12 habituated gorilla families and all Rwanda gorilla treks in Volcanoes start from one gorilla trekking trailhead called Kinigi. Below are the gorilla groups you can visit during your gorilla tours in Rwanda;

  1. Susa Gorilla Family or Susa A
  2. Karisimbi Gorilla Family or Susa B
  3. Amahoro Gorilla Family
  4. Umubano Gorilla Group
  5. Sabyinyo Gorilla Family
  6. Agashya Gorilla Group or Group 13
  7. Kwitonda Gorilla Family
  8. Hirwa Gorilla Group
  9. Ugenda gorilla Family
  10. Bwenge Gorilla Family
  11. Muhoza Gorilla Family
  12. Igisha Gorilla Family

OTHER ACTIVITIES TO DO IN VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK BEFORE OR AFTER GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

  • Golden Monkey Tracking in Volcanoes National Park

These little-known fast-moving primates, Cercopithecus kandti, are a subspecies of the Blue Monkey and live in social groups of up to 100 individuals.  There are two habituated golden monkey groups in Volcanoes that can be tracked, one on the slopes of Mount Karisimbi and the other in the bamboo forest on Mount Sabyinyo. This is also a standalone excursion, departing from the Kinigi headquarters once each day.

Please note that you may not get as close to them as you may to the mountain gorillas, but their antics are fun to watch and the bamboo forests, which they inhabit, are an interesting environment. They’re also very pretty, with shiny reddish-gold backs that blend in perfectly with the golden bamboo. Golden monkeys are tracked in a group of 8 people. The trek takes

  • Dian Fossey’s Tomb Hike in Volcanoes National Park

Dian Fossey is famous for her research on mountain gorillas. First visiting Rwanda in 1963, she went on to study them for over 18 years, becoming a leading authority on their physiology and behavior. Through her research, she raised awareness of their vulnerability and promoted conservation initiatives, including setting up the Karisoke Research Foundation.

Dian Fossey did not enjoy universal popularity, and she made many enemies among local Rwandans, including poachers and those who wished to convert the gorillas’ habitat to farmland. Tragically she was found murdered at her research station in 1985, however, her legacy lives on and her work continues through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International. She is buried on the slopes of Mt Karisimbi.

Before or after your Rwanda gorilla safari, you can explore where Fossey was buried along with her gorilla friends including her favorite whom she called ‘Digit’. The hike passes through dense bamboo and Hagenia forest en route and, if you are lucky, you may spot golden monkeys jumping through the trees. The hike takes around 3-4 hours.

  • Volcano Hiking/Climbing in Volcanoes National Park

You also have a chance in Volcanoes National Park to scale one of its five dormant volcanoes. You can climb Mount Karisimbi which is the highest of the 8 Virunga volcanoes and the 6th highest mountain in Africa rising to 4,507 meters. You can hike Mount Bisoke, Mount Gahinga and Muhabura.

One of the best parts of climbing and trekking these magnificent volcanoes is that you will be awarded ample opportunities to view wildlife including gorillas, golden monkeys, bushbucks, and black-fronted duikers buffaloes. Also, expect to see birds such as turacos, francolins, sunbirds, waxbills, crimson-wings, and various hawks and buzzards plus a variety of unique plant species.

  • Visit Iby’Iwacu Cultural Village Near Volcanoes

During your Rwanda gorilla trekking tour to Volcanoes, you can visit the Iby’iwacu cultural village now known as the Gorilla guardian’s village to discover the culture and lifestyle of the Rwandan people. The culture started as a response to gorilla poaching which was carried out by some members of the community. While here, you have an opportunity to talk to the ex-gorilla poachers that have rejected their former way of life. You discover the traditional house of a local king, watch a medicine man prepare herbal mixtures, try your hand at bow and arrow shooting, or listen to the drums of Africa.

  • Hike Musanze Caves Near Volcanoes National Park

Located at the foothills of Volcanoes National Park, the caves offer a peek into the geological history of the region, which was created by intense volcanic activity that formed the Albertine Rift Valley some 65 million years ago. Extending for a length of two kilometers and relatively easy to hike, the underground caverns provide guests with a profound understanding of the origins of the area.

