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Ultimate Guide to Gorilla Trekking Safari in Rwanda

Everything you need to know about one of the most extraordinary animal encounters in the world. Mountain gorillas - the world’s most endangered apes threatened by humans and habitat loss are found only in the misty mountains of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo with only one thousand mountain gorillas remaining.

The mountain gorillas are the only primate species on earth with increasing numbers, thanks to the tremendous conservation efforts, Rwanda has registered one of the world’s great conservation success stories and has built a thriving industry around gorilla encounters.

Mountain gorillas are fiercely protected by armed rangers and police, and 10% of the revenue collected from gorilla trekking permits is used for conservation and community development. So, by going to Rwanda for gorilla trekking, you directly contribute to the conservation and protection of these precious creatures as well as community development.

Witnessing the mountain gorillas in their natural habitat is an incredible privilege and one of the most extraordinary and thrilling wildlife encounters you will ever experience. 

Pushing your way through a dense, slippery jungle of East Africa’s rainforest is not easy, however, once you are there, watching baby gorillas playing or the silverback looking deeply into your eyes, you will never be the same.

Gorilla trekking is an exhilarating and eye–opening experience, many people find themselves deeply moved by a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with mountain gorillas in the wild. 

In this article, you will discover everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Rwanda 

  • Where to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda
  • How to get to Volcanoes National Park
  • Best time to visit Rwanda
  • What to expect on a gorilla trek in Rwanda
  • Photography of the gorillas
  • Gorilla Permits in Rwanda
  • Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park
  • What to pack for a gorilla trekking safari in Rwanda

Half of the world’s 1000 gorilla individuals remain in the world and live in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa, a range of volcanoes extending about 50 miles along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Republic of Congo.

The best place to see these rare creatures in Rwanda is Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) in the Northwest region of the country.

The easiest way to get to Volcanoes National Park located in the Northwest region of Rwanda is by flying into the capital city – Kigali, on arrival at Kigali International Airport, you will be received by our experienced safari guide. 

All international tourists need to have a tourist visa which costs USD 50 per person for a single entry visa, for more information check Rwanda immigration  for more updated information. 

It is possible to track mountain gorillas in Rwanda throughout the year, but the best time tends to be during the dry period from June to September when the jungle is less muddy and the paths are less slippery. Bear in mind that it can rain any time of the year.

The wettest months in Rwanda are April and May bringing tricky muddy trails, however, you can still track mountain gorillas at this time. Often gorillas climb higher up the mountain during the dry season and descend to the foothills during the rains.

This is an excellent time for tracking mountain gorillas as the fruit ripens and brings the gorillas down to the lower reaches of the forest, the rainy seasons around March to May and October to November can also provide the best conditions for photography in Rwanda. After the rainy shower, the air is clear of any dust providing the perfect atmosphere for gorilla trekking.

The gorilla trekking adventure starts early, you will need to arrive at the Kingi Park headquarters in Volcanoes National Park at 7:00 am for a briefing from one of the park rangers. You will begin your search for a gorilla family around 08:30 am and return to the park headquarters by 7:00 pm at the latest (although your trek may take less time).

One of the key elements in determining which gorilla family you will trek to see is the duration and difficulty of the trek you wish to undertake. Your trek could last about two to nine hours depending on the exact location of the specific gorilla family you are tracking.

You do not have to be super fit to take part in gorilla trekking, however, it does help if you have a reasonable level of fitness. If only to enhance your overall enjoyment of the experience. You will be led by a professional guide and tracker through the forest trails in search of your gorilla family, the conditions in the forest can be slippery and muddy even in the dry season and it can also be very humid under the forest canopy. 

The Gorilla trek is fairly challenging and you may find it tough as you pass through the dense undergrowth, the high altitude and the steep, slippery trails can make the trek exhausting but it is worth the effort to spend time with mountain gorillas in the wild. 

When you find the gorillas, you will have the opportunity to spend up to one hour in their company then return to your lodge where you will spend the rest of the day reflecting on your moving and magical encounter with the wild mountain gorillas of Rwanda. 

When you meet the gorillas, you will have the chance to spend between 40 minutes to one hour quietly observing them in their natural habitat – the jungle of Volcanoes National Park. The gorillas are likely to be just a few meters away from you and they will continue to go about their daily lives, feeding and interacting with each other under the watchful gaze of the dominant silverback. This is something you will never forget. 

While you are with the gorillas, you should talk in a low voice and you must try not to make any loud noises or sudden movements. Of course, you are going to be excited but you should try to express yourself quietly. 

You are requested to keep a distance of 5 meters from the gorillas and you must not touch them under any circumstances.  

Even though the gorillas are habituated and used to seeing people daily, they are still wild animals and they can sometimes react unexpectedly. You must listen to the instructions from your guides and trackers at all times. 

You will have one magical hour with the gorillas, however, this never feels long enough and for a longer experience, we recommend that you consider doing two treks. 

