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GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA – A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO RWANDA MOUNTAIN GORILLA TREKKING

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 TOUR IN RWANDA

  1. Book a Gorilla Permit

If you want to undertake a Uganda gorilla trekking safari, a Rwanda gorilla trekking safari, or a Congo gorilla trekking trip, you will need to book a gorilla permit. The gorilla permit is a document/card issued by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), or Virunga National Park office and allows any traveler above the age of 15 to trek gorillas.

Gorilla trekking permits grant access to one trek and one hour with the gorillas. The length of the trek may vary, depending on where the gorillas are on any given day. It is possible to book the permits directly from UWA or RDB but the most convenient way is to use a reliable tour operator. Book at least 6 months ahead of travel to ensure availability.

How Much is a Uganda Gorilla Trekking Safari Permit?

The Uganda gorilla trekking permit price is USD 700 per person for foreign nonresidents.  The cost of a gorilla permit in Uganda for foreign residents (with work permits) is USD 600, and East African (EAC) Citizens is UGX 250,000 per person. Rwanda gorilla trekking permit cost USD 1,500 for all visitor categories and it is the most expensive permit for gorilla trekking. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a gorilla permit costs USD 400.

  1. Gorilla Trekking Fitness Preparation

How fit do you need to be for gorilla trekking in Rwanda? Gorilla trekking in Rwanda requires a fair fitness level as you will be hiking in humid conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. As with any strenuous activity, the fitter you are on your gorilla trek, the better. However, this does not mean that you need to be super-fit or be able to complete a bench press three times your body weight to go for a Rwanda gorilla safari trip.

Also before starting a Rwanda gorilla trek, you’re divided into groups of similar age and fitness levels, and the oldest and least fit people are generally allocated the gorilla family group that is nearest the starting point.

Don’t worry, you won’t be split up from your family members or friends but – obeying the golden rule of hiking – the fastest walkers will have to slow down to the pace of the slowest so that the group stays together safely. The fittest and youngest people will be chosen to find the gorilla family furthest away. Your ranger guide is very experienced in assessing how the group is coping and will stop when necessary for a break, to drink water, admire a view or even have a snack.

Packed lunches contain water and perhaps energy-rich items like roasted cashews or peanuts, bananas, apples, chocolate bars, muffins, small sandwiches or bread rolls, and local treats like ‘rolled eggs’ – a kind of omelet eaten cold.

It’s always easiest to trek Uganda gorillas, Rwanda gorillas, or Congo gorillas in the dry season. In the rainy season, the trek can be tougher as the forest trail be muddy and slippery. Gorillas may also seek refuge from the rain in the nest or trees, making them harder to find and see.

  1. Consider the Packing List for Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Tours

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda involves hiking in wet conditions through thick vegetation and along steep, at times rather muddy, mountain tracks. Therefore, you need to prepare for your gorilla trip by packing essential clothes, shoes, and other gear. And as prepare your gorilla trekking safari packing list, don’t forgettable COVID-19 prevention items.

Best clothes for gorilla trekking/What to wear for gorilla trekking in Africa?

  • Neutral color clothes including greens, greys, and brown to blend in with nature. Camouflage should be avoided- it is illegal for civilians to wear in many areas. And don’t wear animal print as the gorillas may become alarmed at seeing a ‘leopard’, for example.
  • Long trousers and long-sleeved shirts protect your legs and arms from scratches and bugs.
  • Gardening gloves to help you grab onto plants and branches for support without worrying about hurting your hands.
  • Strong waterproof hiking boots/shoes that provide ankle support.
  • Thin moisture-wicking socks and thicker cotton socks to cover them  to prevent blisters
  • Broad-breamed hat to protect you from strong equatorial sunshine
  • Hooded waterproof jacket
  • Buff to act as a dust mask and keep your neck warm and sweat out of your eyes.
  • A pair of gains to prevent bugs, water, dirt, and pebble from entering your boot.
  • Face mask

Gear for gorilla trekking in Rwanda

  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Gaiters to keep water, stones, mud, and sand out of your boots
  • Twin trekking poles for balance on uneven grounds
  • Mini first aid kit with antiseptic, plasters & moist towelettes
  • UV-filter sunglasses
  • Water bottle or hip flask. Be sure to keep hydrated, especially at altitude.
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • High SPF sunscreen & bug repellent
  • Microfiber towel for rinsing hand and face

Other essential things to carry for your gorilla trek

  • Hand sanitize
  • Energy-giving snacks for a quick energy boost.
  • Light day pack with a camelback for hands-free hydration. If you are offered the option of a porter to carry your pack, please consider employing (and tipping) 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

Before you visit the gorillas

  • If you are sick you cannot visit the gorillas. This is to prevent exposing the gorillas to human diseases that they may not have any resistance to (the permit fees will be refunded).
  • A maximum of 8 people per group is allowed to track one particular gorilla family per day to void behavioral disturbances to the gorillas.
  • The minimum age for gorilla trekking in 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 a change in 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 into 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 into the forest with, must be brought back out when you are living in the forest. This is to preserve the ecology of the park and to avoid the spread of diseases.
  • If you need the toilet whilst in the forest, you must dig a hole at least 30cm deep. This is to avoid the contamination of human germs. Therefore it is important to first go to the toilet before starting the gorilla trek.