 

WHY GO MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA /BENEFITS OF GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo is a profound wildlife-watching experience and one that tops many travelers’ bucket lists – with good reasons;

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are So Rare and You Can’t See Them in Zoos

So rare are the mountain gorillas that they can only survive in the wild. These great apes are among the most endangered primates in the world with about 1,063 in existence which makes a gorilla safari to Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to see the rare mountain gorillas in their natural habitat a-once-in-a-lifetime journey.

  1. Mountain Gorillas Are Among Our Closest Living Genetic Relatives

A big part of what makes the gorilla trek in Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo so special is that these big apes are so closely related to humans (the difference in DNA is only about 1.6%). And aside from the DNA, it is hard not to find gorillas eerily similar to humans by just staring face to face with them. They live in family groups and gorilla mothers take very good care of their babies. Each gorilla family is led by one giant Silverback male.

Gorillas are also extremely intelligent primates and communicate with each other through vocalizations like grunts and barks. They are capable of feeling emotions like we do. Witnessing these great apes expressing typically human gestures and emotions, a truly profound experience and one of the reasons that gorilla trekking is such a life-changing adventure.

  1. Gorillas Are the Largest, Most Powerful, And Impressive Primates on Earth

Gorillas are the strongest and largest primates on earth, almost 3 times as bulky as an average man. Despite their immense size, strength, and fearsome appearance, mountain gorillas are remarkably peaceful creatures. More impressive even than their great size is their unfathomable attitude to people, which greatly differs from that of any other wild animal you know.  This makes a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo to encounter these wonderful creatures in their natural habitat the most intimate wildlife encounters you can have in Africa, if not the world.

  1. Gorilla Trekking is a Great Chance to Taste Your Physical Fitness

Mountain gorilla trekking destinations of Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC have challenging terrains. The trek to see our giant cousins usually involves hours of navigating uphill and downhill through dense forest with thick tangles of vines, roots, and muddy areas. It is relatively difficult, but a face-to-face encounter with the majestic mountain gorillas will gift you with soul-stirring memories that will stay etched in your mind forever.

  1. Gorilla Trekking Contribute To The Protection Of These Endangered Creatures

Anyone visiting a gorilla perk for a gorilla trekking tour is by definition, ensuring the survival of these endangered primates. If you, for example, buy a Uganda gorilla trekking permit, you not only buy a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with charismatic apes, you’re providing the economic incentive for the protection of the endangered mountain gorillas. Without gorilla tourism, mountain gorillas might have gone extinct.

Many scouts, who were once poachers of gorillas and other primates, are now their protectors and earn their livelihoods safeguarding what they once killed. It’s a conservation success story and continued gorilla trekking tourism is vital to the species’ continued existence.

PREPARATION FOR A GORILLA TREK IN RWANDA

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is an adventure of a lifetime but requires a decent bit of preparation. Here is how to prepare before setting out on your Rwanda gorilla tour or gorilla safari in Rwanda:-

  1. Book Your Rwanda Gorilla Permit

To participate in the Rwanda gorilla trekking safari, you need to book a Rwanda gorilla permit. A gorilla permit is a document or card issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) that allows any traveler above the age of 15 to trek the Rwanda gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

It is the most important item of your gorilla tour in Rwanda because without it you cannot visit the gorillas in Rwanda.

Your gorilla permit grants you access to one trek and one hour with the gorillas. But the gorilla trek in Rwanda may take anything from 30 minutes to -7 hours, depending on where the gorillas are on any given day.

It is possible to book your Rwanda gorilla trekking permit directly from RDB but the most convenient way is to use a reputable Rwanda tour operator.

You are advised to book a gorilla permit at least 6 months ahead of the Rwanda gorilla safari to ensure availability. Since only 8 persons can track a particular group and there are only 12 gorilla families mean the gorilla permits are limited in number.

Rwanda Gorilla Permit Cost

A Rwanda gorilla trekking permit costs:-

  • USD 1500 for international tourists ((Non- African Citizens)
  • USD 500 for African Union citizens and foreign residents in Rwanda
  • USD 200 for Rwandans & EAC nationals

Note: This price is valid until 31st December 2022.

