Go Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
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.