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 flashlights, so flash photography is forbidden since it may cause the gorilla to charge at you. You should also 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 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

SOPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA DURING COVID

Gorillas share around 98.4% of our DNA and are therefore highly susceptible to many of the viruses that we carry, and coronavirus is no exception. To keep these wonderful primates safe, the Ugandan, Rwanda, and Congo governments have established several safety protocols/Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for gorilla trekking tours:

  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPS For Rwanda

  • Wearing a mask while on a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is compulsory
  • The maximum number of visitors on a gorilla trek is 6
  • It is possible to book a private gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda for USD 15000
  • Body temperatures will be scanned before you gorilla trek to ensure all visitors are in the recommended temperature range advised by the Ministry of Health
  • If visitors cannot go on a trek for medical reasons, their trekking permits will be refunded.
  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPs For Rwanda

  • Travelers on a gorilla safari in Rwanda are required to produce proof of negative COVID-19 test results on arriving at Entebbe International Airport (no older than 120 hours) and again at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
  • All trekkers must carry at least two surgical masks, double-layered cloth masks with filters, or N95 masks
  • Mandatory temperature checks and sanitization protocols must be observed
  • A distance of 2 meters (6.5 feet) must be maintained between trekkers
  • The viewing distance is set at 10 meters (33 feet)
  • Carry light equipment to minimize the need for porters.
  1. COVID-19 Gorilla Trekking SOPs For Rwanda

  • All guests will have to have a rapid COVID-19 test before they depart from Goma as well as a negative PCR test certificate. If the results are negative, they will be allowed to proceed on the trek.
  • At the gorilla trek briefing, all guests will have their temperature taken and will be checked for coughing and sneezing.
  • Facemasks are required to be worn during briefings.
  • Before guests leave for a gorilla trek, all guests and rangers are requested to wash their hands.
  • Before entering the forest, all guests will be requested to use hand sanitizer and put on new facemasks that will be provided.
  • Whilst walking into the forest and before finding the gorillas, guests are requested to maintain a 1.5-meter distance between the next person in front or behind.
  • Normal gorilla trek protocols will also apply with the exception that a facemask will not be allowed to be removed or lowered at any time during the gorilla trek.
  • A 10-meter distance should always be maintained from the gorillas.
  • Bring your facemasks and hand sanitizer.

CHANCES OF SEEING GORILLAS IN A RWANDA

Because mountain gorillas are so closely monitored, and either researchers or trackers are in touch with them every day, guides know more or less where the different families are, and you probably have a 99% chance of seeing them. Of course, there are no guarantees with wild animals, and an overnight thunderstorm or an unexpected encounter with a predator may cause a troop to move unexpectedly in a completely different direction, but scouts will likely pick up their trail again soon. It is very seldom that travelers don’t find the apes during a gorilla trekking expedition.

BEST TIME TO GO GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA 

The best time to go gorilla trekking in Rwanda is during dry seasons, although a gorilla safari can be undertaken at any time of year. Rwanda has two dry seasons, the first dry season runs from about the middle of December to the end of February and the second dry season is from early June to September. These times of the year offer comfortable gorilla trekking adventures. However, conditions are still very humid and wet in the gorilla parks with plenty of mud, so don’t forget your gaiters!

As you plan your Rwanda gorilla trekking safari tour, note that rain is an essential component of the Congo Basin’s tropical rainforest’s unique ecology, and the country’s seasons are properly defined as wet, wetter, and wettest. The ‘low rainfall’ season, which goes from June to September, and the ‘gentle rainfall’ season, which runs from December to February, are the best times to go gorilla trekking. July and August are generally the least rainy and coolest months of the year.

IS GORILLA TREKKING IN RWANDA SAFE?

Gorilla trekking in Rwanda is very safe. Regardless of their size, fearsome appearance, and unfair reputation, gorillas are not dangerous creatures. All Gorilla treks are done in the company of expert local ranger guides who spend most of their time with the mountain gorillas. Also, the gorilla families you are allowed to visit are those which have been habituated to the presence of a human, meaning they are used to having people near them and understand they are generally not a threat.

Mountain gorillas are typically shy and gentle, usually spending the majority of their time feeding and looking after their young. However, like any other wild animal, gorillas can show defensive behaviors if they feel threatened or uneasy, especially around their young ones.

Your expert ranger guide can recognize the signs; which may include mock charging, aggressive chest-beating, and grunting. You are advised to always follow your guide’s instructions, however, if faced with an aggressive gorilla, crouch down, look away and try to act relaxed. You will be advised by your guide further during the gorilla trekking briefing.

OTHER ACTIVITIES YOU CAN DO BEFORE OR AFTER YOUR GORILLA TREK IN RWANDA 

Not only are you able to trek gorillas in Rwanda, but you can also combine your Rwanda gorilla tour with close-up encounters with Africa’s iconic Big Five – Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo, and Rhino. Lions in 2015 were released in Akagera National Park, followed by the Eastern black rhinoceros 2 years later. As a result of these successful reintroduction programs, Akagera became a celebrated Big Five Rwanda safari destination for the first time in almost 20 years.

Rwanda is also home to the primate-filled Nyungwe Forest National Park where there are chimpanzees, fantastic bird-watching opportunities, and super canopy walk adventure.  And the beautiful Lake Kivu is a gorgeous expanse of water surrounded by Rwanda’s gently rolling slopes – in fact, Rwandans call their home ‘the country of a thousand hills, because of its undulating landscape. Kivu is a great place for relaxation, boating, hiking, and kayaking.

Are you ready to begin planning your gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda?

Gorillas are endangered the treks are carefully regulated in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. Gorilla permits are not easy to secure and expensive and traveling to such a remote gorilla trekking destination and ensuring the best chances for a successful Rwanda gorilla trekking tour needs the kind of direct experience and local knowledge that you get from an African safari expert.

You can get in touch with us to plan your Rwanda gorilla tour,