A Complete Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

A Complete Guide to Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

Concealed profoundly in the foggy mountains of Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, approximately 1000 mountain gorillas remain in the world today.

These are the most world’s endangered apes, vulnerable to humans and habitation loss, nonetheless the gorillas of Rwanda are one of the world’s paramount conservation success stories.

Gorillas are the only primate species on planet earth with growing numbers and Rwanda has put up a flourishing industry around their trekking adventures.

Gorillas are aggressively protected by rangers and police whereby 10% of the revenue from gorilla trekking permits are channeled towards preservation and community support, therefore a Rwanda gorilla trek will undoubtedly contribute to the safeguard of these attractive creatures and the neighboring populations. Seeing the gorillas in their natural environment is an implausible pleasure and among the most amazing wildlife encounters you will ever enjoy.

It is uneasy feat, with periods of assertive efforts through the dense, greasy jungle, but once you bump into them, observing baby gorillas playing or a silverback sizing you up, you may never be pretty the same.

Eye-opening and nerve-wracking, lots of people find themselves intensely moved by a rare happenstance with a gorilla in the jungle.

Read on to 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

Where to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) in northwest Rwanda is the place to find mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Just over half of the world’s 1,000 living mountain gorillas stay in the Virunga Mountains of central Africa, a range of volcanoes extending around 50 miles end-to-end the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

How to get to Volcanoes National Park

The simplest way to visit Rwanda is by flying into Kigali, the country’s capital city from where you will transfer to the gorilla park. Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, you will receive an entry tourist visa.

Most visitors from various countries can acquire a Rwanda visa for a fee of USD 50, however, ensure that you check Rwanda immigration for the most up-to-date information.

Having cleared the immigration at the airport, you will be received by a representative from Gorilla Trekking Services and get transferred to your hotel in Kigali City.

We recommend spending sometime in Kigali like one night or more for relaxation before starting your trip. In case you don’t have a lot of time, you may make your way directly to Volcanoes National Park. The park is located about 105 kilometres from Kigali and is a two hour drive from the airport.

With Gorilla Trekking Services, you can easily combine Rwanda with a wildlife safari tour in Uganda or Eastern Congo. Our Gorilla trekking tours in Rwanda or Uganda with safaris, nature or community tours will offer you a great experience in a trip fully customized to suit your holiday needs.

Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans)

Volcanoes National Park in the north east of Rwanda is a tourist destination to visit while in the country to see gorillas in the wild. Conservation primatologist, Dian Fossey spent 20 years at the Volcanoes National Park studying mountain gorillas. Even though she was murdered, her efforts paid as her work was against poaching, a practice that has been curtailed since then to protect and safeguard  the majestic primates. Volcanoes Park features in the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’ (1988) which accounts Fossey’s work. Rwanda has 12 habituated mountain gorilla families in Volcanoes National Park available for tracking. Each Trekking gorilla family is allotted 8 people to trek and this means, there are 96 gorilla permits in Rwanda per day.

Best time for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

The best time for Rwanda gorilla trekking happen to be during the dry period running from June to September as the wilderness is less mud-covered and the footpaths are less slippery. Bear in mind that it can rain any time of year in during hotter periods. However, you can go trek gorillas in Rwanda throughout the year.

The wet months are April and May and the trails tend to be muddy. Nevertheless you can still track gorillas during those periods. The gorillas habitually scale up the mountain during the dry season and go downhill during the rains. It is also a superb time for chimpanzee tracking as fruits mature attracting the chimps down to the lower accesses of the forest canopy.

The wet periods from around March to May plus October to November may also offer the best environments for photography in gorilla motherland. When these creatures get a rainy shower, the air is pure of any dirt, presenting the perfect atmosphere for mountain gorilla photography.

What to expect on a Rwanda Gorilla Trek?

Expect the best experience on your trekking of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Your gorilla adventure begins early enough and you are advised to arrive at Kinigi park headquarters in Volcanoes National Park as early as 7:00 am for a gorilla trekking briefing by the day’s assigned park rangers.

