You can see the Mountain gorillas in only Africa. Scientifically known as Gorilla Berengei Berengei, these great apes live in three countries in the world; Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Among these destinations, Rwanda is the country that attracts most travelers interested in mountain gorilla trekking. The mountain gorillas are protected in the Volcanoes national park within northern Rwanda, a park that the late Dian Fossey called home for almost 3 decades. Since the inception of gorilla tourism, there has been a growing number of tourists visiting Rwanda to meet the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.
Gorilla tourism was developed along the guidelines of ecotourism. There is a carrying capacity and the activity is highly regulated so that these great apes can be protected and preserved for the future generations.
Gorilla trekking is done daily in the Volcanoes National Park. Everyday, tourists converge at the park headquarters and are guided into the bamboo forest in search of the mountain gorillas. Tourists are grouped into small groups of eight (8) people who are guided to a habituated gorilla family within the park. Please note that it is only 8 tourists who are allowed to view these gorillas every day and this is the carrying capacity of the national parks where gorilla tracking is conducted.
Within the park, there are 12 habituated gorilla groups which are readily available for viewing once you have purchase a gorilla permit. A gorilla permit costs U$1500 whenever you go for tracking. Since there are as few as 96 gorilla permits available per day, it is advisable to book your gorilla permit well in advance most especially if you are to track the gorillas during the peak months.
Planning Your Gorilla Trek
For you to best enjoy this activity, you should book a fully inclusive gorilla safari with a credible tour company which can plan your trip and put together all the elements well in advance.
For one to track the mountain gorillas, a reasonable degree of fitness is needed. Please be prepared for hikes within the montane national park in order to meet the mountain gorillas. Like their names suggests, mountain gorillas tend to live on high slopes and therefore the experience doesn’t come that easily.
You will be required to wake up every early in the morning to go to the park headquarters for briefing.
In this regard therefore to avoid a lot of hustle, you are recommended to stay close at a safari lodge that is close to the park. This will save you from inconveniences which may have been caused when you have your accommodation away from the park.
Also remember for you to participate in the activity, you must be at the park headquarter by 7 AM.
Always listen to the briefing given by the park rangers. This briefing is useful on your side because, it will guide the safety precautions as well as how you are supposed to behave during the times with the gentle giants.
Why go gorilla trekking in Rwanda
Rwanda is considered the best country for gorilla trekking because it provides you with more than eight (80) gorilla trekking guides. These are readily provided by the Rwanda development Board. They are much trained and they do speak in very good French and English language.
Essentials for a Successful Gorilla Trek in Rwanda
- Get well prepared for the gorilla trek. The hike demands a considerate level of physical strength. Keep in memory and mind that since there is an element of mountain which means something high, you must then expect to hike up-slopes and down-slopes.
- Also note that the gorilla trek is dependent on the movement of the gorillas. A trek can be from as few as 3 hours to a full day. You can spend the whole day trekking the gorillas, since the mountain gorillas are not stationed in one place.
Gorilla permits do not come cheaply. Since May 2017, the Rwanda gorilla Permits cost US$1500 per person. There are many tour operators offering gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda but the price of a fully inclusive tour differs from one company to company. These prices differ according to the costs of transportation and the accommodation fitted into your safari package. For your information, local companies definitely charge lower than the international agencies. Therefore, you can save more if you book with a local tour operator in comparison with the international companies.Read More
Mention Rwanda to anyone with a small measure of geo-political conscience and that person will have no doubt recall images of the horrific genocide that brutalized this tiny country in 1994. But since those dark days a miraculous transformation has been united and today the country has one tribal unity, political stability and promising future.
Volcanoes National Park
Tourism is once again a key contributor to the economy and the industry’s brightest star is the chance to track the rare mountain gorillas through the bamboo forests in the shadow of the Virunga Volcanoes. Volcanoes National Park is the highlight of the country, which runs along the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda, is home to the Rwandan section of the Virunga’s, comprising of five volcanoes: Karisimbi, Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura.
