Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Mountain Gorilla Trekking RwandaMountain Gorilla trekking in the awe-inspiring Volcanoes National Park of Rwanda is one of the most remarkable and thrilling of all wildlife adventures.

Mountain Gorillas are endangered species, with only about 800 individuals left in the world. One third of them are found in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, inhabiting the forests of the Virunga Massif – a chain of lush volcano mountains that straddles across the border of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Other Mountain Gorillas are found in the Virunga National Park of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Groups (families) of Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park have been habituated for the popular Mountain Gorilla trekking adventures. Habituation is a process of continuous human contact with wild Mountain Gorillas in their habitat till they get to tolerate human presence, without having to flee or charge. It is thus a process of getting the Gorillas to trust humans as non threats. The trackers and rangers carry out the Gorilla habituation process which could take up to three years for one Gorilla group. As of 2015, 10 families of Mountain Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park have been habituated and are available for the popular Mountain Gorilla trekking tour adventures in Rwanda. The Groups include, Susa, which is the largest Gorilla group in the world with 41 members. Others are: Sabinyo, Amahoro, Group 13, Kwitonda, Umubano, Hirwa, Karisimbi, Ntambara, and Isimbi

rwanda mountain gorillas

How to go Mountain Gorilla trekking in Rwanda, Gorilla Permits & the Gorilla Trek

The number one requirement for doing the gorilla trek in Rwanda is a Gorilla permit, which is issued by the Rwanda Tourism Office.  Each permit goes for USD750 (seven hundred fifty US dollars only), which may be considered a bit costly, but a lot of that money goes into conservation efforts and funding anti-poaching efforts. A percentage of this money is also channeled into developing and improving the livelihoods of the local communities leaving around the Volcanoes National Park, hence an incentive to prevent the locals from encroaching on the park but rather help protect it. On the other hand, the high cost of the permit also holds back many travelers thus protecting the endangered Mountain Gorillas from mass tourism. Also, important to note is that a maximum of 8 travelers can track one Mountain Gorilla family in a single day. This too limits on the impact of the Gorilla tourism.

Because a limited number of only 8 permits are issued for one Gorilla group for a single day, the high demand for them means they get sold out way in advance. Therefore endeavor to book for your permits or Gorilla tour to Rwanda way in advance, say 2 months before your preferred trekking date(s).

*Note that the minimum age to book a permit and do gorilla trekking in Rwanda is 15 years.

at kinigi park office for gorilla trekking

With the permit secured, on the day of trekking you transfer to the park offices at Kinigi where you get to convene with a host of other travelers, including those set to do the Gorilla trek and others set for different adventures in the park. You get to meet the rangers who will lead the Gorilla trek. They allocate the Gorilla travelers to the different 10 habituated Mountain Gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park. After each traveler has been allocated to a Gorilla group, you are briefed by the respective Group rangers after which you transfer to the respective starting points of the Gorilla treks which are situated at the bases of the 5 Virunga volcanoes in Rwanda. The lush Virunga volcanoes provide such a breathtaking backdrop for the Gorilla adventure.

trekking bisoke volcano

Set out into the forest to find the Mountain Gorillas, trekking on a tough terrain, while penetrating through different layers of vegetation. It could take from a few minutes to several hours before locating the Mountain Gorilla group, depending on how far they would have moved. Note that, very early in the morning before you set out for the trek, there are advance trackers in park that trace the location of the Gorillas, having known where they spent the night from the previous day. They would then give your rangers location information as the Gorillas move from place to place feeding. Therefore chances of you missing the Gorillas are very very slim, almost impossible. This also helps during the allocation of the gorilla groups at the park offices, so that, depending on ones fitness levels, travelers have a chance to request for either distant or closer groups. Some travelers, especially the elderly or those that can not handle long treks are allocated closer gorilla groups. While some travelers prefer the long treks that offer a better experience of the African jungle.

Encountering the Mountain Gorillas

encountering the mountain gorillas rwanda

When you finally locate these great apes, you have strictly one hour to enjoy this sensational encounter. But please endeavor to adhere to the Gorilla trekking etiquette as shall be laid out by the rangers! Calm and gentle as they shall be, the Gorillas are still wild and so you should not provoke them in any way. Remember to keep your distance about 7 meters (23 feet) from them, and bear in mind that Gorillas have a right of way.

Take note of the following:

  • 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 in contact with you in any way
  • Do not eat in the vicinity of the Gorillas

Return from the Gorilla trek, meet your drive and transfer back to your hotel.

Best time for Gorilla trekking in Rwanda?

All year round is fine to do gorilla trekking in Rwanda, however the less wet months of July – September and December – February reduce on the trekking difficult caused by the mud. Note however, that Volcanoes National Park is situated within a rainforest environment so chances of rain are always good no matter the month.

Physical fitness levels

Generally the terrain is considerably rough, and gets even more challenging in wet weather. However you do not need athletic fitness, moderate to average fitness is fine. However it also depends on the location of the Gorilla group you shall be tracking as some live right at the edge of the park and are very easy to access while others require hiking the volcanoes in order reach them. For the elderly that may not handle distant treks the rangers will single them out and allocate them the easier groups. You are also advised to take advantage of the porters who carry your backpack and assist you in the challenging areas. Porters are available at a small charge of USD10. It is also a way of directly contributing to the local communities since these are from the local communities around the park.

Gorilla trekking Rwanda

What to wear?

Long sleeves, trousers and woolen glover to protect against the stinging nettles and other thorny plants

Proper hiking shoes (preferably high cut) as the terrain is really rough and gets all muddy and slippery

Chances of rain in the Virungas are always high, hence carry a rain coat as well as protective gear for camera equipment

Backpack for your items

A cap/hut to protect from particles falling off trees

Warm clothes for the cold. Note that the area around the park stands at 1,700m above sea level.

What to bring for the trek?

Packed lunch, may be snacks, as it could take as many hours to find the gorillas.

Drinking water, at least one litter

Cameras and recorders, however TURN OFF FLASH

Advisable  to hire a porter to carry your bags, and provide that push or pull at the challenging spots. They are available at the starting point of the trek, for USD10

Can I find the Mountain Gorillas in a Zoo?

Unlike the Lowland Gorillas, Mountain Gorillas are not known to survive outside their natural habitat (mountain forest) and so you can not find them in any zoo anywhere in the world. Your only chance at encountering these magnificent apes is by going on a gorilla trekking tour in Rwanda and view them in their pristine habitats of lush mountain forest.

baby mountain gorilla rwanda

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