After briefing, the search for a gorilla family starts around 8:30 am and you are expected to the campground by late in the evening. Even though, the treks usually take lesser time than officially assigned.

Among the main essentials in determining the gorilla family you will trek is the duration as well as strain of the trek you wish to take on. Your gorilla trek might last anywhere between two to nine hours and this time variation is based on the exact whereabouts of a particular gorilla family that you are visiting on that day.

Being super-fit is not a prerequisite for trekking but it helps if you have a reasonable level of body fitness as it would enhance your general enjoyment of the adventure.

A park assigned professional guide, tracker plus ranger will lead you through the forest tracks in search of your gorilla group. The conditions in the woodland could be muddy and slippery. Even during the hot season, it may be very moist under the forest canopy.

The trek is honestly exciting but you may have it hard-hitting as you pass through the condensed vegetation. The high elevation and the vertical, slick trajectories can make the trek interestingly fatiguing, however it’s unquestionably worth the energy to expend time with mountain gorillas in the jungle.

In most cases when you find these gentle giants finally as a tiresome trek, you will have the chance to have one hour in the company of these primates. After that you will return to the lodge for relaxation as you reflect on the moving and fairy-tale happenstance with the wild mountain gorillas of Rwanda.

Meeting Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda

When you catch up with a gorilla family, the ranger counsels you to keep a reasonable distance, even though the gorillas do not always comply to this regulation! A female gorilla may suddenly approach you from the bush and sit near you, and the advice is simple, sit still and remain calm as you study it and it studies you. Don’t be fearful in midst of the passionate inquisitiveness. On meeting the gorillas, you will have the chance to have between 40 minutes to one hour silently noticing them and their conduct in their natural habitation.

In your presence, the gorillas are just a short distance away from you and they will continue with their daily lives and duties including feeding and intermingling with each other under the observant stare of the silverback. This moment is something you would ever forget as it solidly catches your eyes and mind penetratingly!

Talking a low voice while with the gorillas, complete silence and avoiding unnecessary sudden movements are some the gorilla trekking rules and regulations you should remember to follow strictly. Excitement is inevitable while the gorillas but you should try to express it noiselessly.

You are advised to keep a distance of five metres from the gorillas and avoid touching them under any conditions uncles they come to you.

Even if it’s a fact gorillas are used to seeing people daily, they remain wild animals which may sometimes charge unpredictably. It is always vital to listen to the guidelines given by you guides all times.

Duration of the gorilla trek

One magical hour is what is allocated to the visitors to be with the gorillas. To those who feel that 60 minutes are not enough, we suggest that they consider doing two treks on two different days.

The two gorilla experiences are not the same as the second trek may offer you an opportunity to visit a different group in another location of the park. On a second trek, you are likely to put down the camera, relax and enjoy the experience.

Photography of Mountain Gorillas

Shooting photographs of mountain gorillas is a bit challenging due to the restriction on the use of light or flash of the camera. As the distance between you and the gorillas is unpredictable and zooming an image with a flash would be preferred but unfortunately not.

The time with gorillas in limited and one should therefore ensure he is prepared to have the best shots in the restricted time possible.

Ensure you have the best camera that can take the nicest images.  A DSLR that can shoot at a high ISO is highly recommended. Some people with phones like iPhone 6s have had nice images with such gadgets as well.

Since you are restricted to at least seven meters away from the gorillas, a 70-200 mm lens is perfect for shooting. A 2.8 lens is even better given the fact that the light in the forest may sometimes be very poor.

Flashy photography is prohibited and remember always to disable the flash function on your camera or mobile phone prior to getting to your family of gorillas.

The time you are with the gorillas is so precious that you should use it to plan your shots instead of shooting away wildly. Better you find a balance between engrossing this unbelievable experience and photographing of the gorillas. As you look through your camera taking photographs for memory purpose, also pay attention to the experience that you would late be able to reflect on or narrate to others. Strong camera or phone batteries as well as waterproof bags are recommended as the rainforest weather conditions can change and it rains any time of year.​

Gorilla Permits in Rwanda

A permit is a requirement for trekking gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Rwanda 12 habituated gorilla families for trekking with each being allowed only 8 people per day to visit it making a total of 96 permits per day.

