Are you planning a gorilla trekking safari to Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park? Then make sure you don’t miss trekking the famous Susa A family, one of the popular groups that were studied by Dian Fossey during her time in the Park. Interestingly, it has some of the oldest habituated mountain gorillas but is popular for the twins-Byishimo and Impano that are always entertaining tourists who visit them.
Gorilla trekking is so far the prime reason as to why thousands of tourists flock to Rwanda (Volcanoes National Park) and is now a haven to more than 10 habituated gorilla families thus Rwanda Development Board (RDB) issues over 80 gorilla permits daily that cost $1500 per person but sells like hot cake due to the high demand for this activity. It is always a every tourist’s dream come true to meet face to face with the giant Apes found in only three African countries.
Rwanda is one of the most perfect holiday destinations in the Africa. The country is most known for its amazing gorilla trekking expeditions that are conducted in Volcanoes National Park. Gorilla Tracking is the most sought after adventure in the country and this exciting activity can be carried out throughout the year.
In Rwanda, mountain gorilla trekking is done from Volcanoes National Park that can be accessed easily by both air and road transport right from Kigali International Airport. By road, it’s about a 3hours’ drive to the park and 45 minutes by plane.Rwanda has a well networked road transport so need of any worries. And while for this activity, it’s best to book accommodation with in or near the park as you get prepared for your early morning adventure. There are several well developed lodges close to the park.
After having a good sleep and waking up early morning to the sounds of the birds and great views of the beautiful the gently sloping hills covered with evergreen forests, tourists head to the Kinigi park headquarters where they are served with locally made hot coffee and tea as the a local group of entertainers bring lots of smiles to your faces jumping and dancing. You are then divided into groups of 8 and allocated to the 10 gorilla families. After being briefed, you then head to the jungles in search for the allocated gorilla group, which takes from 30 minutes to 5 or 6 hours.
Just a step in the forest introduces you the true African wilderness and sounds of nature. The guides in volcanoes national park are always willing to explain to the tourists the jungle and some of its inhabitants. As the journey proceeds, your guide is informed by the trackers who usually go ahead of the tourists tracking where exactly the gorillas are located.
This simplifies the tracking process and in a short while, after following the directions given by the game trackers, behind the thick vegetation, you see the large apes- the mountain gorillas; all covered with black fur, a look in the mountain gorilla dark eyes is scary at first glance but as you keep looking, you eventually get moved.
A gorilla visit can entail a 1 to 4-hour trek through the forest, led by experienced trackers who have spent their entire lives living in or close to the forest. Your trek will be enchanting as you weave through overhanging vines, moss-covered Hagenia trees and giant Lobelias that thrive in the tropical climate. You may spot golden monkeys or see buffalo, bush duiker and a wide variety of bird life. But the high point, of course, one of the greatest wildlife experiences on earth, will be spending an hour with the gentle giant gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, and raising their young. At the end of your visit you will understand what kept conservationist Dian Fossey living in this same forest for 18 years protecting these wonderful animals.
The gorillas are always found relaxing or eating the leaves in the reach of their hands as they stare at the very curious tourists taking their photographs.
When with the animals, visitors are reminded to maintain a reasonable distance from the gorillas so as to avoid inconveniencing the animals. Visitors usually spend an hour with the se estranged creatures; taking their pictures, watching them relax in their natural habitat relaxing and playing with each other teasing and nurturing each other. It so amazing staying in close view with these animals that this one hour elapses in just a swift,but once done, the tourists are taken back to the park headquarters where they are awarded Certificates of Participation for having gone for the great adventure. In addition to the remarkable gorilla experience, being in Rwanda feels like being home away from home and this explains why tourists are always forced to visit the country again.
Why Go on a Gorilla Safari in Rwanda?
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is one the most adventurous activity you will ever do on the African continent as a whole. Elsewhere, gorilla trekking is done in Uganda within the national parks of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National park as well as the Virunga National Park of the Democratic republic of Congo. This activity in Rwanda is done in the Virunga Mountains and this borders the three gorilla habitat countries. It is such a wonder to watch mountain gorillas in their natural habitat as they do their day to day activities. From one gorilla family, you get a chance to enjoying quite a number of gorillas which is such an amazing thing. In the morning, we assembled at the park offices, for a briefing on how to behave once we are in close with the gorilla group. The game rangers also decide on the combining of groups so as to provide for the 10 groups of 8 allowed in each day and also decide which group will visit which family based on the difficulty of the trek and the physical abilities of the guests.
NB: In this, you have a say and freedom to decide which gorilla group you want to visit, depending on your physical ability, you are never dictated to.
Following the briefing from the park office, you drive to your assigned / selected gorilla family access point, that varies depending on which group you are visiting. After which you start trekking in to the park. The searches can last from 45 minutes to 3 hours or even the whole day, and it is always best to carry snack (s) and drinking water as you may get hungry. In addition to this, it is always important to hire a porter – a local Rwandan worth $10 to help with your back pack and hold your hand through hard terrain and bring your cameras into the jungle. Once close to the gorilla family, you leave your back pack a little bit behind so as to observe and spend your 1 hour with the gorillas freely and attentively.
Since there is never any gorilla family that spends more than one hour a day with the humans, it is always best to take two treks. And both of these treks are quite different and very rewarding.