Two gorilla experiences are never the same and a second trek offers the opportunity to track a different gorilla family in a different area of the park. on the second trek, you are more likely to put the camera down, relax, and enjoy the experience. 

Taking photographs of the gorillas is challenging due to the light conditions and the fact that the distance between you and the gorillas is unpredictable. Also, your time with them is limited, therefore you should ensure that you are as prepared as possible to get the best photos of the gorillas.

The choice of your camera is completely up to you. 

As you are required to be at least seven meters from the gorillas, a 70 – 200mm lens is ideal. A 2.8 lens is even better as the light in the forest can be very poor at times. 

Note that flash photography is not allowed so make sure that you disable the flash on your camera or mobile phone before you get to your group of gorillas. 

Your time with the gorillas is precious so should plan your shots rather than shooting away wildly, we recommend that you find a balance between absorbing this thrilling experience and taking photographs of these fascinating creatures. Also, don’t spend the whole time looking through your camera lens, you should focus on the experience as well as taking your photographs. 

Travel tip – make sure that your batteries are fully charged and you have plenty of space on your memory cards. Also, you should make sure that you have waterproof bags or covers for your camera as the rainforest climate means it can rain any time of the year. 

Visiting the precious mountain gorillas in Rwanda is strictly managed as a way of protecting these critically endangered animals in their natural habitat and increasing their chance of survival. 

A gorilla permit is required to trek the gorillas in Volcanoes National Park, there are only 12 habituated gorilla families available to trek and only 8 people can visit each gorilla family each day. Strictly, only 96 gorilla permits are issued on a daily by the Rwanda Development Board. 

Gorilla permits in Rwanda sell out months in advance, so you will need to obtain your permit early to secure your preferred dates, especially during the peak season/busy months. 

During the dry seasons of December to March and June to September which are peak seasons, gorilla permits sell out quickly. During the rainy season of April to May and October to November, the gorilla permits are not as competitive. 

On the actual day of gorilla trekking, you will be allocated a gorilla family to track based on your age, fitness level, and number of pre-booked treks. Some gorilla families are harder to track and require a high level of fitness, while other gorilla families require shorter trekking times. 

Gorilla permits in Rwanda currently cost US $ 1500 per person and the price includes park entrance, expert guides and trackers, the security of a tourism police force in the parks, and one precious hour with the gorillas. 

Tipping your guides and trackers on your gorilla trek is optional but not necessary and is entirely at the discretion of the traveler. 

In case you are showing signs of illness, you will be declared unfit by the Warden in Charge and you are not allowed to take part in the gorilla trekking. You will be refunded 50% of the gorilla tracking fee. 

Due to safety reasons, you must be at least 15 years of age to track mountain gorillas in Rwanda.  

While on a gorilla trekking safari in Volcanoes National Park, it is advisable to stay close to the park headquarters as you have to arrive at 07:00 am for your pre-trek briefing, and you will have the chance to soak up the spectacular natural beauty of the Virunga region.  

These accommodations include 

It is important to come well prepared for the incredible experience of tracking mountains in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, however, you should overpack with gear so if you intend to use domestic flights limit the luggage to 20 kilograms per person. When packing it is best to use a soft case or holdall to maximize space.   

Here our advice on what you should pack for a gorilla trekking adventure in Rwanda 

  • Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with gorilla ankle support. Make sure your shoes are well-worn before departing to avoid any nasty blisters and being uncomfortable.
  • Light, breathable, waterproof jackets and trousers and long–sleeved shirts. It is important to wear light, long layers due to the variable weather and to avoid any insect bites.  
  • Warm layers for the chilly mornings and cold nights 
  • Long, lightweight woolen socks 
  • Wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for sun protection
  • Toiletries such as sunscreen, insect repellent, after-sun, bite relief cream, and lip balm
  • Garden gloves to protect your hands as you grip the vegetation during your trek 
  • A small backpack to carry your water, lunch, extra clothes, binoculars and camera 
  • Camera with extra lenses and batteries, bring more memory cards/sticks than you think you need. 
  • Binoculars to have a clear view of everything and to spot other wildlife such as birds and monkeys 
  • Energy-giving snacks for some extra energy
  • A reusable water bottle to limit waste, you will need to bring plenty of drinking water on your trek  
  • Multi-way travel adaptor, Rwanda uses plug types C (two round pins) and J (two round pins and a grounding pin) and operates on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz standard frequency 
  • Supplies for local community projects in the form of donations which safari lodges and hotels drop off at the local community and schools. 

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Ultimate Guide to Gorilla Trekking Safari in Rwanda

Ultimate Guide to Gorilla Trekking Safari in Rwanda

Everything you need to know about one of the most extraordinary animal encounters in the world.
Mountain gorillas – the world’s most endangered apes threatened by humans and habitat loss are found only in the misty mountains of Rwanda,

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