Gorilla permits in Rwanda are sold months in advance, and you should book yours early enough especially if you are planning to visit during the busy months.

Mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda is firmly done to protect these endangered animals in their natural locale and upturn their survival chance.

Even though wet season of April to May and October to November are less competitive, the dry periods of December to March and June to September are tremendously demanding and permits sell out fast.

On the trekking day, you will be allotted a gorilla family to track, depending on your age, physical fitness and a number of pre-booked treks. Some gorilla families are complex to track and necessitate a high degree of fitness whereas others require smaller trekking times.

Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Prices

Rwanda gorilla trekking permit cost USD 1500 and we can book and secure a permit at no extra cost in case you confirm gorilla safari tour with us.

The permit price indirectly includes fees for expert guides and trackers, park entrance, the security of a tourism police force in the parks plus one valuable hour one stays with the gorillas.

It is optional to tip your guides, rangers and trackers on your gorilla adventure but not essential and entirely at your discretion as a traveler.

Refunds and Cancellations of Gorilla Permits

A 50% refund on your gorilla tracking fee will be given if you are displaying signs of sickness since you not be permitted to visit gorillas if you are affirmed unhealthy by the in-charge Warden.

Mountain Gorillas can be certainly get diseased by human illnesses and they are assumed not to have the needed immunity to combat these sicknesses. Any sick persons could be threats to the gorillas’ gradually growing population.

Age Limit for Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda

To Trek gorillas in Rwanda, one must be at least 15 years of age in Rwanda. This age restriction is due to safety reasons of both the human and gorillas themselves. But in Uganda, age limit can slightly be lifted if some official request is made and arrangements made for a child closer to the acceptable years like 14 or 13. Guarantees of being allowed are not 100% there but it’s worth trying with valid reasons and parents’ consent.

Where to stay in Volcanoes National Park

When going for gorilla trekking in Rwanda, we recommend that you stay nearby Volcanoes National Park so that you are at the park headquarters by 7:00am for your pre-trek briefing. As you stay the park, you will have an opportunity to bathe up the great natural beauty of the Virunga expanse. Some of the top picks for accommodation lodges near Volcanoes National Park include:

  • Bisate Lodge     
  • Virunga Lodge
    • Mountain Gorilla View Lodge

    –        Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

    • La Palme Hotel
    • Kinigi Guest House

    Things to pack for a Rwanda Gorilla Trekking Safari

    It is helpful to come well prepared for the implausible experience of tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda vene though you shouldn’t over pack too much trekking gears. Put it in mind that flights to Rwanda usually have luggage limited to 20 kilograms per person and it is good to use a soft case to maximize space. The following are some of the items you should pack for a gorilla trekking trip in Rwanda:-

    • Strong, waterproof hiking boots with good ankle support.
    • Light, breathable, waterproof jackets and trousers and long-sleeved shirts.
    • Warm layers for the chilly mornings and cold nights.
    • Long, lightweight woolen socks.
    • Sunglasses and wide-brimmed hat for protection against the sun.
    • Toiletries such as sun cream, after-sun, insect repellent, bite relief cream and lip balm.
    • Garden gloves to protect your hands as you hold on the vegetation during your trek.
    • A small backpack for carrying water, lunch, extra clothes, binoculars and camera.
    • Camera with extra lenses and batteries and come with enough memory than what you might need.
    • Binoculars to have a perfect view of everything including spotting other wildlife like birds and monkeys.
    • Snacks – the trek can be somewhat vigorous, lasting between two to nine hours, so some snacks for extra energy are essential.
    • A reusable water bottle to limit waste. Come with plenty of drinking water on your trek for hydration purpose.
    • Multi-way travel adaptor. In Rwanda, people use plug types C (two round pins) and J (two round pins and a grounding pin) operating on a 220V supply voltage and 50Hz standard frequency.
    • For more information on preparing for a trip, please refer to what to carry for gorilla trekking adventure.