  1. Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Fitness Preparation

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) requires a fair fitness level. The trek usually involves hiking in humid conditions. The trekking altitude ranges from 27,000 to 3500 meters.

You hike through dense vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, slippery mountain trails. And it is not fully feasible to forecast how long you’ll be trekking before you encounter your gorilla family on a Rwanda gorilla safari trip.

Some people spend as little as 30 minutes trekking before they come across gorillas. Others can spend up to 7 hours of trekking before meeting their gorilla group.

As with any active activity, the fitter you are on your gorilla trek, the better.  If you’re a regular hiker or hill walker, you should be fine – just ensure you have the correct clothing and sturdy hiking shoes or boots.

However, if you’re unfit, and have limited or no mobility, you can still see gorillas in Rwanda. Sedan chairs can be hired, which will be carried by teams of porters. It’s expensive, and it’s certainly not the most comfortable way to travel, but it’s worth it (just make sure you let us know well in advance if you think you will need this).

You can also hire a local porter to carry your day pack and lend a hand up steep sections and where the terrain is particularly challenging.

  1. Consider The Packing List For Your Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tour

On Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, you hike in wet conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks.

You, therefore need to prepare for your Rwanda gorilla safari by packing essential clothes, shoes, and other gear. Also as preparing your Gorilla tour in Rwanda packing list, don’t forgettable the COVID-19 prevention items.

What to Wear For Gorilla Trekking In Rwanda?

You need to be properly attired for your Rwanda gorilla trekking adventure if it is to be memorable for the right reasons. Here are some tips and a list of gorilla trekking clothing to help with your packing and Rwanda trip preparation:-

Neutral Color Clothes – Nature Blending Colors: Choose a shirt that’s a neutral color such as khaki, green or light brown. Bright colors aren’t advisable. Blue and black are also unadvisable, as these can attract insects like tsetse flies.

Facemask: In addition to other COVID-19 SOPs, a facemask is required on a gorilla trek in Rwanda. Since gorillas are vulnerable to human diseases, you’ll be required to wear a facemask at the briefing point, remove the mask while trekking, and wear a fresh facemask when with the gorillas.

Strong, waterproof hiking boots/shoes: You need sturdy lightweight comfortable waterproof hiking boots/shoes. Gorilla trekking in Rwanda occurs on the forest slopes of Virunga Volcanoes. The terrain is rugged and the forest floor can be a muddy and sticky dump.

A Pair of Gaiters: You also need a pair of the gaiter to prevent bugs, water, dirt, and pebble from entering your boot. Gaiters cover the vulnerable tops of your footwear to protect your feet from the jungle floor elements entirely.

Strong gardening gloves: If you like to grab on to things when you walk, we would advise a strong pair of gloves as there are quite a few thorns in the rainforest. Gloves will also keep you warm in the chilly mountain forest.

Hooded, Lightweight Waterproof Jacket or Poncho: Consider including a waterproof jacket or poncho in your Rwanda gorilla trekking packing list as it is crucial as far as gorilla trekking clothes are concerned. Mountain gorillas live in tropical rain forests and as such, it rains throughout the whole year.

Long-Sleeved Shirt or Blouse: Gorilla trekking differs greatly from the Rwanda safaris or other African safaris in the savannah plains. You trek through the jungle. If your skin’s sensitivity to nettles, and scratches from branches and vines then a long-sleeve hiking shirt should be on your Rwanda gorilla trekking packing list.

Hiking Pants or Trousers: You’re advised not to trek gorillas in shorts or skirts because of the creeping bug that could crawl up your legs and thorny plants that could damage your skin. Trousers will protect your legs effectively during the trek.

Broad-breamed hat: Broad-breamed hat to protect you from strong equatorial sunshine. It is also essential to protect your head from small particles.

Gear for a Gorilla Trekking Rwanda

Camera and extra batteries: You’re going to want to capture some scenes from your trek and time with the gorillas. Also, bring a waterproof bag to put the camera in should it rain.

Insect repellent: Ensure the repellant you bring contains DEET, as this is the ingredient that offers the best protection from mosquitoes and other annoying insects.