While most tourists to the park are understandably driven by the desire to have a face-to-face encounter with real gorillas in the mist, there is good reason to stay in the area once you have finished tracking: the gorillas share the park with rare golden monkeys, a troop which has also been habituated to human contact. The Virunga which towers over Rwanda, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, also present a variety of rewarding climbing and trekking options. To get the most from the Virunga’s give yourself as much time as you possibly can. This is absolutely a park that rewards those who linger.
When to go
The long dry season from June to September is the ideal time to track mountain gorilla as it is well drier.
Accessibility to the Park
Access to Volcanoes National Park is via Musanze (Ruhengeri), although all gorilla treks need to report to the park headquarters in Kinigi north of Musanze at 7:00am. Musanze is a pleasant enough town to explore on foot and it’s situated near a number of interesting natural sights with the massive Virunga volcanoes looming to the north and west.
Gorilla trekking is the highlight for any visitor in Rwanda. Virunga massif protects over 604 mountain gorillas which amounts to roughly half of the world’s existing population and is the ideal place for a gorilla safari in Rwanda. An encounter with a silverback male gorilla at close quarters can be a hair- raising experience, yet despite their intimidating size, gorillas are remarkably non- aggressive animals, entirely vegetarian and usually quite safe to be round. The term once in a lifetime is bandied about a lot, but gorilla tracking in Volcanoes National Park is one experience for which it just happens to be true.
To determine whether the trek will be easy or had, it depends on which group of gorillas you go and see some journeys are just a short stroll but others a half day slog. You will most likely spend several hours scrambling through dense vegetation up steep, muddy hillsides, sometimes to altitudes of more than 3000m. At this altitude you will certainly be a little breathless, but someone amount of walking is unlikely to find the walk all that tough. If you are not used to walking is though it might be very different story and you should request a group closer to the trailheads.
The Gorilla Encounter
Visits to the gorillas are restricted to one hour and flash photography is not allowed. While you are visiting the gorillas, do not eat, drink, smoke or go the bathroom in their presence. If you have any potential air bone illness, don not go tracking as gorillas are extremely susceptible to human diseases. Visitors request to keep 7 meters from gorillas at all times.
The number of people allowed to visit each of the group is limited to a maximum of 8 people per day, limiting the total number of daily permits to an absolute maximum of 80. Children under the age of 15 years are not allowed to visit the gorillas.
Bookings for gorilla permits can be made through the Rwanda Development Board tourist office in Kigali or a Rwandan tour company. With demand often exceeding supply, you will need to book well in advance if you want to be assured of a spot, especially during the peak seasons of December – January and July- August.
Golden Monkey Tracking
In case you still have enough time in Volcanoes National Park, Golden monkey tracking is another activity one can opt to do after mountain gorillas tracking. More like chimp viewing than a gorilla encounter, these beautiful and active monkeys bound about the branches of bigger trees. If you are looking for a reason to spend an extra day in the park, do not miss the chance to track these rare animals. Permits to track the golden monkeys cost US$ 100 per person are easy to get hold of, simply enquire at the Rwanda Development Board office in Kigali or Musanze or at the park headquarters in Kinigi.
The Virunga’s which tower over Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo; also present a variety of rewarding climbing and trekking options. To get the most from the Virunga’s give yourself as much time as you possibly can. This is absolutely a park that rewards those who linger.
Cost of Gorilla Permit
The gorilla permit costs US$ 1500 per person per day which includes park entry, compulsory guides and guides’ fee.
Clothing and Equipment
You need to be prepared for a potentially long, wet and cold trek through rainforest; a pair of hiking shoes is a must, as is warm and waterproof clothing. The stinging nettles at higher elevations can really put a damper on the experience, so consider wearing trousers and long-sleeve shirts with a bit of thickness.
Despite the high altitudes and potentially cold temperatures, you also need to be prepared for the strong sun. Floppy hats, bandanas, sunglasses and lots of sunscreen are a good idea, as are plenty of cold water and hydrating fluids.
When you check in at the park headquarters, you may be asked for identification by the park rangers. To avoid any potential hassles, carry your passport with you at all times in addition to your gorilla tracking permit.Read More