On our next day, trekking was somehow less tiring because we decided on the medium adventure rather than the hard one. On this hike, the gorillas were pretty laid back and moved very less.We moved from area to area to see the different members of the mountain gorilla group.
Unfortunately, on the third day, trekking was quite strenuous hiking uphill through a very thick jungle. In addition the gorilla family was almost constantly on the move so we had to keep following it up.
Our ranger guide paid very close attention to the gorilla movements and kept move us from place to place, hacking at the vegetation with his machete. It was very interesting how different the two families were.
At this point, it was further clarified on the importance of having to trek mountain gorillas twice when on Mountain Gorilla Adventure in Africa because it is most possible you won’t be going back a second time. It is also very advisable to wear good waterproof lightweight hiking boots or Wellies which go over the ankle and waterproof pants as the jungle also habituates stinging nettles, and a rain jacket as it often rains.
When planning a gorilla trekking adventure, you should always avoid spending long hours on the treks by simply choosing your trip during the low / early rain season, since it is at this time when the gorillas are closer so you will have shorter and less strenuous treks, a hat comes in handy to shield your face from the sun.
What to Expect the Day You Track the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda
Carry your gorilla permit with you as you leave your hotel. Make sure you have packed all the necessary trekking gear like gloves, trekking boots, long sleeved wear, rain jackets, snacks and packed lunch, walking stick (very necessary), among others. Expect the trek to take much of your time. This is an adventure activity not to be done in a hurry!
Also carry your passport with you as you head to the park headquarters for an early morning pre-tracking briefing by park officials. Your gorilla permits will be crosschecked with your passports to verify that you are the right owner of the permit.
Carry your packed lunch given that no one is certain about the time you will take to meet the gorillas in the wild.
Gorilla families in the Volcanoes National Park
Presently, there are 12 habituated gorilla groups or families that can be visited by tourists within the Volcanoes National Park. These apes have undergone the process of making them tolerate human presence. This is the reason as to why gorilla trekking is possible and very safe. Since it is easy to get, you will have an amazing experience of looking at the male gorilla called the silver back in Volcanoes National Park. The silverback leads the gorilla family and usually the entire experience is simply a magical and definitely an adventure that you can never forget when you visit Rwanda.
How do you plan the Rwanda Gorilla Tour?
For you to efficiently plan a gorilla trek there are a few things you need to consider when you are planning. Basically, you need to look at
- The season and time you would like to see the gorillas
- Obtaining the gorilla permits in time.
- You have to be physically fit to partake this activity.
For the season, gorilla tours can be done all year round. Please note that the months of June – October as well as December – March attract more tourists who are interested in traveling during the rainy season.
Most tourists however have considered June-September to February as the best time to track these gorillas. Though the rain in these parts of Rwanda can fall at any time of the year, these particular period are drier than the rest of the year.
Obtaining a gorilla permit in Rwanda is easy. You can book through a local tour operator or at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB). There are 80 gorilla permits are available per day. Therefore the best thing is to purchase a gorilla permit for your preferred dates of gorilla trekking when it is early enough to avoid inconveniences. The price of a gorilla permit costs US $1500 per person per trek.
The level of fitness required for gorilla tracking.
You have to be physically fit though; you need not to be a sportsman to do this activity of gorilla tracking. What you are required of is to have a general level of fitness which will make you walk as you track the gorillas and in case you are not quite fit to walk much for a few walks, it would be good for you to prepare for this activity well in advance.
Practical Tips for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
From a practical point of view some elderly tourists have been unable to endure long treks and end up being carried. Therefore make sure to tell the guides on the day of trekking at 7:00am normally starting with briefing about gorilla etiquette to avoid such disappointments.
We recommend at least an overnight stay near Kinigi park headquarters while travelers with limited time but still want to see gorillas; it’s possible you must report early to the center and ask guides to choose gorilla family that’s easy to reach.
Seeing gorillas requires physical and mental determination, even when the dry season is considered by many as the best time to see gorillas in Rwanda due to sunny weather and favorable volcano hiking conditions.
The physically challenged or aged trekkers who cannot endure long treks when searching for habituated gorillas are recommended to visit Rwanda gorillas during rainy seasons.
Though you’re likely to have shorter treks, keep in mind the damp weather, stinging nettles and thorny bushes, slippery and muddy trails can make it worse. It’s very necessary for you to pack rain jackets, waterproof boots or hire a porter to assist by carrying your day pack or pulling your arm during steep climbs.
Mountain gorillas are not aggressive animals unless when provoked, visitors must practice the gorilla trekking etiquette before and during the one hour spent with gorillas. They live in their natural wild not a zoo and when they tell you to maximize your little time, it does not mean stressing them.
However, there are less or no incidents when gorillas attack tourists; they are used to human presence. Each single day, 8 visitors trek to encounter Rwanda gorillas, as you can imagine about 80 people go into the forest, the message is respect the environment and listen or seek advice from your guides.
When planning for a gorilla safari to Rwanda responsible travelers and keen conservationists go extra mile to read or watch “gorillas in the mist” a story of how Dian Fossey studied and lived with gorillas in Rwanda and DR Congo. For 3 decades, Dian finally saving their lives from poaching and habitat loss. The film can be exciting but not as when you pay for a hike up to the Dian Fossey grave site and Karisoke research center located between Mt. Karisimbi and Mt. Bisoke inside Volcanoes National Park.