A walking stick: You may want a walking stick to assist you on the trek, especially if trekking on a wet day. It helps balance on uneven grounds. These can usually be hired at the park gate.

Mini first aid kit with antiseptic, plasters & moist towelettes

Water bottle or hip flask: Be sure to keep hydrated, especially at altitude.

A waterproof daypack: You’ll use this to carry all your essentials like your camera and rain jacket.

Other Essential Things to Carry For Your Gorilla Trek Rwanda

  • Hand sanitize
  • Energy Snacks
  • Energy-giving snacks for a quick energy boost.
  • Light day pack with a camelback for hands-free hydration.

Note: If you’re offered the option of a porter to carry your pack, please consider employing him. Many porters are reformed poachers and rely on the income from trekking to support their families – and not slip back into lucrative poaching.

RWANDA GORILLA TREKKING RULES

Rwanda Development Board (RDB) have clear rules and regulations to protect both endangered mountain gorillas and the humans that trek to see them. These include:-

Before You Visit the Gorillas of Rwanda

  • You must have a Rwanda gorilla permit to trek gorillas in Rwanda
  • The minimum age for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is strictly restricted to 15 years. This is mainly because of the mountainous terrain of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park which makes it very difficult for the young ones to undertake the trek because the trek is ascending right from the start.
  • If you have symptoms of infectious diseases you’ll not be allowed Rwanda gorillas. Gorillas are susceptible to many human diseases including COVID-19, cold, and flu.
  • Only 8 people per group are allowed to trek a particular gorilla family per day to minimize behavioral disturbances in the gorillas.

On The Way to the Gorillas in Rwanda

  • Always keep your voices low in the forest. This will also enable you to observe other natural treasures in the forest such as birds and other mammals like golden monkeys, forest buffalos, elephants, forest hogs, etc.
  • Listen to the guide’s instructions and information as you trek through the jungle
  • You should not litter while in the gorilla habitat. This is done to preserve the park’s environment and to prevent the spread of diseases to gorillas.
  • In case you need the toilet while on a gorilla trekking in Rwanda, tell your guide and he will dig a hole for you.

When You Are With Rwanda Gorillas

  • You must leave a distance of at least 7 meters between you and the gorillas. This rule is often breached by curious youngsters. In this case, slowly and calmly move backward to regain the 7m distance.
  • Flash photography is forbidden. Gorillas do not like flashlights and it may cause them to charge at you.
  • Do not eat, drink, smoke, urinate or defecate in the vicinity of the gorillas. Gorillas can easily can your diseases.
  • Please speak in a low voice. You are free to ask the guide questions.
  • Don’t feed gorillas
  • Gorillas may charge, although it rarely occurs because the gorillas you took to are fully habituated to visitors. But if it happens, follow your guide’s instructions. Never run away from gorillas. It increases the risk of a gorilla chasing you.
  • Do not touch the gorillas because they are wild animals.
  • If you won’t cough or sneeze when you are near the gorillas, please turn your head away and cover your nose and mouth. Your cough or sneeze can be lethal to a gorilla.
  • Your time with the gorillas is limited to 1 hour. This time limit is in place to minimize the impact of your presence on the primates.
  • When trekking back, speak in a low voice until you reach at least 200m away

COVID-19 SOPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

Gorillas share around 98.4% of our DNA. They are highly susceptible to many of the viruses that we carry, and coronavirus is no exception.

To keep these highly endangered apes safe, the government of Rwanda has established several safety protocols or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for Rwanda gorilla trekking tours. These include:

  • You are required to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test
  • Wearing a face mask on a gorilla trek
  • Body temperature screening
  • Washing or sanitizing your hands when heading when going on the gorilla trek
  • Strictly 6 visitors are accepted unlike before when it used to be 8 tourists per gorilla group.

CHANCES OF SEEING GORILLAS IN RWANDA

You probably have a 99% chance of seeing Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda. We haven’t ever heard of a tourist group being so unlucky as to not see gorillas on a Rwanda gorilla trekking expedition.

The park actually sends out trackers before anyone embarks on their trek. These trackers are in contact with your guide via radio and GPS, which means you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction to locate gorillas!

