Gorilla trekking / tracking in Rwanda

gorilla trekking in rwanda

Gorilla trekking or tracking in Rwanda is one of the most enthralling wildlife tours you can do on your trip in Africa. The gorilla tracking tour is a unique wildlife adventure that offers one a rare chance to walk (trek) in the African jungle to find (track) and see a family of wild mountain gorillas. And, coming within 7 meters of these great apes in their natural home, without any barrier in between, is not only amazing but life changing too! Gorillas share 98% DNA with humans.

gorilla in rwanda

The gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda is done in Volcanoes National Park which is located in Musanze District in the north of the country, that is 116km/72miles and 2 hours drive from the capital city Kigali. Mountain gorillas are endangered species, with only about 800 individuals left in the world and a third of these live in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. 12 mountain gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park have been habituated for the gorilla tracking adventure.

Habituation of gorillas is the process by which trained personnel make continuous visits to a group of wild gorillas in the jungle whose instinct is to flee or attack a human because they perceive him or her an intruder in their natural space and thus a threat, to a point the gorillas will believe that the humans are actually not a threat after realizing they are not being harmed by these persistent human visitors. At this point the gorillas can tolerate the humans in their vicinity but for a short while.

What you need to know about the gorilla trekking in Rwanda

The minimum age limit to do gorilla tracking in Rwanda is 15 years.

The gorilla tracking tour in Rwanda starts at the park office in Kinigi.

There is only one gorilla trekking session in day which starts in the morning at 7am.

Visitors are required to report to the park office by 7am to be allocated to the gorilla groups they will be tracking.

The maximum number of people who can track one gorilla group is 8. This is primarily to avoid stressing the gorillas by a bigger number of people and also to limit the impact of the trekking on the habitat.

Once the allocation is done the park guides shall brief the visitors about the gorilla experience especially informing about the dos and don’ts while with the gorillas and when trekking through the park.

After briefing visitors and park guides will drive from the park office in Kinigi to the boundary of the park where the trekking up the mountain range starts. Every gorilla tracking adventure in the volcanoes national park is led by a park guide who is likely to have participated in the gorilla habituation and can easily be recognized by the gorillas. There shall also be an armed soldier whose purpose is to protect against attacks from other un habituated gorillas or other wild animals such as buffaloes, elephants which live in the park. Such encounters are however very unlikely.

The gorilla groups live in different locations along the mountain range and the time taken to find one’s assigned group cannot be predicated because the gorillas are always on the move as they feeding on plants and fruits. However, early in the morning, there are advance park trackers who set out to locate each gorilla group and relay the information about their initial positions. Hence before visitors start the gorilla trek, the park guides have an idea of the location of the gorilla families. Knowledge of where the gorillas may be helpful in assigning the nearer gorilla groups to the older or less fit travelers and the far groups to the younger and fit travelers. Therefore, finding the gorilla group can take from a few minutes to several hours. But on average it takes about 3 hours to find the gorilla family.

After finding the gorillas, a maximum of 1 hour is allowed to be with the gorillas. Visitors have to follow the guidelines as will have been laid out by the park guides during briefing such as:

  • Keep a minimum 7 meters distance from the gorillas to minimize possible transmission of human diseases
  • Always remember to be submissive
  • Do not look them straight in the face, but rather give a sideways glace when they approach you
  • Do not stand over them, rather crouch and stay in a tight group
  • Speak in whispers
  • Do not feed the Gorillas
  • Do not entice them to get in contact with you in any way
  • Do not eat in the vicinity of the Gorillas

Cost of the gorilla tracking permit in Rwanda?

The gorilla tracking permit in Rwanda costs USD 1500.

10% of this fee is channeled to development projects in the local communities neighboring the Volcanoes National Park. This direct benefit from the gorilla tourism by the locals has encouraged the locals to protect the park who have previously been dependent on it for agriculture, firewood, herbs, hunting and poaching which degraded the gorilla habitat and led to death of the gorillas almost leading to their extinction. Therefore when you buy a Rwanda gorilla tracking permit you are contributing to the development of the local communities and saving the mountain gorillas.

Level of difficulty of the trek to find the gorillas and level of fitness needed

The difficulty level of the gorilla trek can be put at “challenging to difficult” because it entails climbing up and along the mountains covered with forest and vegetation while essentially making a trail where it is none existent. The trekking gets more difficult during the rainy season (March to May & October to November) because the ground gets muddy and slippery.

There are porters available for hire at $10 each and these are helpful in carrying any bag you may have and also offer some support in form of a push or pull in more challenging spots. It is highly recommended to take a porter. Porters are locals from the surrounding communities hence you would be giving back directly to the local communities by hiring one.

Visitors that are physically disabled or those that do not feel that they can manage the hike (such as the elderly or injured) can request for a stretcher that is carried by a group of able bodied young men for the whole gorilla trek. This is at an extra cost of course. Also, if along the way, one fails to continue with the hike a stretcher can be improvised made of tree branches and carried by the porters for the rest of the hike

The trek into the park starts at an altitude of about 2700 meters above sea level and one may climb up to altitude 3500 meters above sea level depending on the location of the assigned gorilla group. Hence, visitors should find out from their physicians if their health may be affected by this altitude i.e. possibility of altitude sickness. Also, during preparations before going the gorilla tour visitors should do climbs to such altitude so they can acclimatize.

Best time for the gorilla trekking in Rwanda

The gorillas can be seen all year round, however the trek is easier during the dry seasons: June – August and July – September

How to prepare for your gorilla tracking tour in Rwanda?

  • Buy your gorilla tracking permit/ticket earlier. Since only 8 persons can track a particular group and there only 12 groups means the gorilla tracking permits are limited in number.
  • Get into shape and prepare for a even tough hike though a softer hike to a nearby gorilla group may be possible
  • Since humans share 98% DNA with gorillas means gorillas get human diseases. Hence ensure you are treated and are free of contagious diseases such as cold, flue, cough. You will not be allowed to visit the gorillas if you have any of these diseases.

What to bring from your gorilla trip

  • good hiking shoes,
  • rain jacket/poncho,
  • gaiters,
  • long pants and long sleeved shirt to protect from prickly plants,
  • a cap,
  • sunscreen,
  • garden gloves
  • a small backpack to carry camera batteries, water, etc…

Where else can I see mountain gorillas?

Other than Rwanda, mountain gorillas are found in only two other countries in the world and these are Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, and all these three countries neighbor each other sharing the habitat of the mountain gorillas. The mountain gorillas cannot survive outside of their natural habitat the reason you cannot find them anywhere else. Gorillas kept in zoos worldwide are lowland gorillas but not the mountain gorillas!

Hence, apart from Rwanda, you can do the gorilla tracking in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo

Book a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda

 2 Days Rwanda gorilla tracking tour

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