BEST TIME FOR GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA

The best time for gorilla trekking in Rwanda is during its two dry seasons: December to February and June to September. These times of the year offer comfortable/easiest gorilla trekking conditions and the lowest malaria risk.

However, you have a gorilla safari in Rwanda outside side these optimum times. But bear in mind that a gorilla trek in Rwanda can be difficult in the rain.

The paths are steep and may be muddy and slippery. You need to be fit and well prepared for the rainy conditions: bring strong hiking shoes/boat and a rain jacket.

Note: Rwanda is never actually completely dry – you can expect rain year-round. Trekking permits are more in demand during peak/dry seasons.

IS GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA SAFE?

Yes – gorilla trekking in Rwanda Volcanoes National Park is very safe.

And Rwanda is arguably the safest country to visit in Africa. The local people are warm and welcoming towards visitors.

Also, gorillas are not dangerous animals, despite their size, fearsome appearance, and unfair reputation. Mountain gorillas are typically shy, gentle giants who usually spend most of their time feeding and looking after their young. They’re even vegetarians (predominantly).

So while gorillas will defend themselves if attacked, they are not aggressive creatures. And they are not interested in hurting humans.

Moreover, the troops that you visit on gorilla trekking in Rwanda are habituated, which means they have undergone a long process of slowly becoming accustomed to the presence of humans.

They’re therefore less likely to become alarmed and agitated by your presence.

Also, when you go on a gorilla trek in Rwanda you go in the company of a trained ranger guide who is armed in case of an emergence.

Such men and women know the gorilla families being visited, and know what can and cannot be done. Listen to what they tell you to do and not do.

Also, there are rules to follow when observing the gorillas that are geared towards not angering, frightening, or in any other way upsetting the gorillas.

Volcanoes National Park is particularly well maintained and patrolled. Visitor safety is a top priority at both parks. So you’re in one of the safest spots of each country when you go gorilla trekking.

So gorilla trekking in Rwanda is a safe and exciting, adventure!

OTHER TOP ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR GORILLA TREK IN RWANDA VOLCANOES NATIONAL PARK

  1. Safari Game Drives, Boat Cruise, or Bird Watching In Akagera National Park.

This beautiful Akagera National Park is the only savannah park in Rwanda. It hosts all of Africa’s iconic Big Five animals (Lion, Rhino, Leopard, Buffalo, & Elephant). It is also home to hippos, Crocodiles, Giraffes, Zebras, Antelopes, and so many other animals, plus over 490 species of birds.

  1. Chimpanzee Tracking, Colobus Monkeys Tracking, Canopy Walk Adventure, Birding, or Nature Walks In Nyungwe Forest National Park

Nyungwe forest is the largest Montanan rainforest in Africa.

It is home to about 500 wild Chimpanzees that thrive along with other 12 species of primates including Olive baboons, Mangabey, Bushbaby, Angola Colobus, Blue, Red-tailed, Vervet, L’Hoest’s, and Owl-faced monkeys.

The park is also home to over 1068 species of plants and about 322 bird species including 29 Albertine Rif Endemic species.

  1. Visit Lake Kivu

Lake Kivu is one of Africa’s great lakes. It is also one of the beautiful lakes in East and Central Africa, featuring beautiful beaches.

The lake is the perfect place for relaxation before or after a Rwanda gorilla tour in Volcanoes National Park. Other activities here include a boat cruise, kayaking, surfing, swimming, fishing, etc…

  1. Explore Kigali City & the Genocide Memorial

Kigali is the capital city of Rwanda. It is one of the greenest, cleanest, and safest in Africa and probably the world.

If you are coming for a gorilla safari in Rwanda, you will find adding a day tour of Kigali city very rewarding as the city has several places to see and many things to do. You can visit the incredible Kigali genocide memorial, the colorful local markets, art galleries, and so much more.

Are You Ready For One Of The Most Unforgettable Wildlife Adventures In Africa?

We can take you there, into the rainforest jungle of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, where you will come face-to-face with the endangered mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Feel free to ask one of our Rwanda safari travel experts about gorilla trekking in Rwanda or Rwanda gorilla tour options.